I arrived in Aktau on Saturday with the intention of getting on the Infamously unreliable Ferry to Baku, Azerbaijan. The Ferry Office was closed on the Saturday so I decided to wait until they opened first thing Monday morning. My first big mistake is assuming it works this way in Kazakhstan as the Ferry arrived from Baku at around 3 a.m. on the Monday morning dumped off its cargo of random cars and trucks and turned around and was gone by 5 a.m. The only way I knew the ferry had been and gone was by talking to a couple of competitors from the Mongol rally who had arrived at the Hotel after getting off the Ferry.
Ok not much I can do now so Monday morning off I went down to the Ferry Office which was now open, here I ran into a Norwegian guy who had been here for two weeks trying to sort out a paperwork issue with his bike, he had seen three Ferries come and go……..
Wednesday morning they tell me, come down at 10 a.m. they wrote my name and Hotel phone number down and said they would ring, I said I would be here at 7 a.m. on Wednesday anyway, I can’t afford to let another one slip past. (Tuesday morning I even rode down to the Office again just to make sure the Ferry hadn’t docked).
For the next two days I walked around aimlessly in the heat until I got sick of the over 40 degree days and retreated to the Air Conditioned Hotel and by Wednesday morning I was past being bored. At 7 a.m. I was at the Ferry Office again only to be told “No Ferry today”. Ok back to the Hotel.
At 9 p.m. they ring the Hotel and ask me to come down and sort out the paperwork, I couldn’t get on the bike quick enough and was there at 9.15. When I got there I found Till and Lin who had ridden all the way from Beyneu with a broken rear Shock to try and make the Ferry. So after all the paperwork was completed and tickets purchased they told us to come back at 5 a.m. I rode straight back to the Hotel packed my bike and was back at the Ferry Office at 11 p.m. the only way I was leaving this Ferry Terminal was on the Ferry and I would make sure I was on the next one. Luckily they had a 24 hour Café so we didn’t have to sleep on the Footpath, we all bunkered down here waiting for the Ferry.
Dawn came and we were allowed to ride through into the Loading area, finally no turning back now. This is the contents of the Ferry waiting to enter Kazakhstan, more Mongol Rally cars.
Our Ferry journey would only have 7 passengers and we would share the ride with 61 John Deere Combine Harvesters worth around $300,000 US each which was a good incentive not to sink the ship before we arrived in Baku.
Most of the 7 passengers of the ill fated voyage, 1 Japanese Cyclist, Till, me, the stranded Norwegian guy and Lin (Caroline) taking the photo. A Kazak Logistics guy who would look after the Harvesters and another local traveller make up the massive passenger list.
And the full passenger list (Japanese Cyclist taking the photo).
Time to tie the bikes down with whatever rope we could find, luckily I had just enough spare ties for my bike only, sorry guys.
All tied up and hopefully they would be in the same position in around 35 hours.
So after around 15 hours waiting at the Ferry Terminal we were on board the Ferry known as Mercuri 1. There used to also be a Mercuri 2 also covering this route across the Caspian Sea but she sank a few years ago taking the lives of 43 People with her, I was hoping our valuable cargo at least would ensure our safe delivery to Baku.
It’s fair to say Mercuri 1 is not the newest Ferry going around in fact I would say it had its best days in the sixties and the Russian influence was evident.
Even though there were only 7 passengers they tried to cram four of us into these tiny cabins, leaving literally hundreds of cabins vacant, so we quickly convinced the staff that we needed a Cabin each. My top of the line cabin complete with Air Conditioning or more accurately a Port Hole Window which was rusted open.
To be fair the ships crew were all very friendly and helpful and they fed us all good meals during the trip. It was still hot particularly during the night so not much sleep was had and more walking laps around the top of the ship to take advantage of the minimal breeze. The Fire Safety Plan was an old paper drawing written only in Russian, why didn’t I learn Russian before this trip?
After around 35 hours on board, including about 5 hours waiting to dock we were getting closer to the lights of the Port of Alat around 70 Kilometres south of Baku.
Once the Ferry docked we could finally leave and start the usual circus of arriving into a new country, luckily there were people around to tell you which office to go to, who to see and who to pay. By the time all of this was done it was nearly midnight and we rode off towards the bright city lights of Baku eventually finding a good little Hostel right in the middle of the city. The Hostel looked like this the following day (Hostel is the brown door on the right under the two Balconies).
Baku was like a breath of fresh air, it is a modern city with everything you could want, or think you want, people were very friendly and most spoke some English so we decided to spend few days here before heading off into the unknown.
Our first stop each morning was the small café two doors up for one of the best breakfasts I have had in a long time.
Then it was a warm welcome to Baku.
Bigger than Tajikistan’s……..apparently.
A bit of licence from the design of the Sydney Opera House maybe?
Just when I was settling into life in Baku it was time to put on the hot Motorcycle gear and head towards Georgia.
The traffic was crazy on the way out of the city and yet again it was nearly 40 degrees early in the morning. Once out of the city the desert starts again, eventually closer to the Georgian border pockets of green start appearing.
Till’s bike needed some welding as the poor old Africa Twin was literally falling apart, three spots welded up all for around $3, which ended up being far too much as they all broke within 24 hours…
Last stop before the border to use up some of our Azeri cash.
The Azeri side of the border was busy but seemed to flow well and we were through in around an hour. The Georgian side was like riding through a Toll Gate, stop at the window show your passport, no visa required and no search, within 5 minutes its “Welcome to Georgia enjoy your stay”, OK then I will. After that they have a shop for food and drink and a Money Changer to get some local currency, very well set up.
The landscape in Georgia is very different to Azerbaijan and is very Green and Humid which is no doubt why its one of the biggest Wine producing countries in the world.
After some dinner at one of the local wineries it was time to find somewhere to camp, Till had spotted a place alongside a River a few Kilometres back so off we rode and set up beside the River along with thousands of ants. Then it was time for a cool swim as it was still really hot and to top off the night a Beer or two by a nice roaring fire mostly to keep the Insects away.
The following morning we rode out through a very steep Gravel track made more difficult by some idiot who had bogged his car right in the middle of the steepest part, then it was back to the Winery, well it was on the way….
This is the Winery where yesterday we met Bruno from Belgium, so far the only other Motorcycle rider we have seen since getting off the Ferry in Baku.
My new favourite drink, Pear flavoured but they call it Lemonade for some reason only the Georgians know?
On the way we had to get our fix of Dirt and Gravel roads, this should do the trick…
Then some brand new roads made just for us…..
As it was yet again another hot day we decided to head for this Lake and try to find a Campsite and go for another swim, looked good from here.
Ok, the Camp site is around the back of the Lake, now how do we get there?
After a short trip around the Lake only to find that both the Camp Sites and the Lake full of rubbish so we headed back to the road. On the way Till’s rear Shock completely gave in, the bottom mount had been welded in Kazakhstan but now the Spring had snapped and his bike was out of action, that last bit of Dirt and Gravel had taken it’s toll.
Till limped along the Dirt roads until we found a Guesthouse nearby to stay the night. Luckily the guys who ran the Guesthouse had a welder and managed to weld a metal ring around what was left of the Spring. After a great meal and a good nights sleep the plan was to continue heading west and hope that the Spring and Shock held on until Batumi on the Black Sea Coast.
Turned out this was overly optimistic and didn’t feel right so Till and Lin decided to ride the 60 Kilometres into the Capital Tibilisi to try and find another Shock. After Lunch I headed off towards Batumi leaving Till and Lin to ride the remaining 20 Kilometres into Tibilisi.
The roads in Georgia are generally good but the drivers here are some of the worst I have come across, dangerous and fast with little respect for Motorcycles. Once again on single lane roads the oncoming traffic would just pull out onto your side of the road to pass another car and expect you to get out of the way. But worse still this was also common with cars heading in the same direction, you could see them coming up behind you and knew they couldn’t get past so they would just try and push you over and force their way in beside you. I was getting a little annoyed with this and now there is one small car driving around Georgia with a dent from a size 12 Motorcycle Boot in his right side door.
I managed to get to the town of Kutaisi before the heat and drivers got to me so I decided to call it a day and find somewhere to stay. Kutaisi is a Medieval Town with narrow Cobblestone Streets and Laneways running in all directions but after a few circles I found a nice Hostel where the Owner let me park the bike in her Garage. After a quite night and a good meal I packed up to leave and found out that the ‘Nice’ Hostel Lady wanted 60 Lari ($32 AUD) for a bed for one night, yesterday it was 6 Lari which I thought was too cheap, $32 for a Hostel is more expensive than Tibilisi. I begrudgingly paid her 40 Lari and learnt my lesson, so from now on I will get people to write down these costs as it seems in Georgia there is a little bit of profiteering from Tourists going on.
It wasn’t panning out to be a good day all round and as I tried to get back on the Highway towards Batumi it got worse. For some inexplicable reason the four lane Highway to Batumi was only open towards Tabilisi with ‘All’ four lanes running in that direction so every entry from my direction was closed. I have no idea why anyone would do this and neither did my GPS and it kept trying to direct me onto the Highway, so I ended up riding around in large circles for over two hours and even travelled backwards for over 40 Kilometres before I found a way towards Batumi. This was one of the detours I ‘had’ to take, I thought I was back in Kazakhstan agian.
The dangerous passing continued, this was an easy one most of the other close calls I wasn’t worrying about turning the Camera on.
Finally arriving in Batumi on the Black Sea where it was in the high thirties and very humid and even started raining slightly.
Batumi is a holiday town and was nothing short of a Mental Asylum with ridiculous Traffic all doing whatever they wanted, pedestrians walking in front of everyone and no one really worrying about red lights or any road rules at all. This believe it or not is a Roundabout in the Main street, I don’t know what the rules are here with Roundabouts but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
So if you can’t beat em……..
I had decided to stay further south in Gonio rather than the mayhem that was Batumi and I eventually found the Hotel I had booked, turned the Air Conditioner up full and relaxed.
Gonio is only 6 Kilometres from the Turkish Border and even though the Power and Internet at the Hotel kept going on and off it was a good place to catch up on things and relax before heading into Turkey. I can’t say I’m a fan of the Pebble Beaches but the food and Beer were good.