Across Continents

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Searching for a ship

An armful of visas. Kazakhstan and China in sight. Almost. Just need to catch a ship across the Caspian Sea. What could be simpler? Try World Peace. Intrigued? Maybe not, but just be thankful you’re not trapped in one of the most expensive cities on the planet. So sit back and enjoy a bit of armchair adventure. Here goes…

First locate the shipping company’s ticket office. A sketchy map in a well-known guidebook helps, but you’ll need to conduct house-to-house enquiries to find the right doorway. Don’t worry if you find it locked on your first visit, because you’ll be coming back in any case. Many times.

Once eventually inside, mutter a few words of Azeri and then the magic phrase – Kazakhstan. It probably helps if you’re a budding actor or an aspiring author since, chances are, you’re already used to rejection. If not, you soon will be. Expect to hear “No ship. Tomorrow maybe. Ten o’clock information” or variations thereof. Sometimes you get shrugging of shoulders. Animation helps break up the monotony. If you’re really lucky, they make a phone call first.

After a while, the merest snippets of information seem like progress. Some are actually quite helpful, like discovering the ship goes to a different port to the one you’d been expecting. And the vessel – if it actually exists, and after a while you do wonder – is there to transport freight trains en route from Georgia, not you. So just be grateful if they let you board. That is, once you’ve handed over your stash of US Dollars. You may be tempted to console yourself with a coffee, but this is Baku, so that’s probably your whole day’s budget gone.

There’s no timetable for the service, if you can call it that, and, it seems, no one has any idea when the ship last sailed. You begin to wonder if it’s sunk again. Or who these people really are. But, quite unusually for Baku, nobody will accept your money, purportedly for a ticket, until there’s actually a vessel to board.

Once you realise that turning up in person makes not a jot of difference, you can always get the Tourist Information Office to call them for you. Staff speak excellent English. And there’s a lovely coffee shop nearby. Not that you can afford to go in. Still, you could always pop around to the local chemist. See if they stock Prozac. Or go and sit on the Promenade, watch the seasons change, and contemplate how to bring about World Peace.

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