Our experience of a ferry across the Caspian Sea

This is a description of our ferry crossing over the Caspian Sea from Baku to Aktau with the Beaut. We got into Baku at 10:30am on Sunday 13th September. We drove to the new port (on sat nav using NavFree open source maps). It is also exactly as described on caravanistan – on the road to the airport, past the red balconied supermarket on the left, past automarine on the right then turn first right.
At the end of the road there is an ATM on the right and a building with a grey metal door and some guards in front of a gate with anchors on. We got let through to customs (gomruk) which was round the back of the white building on the right, second door, where we met Saeed (with gold teeth). Very helpful and friendly despite us waking him up although he speaks no English. After about half an hour in his office he photocopied our documents and scanned the barcode on the customs form, and allowed us to bring the vehicle through the gates where we could leave it (overnight if needed). He rang Vika for us, and even drove us in his car to the old port (where Vika was) so we could talk to her ($10). Contact was made with Vika and she said to ring at 12 when she would know more info about the ferry, but she said that the ferry went “maybe today, 100% tmrw”. Rang her back and she said to ring tomorrow at 12.

Day 2:We rang Vika at 12, she said there was a ferry in port and she would ring us when she knew more info. She rang us at 3pm and asked us to come to her office in the old port to buy the tickets. Bought the tickets ($970 for 4 people and a 5m vehicle) and we told that the ferry would be leaving the next day (boarding time between 2-3pm) and we would be boarding in Alat. Interestingly, she also said that in recent months there had been a lot less frequent ferries to Aktau due to less NATO cargo being transported and they now normally only left every 7-10 days.

We drove to Alat where we spent the night in the huge empty new port, just camped in front of customs.

Day 3: 15:00 – Ferry steamed into sight and eventually we were called through the border posts (ironically which we’d already been regularly crossing to use their toilet, which was excellent!). Customs check and payment of bridging fee (10 Manat) followed before we drove on (after the trains had driven on!) at about 18:00. Ferry departed approx 21:00.

Day 4: Managed to get 2x 2 person cabins, both of which were basic but functional. The shower was of dubious quality but usually gave hot water. Toilet had a flush and was cleaner than it could have been! We cooked our own food outside on the top deck as they had tried to charge a Swiss couple who were also on board $20 for some chicken and potatoes the night before.

Day 5: Aktau! Anchored outside the port at about 0700 where we waited about half an hour before heading in where we docked at 08:30. Customs officials and border control then came on board. We sat in a waiting room on board whilst they searched the boat and (I’m assuming) checked some paperwork. We then had our passports stamped and we let off the boat – leaving the Beaut on board. Kat was still the driver as it was her name on the Bill of Loading, so she went back to get the vehicle after we’d had our passports checked by someone else. The next hour passed whilst she was shunted between official and official, trying to obtain the elusive stamp needed, whilst no-one spoke any English. Eventually we were reunited, with the Beaut depressingly within sight on the other side of the chain-link fence, and we worked out that the official we needed had just gone on their lunch break (12:30-13:30). Their return didn’t really speed things up however, as they were experts at the art of ignoring, and their photocopier was poor (and now jammed- thanks Jon!). We paid 4,300 tenge to get the vehicle released from customs and at 16:00 we were free! A long process that admittedly might have been easier if we spoke Russian.

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