A Waiting Game (Azerbaijan-Kazakhstan)

Part 1 / Baku
No window in an airless cabin, the rhythm of the old engine vibrates across the surface of Professor Gul-our cargo ship that makes slow progress across the worlds largest lake, the Caspian Sea. We have spent so far 24 hours aboard this ship with scores of Turkish, Ukraine, Azerbaijan truck drivers plus 12 European travellers (4 motorbikers, 3 backpackers, 2 suitcase travellers and 3 cyclists). We dine together in the room and occupy ourselves chatting, reading, walking the decks and gazing out to sea, seeing very little. The odd trucker or crew pop out on the deck and occasional throw rubbish overboard ( out of sight out of mind). This is no cruise ship or European ferry. No shop, no alcohol and just the basics. The ship is a cargo ship which allows passengers on for a fee with a cabin and food included. The hull is full of approximately 45 full length trucks all heading into Kazakhstan and our bikes. 

We spent a week in Baku waiting on our Uzbekistan Visa and for news of a cargo boat. We spent our time in Baku at a good Hostel/ hotel (baku palace) and met some interesting travellers there. We spent a couple of days in the company of Fernando from Madrid who had a great response to people who asked his age (which is a common question, plus marriage , kids etc), ‘ I’m 100’ he’d reply. We took in some of Baku’s architectural highlights, the old town and a trip to the fire temple and …just waited. 

Bureaucracy has certainly reared its head over the last few days and my first confrontation with a women here occurred. Getting information on boat tickets and when the boat will leave has been a complex and at times a secretive matter. We used a middle man who arranged ticket reservations and the taxi as we were informed when we have news of a boat you need to be there in 1-2 hours and with 70 km distance was impossible to cycle, so an overpriced van took us to Alat where 4 motor bikers where already there plus an Irish backpacker ( who’d been there 24hrs already). The port in Alat is far from anything, but a mini bank and market merge from the desert like terrain. Tickets booked and paid for we joined the guys in a waiting game. Some 10 hours later we went through the border control and boarded the 185 metre ship. We were given windowless cabins and then put us with 2 men. This was when we met a rather angry women in charge of the domestic affairs!

We have been told we will arrive in Aktau port at 7am (26 hrs since departure) on 18.9.17. From across the Caspian Sea we enter a new world of the Stan’s, former Soviet Union regions. 

Part 2 / Kazakhstan (23.8.17)

Showered and feed we sit in a little hotel room in a dusty desert town, Beyneu in Kazakhstan after 5 testing cycling days in the semi desert from Aktau. We have spent our most remote and demanding cycling to date but also the most rewarding stretch. As we left the port after intense baggage searches we hit the road. Not long we meet 2 other cyclists (Chris & Dea) heading the same way and said see you on route. The next 3 days were beautiful, a desert full of interesting hills and geology, camels, wild horses and miles and miles of nothing. Our wild camping spots were also breathtaking, silent, incredible sunsets and sunrises, skies full of endless stars and the odd shooting star. 

The road was in general good condition and very little traffic. A few hills and thankfully cloud cover so those days were not too punishing until the head winds kicked in. After 2 days of fighting both side and head winds we decided to try and hitch a lift as with only water/food around every 60km (a days cycling). A HGV stopped with 10 minutes of trying (too good to be true) and said meet me in 20 km as I will be having lunch at the next kaffe. So cycling focus on we tried against the winds but knew we wouldn’t make it and then on the horizon came a truck in the opposite direction. It was only him returning to find us. Unfortunately his plan was to put our bikes not in the truck but under the base and split us up into 2 trucks! We declined his kind offer and cycled until nightfall with the sun setting behind us we sort a resting place. 
We continued the next days cycling until we reached a comfort stop and discarded our waste (in a bin) to see a perfect truck in the lay-by. Within minutes we had got a lift for 70km (a full cycle day). We passed Chris & Dea and gave them a cheery wave. We were dropped at a cay house (the only places to eat which come every 50-100km) and continued the rest of the day happy to be ahead. The following day the winds intensified so much that all our energies were needed just to get to about 7-10 kmph and they were depleting rapidly. My mental state was flagging and I hit a low point as we continued (but dreaming of plates of fresh fruit and cold beers helped). Then from nowhere 2 kind young guys (Azerbaijan and Turkish) in a car did a u turn and gave us frozen iced cold water, heaven and thank you again. Then our second piece of good luck came as another truck driver stopped and hauled our bikes and bags into the back of his lorry and we sat with beaming smiles in his cabin to cover the last 90km in Beyneu.
Today we waited 2 hours to buy (3rd class) train tickets into Uzbekistan to cover a further 700km of desert. We need a rest from desert cycling and our Uzbek visa started 2 days ago. So tonight we take a train into Uzbekistan and I’m sure that will be an eventful journey to Urgench. 
Kazakhstan has been great and a place to revisit, the people are warm and interesting and the change in ethnicity has been instant as we hit Central Asia. But we wish we could speak Russian!

All photography by Jack Blake & Barbara Salvadori 2017 ©

22 thoughts on “A Waiting Game (Azerbaijan-Kazakhstan)

  1. Your trip is truly amazing! It is fascinating reading your blog and incredible to see the places you are managing to get to. How on earth will you settle to a hum-drum life after all these adventures.? There is an obvious answer to that – you don’t do hum-drum!
    Looking forward to the next instalment. Heather x


  2. Hello you two – it’s Colin and Tarel. What a change from South Dock.

    We are loving your adventure – it’s inspiring stuff …. For your next challenge a circumnavigation by Brompton towing a printing press?


    1. Hello Colin and Tarel,
      Nice to hear from you. Sorry for the delayed reply but we had really slow Wi-Fi in the last month. Well we would like to know about your adventure: are you sailing yet? Well, for sure we will do something in future and why not, we could be the first cyclists travelling with a printing press. It would be fun!
      Thanks for following and supporting us.
      Barbara and Jack


  3. So sorry for the confrontation, but there is always “something” that snaps you back to humans. Most interesting. The trip has been sublime and I can’t wait to read the book. I am sure you could just publish your notes and photos from this blog! Safe travels, Hati Hati and blessings for the road from Santa Fe, NM.


  4. Great blog a usual thank goodness you didn’t take the lift with the two guys but pleased you had a good lift in the end, whot memories your both building,a great life keep it up xx


  5. Ciao Ragazze!!

    Complimenti! Un’altra tappa e un’altra esperienza …gente nuova, luoghi incantati e natura meravigliosa!!
    Non avrei mai pensato che pedalare e pedalare ci si arriva così lontano.
    Inutile dirvi ‘coraggio’, quello ne avete da vendere, davvero!
    Vi auguro di avere ancora ginocchia forti per la prossima tappa!!!

    Un caro saluto a tutti due!



  6. Your blog is as usual so interesting and informative. It keeps us all updated to your lives. I think I am totally in awe of your ability to just keep going, to embrace the adventure head on. It sounds immense and so challenging yet totally amazing.
    The photos are beautiful . Keep safe and speak when you next have wifi.
    Tons of love always T xxx


  7. Hi B & J you intrepid cyclists. Great blog & amazing photos.
    So, Barbara, Tom got married on Hastings pier at the weekend. We have a friend, Emmanuel, who is an artisan baker. He let Phil & Tom help him make the wedding bread, sour dough with foraged seaweed & lemon to go with the fish and chips. When you’re back Phil will bake bread for you. Emmanuel says Phil is a ‘bread head’ and I think you’re one too !
    Safe travels……
    Lynn x


  8. Hey! Awesome trip!
    I’m very glad to meet you.
    12 countries behind in 5 months is amazing! I wish you good luck and smooth road!
    Also If you would like to visit Kazakhstan (Beineu/Almaty) again or Russia (Saint-Petersburg) let me know, you are always welcome.

    Best Regards.
    Ruslan (we met in Beineu).


  9. Wowzers ladies
    Just like the previous comment above sooo pleased you didn’t take the lift that would have separated you !
    But .. there’s always someone with good intentions around the corner !
    Keep peddling and blogging but most of all keep safe 👌🏼


  10. Noi vi abbiamo incontrato a Khiva, all’hotel Zukhro. Ho subito pensato che foste folli, ma con una follia lucida e ben pianificata, la versione XXI secolo degli esploratori britannici e russi che in questi territori si sfidavano ai tempi del Grande Gioco.

    Noi facciamo il tifo per voi! Tra qualche giorno sarò al lavoro; quando mi sentirò oppresso dal quotidiano e avrò bisogno di cercare un po’ di infinito mi consolero’ un po’ dicendomi “andiamo a vedere cosa stanno combinando queste due…”.

    Non vedo l’ora di leggere della traversata verso Bukhara, ma soprattutto attendo con trepidazione e profondo rispetto il Pamir…



    1. Ciao Andrea,
      Piacere ritrovarti e scusa se rispondo solo adesso ma Wi-Fi non è stato dei migliori recentemente e come leggerai nel blog abbiamo passato diversi giorni nel deserto prima di arrivare qui (siamo adesso in Samarcanda.
      Mi fa piacere che ci riconosci come esploratrici più che ciclo-turiste.
      Abbiamo incontrato diverse persone che come noi stanno pedalando da mesi con destinazioni diverse e anche filosofia di viaggio diversa. La maggior parte dei ragazzi giovani sembrano preferire un approccio diverso dal nostro. Ci sono i “puristi” (come li chiamo io) che pedalano come minimo 100km al giorno, non prendono nessun mezzo di trasporto alternativo e prevalentemente scelgono percorsi senza considerare soste troppo lunghe; lo scopo è di pedalare e raggiungere il confine il prima possibile. Noi facciamo questo viaggio dove per poter vedere meglio luoghi di interesse storico, abbiamo anche preso il treno in modo da avere più tempo (purtroppo i visti a tempo limitato ti costringono a compromessi).
      Il bello del girare in bicicletta è che ognuno viaggia in maniera diversa e ciascuno trova il suo ritmo.
      Da Khiva è stata un’avventura positiva anche se segnata da problemi intestinali che ci hanno costretto a fermarci e proseguire a bordo di un camion fino a Bukhara. Da lì poi, dopo tre giorni di riposo, abbiamo proseguito per Samarcanda dove questa volta abbiamo pedalato per tre giorni.
      Adesso siamo pronte per lasciare l’Uzbekistan, vogliamo proseguire anche se ci aspettano salite impegnative. Abbiamo 500km prima di arrivare al confine, purtroppo il confine vicino a Samarcanda è chiuso. Si il Gran Pamir sarà una bella avventura considerando che le temperature scenderanno.
      Questo viaggio mi sta insegnando una grande lezione di vita, una vita più semplice che spero di concretizzare quando rientro. Di sicuro continuerò a fare micro avventure, e questo è un invito che faccio a tutti. Prendi la bicicletta, attrezzata con il necessario e va, pedala anche solo per un weekend, passa la notte in tenda e gusta ogni momento. Di sicuro non potrò fare un altro viaggio di questo tipo ma al mio rientro continuerò con le micro avventure in Europa.
      Spero che il lavoro non sia troppo deprimente, magari puoi cominciare a programmare il prossimo viaggio, fosse soltanto dietro l’angolo.
      Una domanda curiosare: sei per caso uno Scout?
      Grazie ancora e piacere di avervi incontrato a Khiva.


      1. Ciao Barbara. Mi fa piacere siate a Samarcanda, il deserto che avete attraversato io l’ho visto da una macchina e non mi sembrava per niente banale da fare in bici! Sole martellante, monotonia, vento… Adesso ve ne andrete verso le montagne, sarà un cambio di paesaggio grandioso. Inutile dire che vi leggerò per cogliere i vostri pensieri e le vostre emozioni.
        Per rispondere alla tua domanda, no non sono uno scout. Ho avuto una famiglia che mi ha trasmesso la passione per il campeggio e per i viaggi sin da bambino. Io ci ho aggiunto quella per la storia… tutto lì. Ah, anch’io sono un’amante della bici! Sono consapevole della gioia intima e della pace che dà raggiungere una meta che hai conquistato metro per metro con il sudore della tua fronte e per questo sono sedotto da quello che state facendo! Un grande abbraccio.


  11. Thank you for your writing about us. i want to you write my email adress and send pictures.
    good luck and take good care of yourself.


      1. You have been so kind to do that! You have no idea how grateful we have been for that gesture. We have been saying that’s when back home, we need to make sure we stop when we see cyclists and make sure they are not thirsty or they need anything.
        Thank you again,
        Barbara and Jack


  12. So many amazing places and kind people with cold water and fruit just when you need it….the winds sounded pretty hard going but you two are officially my heroes! I love the sound of Khazakstan. The pics are wonderful, as always, but I especially love the one of Jack with the three women. That’s too cute! Deb xox


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