Tuesday, 27 May 2014

N 37.57.10 E 58.21.54 Baku to Ashgabat in six or so days

Day 1. We are up, packed and on the road heading to Baku. Plan is to get to Turkmenistan embassy this morning and apply for visas and hopefully book a ferry across the Caspian sea for tonight or tomorrow. Turns out the embassy is closed for poet's day.

Day 2. The embassy is still closed for another holiday. Hopefully tomorrow.

Day 3. 9:00 am. We are on a minibus heading to the embassy. Our driver gets lost several times and stops to consult with the local taxi drivers. The embassy is a small door in a back alley with one local police officer. We wait and visit with the others in line to get a paper that we take to a special bank to pay for the visa then back to the embassy for the visa. By 1:00 we are back at the hotel packing our stuff and and waiting for ferry tickets. By 5:00 we are at the pier and prepare to load. Our passport info gets recorded by hand in a book by the ferry company, then again by hand as we clear customs out of Azerbaijan.

The ferry fits in the "not too bad" category. We have rooms for four, a place to hang out and working toilets. By 11:00 we are sailing out of harbor enjoying the lights of Baku.

Day 4. As promised, in 12 hours we are across the Caspian and can see the port of Turkmenbashi. We anchor and spend our time counting ships also anchored and waiting to dock. We start moving at 6:00 and are docking by 7:00. Then we wait again because the customs people were not expecting us (or were having a meal or something).

We meet our "guide" who has filled in the declaration forms, in Turkmen, and has us sign them. One by one we begin the process. Check passport, enter info into system. Baggage through a scanner. Luggage checked by hand. Our "guide" asking if we have any weapons or drugs and we say no.

One of our fellow travelers has a few painkillers with codeine- what we could buy without prescription - and is then interrogated over night while we sleep on the floor in the waiting area.

Day 5. It is clear by now that we have a minder not a guide. We wait until he tells us that we can get on Calypso to travel to another town where our fellow traveller's drug dealing/smuggling will be investigated. We stop at police checkpoints to confirm where we are going. From 11:00 to 5:00 we wait on the road while forms are filled, interviews are had and decisions are made. Final decision - codeine is not on their banned list.

We head toward a bush camp. Our minder picks a sandy spot just off the main road, and we have our first "get ourselves stuck/unstuck" experience. The camp is visited twice by police.

Day 6. On the road. Our first police checkpoint is just up the road and there is a second one before we arrive in Ashgabat. We also stop for a truck wash as nobody is allowed to bring a dirty vehicle into "glorious Ashgabat". Or risk fines. The hotel is fine and clearly the place where foreigners stay. No wifi and we surrender our passports as well as three photos.

Our time in Turkmenistan continues like this. Police checks. Our minder constantly on the phone letting someone know where we are. Politically correct tour of Ashgabat. No we can't go to the bazaar because it is too busy. Two bush camps on the way to the border in the dessert with no access to water, disposing of garbage, or local people.

We did have a couple of lovely contacts with an older British couple, including roadside repairs to their overland truck.

The gas crater was also fascinating and good photos were had.

Exiting the country is more of the same. Passports checked, baggage checked, truck inspected minutely. Twice. None of us said goodbye to our minder.

Moral of the experience, Turkmenistan is a police state that is exceedingly suspicious of western travelers. Don't expect to have a smooth sailing through the bureaucracy. Bring a sense of humor and a good book. It's the only way to get from Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan.

My regret is that the landscapes were fascinating, the people smiled and waved easily to us as we passed, there were opportunities everywhere to learn about the desert and the people but our minder was not allowed to let us do so.

Packed and ready to leave Baku

Typical scenery

Camels apparently are owned by someone
but they looked pretty independent

Glorious but deserted Ashgabat

The gas crater

out of order, but here's our quarters on the ferry

the morning after - making a meal while
waiting for permission to leave the border

And still waiting.  The fellow in blue jeans was a biker waiting for
the member of his party who was detained.  You meet fellow
travelers in the most interesting places  

view from the ferry as we waited
and waited to be allowed to

No comments:

Post a Comment