Kazakh experience

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Crossing the Caspian Sea

In any roadbook, it’s written that “the trip is more important than the destination”. Crossing the Caspian Sea was one of the most symbolic experiences of our trip, revealing the truth of this expression.

While studying the itinerary, we understood going from Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan by the sea won’t be easy. Our first researches about this crossing confirmed our worries…

The number of shipments is linked to the weather and the kind of goods to transport. No shipping timetable can be known in advance, plus the tickets can be hardly found… We read many stories about the myth of this trip!

We were prepared but, indeed, patience was the main key of this experience.

Upon our arrival in the city of Aktau, our objective was to know the timetable of the shipping departure as this information was hard to get. While strolling in the streets, we asked in any offices looking like a travel agency. But no luck!

Finally, the hasard did well. While trying to schedule our exploration of the valley of Boszhira, Sergueï offered to bring us to the office of the shipping agency to get more information about the next departure. Julia, the shipping agent, invited us to come back on Tuesday afternoon to buy our ferry tickets which should leave on Wednesday.

Early in the morning, after a first call to the shipping agency, we have been invited to come along at the end of the afternoon to buy the tickets. At the beginning of the conversation, we seemed to have plenty of time to reach the harbour before the departure. But at some point, we finally understood that we had a short timing. Initially, Julia suggested to us to take the road on the following day, at 8am. But she gave us more information and specified we needed to register our motorcycles with the custom officers at the port and advised to take the road immediately!

We went quickly at the hotel to pack and to pay our stay. It was 8pm when we left the parking of the hotel to reach the Kurik harbour, 80 km further at the South of Aktau.

At dusk, the colours were beautiful. We reached the village of Kurik and turned on the right. We thought our last kilometres will be on a track, but finally it was on asphalt.

It was in the dark with a heavy fog that we arrived at the harbour. We were surprised to see modern buildings in the middle of nowhere. We registered our vehicles for the next ferry with a team of international truck drivers, Christoph and Maïka – a German couple driving a UAZ van, and Yves – a French guy driving a Lada Gigouli.

The registration process was quite disorganised. At the end, we managed to cross the barriers symbolising the entry of the harbour. After filling the paperwork for going out of the territory and registering our vehicles, we shared and enjoyed a pasta dish in Ahmet’s kitchen made in a box on the side of his truck. We spent the evening on the parking with a nice team. Finally, the custom officers kindly offered us to sleep in a corridor of their office.

Around 9am the staff arrived, one by one, to take their shift at the custom office. We enjoyed our breakfast in the cafeteria of the port. But we have been interrupted by the custom officers for our vehicle inspection. We didn’t have the time to finish our cup of tea and needed to rush outside for the inspection.

No troubles for the checking, the dogs were actually more interested by playing with a plastic bottle than our vehicles!

We waited patiently until the end of the morning. We watched a first ferry leaving, full of wagons of goods. At 10am, our ferry named the “Professor Gul” arrived in the harbour. An hour later, the ferry was unloaded of the vehicles arriving from Baku. It was our turn to be on the loading deck. We waited for new wagons to be loaded in the ferry, taking a big part of lower deck.  

For this ferry crossing, we were with 5 truck drivers including Ahmet ; Maïka, Christoph and their UAZ van (@bibi.und.hilde) ; Yves, Juliette, Solann and their Gigouli car ; Mario and Gema with their bicycles (@apinonfijo) ; David, Ally and also their bicycles (@wheely_far). To complete this great team, two other Kazakh families with their cars joined. Once the vehicles parked on the deck, we went to our cabins. The furniture was rudimentary. We waited two hours, the time for our passports to be checked by two members of the army who came specially on the ferry for this occasion.

It was 6pm when the engines of the ferry started which meant 20 hours after our arrival at the port.

We started our crossing progressively by a tea with all the team before to dine in the canteen of the ferry.

At sunset, everyone gathered together on the upper deck to share a few glasses of the alcohol brought by everyone. We shared our travel stories. The members of the crew joined us. With Russian, Turkish, French, English and Spanish wording, we spent the night between the two chemneys of the ferry.

For breakfast, hard-boiled eggs in the canteen before each traveler went back to his occupations: reading, playing “dutch” (a card game), watching a serie,… Then, it was tea time before lunch. At the beginning of the afternoon, Baku was on the horizon. We were also able to see petrol platforms on the sea. We still needed to patient a few hours for our port of arrival, Alat which is 70 km further from Baku city towards South. We arrived by 4pm, local time (one hour of difference with Kazakhstan). We patiented for the gate to be open. In the meantime and as a true acrobat, David did a little show with his diabolo.

First, it was by foot that we went to the Azerbaijani customs. We gave our e-visa to get a stamp on our passports. For Emilie and I, there was a little IT issue which made the process longer for us and increased our stress.

Then, we took our motorcycles out of the ferry and took all our cases through X-rays by a carrousel like the ones in the airports. The custom officers were looking for a drone which they could seize due to the strict interdiction of drone use in the country. As Julien was the first of the team, he alerted us. We managed to hide our drone in the boot of our sidecar, just in time!

We continued all the paperwork by importing our sidecars at the next desk. We have been welcomed by a customs officer speaking English. Once this was done, he indicated the exit of the port and said we finished all the paperwork. We were surprised as we haven’t paid the crossing fees for the sidecars yet.

Arriving at the last gate before the way out of the harbour, we showed all the paperwork we were possessing. As expected, the officer indicated us that we were missing a document that  we should get from the “Kasa.” We followed their indications to find the hidden desk behind the car park of the quay. The office was implanted in an old container. There, we joined our friends met on the ferry. We didn’t understand everything about what we have to pay, to who and why. Some of the officers gave us tickets in exchange of fees paid, and others indicated other desks to go. A little mess…

We finally finished by paying the transport of the sidecars 110 USD. It was 10pm when we left the harbour with Maïka and Christoph. The Russian Gang drove the 70km to Baku, before to discover Azerbaijan.