Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Searching for a ship

May 17th, 2010

An armful of visas. Kazakhstan and China in sight. Almost. Just need to catch a ship across the Caspian Sea. What could be simpler? Try World Peace. Intrigued? Maybe not, but just be thankful you’re not trapped in one of the most expensive cities on the planet. So sit back and enjoy a bit of armchair adventure. Here goes…

First locate the shipping company’s ticket office. A sketchy map in a well-known guidebook helps, but you’ll need to conduct house-to-house enquiries to find the right doorway. Don’t worry if you find it locked on your first visit, because you’ll be coming back in any case. Many times.

Once eventually inside, mutter a few words of Azeri and then the magic phrase – Kazakhstan. It probably helps if you’re a budding actor or an aspiring author since, chances are, you’re already used to rejection. If not, you soon will be. Expect to hear “No ship. Tomorrow maybe. Ten o’clock information” or variations thereof. Sometimes you get shrugging of shoulders. Animation helps break up the monotony. If you’re really lucky, they make a phone call first.

After a while, the merest snippets of information seem like progress. Some are actually quite helpful, like discovering the ship goes to a different port to the one you’d been expecting. And the vessel – if it actually exists, and after a while you do wonder – is there to transport freight trains en route from Georgia, not you. So just be grateful if they let you board. That is, once you’ve handed over your stash of US Dollars. You may be tempted to console yourself with a coffee, but this is Baku, so that’s probably your whole day’s budget gone.

There’s no timetable for the service, if you can call it that, and, it seems, no one has any idea when the ship last sailed. You begin to wonder if it’s sunk again. Or who these people really are. But, quite unusually for Baku, nobody will accept your money, purportedly for a ticket, until there’s actually a vessel to board.

Once you realise that turning up in person makes not a jot of difference, you can always get the Tourist Information Office to call them for you. Staff speak excellent English. And there’s a lovely coffee shop nearby. Not that you can afford to go in. Still, you could always pop around to the local chemist. See if they stock Prozac. Or go and sit on the Promenade, watch the seasons change, and contemplate how to bring about World Peace.

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On the shores of the Caspian Sea

May 16th, 2010

On the shores of the Caspian Sea from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken describes reaching the shores of the Caspian Sea, the first stage of Asia now complete.

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Frustrations on the shores of the Caspian

May 16th, 2010

Waiting for a ship to Kazakhstan from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken describes the frustrations of waiting for a ship across the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan.

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Emma

May 15th, 2010

Emma from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Emma, Ken’s normally camera shy trusty steed, puts in an appearance.

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Greater Caucasus Range

May 15th, 2010

Greater Caucasus Range from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken describes the Greater Caucasus Range, forming much of the northern Azerbaijan border

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Closing on the Caspian

May 14th, 2010

Across the Caucasus, from semi-Tropical western Georgia, the more temperate central region, and now swiftly moving into semi-arid desert. Mid-May, and soon the little greenery left would be gone, just parched, stony earth.

Semi-arid desert

Frequent water stops now. Tempting water melons stacked high on stalls at the roadside. A few Iranian lorries, sweeping past me. Definitely Asia. Eighty kilometres – about fifty miles – to Baku (or ’Baki’) and the Caspian Sea coast. End of the Caucasus was close.

Sign to Baki

[Author’s note: Inadvertently reaffirming his lack of knowledge of football, seems the English coach at Gabala mentioned in a recent post is in fact Tony Adams, not Adamson. Still didn’t find him. With thanks to Dom, Danny and Mark]

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Small world

May 13th, 2010

Had to be them. I’d stopped for water at the top of a long climb into an unrelenting headwind. Two heavily laden motorbikes, Canadian flag stickers on the rear, had gone past. Stopped suddenly a few hundred metres down the road. Mike and Ruby, the serious tourers I’d met back in the Georgian town of Sighnakhi.

Quickly back in the saddle, I sprinted down to catch up with them. Yes. We chatted for a while. Agreed the traffic markedly better than in Georgia. But then back on the road, seventy or so kilometres to the Capital Baku. Wondered if we might bump into each other again at the port, searching for our respective ships across the Caspian. Small world.

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Looking for Tony

May 12th, 2010

True. Football’s not my first love, although I’m warming to it, if only because it’s a great ice breaker. And very popular in the northern Azerbaijan town of Gabala. Seems they’ve an English coach, Tony Adamson. What did I think of him? Pretty good I thought. Well, I’d actually heard of him. Thought it might be fun to try and track him down, but the closest I got was…

Gabala coach

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Mountains on the left

May 11th, 2010

Think I’m usually fairly liberal, but I’d been feeling a bit conservative over the last few days. I’d been labouring under the misunderstanding that shorts were considered rude in Azerbaijan, a secular state but with Islam the dominant religion. But no, I was told in Sheki, perfectly acceptable for cycling. With temperatures easily in the mid-twenties, welcome news.

Greater Caucasus

East of Sheki a decent road, good progress towards the town of Gabala. Sturdy bridges across wide river beds, the torrents of icy melt water now passed. Snows remaining now just on the upper slopes and faces of the Greater Caucasus Range, peaks of over twelve thousand feet. Stark contrast with the ever increasing temperatures in the valleys below.

Breadmaking

Not exactly the beaten track, but you sensed tourists did come this way. I’d stopped to try some warm, freshly baked bread, cooked in brick pits at the roadside. “Photo?” I was asked. But I felt certain that the bread making wasn’t staged just for visitors, for much of the traffic on the road seemed to be local. And what did bring people here – sight of the Greater Caucasus Range, or the local flora?

Flora

But then back to the road, heading for the Capital Baku on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Just needed to keep the mountains on the left.

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Silk Road lodgings

May 10th, 2010

Along the Silk Roads – Night in the Caravanserai from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken describes a night in a converted Caravanaserai – roughly the Silk Roads equivalent of British Drovers Inns – in the Azerbaijan town of Sheki.

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