Friday, August 04, 2006

Istanbul to Samarquand in 27 million simple steps

Original plan: take a ferry from Istanbul to Odessa, Ukraine, enjoy Odessa, then leisurely drive along the North coast of the Black Sea to Sochi, on to Volgograd, into Kazakhstan and down across the desert into Uzbekistan towards Samarquand - perfect!

Problem: the ferries out of Istanbul are all booked up, we'd have to wait almost another full week to get on one.

Plan #2: drive through the night to Trabzon, on the Eastern part of Turkey, take a short ferry from there to Sochi, Russia, on the Black Sea's northern coast, continue original plan from there.

Problem: the ferry is in port and ready to go, but the guy wants $500 for the car and $75 per person. Bargain down to $350 for the car and $65 per person - that still seems awfully expensive, can't we just drive around to Sochi!? There's another ferry running two days later, and they would only charge $50 for the car, but we don't want to wait. So...

Plan #3: drive around the east coast of the Black Sea into Georgia (US citizens can get a Georgian visa at the border) up to Sochi, back to the original route from there.

Problem: We get into Georgia fine (well, not fine, since we spent two hours at the border, but that's par for the course by now) - got to drive along the Black Sea coast for a while - that was beautiful! Georgia, however, wants us to specify an explicit exit point on our visas, and they won't let it be Sochi, since they think that Russian border is closed due to instability in that area. Naturally, the plan evolves:

Plan #4: Drive into Tbilisi, Georgia (Theo gets pulled over a few more times along the way - we've lost count of how many now. A cop in Azerbaijan got $5 for his efforts, another gets 10 Turkish Lira as a souvenir. Incidentally, Cyrus and I have driven through multiple police check points without so much as a second look - Theo's definitely shady), get visas into Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan while there, drive to Baku, Azerbaijan, take a ferry to Turkmenistan, drive on to Samarquand.

Problem: There is no Turkmenistan embassy in Georgia... Why in the world not?! Oh well,

Plan #4a: Get the Azerbaijan visa in Tbilisi, drive down to Baku, get the Turkmen visa there - really shouldn't change anything.

Problem: We get to Baku Wednesday morning (the border crossing takes forever again, but we get lots of commentary on our choice of car, and how it's better than any Mercedes!). In Baku, discover that they do have regular ferries to Turkmenistan. What they don't have is a Turkmenistan embassy, so we can't get a visa... Apparently, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have been contending some oil territories in the Caspian for the last few years and don't like each other much as a result - why can't we all just get along?

Plan #5: Fine, we can skip Turkmenistan and just go to Kazakhstan instead. There's a ferry coming on Thursday supposedly, even though the information is a little scarce. From Aqtaw, Kazakshstan, we can still drive to Samarquand, it's not all that much further.

Problem: On Thursday, the details on the Kazakh ferry become a little sketchy - we don't really know when it's coming or when it's leaving, but it sounds like it should still be OK on Friday. Friday, we get to the port around 11 in the morning and discover that the ferry arrived late last night and left at 6AM this morning! Without us! There's a lot of if, when's, but's, and I'm not sure's in when it's going to be back. I can't belive we missed our ferry!

Plan #17842 (I may have lost count): Can't we just drive around the Caspian?

Problem: Chechnya. It's 'unstable'. We don't actually have to go through Chechnya, but we have to go through its neigbor Dagestan, which is also unstable. The locals here actually tells us it should be fine, the US embassies, on the other hand, don't recommend it. The Russian embassy is uncertain. You can also go south through Iran, but even we weren't stupid enough to consider that (plus I hear an Iranian visa wouldn't be able to happen on the spot).

Plan #17843: On Friday, we find out that there actually is some rhyme and reason to the Kazakhstan ferry - it sails for about 18 hours in each direction, spends 5 to 6 hours in port, then goes back, so what happened last night is fairly reasonable, it would have just helped if we had actually been told that the ferry was close to arriving when we talked to them on Wednesday. If we can actually get out of here Sunday morning, that gets us into Kazakhstan by Sunday night, which is how long it would have taken to get there driving, so we might as well sail.

Problem? Seems like we've had enough so far, so maybe this plan will actually work. As of Friday night, we're still in Baku, still planning to take the ferry Sunday morning, we'll see what happens. Current problem is that our Azerbaijan visas actually run out Saturday night, but the customs guys have told us that they'll let us out anyway. I'll believe it when I see it! By the way, this ferry is also going to cost $350, so we obviously should have taken the one from Trabzon to Sochi (or we could've waited for the $50 one two days later, oh well, hindsight...)

Let me know if you see Borat in Kazakhstan...

I heard he is having a "number one... uh how do you say.... sexy-time party!!" this weekend!

And remember, don't even bother showing up unless you're wearing your V-String! -- That's annniiiccceeeee!
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