A crossing which used to be crawling with corruption has now been completely overhauled. Even the mention of a bribe to the English speaking regulator forces reassurance, but that still doesn’t stop the Azerbaijan police from trying.
My friends & I reached Azerbaijan, Baku on the week of the F1 Grand Prix. After contacting an old work friend he managed to somehow get us Pit lane passes for practice 3 and a tour! What a guy!
This clearly warranted a pause in our progress across the continent, but thanks to the Marine Traffic app we could see there were no boats anyway.
The way the crossing works is you go down to the port/you get your hostel to ring the port at 11am every morning. They will simply tell you if there’s a boat leaving to Kazakhstan today. From there if there is a boat you get told to head to the port of Alat at a certain time to collect tickets and join the queue (Other travellers have reported different scenarios but it seems to have just changed and this is valid as of June 2017).
We were told to head over at 1600hrs.
We headed to the port of Alat and passed through security. From there we joined the small queue of westerners and the huge queue of lorry drivers. There is a shop at the port which makes the waiting easier, but other than that it is very long and tedious. For myself, I still had the marine traffic app up and could see the boat was still hours away from arriving. So felt it was a fitting time to take my sump guard off and change my oil. After drenching their car park with dirty overused oil we were finally able to buy tickets 4 hours later. This was the point where mongol rally competitors used to be ripped off. However it seems the company has gone through a huge crackdown and an English speaking regulator watched over the whole thing. Even as I mentioned that the $7 port charge probably went to the police, he overheard and made it clear that we should pay the police nothing. That didn’t stop them from trying though. The customs officers told us to come back at different times during the wait. Each time they’d ask for a 10$ charge(bribe). Each time, we told them where to go. After Turkey and the Az border we were done with bribes, we were happy to call their bluff.
(Full charges for the Crossing will be listed at the bottom of this page)
It wasn’t until about midnight that we were finally let on the boat and to be honest, we could have easily just arrived 10minutes before instead of the full 8 hours.
The boat itself was called Mercuri-1 and it genuinely looked like it had been dragged up from the bottom of the Ocean. Being the first person to board and there not being any workers on site, I thought it was a wreckage and tried to board the boat next to it. After being whistled on to the right ship, an Azeri worker asked myself and the following Dutch bikers to tie our motorcycles to the ship. After discovering some weapon had welded all the mounting points flush to the floor we were forced to tie our motorcycles to a rusty pipe on the wall.
We accepted that the boat would probably sink anyway if we came to rough water (so it didn’t matter how strong the pipe was) and made our way to the living quarters of the boat. Furnished with clear plastic carpets and mould, a strange woman asked to take a photo in our helmets and then took us to the worst cabins on the boat and subsequently the planet. Basically, if you are a westerner you fill up the several inner cabins first. Which hold 4 people each, no ventilation, no space and an average room temperature of 4 million degrees. There aren’t many of these terrible cabins though, so if western (male) bikers fill them up first, then you may be lucky and get a decent one around the outside. All with double the space and a nice window. I imagine it would have been very pleasant.
The 28 hour voyage was broken up with 3 included meals of rice and chicken (actually not too bad) and getting hammered on the top deck with cheap vodka that we had brought with us. Due to the heat of the rooms most of us elected to sleep on the top deck too.
All in all though, the voyage wasn’t too bad, the beautiful sunset and sunrises on the Caspian Sea cancelled out the horrendous state of the boat. It actually turned out to be a welcome break between the ridiculously inefficient border crossings at either end of the sea. For anyone wanting to take this route it now seems to be a lot more viable option than it used to be with boats travelling basically every 3 days and very little corruption.
If you do have any questions about the crossing please let me know:
This is the price list given but it seems to be wrong-
It cost me $180 in total –
$110 for the motorcycle and $70 for myself
The listed price for cars is also wrong as they charge a flat fee of $300 regardless of size. (+passenger fee obviously)
On top of that there is a port charge of $7 for a bike and $15 for car
However, they did screw me and listed my motorcycle as 2000kg. So I incurred a $20 dollar tax at the Kazakh border instead of $2. I explained to them it was wrong but the Azeri guy who deals with it is quite simply a prick.