A Ferry Across the Caspian?

After leaving the school at Ibrahimhajili we drove north to Seki (a big tourist destination in Soviet times). The main attraction at Seki is the Khan's Palace (Xan Sarayi) with arabesque paintings, intricate stained glass and two huge plane trees nearly 500 years old.

Lenin (Left and center) Les (Right)Then on to Baki to try and book a ferry across the Caspian.

The main ferry terminal (the Port Office) is on the "front" (Neftciler prospekti) at Baki and fairly easy to find. The building is semi-derelict. The two woman behind the counter speak no common language with us and were unwilling to turn down the sound on the television placed strategically between them and any potential customers (it is showing a western soap opera?).

After 15 minutes of shouting we established that you can not get ferry tickets there if you have a vehicle. You must go north over the bridge and then..."

After 15 minutes of futile searching we are finally shown the way. North over the bridge then an immediate "U" turn to the right then first left and over two railways lines. (N 40.37365, E 49.86537) After several false starts we finally find the "office" selling ferry tickets (a locked white metal door with a bell but no sign). Here we established that we must first get a "paper" from customs. On to customs (their office has a 300mm hole in the floor just inside the door). They say we do not need a paper but send us over the road to the road tax office instead.

The road tax office is manned by two people and a blaring television showing old Tom and Jerry cartoons in an unknown language. It is warm. Person One listens to our explanation of why we are there (we didn't know exactly, but we want to go to Turkmenistan). Person One does not speak English, French or German. Person Two, sensing that an understanding English might help, phones an English speaking friend and gives the phone to Carl.

Person One demands our vehicle documents and Azebiajan Road Tax Forms. Carl explains our position over the phone at some length. Person One laboriously copies random details from our vehicle documents into what appeared to be a school exercise book.

Carl having finished explaining our position gives the phone to Person Two who listens for 10 seconds and put the phone down. Person Two says nothing to Person One. Tom continues to hit Jerry (and vice versa). Person Two's phone rings and is handed to Carl, it is a different person from last time. It remains warm. Person One demands passport details to accompany the vehicle details in his school book.

The person on the phone asks how old Carl is and if he has a sister! Tom hits Jerry again. Person One tears the page out of his exercise book and locks it in a draw. We are dismissed.

Carl continues to explain his family circumstances over the phone. We walk back towards the ferry booking building, past customs who give us a 50mm square of paper with a stamp on it.

We return to the metal door and offer the square of paper from customs. We are admitted to an inner office with a television showing Tom and Jerry (we have only missed the commercials?). We explain (above the television and in a language that is not understood) that we are eight people in five vehicles of six to even meters length who want to go to Turkmenistan on the 21st of May.

No problem! Is there a boat? No. When are the boats? On the 18th definitely, after that who knows...

After an hour and with the help of a Russian - English dictionary we establish that:

  • There are 7 or 8 ferries between Baki and Turkmenistan.
  • There is no timetable.
  • The boats leave 5 hours after they arrive.
  • Sometimes 3 or 4 turn round at Baki in a day.
  • The fare is $30 for locals and $100 for us, four to a cabin.
  • There is no access your vehicle when at sea.
  • The fare is $36 per metre for the vehicles.
  • There is an additional $30 charge for "insurance".
  • Tickets are not for a specific boat or day.
  • You can not buy tickets before your Turkmenistan visa is valid.
  • All prices are fixed (and negotiable).

All the vehicles are measured. Prices are calculated. Clive is nominated as our negotiator. Alternative prices are considered. When in Baki.... We may have a deal but can not complete it till the 19th.

Road tax form.Later some of us eat at the Fisherman's Wharf restaurant (strongly recommended). Sanity is restored. We spend the night parked in the street outside the ferry office.

In the morning we leave Baki for the town Qobustan to see the petroglyphs and mud volcanos.

Later we have a very pleasant afternoon tea and lemon Swiss roll with a Russian speaking engineer at an oil pumping station. We are given a bottle of 1980 Azerbaijan champagne.

We camp next to the Caspian (and a disused oil well that bubbles crude oil onto the ground near our vans).

On the 18th we return to Baki to look round, shop and continue the ferry booking process. We hope to leave on the 19th..

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2002-05-18.