a man in a big hat
there are lots of them around - the bigger the hat the more important the person
We are now officially in the land of big hats.
Since we left Turkey the hats have been getting bigger and snazzier. All the officials have enormous peaked caps, the more important the man the bigger the hat - they really are superb. Unfortunately, since Turkey, we have also been in the land of 'strict security' so taking pictures of officials in their hats is a big no no. As is taking photos of the border crossings or the “ferry” we are about to board.
To get from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan we have to take a “ferry” across the Caspian Sea. The “ferries” are designed to carry railway carriages rather than people. Its all a bit hit and miss, there are no timetables, it just depends when the next “ferry” docks and if the captain is willing to take any passengers. Luckily there is a “ferry” leaving today and the captain is more than happy to take 13 motorcycles on board. There is no scheduled departure time we just sit around and wait for the phone call to say we can go to the docks. Then we sit around at the docks while all the forms to exit us
and the bikes form Azerbaijan are filled out (by men in big hats!).
Eventually two enormous lines of, very rusty, freight wagons slowly trundle past us and onto the “ferry” (no photos - too sensitive) then we get to drive along the train tracks and park the bikes up alongside the towering wagons in the bowels of the “ferry”.
Once the bikes are stowed its time to stow ourselves. Like I said the “ferry” is designed for railway carriages not people - calling it a ferry is rather like calling a bivouac a 5 star hotel. Olga, the fearsome Russian babushka, has the keys to the “cabins” but wont allocate any until we are all present and correct and she has all our passports. The “cabins”, how do I describe them? well...........words fail me - just look at the photos. They have definitely seen better days. We are actually lucky, our cabin is quite luxurious compared to some. Water actually comes out of the tap, and the toilet is relatively clean and actually functions. Some of the toilets require a 10 mile exclusion zone and cant possibly have seen any cleaning fluids for several years. Luckily we all
have sleeping bags as there is no way you want to come into contact with the mattress - although later some relatively clean looking sheets are delivered.
We all gather in the “TV lounge” (for want of a better term - see photo) to consume copious quantities of red wine - I think our leaders ploy is to get us drunk so we wont notice/care what they are putting us through. It worked. Especially when the cook has been persuaded to cook us up a plov (meat and rice) for supper. Eating plov seems to require the co-consumption of a large number of vodka shots, especially when your are sharing the “dinning room” with young Turkmenistan footballers, so the evening takes on a very merry turn. It culminates in arm wrestling matches with the crew and the fearsome Olga is now our best friend.
It only takes 12 hours to cross the Caspian Sea so the next morning we wake to views of Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan. Now the next waiting game starts; sometimes Turkmenistan allows the ferries to dock immediately, sometimes they keep you at sea for 3 days!!! The captain seems to think we will dock in
2 hours so we have time to relax and enjoy our boil in the bag all day breakfast which is surprisingly tasty,
The captains right and we dock at 09:00. Given the rusty, held together with tin cans, state of the “ferries” the docks are amazingly swish and sophisticated. No old tyres slung over the dockside as bumpers here, no its all flashy touch sensitive, spring loaded giant rubber pad (no photos - too sensitive). Next waiting game - the men in big hats come aboard and give us permission to ride off the “ferry” on the bikes.
We may now physically be on land but we are not in Turkmenistan yet that requires several more hours of waiting and another half-dozen men in big hats; one to stamp the passport, one to write down the vehicle details, one to calculate petrol tax, one to write out receipts etc. etc. Its all very civilised and friendly just very, very slow. The “ferry” docked at 09:00 and at 15:30 we actually ride the bikes out of the docks and into the streets of Turkmenbashi.
How do we celebrate getting from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan in a mere 28 hours?
our "ferry" is very similar to this one
they look much smarter from a distance!!
- with more vodka shots of-course. We are eating at the trendiest restaurant in town and seem to have gate crashed somebodies birthday party. There's lots of loud local pop music and dancing. For a Muslim country there's a lots of vodka shots going down and the local ladies are in well slinky outfits - much to the delight of our fellow motorcyclists.
Tomorrow we tackle Turkmenistan, tonight we celebrate the end of our luxury Caspian Sea cruise.
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