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Old 24 Jun 2003
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Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Genova, Italy - Kabul, Afghanistan
Posts: 201
ferry Turkmenbashi (TM) - Baku (AZ)

Anybody know somethink about the ferry across the Caspian Sea from Turkmenbashi (Turkmenistan) to Baku (Azerbaijan)? I mean timetable, reliability, possible limitations for motorcycle or western travellers, etc..
Thanks a lot
Pietro
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Old 22 Jul 2010
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Join Date: Feb 2010
Location: London
Posts: 56
Just did the crossing - here's my account (from my diary)

*Caspian Sea, 18th July 2010*

And so at 7:00pm, with the help of my Iranian friend, I dashed for the ferry hoping to catch a boat that night. I was in luck. One was due to leave within the hour and had space on board for me (the ferries primarily transport railways carriages trucks of freight, not passengers). The exchange of $200 dollars later (I had been quoted $120 the previous day) and I had a ticket. I was all ready to board but then, of course, Azerbaijan had its last bite of the money cherry. Oh Mr, where Turkmen shtamp? What this? as a rather jolly, or at least he had been five minutes earlier, Azeri customs official looked through my passport. Oh God, how to explain?

I had applied for my Turkmen Visa in London and had a letter of approval to say all was well. I was not to get the actual Visa until I reached Turkmenbashy. (you are allowed five days to get to across Turkmenistan. How long the ferry takes to get there from Baku is anyones guess. So I had arranged for my Visa to be issued upon arrival.

Problem? I said knowingly

Yes, big problem, You go to consulate and come back

Bollocks.

An hour later, the ferry held, waiting for some extra readies and there was a small breakthrough. An English speaking Azeri customs officer was summoned to the office.

Not possible, what this? as he looked at my letterPerhaps if you have fifty dollars I can help you.

I nearly laughed. I only have ten, your port has claimed the rest! But, I am very upset that you
ask me for a bribe in this situation!

Bribe? He was knocked off balance, No bribe! This bad word! Please no say
my friend. Ok, ok !

I was through.


The ferry across the Caspian was an experience I hope NEVER to repeat in my life. As soon as I was on board I was led to a different cabin than that named on my ticket. It was pretty dire. If I wanted the one listed on my ticket it was extra $20. If I wanted food or water, $10 a pop. (ticket for bike and me cost $200 US!!!)

This Cabin OK I smiled. Yes, Ok if you like ants, shit stained mattresses and the smell of thirty years worth of Caspian bustle thinks me. It had two bunks. I offered the other to a Turkmen, Rustam. He was a professional violin player and returning home to Ashgabat from Baku where he studied. He was about my age and had s, cigarettes and broken English but no money. We got on very well and soon were joking about Azerbaijan and its Polis. And then we were moving - twelve hourswould be on the other shore.

Twelve hours passed and I saw land. I had slept well and was feeling good. If I saw land, it was some time until I was to be on it. The ship dropped anchor at 7 am.. By 2:00pm, chatting in broken English to one of the Naval cadets, I found out the reason for our pause. It transpired that the president of Turkmenstan was visiting this part of Caspian for a holiday to sail his yacht and accordingly, the port would be closed until he left. In this case, Sunday which was three days later. Anyone who knows my impatience would be stunned to hear that I actually accepted this with good humour. Perhaps it was because I already harbored an expectation of delay. It is well known, or at least it alludes on the HUBB that the ferry can easily take 36 hours due to fierce Caspian weather. Anyway, I had Anna Karenina to commence.

Over the following two days, I became well acquainted with the naval cadets, all aged between 20 and 30. I got on particularly well with Boxer, a strapping fellow who I trained and did some light sparing with (putting to good use my Fitzroy Lodge training). I also learned of the Cadets respect for Boss the biggest and meanest looking man on the boat. Boss stormed around filling every corridor with the breadth of his shoulders and casting a very ominous shadow wherever he walked. It turned out Boss had been released from prison last year after being convicted of two murders. The cadets were petrified of him and to be honest, so was I.

Thankfully, Boss looked on me favorably and decided that English, good boy! I was told I should be grateful for his approval so I thanked him. I also asked why he was not in prison. The response came (through a friendly translating cadet). Boss was in prison, for eight years and then, corruption (It seems the inevitable response in Azerbaijan) Boss also says, if you ever have any trouble with Armenians, call Boss, he kill them for you! Hmmm

Waiting for something you want but having no control over it, or knowledge of when it will happen is a torturous pursuit. I knew this and tried to avoid it, instead just letting what would be, be, instead reading my book and writing. Still, when there was hope, every time the anchor chain creaked or an engine was fired up to power the captains air conditioning, my heart jumped with excitement. But worse was being told that we were going to move only for it to be a false start.


At ten thirty on Sunday evening, I was training on deck with Boxer we were doing sets of pushups 50 a set. One goes whilst the other rests (tough) Luckily just as I was about to commence the fourth set, a crew member walked past and said something to Boxer. I immediately enquired what he said. He says we will be in port in one hour!

I couldnt have moved faster. I jumped up questioning really? Then, within five second I bolted down two flights of stairs, through countless gangways and burst into our Cabin. Rustam was lying on his bed smoking a cigarette and reading my Lonely Planet. I jubilantly announced the news. Yeah, Oh yeah, oh yeah!!! We were ecstatic. All of our patience and virtue that we had built up over the past three days evaporated there and then. **** the boat! shouted Rustam. I jumped up and gave him a high five. We then danced like idiots for a minute flat at least. I was doing some sort of Morris jig and Rustam playing air fiddle! I have never been to prison but I think three days on the boat from Baku to Turkmenistan was a rather good try before you buy session. No thanks!
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