The relativity of time

We have finally arrived in Kazakhstan!!

It took us 54 hours after we arrived in the harbour of Alat, near Baku, including the 22 hours of sailing and no less than 32 hours of waiting.

When we got to the harbour near Baku, we met 3 Bulgarian motor bikers, Niko, Svet and Rumen. They had been there 3 days earlier, were told that the boat would not leave before the evening of the next day, and so they had left for the night. The next morning, they came back, well before the announced departure time, but the boat had left already left and they had missed it. We decided to sit it out and not leave to make the same mistake.

The port in Alat (near Baku) with the Bulgarian bikers:

New photo by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos

Imagine a large parking lot with in the corner 7 containers. One container is a small shop, another a waiting room, then there is a bank container, a toilet container, and some containers with offices. The first container we had to visit was a bit hidden and the entrance was at the back. No signs to indicate it.

New photo by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos

So, the Bulgarians helped us. Inside the container we found Vladimir, who told us to wait outside. People walked in and out and after a while we just went in again. Vladimir was a nice guy who spoke English and offered us coffee and cookies, while we waited for him to prepare the tickets. With the tickets we had to go to the bank container to pay, and then back to Vladimir to show the receipt. we got our tickets! This went rather smoothly. However, he could not tell us whether the boat would leave this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Later we heard that they were waiting for 3 or 4 more trucks to fill up the boat before it could leave. The waiting had begun.

Vladimir’s office:

New photo by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos

In the little shop we bought some things to eat and drink, got out our chairs and sat in the shade. We talked to the Bulgarians, very nice and helpful guys. Then arrived an English couple on one Yamaha XT. Andy and Alissa, who started this year their 5 to 10 years ride around the world! Then came Dave, a 54-year-old British marine on his bicycle and then 2 more German cyclists, who met each other on the road in Turkey. It is very nice to meet these people and listen to their stories and share some time together.

In the evening we bought some vegetables, eggs and sausage and the guys in the waiting room cooked for us and transformed it into a nice meal for only 50 euro cents per person.

New photo by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos
New photo by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos

Every now and then we would get some information on the departure: maybe this evening, we need 3 more trucks, probably tomorrow, at 10 am we will know more. Dave put up his tent to sleep, and when Alissa started to install her tent at 9 pm, she was told not to bother: at midnight we would be in our cabins! At midnight they announced 30 more minutes and finally at 3am we were told to go to customs. This involved a bit of waiting, inevitably, and at 4.30 we got onto the boat and an hour later we had our cabin and could sleep, after nearly 18 hours of waiting.

Dave setting up his tent:

New photo by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos

Last passport control at the Azerbaijan border:

New photo by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos

The cabin was a furnace; no window, no ventilation. We fell asleep anyways, just to be woken up 90 minutes later by a lady of the ferry who just burst into our cabin unannounced to tell us in Russian it was time to eat. So up we got and into the line with the truck drivers and overlanders to get our breakfast. It was hard to sleep after that, too tired, too hot. The rest of the day we read, we talked with the Bulgarians and the other overlanders, we visited the bridge, talked to the captain, we looked out over the sea, saw the world’s biggest oil city, an amazing sunset and we played card games with Alissa and Dave.

Reading and editing:

New photo by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos

The bridge:

New photo by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos

World’s biggest Oil City (according to the captain):

New video by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos

After the second night we arrived at port, just before 8 am. We had been sailing for 22 hours. We had heard stories that it would take hours to get through customs, so we were prepared.

First all passengers had to line up with their luggage in front of them for a drugs dog to sniff everything. Then we were put into mini vans who took us to an office where our passports were checked and where we got a form. This was quick and easy, and I started to think that it wasn’t going to be that bad after all. Little did I know…. We had to walk back to the boat and wait on the ramp. We waited for nearly 4 hours, because the Azeri had not yet sent over the forms for the vehicles because of an internet problem.

Waiting to disembark with our English friends Alissa and Andy (Mad or Nomad):

New photo by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos

Waiting for the vehicle papers:

New photo by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos

At 1.30 pm the papers arrived and were distributed. Then we mounted our bikes and rode for 100 meters to stop for a second passport control. All luggage had to get out of our paniers and were sniffed again by the same dog. Then came another passport control and we had to buy insurance. Then we had to go to a different window, but their system was down, and they had to reboot. This took nearly 2 hours, during which we had lunch. Then 3 more lines at 3 more windows. It was amazing. I had never seen anything like it. It was the perfect example of desorganisation, being sent backwards and forwards from window to desk and back again. Nobody explained what to do and where to go. Nothing was clear. Luckily Niko speaks Russian, asked questions and explained us each next step. At every desk somebody added a form, put a stamp, made a copy and checked what his colleague had just entered in the system. It could have been funny, but it just took too long to laugh about it.

With Niko waiting for the system reboot:

New photo by Paul Schim van der Loeff / Google Photos

Finally, finally we were on our bikes at 6.15 pm to ride to the last gate. Here it turned out that Erik missing one of the forms and we could not leave. This was the point that Erik was close to losing his patience and that I thought that the whole circus would have to start all over again. Erik traced back his steps and luckily, he found the missing form at one of the desks where one of the officials had taken it, when he shouldn’t have. We were set free, at last, 11 hours after we docked!

In one of the offices by the way, hung a poster on the wall, explaining in Kazakh and Russian that this whole procedure took no more than 20 minutes. Time must be relative after all …

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