Leaving Baku… Finally
How long does it take to board the ferry from Baku to Turkmenbashi? A very, very long time. Pamela MacNaughtan shares what to expect (and how to keep yourself entertained) on the long Mongol Rally road.
MONGOL RALLY STOP #9: Baku, Azerbaijan
Kilometres to go: 7,700
One thing travel has taught me is that it’s not worth it to fret and worry. Things move at their own pace, and its best to just adjust and go with the flow. Perhaps nowhere on the Mongol Rally has this been more true than while waiting for the boat to Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan. After weeks of constantly moving in our quest toward Mongolia, we had no choice but to finally just sit and wait.
The day had started with a return to the Turkmenistan Embassy in Baku. I was hopeful about my visa issue, and I sat quietly waiting as the staff (two adorable men with absolutely delightful personalities) checked screens and made phone calls. It took about 40 minutes, but in the end they found my name—finally—in the database, wrote down my invitation letter number and added me to the list of travellers taking the boat to Turkmenistan. Success! I could leave Azerbaijan, and Charlie could no longer say things like, “We’re stuck in Baku because of Pam’s visa,” which had been getting on my nerves of late.
But getting from Baku to Turkmenbashi would take longer than I had expected, and adjusting to the flow took some serious patience. How much, you ask? Well, here it is: the wait, by the numbers.
11:00 a.m.: The sun was high in the sky as we sat in the shade and waited. And waited. And waited.
1:00 p.m.: Roughly 10 more cars arrived and we began the process of handing over our passports, having our cars measured (cars are charged by the metre), and sitting in the shade and chatting.
2:00 p.m.: We paid for the cars (US$70/metre) and tickets (US$100 each) for the boat, and were then instructed to drive to the dock and park. We stood and waited.
3:00 p.m.: The drivers were asked to bring their passports and the car paperwork to customs. The rest of us waited.
3:30 p.m.: The rest of us were told to walk down to the customs office with our passports, so we did. But customs wasn’t ready. We stood outside and waited.
As we waited, some ralliers sat in the shade, some kicked around a ball, and some, delirious in the heat, you could say, decided to see what would happen to foreign coins when they are run over by a train.
It started as a joke, but soon turned into a full-fledged time killer. A small crowd of ralliers and locals watched (and cheered) as the train wheels started moving and ran over the coins. It was like we were all watching a sporting event. It was the most fascinating thing any of us had done all day, and it was awesome.
Some of the coins were flattened, while others were merely warped (Georgia coins held up particularly well). When the train started moving, locals and ralliers alike were lined along the railroad tracks, placing coins on the track just before the wheels came by.
6:00 p.m.: Customs started to process our passports. Once we cleared customs, we were told to take whatever we needed from our cars for the next 14 hours, as we wouldn’t have access to them once the cars were parked on the boat. I grabbed food and water, my pillow and my camera and laptop.
As the sun began to set, most of the ralliers walked up to the top deck, ate dinner and drank. It was a relaxing evening, and the air was a little cooler than before, so time went quickly.
10:00 p.m.: We were still in Baku, with no sign of leaving.
12:00 a.m.: I thought we’d be on our way for sure. But no, still docked.
Most peopled moved from the top deck to the back deck where there were tables and chairs. The drinking and laughing continued.
2:00 a.m.: I decided to call it a night. We were still docked in Baku.
5:00 a.m.: I got out of bed, thinking I was suffering from vertigo. But no, we were moving! Yes, 12 hours after we started boarding the ship we were finally leaving Baku!
I had heard several stories about the boats from Baku to Turkmenbashi, but as it turned out, many of them seemed to be nothing more than myths. Yes, there is a lot of bureaucracy and red tape (and waiting), but you just have to go with the pace. That’s just the way of the Mongol Rally.