We rocked up to Khiva in the early evening – Tim and Nic had booked us a downstairs room at the hotel they had been staying at in the old town.
We all went out for some local Uzbek food which turned out to be similar to the rest of Central Asia but better. Instead of old fatty mutton they had beef, and there was a great dish involving stuffed peppers and roasted veg. We took a few quick pics of the Old Town by night en route home.
The next day we tagged along on a pre-booked tour with Tim, Nic and two Israeli dudes. The Israeli’s seem to love touring the Central Asia area – we have seen quite a few of them.
These chaps were a great laugh and we spent the day looking at all of the amazing mosques and mausoleums.
Khiva ‘s Old Town is a little more understated than that of Samarkand and Bukhara’s and we were lucky to miss most of the tourists that we had seen so far throughout Uzbekistan.
The little restaurant that we had dined in the night before told us that they were expecting 400 tourists to fly in to a nearby city the next day before descending upon Khiva. A lucky escape.
Upon our return to the hotel we discovered that one of our long range fuel tanks was leaking Diesel from the filler cap. Before we hit Khiva we filled all of our tanks for the first time giving us an estimated 330L of fuel. The two long range tanks are meant to pump into the main tank so our guess was that an air pocket was forcing Diesel from the end tank into the middle tank and over-filling it. We cleaned up the mess and started the car which solved the issue.
Jerome and I spent a bit of time fixing up a rattle coming from the fan on the intercooler before I raced up to the rooftop of the hotel to catch some awesome pictures of the city as the sun set.I reckon that hotel roof had one of the best views in Khiva. That night was a bit odd as some random staff member let himself into our room in the middle of the night. Tim and Nic reported the same thing happening to them! Nothing was taken or touched – just a little weird….
The next day we packed up and headed out for the Nukas Road leading back into Kazakhstan and eventually to Aktau where we would take a ship over the Caspian Sea to Baku, Azerbaijan.
The Nukus Road has varying reports on it’s condition. It turned out to be a mixture of new, perfect road and disintegrated old roads covered in thick dust. We had a long day of driving before pulling off road and setting up our first camp in literally weeks. It felt so good to finally be free of hotels and cities. We missed sleeping in the car badly and being able to cook our own food. Plus it really gets expensive when you don’t live out of your vehicle.
Anyways – the next morning we made our way to the Uzbek/Kazakh border crossing. We were sure that the Kazakh side of the crossing would be fine as we had already experienced getting into Kazakhstan without any issues. We fully expected to be held up by the Uzbeks again and I was anticipating a full vehicle unload and search. There wasn’t much of a queue for the border but The Uzbeks were predictably slow. I watched a car in front of us get stripped down for inspection so we were ready for the big haul. Luckily there was a very friendly guard who spoke English there. He noted that Jerome was in a wheelchair and was very helpful in leading us to all the right booths for our customs declaration stamps etc.
When it came to our turn to be searched this time Tim and Nic went first. (Last time we did and we unloaded most of our car. when it came to their turn the guards took one look at all the shit piled up in the back of their car; took a look at each other and gave up!). The guards popped open their rear doors, and yet again took one look at all of their stuff and clearly did not want to search them. Yes! the same went for us, we just popped open our rear doors and sailed on through and onto the Kazakh crossing. Bliss! As predicted the Kazakhs let us straight in and we were off.
We spent the next day weaving our way to Aktau through the terrible roads which eventually turned into smooth asphalt.
Aktau was a lot bigger than we thought it would be. It’s a major shipping port for Kazakhstan but the city is only about 50 years old. We rocked up in the evening and grabbed a greasy Burger King (Our first fast food in months) before getting a room in the cheapest hotel ever. Seriously – this hotel was a dive. Definitely a seedy destination for a drunk couple who met at the pub a few hours ago. The Burger King didn’t go down so well for Jerome who spent most of the evening bringing it back up! The next morning we were treated to the hotel breakfast special – 2 eggs and stale bread. Thats it!
Our aim was to get the next ferry out of Aktau and over to Baku in Azerbaijan. The Caspian Sea ferries are notorious. They have no schedule so you have to register as wanting to sail and then wait for the next boat to dock. That could be half a day or a week – no one can tell you. We were prepared for this and decided that if we had to hang around we would order a few spares from the local Toyota Parts shop and catch up on paperwork. Well – what a f**k around this ferry business turned out to be.
Day 1: We turned up at the passenger ticket office to be told that the next boat was due in 2 days. Not too bad. The price per passenger would be $120, payable once we were confirmed as being on a certain ship. We then made our way top the port to register our vehicles onto the next available ship. We followed the excellent instructions of a traveller who had already sailed the Caspian on how to get a ferry. I strongly suggest reading his step by step guide as the port is a confusing place with very little people to help you:
At the registration counter we met possibly the most unhelpful woman of all time who told us to sit and wait for her to register us. After an hour a Japanese moto-tourer (Yuichi) that we had seen on the roads up to Aktau came in with a Kazakh chap to also register to travel across the Caspian. We got chatting and exchanged contact details. Turned out that Yuichi was also looking to traverse Europe and Africa down to Cape Town in the same timeframe as us.
His Kazakh friend (this is TERRIBLE but we cannot remember his name! Bad form) was acting as his fixer and negotiated with the fish faced woman at the counter to register us after hours of waiting. He reported that yes, the next ship is in about two days and it would cost $80 per meter of car. So for two passenger tickets and the car we were looking at about $720 to get to Azerbaijan.
to cut a long story short we made the most of our time waiting for the ferry by ordering some car parts and tinkering about.
Day 3: The day arrived to go and pay for our passenger tickets and the port fees. We rocked up to the passenger office only to be told that they could only book two more passengers on the boat and that the remaining three would have to pop their vehicles on the ship and fly! we had never heard of this one before in all of the blogs we had read. Between us we had two Landcruisers, a motorbike plus Tim, Nic, Yuichi, Jerome and me. After a short discussion it became apparent that in order to keep things going, Jerome and I would fly whilst Tim and Nic would look after the cars on the boat. Yuichi hadn’t pitched up yet so Tim and Nic bought the last two tickets whilst we went to the shippers to get our bill of lading and customs forms stamped. We spent the whole day there getting the fire authorities to stamp the Bill Of Lading, plus 5 other pointless stamps. The plan would be that Jerome and I would load the car into the ship that evening (planned docking time) and then have an extra night at the hotel before taking a flight. I booked us both and Yuichi onto a flight for two days time at a cost of $152 per person.
Tim and Nic checked out of the hotel and waited at the port gates for loading. I was sure that it would be too soon as reports were that Aktau port was notoriously slow. (hence booking later flights) Surely enough – Nic and Tim ended up waiting a full 24 hours at the port gates before it was time to load into the ship.
So this took us up to day 5. We met the guys at port and removed our personal belongings from the car before driving it onto the ship at 8pm (6 hours later! yes, more waiting). We went back to the hotel and logged on to the marine tracking website where we tracked our ship which left port at 10pm that night. the ferry takes 20 hours plus unexpected stoppage and unloading – all things going well. So we expected the ferry to be in Baku port at about 10am the next day. Our flights would get in at 12pm that same day so we were planning to go from the airport to the ship port.
The flight on Day 6 was actually fine. Jerome for the first time on any flight since his accident was able to wheel himself onto the plane and into the front row of seats without having to transfer onto those awful little aisle seats in front of everyone.
Upon landing we discovered that the ship was behind schedule and we ended up having to stay in a $100 hotel for the night. We finally got the call to come and get the car and pass through customs at 4.30 the next morning. I left Jerome in bed and took a very expensive taxi with Yuichi to the port. Picking up the car was fine. We paid for the shipment there which turned out to be $100 per meter of car. They were just about to measure the car when I blurted out that I knew it was 4.5 m long. It was actually almost 6 m long but I had read that they don’t usually measure your car if you give them a sensible meterage. Luckily they accepted my whack measurement – saving us $150 bucks. Yes! Tim also tried the same trick but got a little greedy and said his car was just 3m long! The guards didn’t believe him and ended up measuring it and charging for almost 6 metres.
All in all it cost Jerome and I about $1000 including flights, hotels, taxis, shipping and customs to ‘cross’ the Caspian. We were very disappointed to have to end up exiting Central Asia on a flight rather than in our vehicle on the famous Caspian Sea.
So all in all it took 7 days to to get from Aktau to Baku. Farrk! OK this post was pretty boring – because it was a boring time. But stay tuned cos the next instalments involve mud volcanoes, crazy passes, tipping vehicles and humungous testicles! Jess 😉