May 22 – Arabian of The Sea

Hoping today is the day I get to leave this “propped up on oil money” town; I check out of the hotel in the morning and take a paid drive down the coast with Ishamel and his friend.  At some point in the drive, I come to the realization that the “professional” tour I was hiring on for, turns out to be a mini scam by Ishamel.  There is no tour, just him and his buddy driving me out to the mud volcanoes.  No harm done, just a little disappointed Ishamel turns out to be a petty street hustler.

I tell them I’m done with the tour and ask to take me to the shipyard where I’d rather wait for the cargo ship than risk missing my boat with these two rug salesmen.  I arrive, jump out and they speed off with a fresh $70 in their hands.  There is no follow though on “no problem, I’ll get you through the whole process”.  Anyway, I find the customs office and go through the motions of checking myself and bike out of the country.  I’m now officially in no mans land, which means I’ve received a stamp in my passport stating I am no longer in Azerbaijan.  I am now stuck at the shipyard with no way to get back into AZ (single entry visa) should something go wrong.

I go find my ship, which is named Bestekar Gara Garavev, which I’d like to think means “The Arabian of the Sea”…  She may not look like much, but I understand her to be the quickest on the Caspian.  She’s a 35 year old Russian cargo ferry still in operation and having certainly seen her prime quite some time ago.  I set up my camp chair, make a Nutella and honey sandwich and proceed to watch the cargo being loaded.  During a mid day siesta, I was awoken by a fast talking gentlemen who spoke fluent English.  Mike is a logistics contractor from Texas, who has dual citizenship in Turkey, lives in Azerbaijan, and spends his spare time racing around these developing countries in his Audi R8.  Mike appears to control the majority of the importing/exporting as for the military in Afghanistan.  He has 35 trucks on this ship with the majority being frozen beef headed for the military base in Kabul.  We discuss in length his business, look over photos of the equipment he moves, people he deals with, etc.  I learned a lot about the cargo business in the 9 hours we spent together watching the cargo loading process.  I picked up some pointers to help get my bike out of Kazakhstan and to avoid similar circumstances I found myself in Istanbul.  A very helpful meeting to say the least.

I load my bike on last, get it tied to a semi trailer and head upstairs unassisted to find a place to hang out for the 18 hour journey across the Caspian.  One of the shipmates finds me and shows me to a cabin on the upper deck where the crew sleeps.  We haggle a bit about the cost of the cabin and I park it for the night.  I head out exploring the ship and it didn’t take long for someone to start yelling at me in Russian; easy to translate that I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been.

I sit around for a couple of hours, and from what I understand waiting for the Captain to arrive.  He is apparently in town and likes to get a little buzz on before making this journey.  Perfect.

To say this a surreal experience would be an understatement; I’m onboard an old Russian freighter filled only with a rough looking bunch of Russian, Azeri, and Turkish ship hands and a few Turkish truck drivers, headed across the Caspian Sea.  Does it get any cooler than that?

I head up onto the deck and watch the glowing lights of Baku disappear as we start steaming out to sea.  Onto the next leg of the adventure.

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