#SubaruOfftrax Week Five Highlights
Baku, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (embassy) & crossing the Caspian Sea
With the Turkmenistan embassy not open till the next day, we decided to venture out to Qobustan, and look for the elusive mud volcanos. After some random searching, we found a patch of them up on a hill. The landscape was lunar-like, with cold bubbling mud. Very choice and well worth the hunt. The wind was intense, sandblasting us beyond belief.
On our way back we stopped off at the ‘James Bond beach’ with an old oil rig just offshore. To our surprise, locals were actually swimming, as others were lying around the trash laden beach. Elly, the only brave one of us, put her feet in the Caspian Sea, leaving them itchy for awhile.
The next day, back at the embassy at 9am, we were turned away and told to return at 11am. Unsurprisingly, Corinne & Elly went for haircuts in the downtime. Back at the embassy, after some waiting, we were told to go to the bank to pay for our visas. Well this took much longer than expected, which got us back at the embassy just shy of 15min of it closing. Damnit! Now we had to spend the weekend in Baku until Monday when the embassy would reopen. Not good, for scheduling purposes or money, as Baku is pricey.
Time for some more expeditions outside of the city; bring on the Five Finger Mountain, a sacred place that families go to to pray for fertility. GPS led us around the way, through a military zone and across shitty roads for an hour long detour. In addition, a so called ‘policeman’ offered to drive us to the site for $50! Definitely not a real cop….. Eventually we found the mountain, which looked nothing like ‘five fingers’, more so like a giant rock face. The hike up it was long with many steep steps, but so worth the effort as the views were stunning overlooking the Caspian.
Over the weekend we took it easy, exploring the city, riding the metro, which was old and smoking hot and doing laundry.
On Monday, Michael picked up the Outback, all fixed and ready to go thanks to Cameron and the team at Subaru Azerbaijan. Back at the Turkmenistan embassy for 9am as we were told, we killed time making bets as to when it would open…waited till after 11am for it to open. 11:15am we saw signs of life, though we were told to wait even longer to allow others to go first. Every time the door opened it was a scrabble to push through in hopes of getting inside.
When we finally got in, Noray, the consular staff did each of our visas in a bare bones styled office. By 1230pm we had our visas and rushed to check out of our hotel in hopes of getting on a boat asap. With a fixer’s help and some $ we got summoned to be at the ferry terminal for 6pm, however, getting on the boat was never guaranteed. At the terminal our cars were measured, and papers were gathered. All and all it cost approximately $700 USD per car to cross the Caspian. Ouch! Now it was a waiting game of going through customs, loading the cargo ship with trains, etc. Over the course of 5-6 hours we waited to board, amusing ourselves in many ways, including flattening coins on the railway track, under the slow moving trains.
Eventually we all fell sleep waiting, till near midnight an official called the passengers (Andy, Elly & Jess) to board. Half asleep we rushed through, not thinking to bring anything with us. By the time we got on board, we weren’t allowed to go back to the cars to get anything, so we were stuck with nothing.
On the ship, we had to hand over our passports to the captain and were shown our cabin- a hot, fly infested mess, though better than expected. We “snuck” out and scoured the ship to see if we could see the cars boarding.
Finally we watched the cars board and we found a hatch where we snuck down to the cars to gather what we needed on deck. All together now, exhausted, we set up our sleeping area. Not fully realizing or caring at the time, we were located directly under the diesel exhaust and above the engine. At 3am we finally left port and fell asleep to the rumble of the engine beneath us.
By 7am we were wide awake, baking in the sun, still under the exhaust like idiots. We soon got our smarts together and moved everything to the top deck in the shade. The day was spent lounging around the cargo ship, playing games for overpriced, shitty beers the cook sold us, and sneaking in showers from the staff quarters.
We arrived in Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan at 630pm and it was a hot 38 degrees out. Over the course of 4 hours we went through 20 checkpoints and $165 per car to get through the border. Finally when we had paid and all paperwork done, came the car inspection. Officials questioned us as to whether we were carrying any guns, drugs, medicine, rocket missiles AND nuclear bombs! Our faces were priceless needless to say.