Day 445: The Naxçivan

21.03.10:

This must be the most incredibly naff ship I’ve been on so far; all dirty floors, peeling fake wood wallpaper, murky corridors, broken lights, stained matress, rusty bulkheads, dripping plumbing, doors that don’t close properly… Lovely! BUT AT LEAST THE TEA WAS FREE. And that makes ALL the difference in my book. I would suffer any kind of hardship as long as there was free tea on offer. And, in it’s favour, The Naxçivan was incredibly quiet and smooth… so much so that I didn’t notice for the best part of an hour that we had left port.

Maybe there was no engine… maybe it was powered by the 1984 Soviet Olympic Rowing Team, chained and manacled to the Naxçivan’s hull, their anguished cries for help stifled by the fact that they had their tongues removed before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Why the ship could only have eleven passengers was beyond me, it was massive, a great big train transporter. Okay, there may not be enough cabins, but there was a room with flilthy ripped airline seats, about thirty of them – it was only an overnight trip, what gives? I guess I’ll never know.

Tell you what though – I’d take the grotty Naxçivan over that ****ing Grimaldi Ferry to Tunisia ANY DAY. I’d taked the damn Shissiwani II over a Grimaldi Ferry, and that’s saying something.

Anyway, we got to within a couple of miles offshore of Aktau, Kazakhstan by early afternoon, but then we had to wait. A good dozen oil tankers were sharing a similar fate. This is always a worry – how long will we be stuck here? If we were offshore from an African country, I could quite imagine us waiting for days, but I was sure we’d get to dry land before midnight. Even so, I had to laugh when my friendly barman/passenger organiser said we would be one hour. It was more like ten.

At sunset, we started inching towards the port. We were going so slowly I didn’t really believe we were moving until I made a point of watching one of the oil tankers go from one side of my porthole to the other. It was dark before we were allowed to disembark. I had been warned that customs takes an age in Central Asia, but even so it took until midnight to get all eleven(!) of us through passport control. Maybe that’s why they only allowed eleven passengers. Any more and we would have been there all week. Eventually I took a shared taxi with some of the other passengers into town, something that end up costing me $10, which can’t be right in a country in which petrol costs less than water. I hate hate hate taxi drivers.

I was kicked out in a hotel that was $15 to share a room with an incredibly annoying drunken Kazakh tosser who insisted on repeating the only two English words he knew over and over and over again. Those words were “English?” and “okay?”. I gave up on having a meaningful conversation after about five seconds, but he kept plugging away at it for a good half hour, maybe longer, I don’t know, I fell asleep.

But, sod it, it’s Sunday 21 March and I’m in Kazakhstan. This time last month I was still in the UK. Happy Days!

DID YOU KNOW? Every country that borders the Caspian Sea requires difficult-to-obtain visas off Europeans.