Cycling the worst road in the World!

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September 30th 2013
Published: September 30th 2013
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Baku(Azerbaijan) to Khiva (Uzbekistan)

Baku to Aktau by ferry across the Caspian Sea-Aktau-Shetpe-Beyneu-Nukus-Urgench-Khiva (Total distance 12000 Km/7200 miles)

And so after eventually obtaining all our visas we headed down to the "Ferry" terminal. I call it a ferry in inverted commas, as it doesn't follow any timetable, doesn't look like a conventional ferry and it is always hit or miss whether you get to sail on one day or the next. We turned up at 10 am and were promptly told to return at 1 pm. At 1 pm we were eventually sold tickets, by a Russian Lady who has a reputation for being miserable but I managed to make her smile by using some of my old Naval Officer's charm. With tickets firmly in hand, we then proceeded to an outdoor waiting area where we were told to wait until called forward for passport control and customs.

Hours went by and we kept ourselves entertained by playing "Piggy in the Middle" with the local kids and chatting to some Turkmenistan men and women who were also waiting to board a similar ferry bound for Turkmenbashi.

Eventually at 8 pm we were told to proceed to customs and the phrase "Couldn't organise a Piss up in a brewery!" comes to mind as we were herded from pillar to post, official to official, who all inspected our passports with magnifying glasses looking to see whether we had overstayed our visa dates. My cycling friend Derek was rebuked for having dared visit Armenia (both countries went to war in the 90s).

At last we boarded the ferry at 10 pm where we were immediately introduced to the Ship's Security Officer and told to pay $10 each for him to look after our bikes and equipment. We told him that we didn't need security as we were taking all our belongings up to the cabin and would be locking our bikes. He wasn't too pleased with our response!

The Ship sailed from Baku a couple of hours later and we were told that their weren't any cabins available for us, so we made ourselves comfortable in the crews daytime recreation area and bedded down for the night. As well as us cyclists we were also joined by a French backpacker Stephan and 3 Motorcyclists from Serbia, Norway and Switzerland.

The expected 24 hour sea crossing went on longer than anticipated and so we made friends with a Trainee Merchant Navy Cadet Amir, from Kazakhstan, who managed to gain us access to the Bridge. Here I broke out in a sweat when faced with having to put on a navigation fix on the chart. My fix put us somewhere in the Caspian Sea...... not on land, so all was safe for the while and I took some time out to teach Amir some Naval terminology such as "Heads", "Galley" and "Bulkhead" which I think he appreciated.

We eventually disembarked the ferry 44 hours later and the passport and customs procedure in Kazakhstan, I was glad to say, was much easier and efficient.

Leaving the ferry terminal behind we were soon greeted by the sight of camels (Ships of the Desert) wandering alongside the highway and we also stopped off to admire and take photos of the beautiful Kazakh cemeteries.

It wasn't long before an old Mondeo pulled up alongside us and a Kazakh man Beket and his wife Larissa invited us to stay at their house for the next two days. We welcomed the offer and followed them with our bikes to their house.

Here we were shown the way to the outdoor loo and outdoor shower and after a clean up we were fed the Kazakh national dish and joined in in making several toasts to Kazahkstan, Britain, friends and family etc as we downed shots of vodka. The following day, both Beket and Larissa especially took days off work to look after us and drove us into Aktau for a whirlwind tour of the city and to do all our washing for us.

That evening their friends were invited around and we were again treated to more food and vodka and Larissa played us some good 'ol' russian tunes on her accordion.

The following morning as we said our farewells, Beket nearly broke out in tears as we parted company. We had had such a great time with him and his wife Larissa and their generosity and hospitality initially set the scene for Kazakhstan.

Derek and I headed out into the desert together and prepared ourselves mentally for the worst road in the world between Aktau and Nukus. It certainly lived up to its reputation! It was impossible to cycle along the main surface of the road as this was similar to a washboard effect and hence I had to constantly seek to cycle along a thin strip of
Bored waiting for the ferryBored waiting for the ferryBored waiting for the ferry

We turned up at 10 am and were told to return at 1 pm. We eventually boarded the "Ferry" at 9pm.
gravel or sand at the edge of the tarmac where the bike and I weren't shaken to a thousand bits.

Unfortunately the paring up of Derek and I was only short-lived and we mutually agreed to go our own separate ways. We have since met up again in Khiva where we are sharing accommodation and going out together during the day and the evening, but cycle touring is one of those things where it either clicks or it doesn't. We will continue to make our tracks independently, but meet up in the larger cities as we are both following a similar route.

And so I continued along the desert track on my own and camped out under the stars at night where the only noise you hear is the groan of a camel or the wind as it whistled through the abandoned buildings. The sky looked absolutely beautiful without the normal light pollution and I even managed to see a shooting star and a satellite.

A couple of days on, I bumped into another cyclist called Goat. I never revealed to him what his name meant in English, but he was of Kazakh origin living in Urgench,
No cabin allocatedNo cabin allocatedNo cabin allocated

Making ourselves comfortable in the crew quarters
Uzbekistan. He could barely speak English and I only know a couple of words of Russian, but we ended up cycling and camping together for the next few days. Goat told me that his wages in Uzbekistan were $100 per month so he had left Uzbekistan 1.5 years ago to find work as a labourer in St Petersburg, Russia where he could command a salary of $800 per month. Having finished his 1.5 year contract, he decided to cycle home from Russia, a journey of 3700km which he completed in 30 days with a ramshackle bicycle, an equivalent £8 Miletts Sleeping bag and a pannier and pannier rack held together with tape and wire.

He kept asking me in basic English and sign language how much my bicycle and equipment costed and what wages I earned prior to the trip and I had to constantly tone down my answers. In the morning, when I got up sweating in my sleeping bag, he would surface in all his clothes and do star jumps just to keep warm. I felt really guilty at times about the quality of equipment I had on me, but at the same time admired him for
Doing some sea time!Doing some sea time!Doing some sea time!

On the Bridge of the train ferry
doing a similar thing to me, but with minimal equipment and money. He is the real adventurer as far as I am concerned.

It also made me think that your passport is your path to your destiny. I am fortunate to have been born in the UK where everything is provided for and I can choose to travel to most countries in the World. Goat will most likely never have my equivalent standard of living or be able to see the parts of the Globe I choose to visit. It was quite thought provoking.

At the end of the journey, Goat invited me to his family home, where I met his wife and daughter. His son was away working in the cotton fields. I was invited to stay over at his house for the evening and also join him in his home coming celebrations. During the afternoon, he wanted to show me some stuff on his television, but the electricity was off. I was invited to make use of his bathroom facilities where he had a conventional sit down loo, but the flushing mechanism did not work so it was a matter of using buckets. Also I was provided with a pale and buckets to take my bird bath as there was no running water.

We are really lucky in the UK and often take such basic things as a flushing loo, shower and electricity for granted, but out here in Uzbekistan, these items are a real luxury at times.

The following day I rocked up in Khiva, the old and beautiful Silk Town city where I met up with Derek and we both took the opportunity to go out and take photos of the local architecture and the people working in the local market.

Seeing cows hoofs with the fur still on is not your normal sight, but then I imagine a lot of kids back in the UK think that meat comes in a polystyrene wrap!

The last two weeks have been mentally and physically tough, but looking back have been beautiful in their own right. Tomorrow I move on and head towards the Silk Road City of Bukara, followed by Samarkand and then I will be mentally preparing myself to take on the challenge of the Pamir High Way, the second highest road in the world.

The bike despite being shaken to bits is holding up well. Dust and grime are starting to make it look more like a real tourer's bike and I hope that it continues to live up to its reputation of being built to cycle around the world. The journey continues.....

Additional photos below
Photos: 80, Displayed: 28


Beket and DerekBeket and Derek
Beket and Derek

The Kazak Gentleman who invited us to stay with him and his wife for two days. His dog was named Derek, the same as my cycling Pal
Playing some Russian tunesPlaying some Russian tunes
Playing some Russian tunes

Beket's wife keeping us entertained whilst we were downing shots of vodka

Music, tea (chai) and vodka. Kazak chai is served with milk just like back at home.
Kazakh hospitalityKazakh hospitality
Kazakh hospitality

Beket and Larissa invited their Kazakh friends to meet us and we were served the national dish of Plov and vodka

30th September 2013
Arriving in Khiva, the Silk Road City

Loving the sign.
We named our son after the place!
30th September 2013

Nice to hear from you.
Nice to receive some new post from you. I read that you splitt up with Derek, but that you see each other in the city's. Say hi from me to him.

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