Azerbaijan 4 – The Caspian Sea – 6/2014
It was Sunday, June 15 now, and still no sign of the ferry. Sometime late that night or early Monday morning it docked and we woke up to find two Brits and an American who had arrived from Kazakhstan by ferry camping next to us. They were coming from Kabul, Afghanistan and headed for London. All day of the 16th we waited thinking we might load at any moment. Still nothing happened. The 17th, Tuesday, the whole crew left to take a day off, and the clock on our five-day transit visa kept ticking.
Finally, on the morning of the 18th, the complicated loading process began. A collection of rusting derelict equipment and parts lay scattered along the docks. By some stroke of luck, we were the first on board. A huge hydraulic lift raised us up to the upper deck where we were directed to park along the rail. The heat was sweltering but there was an occasional breeze. We sat behind our truck looking for shade and watching the show. Several of the huge semi-tractor trailers were raised and parked behind us, leaving space between them of less than a foot. Around 5 o’clock in the afternoon we finally sailed away from Baku.
At last we were on the ferry and we soon began to meet the friendly Turkish truck drivers. One guy spoke little English. They obviously knew the drill and began setting up their little travel kitchens and preparing dinner. They were most likely Muslim but no one blinked an eye when Monika emerged in shorts. She was undoubtedly the only female on board.
Arriving at the Turkmeni-stan port of Turkmenbashi it was 7:00 am and a strong wind was blowing. The tugboat that ushered us in was much smaller than what the captain had requested and was unable to be of much help in the wind. After several failed attempts to get close enough to the dock to tie off, we ended up motoring back out to sea where we spent the rest of the day and that night 5 miles offshore. We tried to imagine we were on a luxury cruise across the Caspian Sea. That’s stretching the imagination.
Late in the afternoon, a strange thing happened. You may know that there are ongoing territorial and ethnic tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia called the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. In any case, the second machinist, pretty drunk, decided he didn’t like the map on the side of our truck. It showed our intended route through the small country of Azerbaijan and the tape covered up the name but not Armenia (which we did not visit). In a fit of patriotic violence, he pulled out his knife and attempted to scrape off Armenia on the map. Our Turkish truck driver friends grabbed him about the time I was going to. Probably a good idea since it might’ve ended in a conflict much more violent. I think they were about to throw him overboard when the captain was alerted and the offending crew member was locked in a cabin until he calmed down. It took several hours and in his rage, he smashed up everything inside and punched a hole through the window. The captain did not speak English but the chief engineer did. He was very apologetic, invited us for tea and snacks and offered to pay for the damage. We accepted a token one hundred dollars that he would deduct from the crewman’s wage. He wanted to fire him but we requested to refrain. The machinist came twice to apologize profusely to both of us and then one more time with the chief engineer in tow. It was quite embarrassing for him but we hope he got to keep his job. We weren’t very happy about the damage though it could have been worse. I guess I should have use the Louisiana bumper sticker: “Ever wonder about life after death?——Touch my Truck!”
It was 3:45 AM the next morning, Thursday, the 20th. The wind had died down and the larger tugboat arrived, enabling us to finally dock. Unloading went quickly for us since we were first and by far the most maneuverable. We barely had time to say farewells to our fellow passengers. We were directed to the Customs building where we spent the next 4 hours and 20 minutes going from office to office and window to window, 14 of them if I recall. Each office was in charge of something, we knew not always what for, but most of them had a small fee we had to pay before they put a rubber stamp and signature on our entry permit. Interestingly, they only accepted US dollars. The only thorough inspection was of our first aid kit. One of the few English speaking officials had luckily forewarned us that major painkillers will be taken away, so Monika hid them quickly in a place where the very efficient female officer would never even look. Finally, we were driving in Turkmenistan.