I rode away from the abandoned building that had been my home for the night. As I passed through a town, a guy waved me over and after greeting me tried to convince me to buy a kebab. I don’t imagine he normally has much success with that at 7 AM, but I’d just been craving a kebab so I took him up on the offer for some unconventional breakfast food.
The signs counted down the kilometres to the port town of Alat. Unlike Armenia and Georgia, which have their own alphabets, Azerbaijan uses the Latin script. There is just one exception: the ‘a’ sound is written with an upside down ‘e.’
Shortly before noon I made it to the port and was directed through by the surprisingly large group of security guards stationed outside. As I rode through I saw a group of pale-skinned people which I identified as the European travellers and went over to hang out with them.
Most of them were Swiss or German motorcyclists whohad arrived the day before. There were also a pair of French cyclists who had camped at the port last night. Apparently the boat would be leaving soon – but they’d been told that yesterday as well!
They directed me to the ticket office which, like everything else here, was temporary and located inside a shipping container. I paid $70 US at the nearby bank (which even had an ATM, despite being inside a shipping container!) and was told I’d get my ticket “later.” I eventually did, several hours later.
While waiting I chatted with the other travellers. They told me about some port festival that was going on and a group of us wandered over to check it out.
It was quite a strange affair. On this cargo port 70km away from the city, here were hundreds of people for a carnival-like festival with music, games and even military helicopters on show. Apparently the main purpose of this rather bizarre event is to “offer a broad insight on the operational capabilities of one of the largest ports in the Caspian region built in compliance with all the modern standards.” Exciting stuff.
We returned to rest in the relative calm of the area around the ticket office/container. We received various (mis)information about the boat I’d be taking to Kazakhstan as well as the boat to Turkmenistan that some of the others would be aboard. At one point we were told that the Turkmenistan ferry was delayed until tomorrow, but that the Kazakhstan ferry would be boarding imminently. After some hours, we were told that the Turkmenistan ferry was now ready for boarding. Surprised, we said goodbye to those who were getting on that ferry.
Over the course of the day a large group of foreigners assembled at the port, hoping to get on the ship to Kazakhstan. There were a group of 5 French/Swiss backpackers, the two French cyclists who were here before me, a German couple who were cycling, a Russian-Luxembourgish backpacker couple, an English couple driving a van to Japan, a solo Turkish backpacker and six or so mostly-German motorcyclists.
Eventually we were told, a couple of hours after sunset, that the ferry was boarding. After scanning all our bags, a quick search, and immigration, we were allowed on to the ship. It seemed a mix between a ferry and a cargo ship, and was nicer than I’d expected given the things I’d read. Most of us were in four-bed rooms, one of which I shared with Jim and Matt (the French cyclists) and Perine, one of the French backpackers. I was soon asleep, used to my cycling schedule of going to sleep with the sun. The others told me that we started moving at around 3 AM.
We spent the entirety of the next day at sea. It was an enjoyable day, spent hanging out mostly with the French/Swiss lot, chatting and playing a few games.
We were woken in the early hours of the next morning and told that we had arrived. We packed up and lined up to meet the customs officials who’d come on the ship. Our bags were checked and we were given our entry stamps as well as migration cards. At one point we were told we’d have to take a bus across the port, but in the end the cyclists were told to wait and then allowed to ride our bikes. We went to hangout in the main building and wait until dawn.