The Caspean sea is the largest body of water, that doesn’t connect to the ocean, in the world. In fact it is 5 times larger than its runner up, Lake Superior and more than twice as large as all of the Great Lakes combined! It has a depth of over 1,000 feet through most of its center. The lake itself sits 100 feet below sea level. Because of its cavernous depth and salinity, geologists rumor that it was once connected to the ocean before the continental plates collided. It’s water are of a royal blue and vibrant turquoise resembling the burnt beaches of the Mediterranean. However, because of its location, with Iran to the South and Russia to the North, it poses a huge obstacle to the overland traveler going from Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan or vice versa. There are no passenger vessel, but a mythed freight ship is talked about a lot on the Internet, so that is the method we chose.
The ship is not geared or intended for passengers, so they don’t make it a very easy or convenient process. The ships come and go as they please win no regard for time of day or guaranteed arrival times. In the port city of Aktau, there is a ferry management office at 5.29.1. Here you might get lucky and have a Russian lady who will briefly, but hurriedly explain the inconsistent process. A boat was leaving in a few hours, but we wanted a day to enjoy in Aktau before another 34 hours traveling so we opted to take the next boat that came to port. She didn’t understand why we would want to do that, especially since there is no way of knowing when the boat will arrive. We decided that was our best option anyways, handed her out passport and credit card to charge $80 along with our phone numbers so she could call us when the boat arrived.
We spent the next night tracking our ship on marinetraffic.com where you can track every boat in the worlds location! We wanted to at least have an estimate as to when the boat would arrive since we would have to leave at a moments notice. We gauged that the boat was far enough to at least get a nights sleep. 9 am our phone rings and we are told to report to the port immediately! We throw everything in our bag ands run to get a taxi, paying him extra to hurry up the process. We get there within 30 minutes of the phone call but have no idea where to go from there. We still have to do customs and security, but we see our ship and we don’t want to miss it! The guards tell us to calm down, that the ship won’t leave for a couple hours, but we try to explain that the lady told us to hurry! The security guards win and we sit down and grab breakfast. Before our breakfast is served, we get a call telling us to immediately go to customs. We grab our food to go and run to customs. We go through customs and everything is cleared and we are ready to board the ship! But we wait. We wait for 5 hours… Finally at 4 we are ushered to the ship and given our living arrangements as the boat leaves the dock to hit the open sea.
The boat was very relaxing. We practically had the ship to ourselves. There was one grandmother and her grandson and three Turkish truck drivers sharing meals and seen on the dock every once and a while. But pretty much you could go wherever you want, even the engine room, and not see another soul. The recreation options were much fewer than a cruise ship, but the rooms were ample, and food was provided. A lot of time was spent reading, sleeping, and watching movies, as the surrounding scenery hardly changed the whole trip. Open water so wide that no land was visible a majority of our trip. Sunsets and sunrises were stunning though as nothing obstructed our views on the horizon and the clear sea air turned a deep shade of all the colors.
At 4 in the afternoon we start to see land and the shapes of Baku’s iconic buildings begin to form. I start to pack my bags expecting a soon arrival. We slowly continue to coast past Baku and I start to realize something is wrong. Hours go by, the sun begins to set and Baku is no longer in sight. It turns out that our freighter, not designed for passengers, is taking us a ways out of town to deposit its cargo. 80 km south of Baku in fact. This is a slight disappointment and inconvenience as it is past 2 in the morning and we are in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately a man from our ship lives in Baku and offers us a ride into the city getting us there at 4 in the morning and costing us a steep $50.
Arriving in Baku Old City Hostel about an hour before sunrise was a very good feeling. We had conquered the rumored Caspian Cargo ship and were on dry land even though it took about 34 hours and cost about twice as much as the 15 minute flight would have cost. But the sense of accomplishment and beautiful, relaxing day on a boat were well worth the trip.