Saturday 29th July - Ferry come, ferry go
We packed our car in the super humid weather of Baku. It was only 9:30am but we were already dripping in sweat. The plan for today was to purchase our ferry tickets and maybe even jump on the ferry that we knew was scheduled to leave today. There's a three day wait between each ferry to Kazakhstan. If we didn't get the one leaving today we'd have to wait until Tuesday.
We drove down to Baku ferry port and saw a whole bunch of other teams already waiting. A woman who spoke some English explained to us we were at the wrong port, the ferries leaving from here go to Turkmenistan. The ferry to Kazakhstan leaves from a port in a town called Alat which is a forty-five minute drive away. We left to return to our car and make the drive down to Alat. Alat proved to be in the middle of nowhere, like there should seriously be tumble weeds in this town it's that remote. We approached a boom gate and had guards come out. They had to use a highly technological device to check for explosives under our car. They pulled out a big broom stick with a circular mirror attached and walked around our car looking underneath. Once we were checked we were allowed to drive to the port. Good to see a bunch of other teams already waiting! Approx ten teams were already there; we parked and spoke with a helpful Swedish team who told us they'd been there for two days. They explained the ticket purchasing process and warned us to be nice to the ticket guy because he gets a bit grumpy.
Over we walked to the ticket window hopeful we'd get on the ferry that afternoon. We knocked on the door, no answer, we knocked on the little window of the demountable. It opened and a blokes head popped out. "Hello, we'd like to buy tickets for the ferry". "I eat lunch, you come back in hour". Not much we could do about that so we left him to his lunch. We were told by others that the conditions on the ferry are third world so buying food and water is essential. No point sitting around at the port so we figured we'd go on a food expedition and return later for our tickets.
(driving through Baku)
(Alat ferry port)
We drove into the nearby dirt town of Alat. Locals stared us down as we navigated the streets looking for a supermarket. Turns out there was only two little shops there that try to stock everything and anything from lollies to raw chicken legs. Not quite what we were looking for. We decided to leave the tumble weed town of Alat and drive back toward Baku to visit an actual supermarket. Thirty minutes later we were at Azerbaijan's version of Coles running about the aisles looking for two minute noodles and sunscreen. We returned to our car looking like we'd gone shopping for the apocalypse to have a chat to a 200 year old ancient parking officer bloke. He said we had to pay a dollar to park our car out the front of the supermarket. He had a few gold teeth and assured us he'd protect our car if we went to lunch for a bit; he took his job very seriously and kept beaming at us. We left Panda in good hands and went across the road for our last proper meal before the ferry.
The owner of the restaurant was an enthusiastic man who spoke good English and was very grateful for our presence. He put us in a small private room with air con and brought out a whole heap of dishes for us to eat. We contacted all our loved ones informing them that we most likely wouldn't be in contact for the next few days as we'd be either on the ferry or frying in the sun at the ferry port.
Returning to the port we said g'day to the guards at the boom gate again and drove to the ticket window. Upon approaching we saw that it looked a little vacant. All the teams had gone! They'd made it onto the ferry while we were shopping, nooo! There was one lonesome team still there so we went over to find out what had happened. We discovered that there was two teams who hadn't made it onto the ferry, them and another team from Sweden. The Italian team that was still there chatting with us were also coincidentally in a Fiat Panda that was identical to ours save being a few years younger. They'd bought their ticket the day before hoping they'd make it onto the ferry but unfortunately were told there wasn't enough room. This made us feel a little better because it meant we wouldn't have got on regardless. The Swedish team who also got left behind had been waiting at the port for two nights. Our new Italian friends said the next ferry is due on Tuesday but we should come back on Monday to spend the night to guarantee we get on the boat. They packed up their stuff and drove off wishing us luck in buying our tickets.
We returned to the ticket booth and were invited inside the demountable to chat with the manager. It was a bit of a confusing process but we managed to pay for our passage. It was $70 USD per person and $300 for our car ($100 per metre, lucky our car is short!). Another bloke stepped into the demountable and asked us where we were from, after the millionth time telling him we were Australian he turned to Pat quite confused. The bloke pointed to Pat and said "not Australian", obviously referring to Pats Korean appearance. Pat assured him he was Australian, but the bloke pointed at his own eyes and said "Chinee?!" Pat said no he was Korean, the bloke started laughing and said with some grand hand gestures "haha! America bomb you! Booooom!" After the twenty minute process of securing our tickets (which we later found out only put us on a reservation list and didn't quite guarantee us a spot) we left the port.
We took advantage of the wifi at the port to find a hotel and book it. James jumped out of the car and had a chat with a nice guard. An hour later we were back in Baku at a hotel called Red Roof. The main reason we booked it was because it had a pool, we were sick and tired of having sweat drip down our faces. We dumped out bags in the room and ran to the pool. A bunch of Iraqi men were also staying at the hotel for what looked like a boys weekend. The were quite nice and gave us a bunch of watermelon they'd cut up. The wind was really picking up while we were swimming, it felt like a tornado was coming. Natalie and James opted to skip dinner as it was already 10pm, Haylee and Pat drove down to the nearest kebab place to grab something quick.