A choice of routes?
After we return to Baki we find the ferry prices are now very "fixed" (five vans parked outside the ferry office for two days may have raised our profile too high for a "negotiated" price to pass undetected).
The fixed price of approximately $450 USA per van and the very poor reputation of the ferry make us re-evaluate the ferry route. Les, Clive and Maureen go to the Iranian embassy (2002-05-19) to see if a transit visa is possible. They are told it is, and quickly, but not for Pat (a USA citizen).
After discussion the group decides to divide. Bigfoot and Mog will go, as planned, by ferry across the Caspian, Kon-Tiki, Womble and K-Nine will drive round the south via Iran. We will all meet up again in Uzbekistan on the 2002-05-27.
The process of buying the ferry tickets ($450 per van in Manats), paying the port tax ($20 in dollars), passing the police inspection, getting through customs and explaining why we did not buy the compulsory third party insurance when we entered Azerbaijan (we didn't know it existed and would have bought it if we could) takes from 17:00 to 23:40. We finally drive the two vans onto the ferry.
Then a "big problem"! Immigration discover that Stephen and Pat's Azerbaijan visas may have already expired (a complicated question about validity, duration, the issue date and the validity date, confused by the fact that the visa was corrected by the embassy). This "big problem" can only be resolved by unloading Mog and going to the ministry in Baki on Monday and paying a $20 extension fee per person. After some negotiation and considerable stress an alternative arrangement is made.
Mog and Bigfoot leave on the ferry. Our two birth cabins, whilst old and tatty, are reasonably clean, there is bed linen and towels, the en-suite loo is clean and functional. The Caspian is dead calm, the ferry almost silent and there appear to be very few other passengers. We are told the crossing will take 14 hours. We SMS (Text message) the the Iranian bound group with our views on the ferry.
The ferry crossing takes 18 hours and there is an unexplained wait of 2 hours before we can enter Turkmenbashi port. Contrary to what we had expected the customs and immigration procedures on entering Turkmenistan were well organized, well documented and with no sign of corruption! They were however expensive and slow. We are charged (from a rate card printed in English) for a variety of minor and in some cases non-existent services about $50 in addition to this there are two significant charges, $50 for five days of third party insurance and $109 fuel tax (this is based on $0.09 per kilometer of our route thru Turkmenistan, where diesel is effectively free.)
We are met at the port by a representative of Ayan Travel (recommended) who smooths our way thru customs and takes us to a beach resort 20km out of town where we camp (free). We get to bed at 01:00.
In the morning of the 2002-05-21 we discover (via Ayan Travel) that the Iranian bound group may not be...
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