Posted from Ashgabat, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
Well you’ve stuck with me so far, dear reader, so here’s the next instalment of our journey ever east.
Today’s theme is that every adventure must have its highs and lows. This one has proved to be no exception, so here’s what’s gone on (the lows as you can imagine).
Friday 27th July & Saturday 28th July
We woke early so we could get to the Turkmenistan Embassy at 266 Calil (Jalil) Mammadguluzada Street to get our visas. By the way, ignore any internet references to other addresses for the Embassy, they are incorrect. The entrance which you need to go to for your visa is round the back of the Embassy (Grid: N40.39557 E49.82651).
We were greeted by a local fixer, Ishmael, who will arrange everything (visa and ferry ticket) for a fee, which seemed to amount to around $30 when you finally get on board. He will also text you when the ferry is ready to load, so overall the exercise is well worthwhile, as you can sleep or see the sights of Baku whilst you are waiting. If he’s not hanging around the Embassy you can contact him on +994 55 286 1200.
And indeed our text came at about 3:00pm that we should be at the port at 5:30pm as there was an imminent sailing. Of course I didn’t get it until 5:20pm so panic ensued as we threw everything onto the bikes and paid for an unused night at the hotel. We arrived at the ferry terminal at 6:30pm, and as you might expect all sorts of mayhem ensued and we didn’t actually end up boarding until 3:00am. Despite all this the ferry didn’t even leave until 11:00am as they still had to load the cargo.
For you collectors of useful information, the turning off the main road to reach the Baku Ferry Port is at Grid: N40.37647, E49.86557, and the ticket office is down that road on the right at N40.37453, E049.86566. The holding area is about 200m further on.
The ship is old and worn out. The standard cabins on the second deck are internal, four to a cabin, bunk-bed style. They are hot, noisy, and unpleasant. The communal toilets are indescribable, with a constant emanation of noxious vapours. Click on the flower to see the toilet, if you dare – I got the picture by lifting the lid with Kevin’s toothbrush. But I warn you, this is not for the squeamish. One fellow rallyer (who shall remain nameless) was so desperate (suffering as he was with diahorrea) that he used it anyway, hovering gingerly over the bowl. The resulting splash back made him gag, and he unceremoniously vomited on the floor before him. He was forced to clean himself up by having a shower in the public shower opposite. Sadly his ordeal was not over as his diahorrea returned, and the entire process had to be repeated.
I decided that discretion was the better part of valour so I paid the Russian babushka overseeing the cabins $20 for a ‘superior’ cabin with a porthole, shower and toilet on deck three. Once installed, and keen for a shower, I tried to turn it on. Water issued from the mixer tap so I pushed the lever a few times, increasingly firmly, to divert the water to the shower head. On the third push the tap ‘came away in me hands’ and hot water spurted in a raging torrent straight from the open pipe onto the bathroom floor. Valiantly trying to staunch the flow with the shower curtain, I failed as the fabric was that rotten water kept bursting through. Calling Kevin to assist, his endeavours merely resulted in the mixer tap falling off completely, so now there were two torrents of water and the bathroom was rapidly filling up with water. In the end I had to fetch the babushka, whose steely glare seemed to indicate that I had ripped the tap off the wall deliberately, just to ruin her day. The engineer came and after 40 minutes the water was turned off. I never did get the shower, and I didn’t dare ask for a refund.
By the way, bring your own food and water. This is available on board, but water is $3 a litre, and beer $5 a bottle.
Sunday 29th July
We finally arrived in Turkmenistan, docking at 7:00am and disembarking at 10:15. There was a long queue for processing the entry formalities. After completing 13 forms and paying numerous random taxes (including a ramp tax for driving off the ferry, and a parking fee for parking your vehicle whilst you were being processed) the last of us were free to leave at 9:30pm.
We ended up camping on a beach a short distance away from the port with another team, the Friengineers.
Monday 30th July
We had a bad night’s sleep due to the strong wind, the sand blowing into the tent and the noise of the goods trains trundling past on a regular basis. I was up at 5:00am and we were off by 7:00.
It was a hot day and the road to the capital, Ashkabat, was mostly poor. The heat along this edge of the Garagum (‘Black Sand’) Desert is surprisingly bearable, even at 40°C, but I was constantly thirsty and glad for the Pure Hydration backpack to take regular drinks from. I had even used water from the tap on the ferry, with no ill effects.
We finally arrived in Ashkabat, at 7:30pm, a strange city described by some as a cross between Las Vegas and Pyongyang. I especially liked the gold statues of Turkmenbashy (the former President who died in 2006) and the omnipresent policemen and street cleaners. You will be amazed by the stunning, white marble buildings and revel in the glorious statue-filled roundabouts in the city centre. Ashkabat is clearly the result of a megalomaniac’s vision, constructed with billions of dollars earned from his country’s vast gas reserves.
We went out for dinner at the British Pub with Neil and Helen of The Uncertainty Principle, but had to be back at the hotel (the Grand Turkmen) by 11:00pm, the curfew for foreigners. Note: beer is $7.50 a bottle and the banks won’t take even slightly damaged dollar notes.
Oil consumption – just a bit of topping up. The bikes seem to use less oil if ridden at anything less than flat out.
Fuel consumption – still about 90mpg
Breakdowns – 0
Incidents with Showers – 1
Items lost by Kevin – 1. Kevin’s waterproof oversuit fell off the bike but was spotted by a following rallyer who stopped and returned it to him.