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Crossing the Caspian Sea

Monday, September 30, 2013

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I had read many horror stories about the ferry across the Caspian Sea to Aktau in Kazakhstan, so was pleasantly surprised with how well it went for us. We had already found the ferry ticket office on a previous visit, so once we got the word that the ferry was going (the day after we got our Uzbekistan visa’s) we packed up and headed down to the ticket office for 10:00 a.m. only to be told to return at 1:00 p.m.

Note: For the benefit of other travellers I’ve added details and pictures of the ticket office to the bottom of the visa page. Click Here

We decided a final trip to McDonald’s for coffee was in order and ran into Ed and his girlfriend in the square, a nice end to our time in Baku – (good luck with your travels mate). Returning as requested, we picked up our tickets and set off to ride the 10 km’s to the old port, only to be hailed and told the ferry was actually here in the new port, just a few hundred meters from the ticket office. How pleased was I?

Stefan the juggler entertains local kids

Entertainment in the waiting area was provided by Stefan, a French backpacker doing the same crossing as us and a genuinely nice guy. We were told boarding would be at 5:00 p.m. but it was about 8:00 p.m. before we got on the ship and another four hours before we set sail. This was still pretty good going!

The three of us decided to share a cabin, only to be told their wasn’t one available. Undeterred I pointed out to my colleagues there was a large communal area not being used that we could sleep in and this ended up being better than a cabin as there was much more room and no charge. Another result as I collapsed exhausted on the seating.

If I look tired, I was!

Also on the trip were a group of motor bikers heading to Mongolia then coming back across the other direction to us on the Pamir Highway. Travel stories were swapped and we shared the evening meal together, a simple affair well enjoyed by all. This was not even close to the many drunken Russian ferry crossing’s I’d read about and it was a very pleasant trip across the Caspian Sea. It would be so nice if we met up again on the highway.

A Serbian, a Norwegian and a Swiss biker, with yours truly.

Checking to make sure we’re going the right way!

We spent a second night on-board and anchored off Aktau around two o’clock in the morning, finally being allowed into port and disembarking at 3:00 p.m. While this might sound a long waiting period, it was actually pretty good and again nothing like the many horror stories you read about this crossing. All in all I think it went pretty well.

Train carriages on the ferry.

Another golden sunset, Caspian Sea.

Once onshore progress was pretty quick through customs and we were soon riding through the outskirts of Aktau. It was very weird seeing camels wandering about amongst the buildings, as I’d never seen them this close to urban areas before. The road surface was half decent and we soon arrived at the police immigration office (a few km’s outside Aktau) where Clive went in and registered us. Having been told it would take 20 minutes, he returned 45 minutes later and we got on our way again.

Grazing alongside the main road, our first sighting of camels in Kazakhstan.

There was no plan on how far we would cycle the rest of the afternoon, we simply figured we’d keep going until we spotted a likely place or the sun began to set – whichever came first. When a car pulled up alongside us and inquired (in Russain) where we were from we did our best to communicate with it’s two occupants, a man and a woman. We must have impressed them, as shortly after the car pulled over ahead of us, then beckoned for us to stop. After a short dialog it became clear they wished us to follow them and I was not at all surprised that this was going to be our first home stay within hours of arriving in Kazakhstan.

Beckett & Larissa’s modest home.

Beckett and Larissa were a Kazakh and Russian married couple who not only invited us into their home, but made such a fuss of us and made our welcome to this country such  a wonderful experience. We enjoyed great food, drink and company, managing to communicate by various means including a phrase book. Beckett asked us to stay the next day for a sightseeing tour of Aktau and although Clive initially said we had to move on, I persuaded him we should stay on and repay their kindness.

Our hosts, Beckett & Larissa

After much vodka, dancing and merriment, we retired shattered to our beds, myself eagerly awaiting the next morning and spending another day with this lovely couple. The day trip was a little strange, as we visited their sons flat (where our washing was dropped off – to be collected later) and then visited a few shopping centers, splashed out on ice cream (I insisted me and Clive pay for this) and generally just relaxed before heading back for the evening meal.

Shopping Center, Aktau

Beckett and Larissa invited over their best friends and made us the national dish, really making a great night of entertainment for us. It’s hard for me to express my gratitude, I was simply blown away. As Clive went for a short nap (to sleep off the vodka) I shared my pictures and my dream of where I wanted to go, and Beckett told me his dream was to go to Cappadocia in Turkey. Remembering the book I had bought, I signed the front with gratitude from both me and Clive and presented it to them – a simple gift but I don’t think anything else would have been better than this. I was so pleased to be able to give something back.

The best evening of my trip so far…

They had a huge dog called Derek (I suspect the spelling would be different though) which Clive made a huge fuss of, but also a cat and small kitten. Being now a cat person, I just couldn’t resist introducing Wellington!

Wellington looks after their kitten

Next morning we were up early to leave at 7:00 a.m. along with our hosts. It had been a wonderful home stay and one I will never forget. I’m sure we saw a tear in Beckett’s eye as we said our goodbyes. With difficult and sporadic internet access it will be difficult to keep in touch, but I will certainly make the effort.

On our way again we took in any local sights (of which their were few) as we headed towards the desert and ‘the worst road in the world’. The cemeteries were amazing, with huge mausoleums and towers built for the deceased. As we stopped to take pictures even the sky seemed to add to the dramatic views…

Cemetery outside Aktau

Mausoleum’s, Cemetery outside Aktau

Then of course we are still awaiting the decision on which is the best statue photographed so far…

Ship Ahoy!

The Road(s) To Hell

It’s hard to describe in words just how difficult I have found riding across Kazakhstan and into Uzbekistan on what are undoubtedly the worst roads I’ve ever experienced. And it’s not just the roads that cause me problems, the dust is making my breathing very difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I knew all about this part of the challenge and still decided to take it on. I really think I must be crazy.

Crossing the desert, Kazakhstan

Hundred’s of kilometers of riding this takes it’s toll.

The scenery (and road surface) improves…

I’m now sat in a hostel in Khiva, with no internet and paying the hotel round the corner to use theirs. I have picked up a leg infection which I’m taking antibiotics for (thanks to Benjamin for giving me these) and feel pretty weak, so I’m resting up. I’ll post another blog telling you the tales of how I got here… more soon.

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Monday, September 30, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Great stuff Derek. I really enjoy these updates, so stick with them!

Monday, September 30, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Wow this is amazing Derek! I’m excited to hear more later on! By the way, I’m back home in Uppsala, Sweden now. You’re welcome to pass by!

    Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Ha ha Martin, it will be a while before I see Europe again, but you’re on my list!

Monday, September 30, 2013 at 2:28 pm

What an awesome journey, Derek! x

Monday, September 30, 2013 at 2:50 pm

You still a good trip 🙂 Ps: my Visa card is automatically locked and I had to unlock in Germany call … well OK again 🙂


Monday, September 30, 2013 at 5:17 pm

A fascinating leg of the journey Derek, some real highs and lows, thank goodness for the kind people in the world…

Monday, September 30, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Nice to receive some new post from you.
I read that you will see Clive in the city’s further on you trip.
Say hello to him from me.

Johan (Motocyclist met in Tbilisi and now on my route to Marocco.)

    Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Clive has just left Khiva, we hope to meet again in Bukhara. I’m setting off tomorrow if the illness allows me to. Good luck in Morocco.

Monday, September 30, 2013 at 8:55 pm

That sounds like a wonderful entry into Kazakhstan.
Best of luck, I hope you will get rid of the infection soon!

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