After leaving Uzbekistan, I went by train to the town of Aktau in Kazakhstan to catch the infamous cargo ship that would take me over the Caspian sea to Baku in Azerbaijan. This cargo ship is renowned for having no fixed schedule whatsoever. When I arrived in Aktau on the 2nd of June, the last time the ferry had left was on the 20th of May! So I basically had to hang out in the town of Aktau -horrible, let’s be honest, with all its soulless soviet buildings-, until I would receive a phone call warning me they were leaving.
Luckily, the phone call came three days later and a couple of hours after that, I was boarding the ship with four other passengers. This ferry is the easiest alternative to cross the Caspian sea without flying ( the second option being through Turkmenistan but I never managed to get that visa). So it was a good opportunity to meet other people avoiding airplanes. There was a friendly Belgian couple and two French guys. All four of them on their bicycles!
Cycling is a very popular means of transport in Central Asia. Most of the travellers I met were in facts cyclists going on huge journeys from Europe to Asia, or in the opposite direction. I even met an Israeli guy who had been cycling for three years! From Alaska to the Terra del Fuego, from Cape Town to Ethiopia and now from Europe to God knows where!
The cargo ship, the second one on this trip already, was relatively comfortable and fast.
At my arrival in Baku, the atmosphere was quite different from Central Asia. To begin with, Baku is unbelievably rich! The streets are very clean, all the old buildings perfectly restorated. Shops in the city centre are almost exlusively expensive fashion shops like Armani, Gucci and so on. And there was even a Mc Donalds, the first I had seen since Chengdu, 3 months before! At this point I guess you are wondering how a town you might never have heard of could be so rich? Well there’s one simple answer and it is oil. Azerbaijan has very big reserves of oil and since the fall of the soviet Regime is emptying them with delight. Amazing how the presence of oil always dramatically changes the living conditions.
Baku is also beautiful, there’s a charming old town surrounded by quarters with big fin de siecle stone buildings. But for some reason, it all seemed fake to me. The perfect cleanliness of the place, the posh dressing style of the locals just seemed to be out of place. So after two days I decided to move on and take a train straight to Georgia, about which I had heard many positive things!