Week Three in Status Updates: Azerbaijan, the Caspian and Turkmenistan

A visit to the GATEWAY TO HELL in the Turkmenistan desert. The Darvaza gas crater has been spewing flames for 40 years after a drilling accident set it alight.

August 7th – Baku, Azerbaijan

Made it through the border crossing…no bribes and it only took 5 hours! Now on to Baku.

First day in Azerbaijan…already stopped twice by corrupt police and one stole cash right out of out pocket…yeesh!

Scoured the coast for hours and finally found the unsignposted ferry port…but even the head honcho here doesn’t know when the next boat leaves.

Stopped by a pile of scrap lumber and some helpful construction workers with gold teeth helped us fix our our roof rack. Hoping now it will stop caving in every time we hit a bump.

August 8th – Baku, Azerbaijan

Braving the ferry port again…if we get lucky, we’ll be crossing the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan for the next 17 hours to 3 days (who knows how long…), then we’ll be in the “North Korea of Central Asia” for 3-4 days where there is almost no Internet. So if you don’t hear from us, that’s why!

A day of bribes to crooked officials and all-out confusion, but we’re finally on the ferry to Turkmenistan with a bunch of other ralliers! Thanks to “Saint Lucas,” our Russian-speaking friend from Poland, for negotiating everything for us.

August 9th – Caspian Sea to Turkmenbasy, Turkmenistan

Watched the Caspian Sea sunset over some wine on the top deck…Pete passes out and wakes up to find that his backpack with our only set of keys has been STOLEN! That’s it. This rally is over.

CODE RED! Searching every cabin and nook for Pete’s all-important bag. Which one of these crooks has it???

WE’RE SAVED! The dirty captain / lead pirate here yanked Pete’s bag. Bribed him with a bottle of Cognac and got it back. Rally back on.

Caspian Sea Ferry: Filth unimaginable. Toilets overflowing. We’ve pulled into port, but they won’t let us disembark and are holding our passports hostage.

Going through the insane Turkmen border crossing scavenger hunt. Dozens of stamps, slips of paper and fees at dozens of random windows. They just keep coming. It’s like they’re playing some kind of prank.

August 10th – Turkmenbasy, Turkmenistan

It’s a standoff. The Azeri pirates have an illegal trainload of cigarettes that is blocking our car into the ferry. Looks like we’re sleeping on a concrete slab in the ferry port tonight.

Twenty hours since we landed, still no car.

Twenty-three hours after arriving in port, we’ve got our car and we are on our way to Ashgabat! A quick stop in town, and thirty locals have gathered to help us put some new coolant into our tank.

August 11th – Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Ashgabat: Ostentatious city made of gold and marble in the middle of the desert. It’s got more fountains than Vegas and a strict 11pm curfew. Bah! We found ourselves wandering around at 2am and got some guy to break into his closed bazaar stand and sell us some dinner (after 45 minutes of negotiations over the price of a melon).

Our crazy cab driver floored it to 130 with no hands on the wheel because he’s too busy dancing and snapping along to his Turkmen techno CD.

It’s an international affair; out exploring with fellow Rally teams from Canada, Scotland, South Africa, France, England and the USA.

Got invited by two Turkmen zillionaires to their private bar by the president’s crazy glowing fortress. Russian vodka: effective.

August 12th – Darvaza, Turkmenistan

Darvaza, Turkmenistan: Camping with a family in a yurt who live by the “gateway to hell” – a giant burning gas crater in the middle of the hottest desert on the planet. Weirdest place we’ve ever been. So we dynamited it, of course.

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One Response to Week Three in Status Updates: Azerbaijan, the Caspian and Turkmenistan

  1. justin says:

    Has anything been tried to douse the flames ?

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