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RUN TO THE CASPIAN

Nov 26th

Had a nice long run through Kazakhstan with a few ups and downs. I had a new goal of trying to make it a whole day without getting pulled over by the police, but that’s not possible. Good to know some things don’t change out here. Kazakhstan is an oil rich country so the most of the roads are fantastic and brand new. I’ve heard of horror stories from others making the run but they have fixed a large portion of it, but the parts they haven’t fixed, torturous. After Shymkent in the south there really isn’t much happening as you roll westward. Everyone says it’s boring but I find the steppe to have its own charm. The plains are loaded with horses, camels, cows, and sheep just roaming around. Most of the animals are tagged but you wouldn’t think they belong to anyone since there is no barbed wire or anything keeping them to a certain area. Interesting note, east of Aktobe it was double hump camels and west near Aktau was single. Not sure why that is, will ask google.

As we rolled into Aralsk I had set up a homestay with a local family but before I could get there the chariot insisted that we have a breakdown. Shes been doing more of this lately, you would think I cheated on her or something… After getting gas the ignition switch broke so the car was dead. No chance of starting and no power. Its cold in Aralsk so this became an issue quick. I took the dash apart so I could attempt to hot-wire her but since I’ve never boosted a car before (besides my parents I guess but hotwiring was not needed) this is new territory for me. Since it seems like the dash has about 600 different wires running though it I figured it was best to find a mechanic so I didn’t make the situation worse. The guy I booked the homestay though said there are zero mechanics in town but he “knows a guy.” They pull up in a 89 benz and the “guy” was a mix between Mickey (brad pitt) in the movie snatch and any Russian gangster you can think of. Guy had more gold in his mouth than Lil John. They tow the chariot with the benz and it gets real interesting when he tries to cross some rail road tracks with the guards down (train coming) going up a hill and starts to spin out. Guy makes a massive loop and hits the small hill again and we weave through the blinking guards. We end up at this dudes shop and we start figuring out how to hotwire the Chariot. Few beers and a pull of vodka later we are up and running but the fun isn’t done. The guy charges me 1500Tenge ($50 so a total rip off) and then his buddy gets stuck in the mud outside his place and asks if I can pull him out. Told him sure but it will cost him $25, he laughed and then took the chariot and I had to jump in the passenger seat to make sure nothing went wrong. Long story short the guy drives like an ass and tries to take the car for a joy ride through the mud pit and I slap him in the shoulder and yell at him to take it easy turbo. He didn’t like that and his gold grill glare freaked me out. Dropped the deviant off and drove off with wires hanging everywhere. That night with Batmans help I figured out how to put the starter on a switch. Chariot now starts like a hot rod on two switches. Kinda cool and even more confusing for the person that tries to steal it in the future.

Next day headed to the Aral Sea to see the beached ships. The Russians had terrible water regulations I guess you could call it and lost approximately 30-40% of the lake. So when you drive out to the lake there is an old fishing town that used to be on the seashore but is now miles from the sea. The attraction is now old fishing vessels that are beached from getting caught when the sea receded. Unfortunately I’m 3 months late so everything was wet and I ended up going off road to make it there nearly getting stuck a few times and had to walk. It was worth it though. Looking out at a massive seabed with beached ships and watching Joe camel and his family walking around is pretty surreal. Good news for the locals is a dam was built years ago with another one in the works so this marvel will be gone in a few years.

The run north to Aktobe on the Russian border was a gem as well. On the drive up you could literally see the temperature drop with every passing mile. Temp went from +10C to -22C in a days drive. I knew it was really cold when tractors had full casings built around the engine to keep them warm. If they didn’t have a casing then it was old rugs wrapped with rope. The Chariot is not a fan of the cold. I had to drive in full ski gear (minus the goggles but I possibly would have put them on if I had them, you know just to keep up appearances) because it couldn’t produce heat. After Aktobe it was a 2.5 day run to Aktau camping in cold with no chance of making a fire due to zero trees and wondering why I left Singapore so late... Don’t recommend making this drive in winter. No bueno. One night camping I did call in a fox making a mouse noise though, which was cool. Little booger got about 15yrds away in the headlights (blinds them) and then realized he was about to become my pet and bolted. Pretty sure customs would have been cool with a fox in the back chilling like Pepe Le Pew.

Crossing the Caspian is, well interesting I guess. Aktau has a new port so that’s helpful but it will take you a full day to get all the stamps needed to cross. Then they will call you and sail off in the middle of the night… They told me to go home and I would get a call when to come and board. Got a call at 10am and was there by 10:30 and by 12:30 they explained the ferry left last night sorry…ok. You can wait in Aktau for weeks for this ferry because it only sails when it’s full. Luckily a much smaller ferry was loading trains and a few trucks and had enough space for us. I met a Georgian guy who had lived in Philadelphia for a few years and immediately became my travel guide. He let me know about all the scams I was going to face but there was nothing I could do about them. I did well though only out $40 for all the extra “fees” the crew slapped on me. I have read about upwards of $100 so a win in my book.

The ship was doodie. Rooms were nasty, the whole ship was nasty actually but it was better than the Titanic at avoiding obstacles and floating so cant complain. The crew was constantly wanting things from me. I had a pack of Singaporean smokes and would pass out 2 or 3 to get things from the crew (hot water etc.) After 24hrs of sail time and 12hrs at anchorage we arrived. Ferry tickets were $125, Ferry tickets for the car $450, baku port charges $20, smog charges for Azerbaijan $40, miscellaneous ferry charges $40. That’s all fine and well but we arrived at 7am, sat at anchorage for 4hrs, berthed, then sat in port for 3hrs, then taken to downtown baku port and put in another 5hrs. So I think it’s a new rule but you only get 3days for transiting Azerbaijan. If you leave your car at the port time doesn’t start so I had to leave the Chariot alone with the port authorities. Maybe it will give her time to think about not breaking down again because it hurts both of us…

Baku is a great town. It has a European feel and due to oil wealth has been booming for years. Assume the last half year hasn’t been treating it well but with the construction still going you wouldn’t know it. Place is extremely clean, on par with Singapore. Spent a few days soaking in a big city and wandering the streets. Im now in Kebab country so food wont be an issue. Kazakhstan was a little rough in spots. If you ever get a chance to go to Baku don’t pass on it. Wonderful city.

My new road dog Sean Flynn showed up a few days ago taking over for the Vietnamese wonder woman. We are planning on being in Tbilisi by the 5th so the first stop is Lahich. Cant really tell you much about the town since I’ve only been here for a few hours but it looks medieval, in a good way. Narrow stone streets at 9pm at night had locals running up to the Chariot to pet her. She didn’t bite.


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