Stops: sheki -> Alat -> Baku -> Alat
Playlists: Acoustic covers (Spotify), Songs to Make out to (Spotify), various playlists by others
With full tummies, we got back on the road heading towards Alat. We got utterly lost in Sheki where google maps didn't seem to get its head straight. A fair bit of car scraping later on barely-roads, many directions asked, and even more U-turns, we found the Sheki Palace. It was very touristy so we didn't stick around but the city itself was beautiful. Not much happened here and we got back on the road. We barely talked for 3.5 hours as we just cruised to acoustic music and waved at locals. People seemed to be really excited when they drove by and we continuously got honks thinking we have something falling off the roof but they were all just excited to wave at us and say hi every time.
We rolled into the Alat port in the evening where there was already a team and 2 bikers waiting for a ferry. By the end of the night, another team rolled in. In the morning, the guards were all hovering all over us and the fact that I spoke Russian, again, became a big deal. We were invited into the "market" (a shipping container with a few options for bread and milk) and were continuously offered tea. Some guards spoke great Russian, others very broken. So broken, in fact, that I misunderstood when one offered us whisky and beer. Everyone definitely wanted alcohol at this point, but I eventually learned through more charades that he meant just me, behind the parking lot.... They never see girls at the port so the 3 girls here were a constant source of interest.
We learned the ferry will be coming on Saturday late afternoon and that we'll have time to go check out the volcanoes nearby. We gave our number to the guards who would text us if the ferry arrived. With a convoy of 3 cars and 2 bikers, we headed out and had to stop for directions at a gas station. While asking for the directions, a local insisted on driving there and for us to just follow! Everyone is so willing to go out of their way here! It was a 20 min drive through off-roads that were VERY fun to drive. We got to the volcanoes that were still bubbling and we even went swimming in the volcano mud pool. It was so weird! Very salty, so we didn't sink, and it was actually quite cold, not what you'd expect! If you swam to the middle where it was bubbling, you also got a tummy massage of sorts. It was a very... interesting experience.
We showered with our portable jug, the girls all climbed on top of their respective cars and we convoyed out. It was SO awesome!! I even got to play with the drone and control it from the roof, so we have some kickass footage of all that.
Everyone headed back to camp since they've all already been to Baku, and Justin and I drove off to see the city an hour away. We wandered around, saw the old city, grabbed dinner, and headed back to camp.
Two more teams showed up, however they called themselves the The Unofficial Official Mongol Rally as they didn't actually register despite pimping out their car and following all the rules. We were now a big group taking over the port. There were 50 trucks or so, but everyone mostly kept to themselves.
We were then told the ferry will not get here until 6am. So we got the drinks out and were up until 4am playing games, being rowdy, and hanging out with the guards debating if we should just stay awake until loading. The women had their own bathroom that clearly never saw the light of day since we needed to get a key for it every time. We must've driven the guards crazy having to ask them every half an hour. The other option was to just use the guys' toilets but the floor was literally shit stained. Literally. The guys took to going between the trucks or along the perimeter.
I learned that the truckers can't drink because there are Armenians, Turkmen, Ukrainians, etc, and when they drink, they tend to break out in fights. So they lived vicariously through us and didn't even hide the fact that they were hovering and watching us the whole time. Every once in a while we would exchange a few words, try to be friendly, realize we don't understand each other, and they would go back to their truck.
Being the main translator, the guards came to me whenever someone was an idiot or something happened.
Exhibit A: the guys were walking around in their underwear due to the heat. Big no no.
Exhibit B: one guy had a deck of cards with porn images. Big no no once we cross the sea, but a big enough yes yes considering the guard kept it and kept laughing as he tapped his pocket nodding vigorously.
Exhibit C: someone had their vodka confiscated and I had to tell them where they can get it back and when. I did this translating as I was downing a bottle of wine...straight from the bottle... and yet that was very much ok.
Exhibit D: I had to tell the team whose car had a penis drawn in the dirt on the window that it was super inappropriate and will not do. I failed to tell the guards that I drew said penis (with a cape, I might add! It was pretty epic).
Exhibit E: they thought the Australian who was very eccentric and happy was too drunk, I had to mediate and explain that he was always like this and was actually one of the ones NOT drinking much.
It was a good night. And we went to bed expecting to have a stupidly early wake up call. We were wrong.
We woke up to find out it won't be here until noon. Then it was 1. Then it was 2pm. Then 6, then 8, then 10. Then we were told it wouldn't be here until tomorrow so we did another booze run and started drinking early in the day.
We set up tarps for shade, shelled pistachios, cooked meals, some slept/read, many (including Justin for the first time) played cricket, also rugby, others just sat around eating watermelon, listening to music, and chatting. A few hitchhikers joined our group along with some crazies (coming cycling from London and into all the same countries we are).
One of the two unofficial teams registered 30 seconds too late and were placed on the following ferry due to over occupancy. There was a lot of back and forth, with me translating, trying to figure out how they can avoid splitting up. It went from maybe they'll be able to get on if other ticket holders don't show up, to absolutely no go. In the end, I was told that even if they got on the ship, they wouldn't be able to get off in Kazakhstan since they weren't on the manifesto.
In the evening, there was also a rumour going around about the ship once again, so I went to get the scoop; I practically lived in office. The 10pm ferry now won't be leaving until tomorrow 3pm. I confirmed this multiple times and got the explanation of exactly why and how many ships had to come to port before ours. Since the teams were splitting up and it was our last night, my final confirmation consisted of "so you're SURE it's not until tomorrow, that means we can party hard tonight?". The answer was a definitive yes.
We all got wrecked and played a game where you had to blow the highest on the breathalyzer (haha, sorry mom and dad). That sets the scene for you: we went hard. Everyone was having an AWESOME time until they told us to be on standby and that the ferry was coming in 4-5 hours. So the drivers went to bed and the rest of us continued partying with the guards, turning it into a dance party. Apparently, as I found out the next morning, the guard (whom Justin nicknamed Rapey after the whisky in the parking lot incident) took a picture of me and set it as his profile picture. He also, throughout the weekend, got Justin's number and texted him asking me out for dinner while we were in Baku...). Not sure if ballsy, cultural difference, or just plain dumb. He also kept filling up my cup with vodka all nights and offering me the shower. I later found out that he apparently wasn't offering me the key and just being helpful... which makes my many "thanks! Definitely later" comments all the more awkward.
We drank a ridiculous amount of vodka until we were told to start packing up. I remember everything right up until sitting into the car to drive to customs, so this is where Justin takes over.
We packed up the car which we just finished setting up into bed mode and drove over to another parking lot where we got in line with the other cars. Even though there were two lines; one for all the cars and one for the trucks, there was only one passport and baggage check booth open. We had to wait until every single truck was cleared before they did any of the cars. We waited for about 2 hours before they were finally ready to process us.
We got our passports stamped, car searched, and drove through the gate. We then had to weave our way through all the trucks that had been cleared ahead of us because it turned out that we had to board the ship first... Gotta love the efficiency.
We pulled onto the ship and drove down to a lower deck, parked the car, and grabbed our bags.
We were on the boat!