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Stranded on the Caspian

TURKMENISTAN | Sunday, 1 June 2008 | Views [769] | Comments [1]

Let me start by saying this. If you are going from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan do not take the Caspian Sea Ferry. Fly, drive through Iran, go up through Russia if you have to but for the love of god avoid the ferry. These ferrys make the cross channel ones look like luxury cruise liners. The exterior was a mixture of rust and white paint, covering yet more rust, and the interior wasn't much better. We were four to a cabin, which could only fit all of us if we were lying in our bunks. The mattress on the bunks were so moth eaten that you could go straight through them if you sat down too hard. My roommate, Ray's was covered in old red paint stains. At least he hoped it was red paint. There was one toilet for twenty plus passengers, and when I say toilet I am stretching the term. I don't think it had been cleaned since it's installation and no one could find the flushing mechanism for the first twenty-four hours. It was hidden down the back, where you really didn't want to reach without haz-mat gloves,. Squatting, dive-bomber style as the ferry rocks back and forth is a life experience most people can probably do without. Other than the cabins the only other places to hangout were deck, the "lounge" multiple rows bench seats with the springs poking through, and the bar. Still the crossing was only supposed to take fourteen hours so at least our time on the ship would be short lived. We had been forewarned not to eat or drink anything that was served on the ferry and had brought our own supplies. We ate most of the food that first morning for brunch expecting to be off by the afternoon. At 1400 we anchored just outside Turkmenbashi harbour waiting for our turn to dock. By 2000 that night it seemed fairly apparent that we weren't going ashore. The captain came down to tell us that we were third in the cue and he hoped to have us in the next afternoon. We ate what little food we had left for dinner and headed to bed. There was some good news, George had managed to get a ferry and he and the truck were now anchored right next to us. By lunch time the next day stomachs were starting to growl. We were also running low on water. The Bar sold fizzy water, at extortionate prices and we didn't have a lot of other options. We did however still have a fair amount of Vodka. So when the Captain came back down at 1400 to tell us we wouldn't be docking until the next day most of the group did the responsible thing and started drinking. That night, whether due to hunger or Dutch courage, we bit the bullet and ordered a meal from the ferry's kitchen. I don't remember much of it, but it seemed edible and I suffered no ill effects from it. That night, our third on the ferry, we were awoken at around 0200 to be told we were docking. We started packing up our stuff, slowly considering most of us were still intoxicated, only to be told it was a false alarm and to go back to bed. They came round again at 0400 this time to tell us the Turkmenistan Immigration officials were on board. We each were called up to the Captain's cabin were we signed our names to a random piece of A4 paper before being sent to wait in the lounge with our bags. At around 0630 the ferry docked and we all headed down to the cargo deck to get off. For some reason we had to wait another hour before we were allowed to actually step off the ferry. We had boarded the ferry at 2000 on the Friday the 16th and finally stumbled off, hungover and badly in need of a shower, around 0730 on Monday the 19th. Still the fun wasn't over. We sat outside the customs and immigration office until 0900 when it opened and they could start processing us through. The system is a wonder of bureaucratic efficiency. You go stand in one line and wait to get your permission slip for the visa. Once this has been achieved you stand in another line to pay for the visa, where an official then hand writes receipts in triplicate. Then you go back to wait in the original line to hand over your receipt and passport. Some time later your name is called and voila, you have your visa. Of course you still have to go through customs. One by one you load your bags onto an X-ray machine that no one actually seems to be watching. You can then walk around or through the metal detector, it doesn't matter since it isn't plugged in. At which point a customs official randomly decides whether or not to check through all your bags. Our whole group finally made it through by around 1300. It's a small wonder that Turkmenistan only gets three thousand tourists a year.

Tags: caspian sea ferry, overland trip, pushmorphine, silk road, sunshine bus, turkmenistan



You mention a truck in this, just wondernig if you were driving it yourself? I'm planning on taking a car across on the ferry, but can find no mention of any rough estimate of cost (I'm sure it's very variable, but any guess is more than I currently know). Does the ferry even take cars? Answers to any of these questions would be hugely appreciated!

Cheers, Robbie

  Robbie Apr 14, 2009 11:21 PM

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