Short story update as there is too much happening & not enough time or WiFi to keep posting;
Saw the Darvaza gas crater. Straight out of a sci-fi movie. Camped there, met lovely couple from Switzerland Andrea and Andre (Russian). Drank vodka, looked at stars and listened to guitar and singing till 2am. Camped in the desert. Awesome.
Went to Merv, stood on top of 5th Century BC walls and had a mooch around.
Roads in Turkmenistan were so bad that we dented a wheel in a pot hole. 10 minute job to replace wheel. Need to find someone with a lump hammer to smack it straight... or circular again.
Crossed into Uzbekistan. One of the easiest entries so far. Everyone is super nice and friendly.
Bumped into ‘The Rebel Ramblers’ - a bunch of Irish lads (3) squeezed into a Micra. They’d removed the passenger dashboard/glovebox to make space. Convoyed with them to Bukhara.
I managed to get the car stuck by dropping both wheels into basement window openings (see pics) but the Paddies were AMAZING and set to work helping us jack/push/pull Rosie free. Luckily I had landed on the suspension wishbones so no major damage. Bought them beers as a thank you and we all went to dinner so I think we’re square.
That’s all for now.
We arrived in Azerbaijan & made our way toward Baku. The sun had set & driving on those roads in the dark was interesting but not something to be enjoyed; the closing speeds between a car doing 70mph and a flock of sheep being herded at 2mph on the highway was causing us concern. We pulled into a roadside motel & having no local currency, involved all 6 other patrons to have a group discussion to figure out how much to pay in USD.
Sleep was not in abundance for me as my room had no A/C and a boiler (which I assume serviced the other rooms as I couldn’t turn it off). Needless to say, it was a little too warm for me.
In the morning, the lovely hotelier seemed confused and disgruntled at the $50 note we had used and had begun to believe the conversion had not been done in his favour. We attempted to reassure him we were not ripping him off, made a hasty exit (before he changed his opinion again) and continued down the road.
We had expected at least a 3 day wait for a boat. Arriving at the port, we were told “no boat today. Come back tomorrow”. Not a problem; we’ll go check out Baku. We strolled around the city (imagine a smaller version of Dubai - Lots of oil money = sparkling new buildings and Ferrari dealerships) and checked into a hotel.
Andrew then wisely called the ferry company just to ask if there was a boat the next day, only to be told “come NOW! There’s a boat here”. This interrupted my shower (not happy!) and so, still damp, we left the comfort of our hotel and raced 30 miles back to the port.
We arrived at around 5pm, bought our ticket and were told to wait as the ferry would load and leave that night. We parked up near some fellow Ralliers from Holland, chatted to some crazy Brummy cycling around the world (took him 4 months to get to Baku!) and settled in.
By 9pm more Ralliers had arrived but zero activity from the ferry. The temperature had dropped below 30c (though the tarmac remained just shy of molten lava) and thoroughly bored of sitting around, we left in search of food and a mud volcano. We didn’t know what a mud volcano was but figured if it’s on the map, must be worthy of a visit. 30 minutes later we were off-road, in the hills above Almaty in the dark. Unable to locate said mud volcano, we gave up and returned to the car park (smuggling in some cold beers for our Dutch friends in the process). By 1am we resigned ourselves to not leaving anytime soon, pitched our tents on the tarmac and settled in for a lousy nights sleep.
In the morning we asked around and the consensus was that the boat hadn’t arrived and when it did, wouldn’t load until 8pm so we again drove 30 miles to Baku, had lunch and checked into a £15 hotel for showers and A/C. Unfortunately WiFi and AIS ship tracking showed us that the boat HAD arrived now. Not wanting to miss our boat and attempt to negotiate a refund on an unused ticket, we left another paid for hotel to return again only this time when we got to the port, we were told to go immediately to passport control and queue up for boarding - SUCCESS!
They added a last minute $25 “ramp charge” to be allowed to board.... no one checked the little ticket we “needed” though... and another $14 for something were not sure of... road tax maybe!?! But soon enough, we were in the queue to load.
Somehow it took 1 hour to load the last 2 trucks...4 HOURS(!?!) after clearing customs we were aboard.
So the ferry... the old girl does not make a great first impression upon boarding. I’ve since discovered that it was constructed in 1985 when the Soviets were still a thing. She’s had a lick or two of paint over the years but she was built to get trucks from a to b. Nothing more. Comfort was not in the design brief.
Midgies in their thousands, bunks that don’t appear to have had new mattresses since she was built and walking near any of the bathrooms rewards you with an aroma akin to Leeds festival latrines.
We met a lovely young Turkmen returning home from Baku Uni for summer who spoke excellent English. Incredibly polite and courteous he took the time to talk to us all about Turkmen customs and teach us some basic phrases.
We watched some awkward loading of shipping containers that took significantly longer than I thought necessary and with zero thought to health and safety (people walking underneath airborne containers, passengers allowed to wander around the deck, cranes swinging 40 tonne cargo over our heads... you get the picture) then I turned in for the night. At 2am, we were awoken by some enthusiastic banging on the door accompanied by “open ‘zis door!”. Upon opening the door, I was greeted by a member of the crew who demanded my ticket which I dutifully provided. He then, without explanation, walked off with it. I hastily got dressed, chased after him and discovered him in a room with some Azer customs officers who must’ve been reviewing the manifest. I rapidly gave up getting my ticket back and went back to bed.
Unfortunately, whilst I was asleep, our Turkmen friend was then kicked off the boat. Azerbaijan customs demanded this as we were only allowed 32 passengers, had 33 and he was the only solo traveller...
I woke and we were at sea. We ate (the food was actually pretty edible), I ‘showered’ (literally a hose in a room ever so slightly bigger than my wardrobe with a drain on the floor and a leaky toilet with no seat) and watched the waves creep by.
By 11pm we could see the lights of Turkmenbashi & figured we’ll be unloading in a few hours. Never ones to ignore an opportunity for sleep, we went to bed for a few hours figuring they’ll gently rouse us as they had before when we were needed. We woke in the morning (8ish) to find ourselves anchored 3-5 miles offshore (I’m no sailor so terrible at judging distance!) where we have sat all morning. 11am and they’re raising the anchor so hopefully, we may be ashore soon and I can post this saga.
Post text; docked at 3, off the boat at 5, cleared customs at 8:30pm.
Quick catch up if the last 3 days (or 4.... things kinda blur);
We saw some of the sights of Istanbul, left there and their CRAZY drivers behind & headed for the Black Sea coast. The main road hugs the coast for the entire length so some great views, stunning sunsets to be had & some tasty kebabs too.
Arrived at the Sarpi border crossing to Georgia only to be told it was a 5 hours wait... not being terribly patient, we decided instead that a jaunt inland over the mountains would be more fun than sitting in a queue.
Rosie wasn’t too keen on the 2,500m ascent we went on & decided to give some sketchy temp readings. A Haynes manual, some gaffer tape & 40 minutes of fumbling put us back on the road. She then lost most of her power when hot and going uphill as she had had enough (we think a faulty throttle body which we lack the skills to repair) but, we made it to Turkgozu where we bumped into some other ralliers. They promptly used us as their guinea pigs to stumble through the crossing procedure first to show them what to do (as if we had a clue!!). Safely into Georgia (very pretty!) we made our way to Tbilisi for a bottle of their home grown vino.
Yesterday, we strolled around the city, got our laundry back (still wet which means Rosie is now a rolling tumble drier with our clothes strewn all over the back seats) and hit the road. We’ve crossed into Azerbaijan & today will attempt to arrange a crossing of the Caspian. Ferries set off as and when they are ready and only if the weather is right so..... Wish us luck!