The ferry arrived at about 3.00 am, the previous incumbent of the dock space having sailed off at about 1.00 am. Refrigerator lorries started to queue at about 4.00 am with chilling units going at full blast. You can tell that there was not too much sleeping done.
We breakfasted and settled down to wait, first for the train to be shunted on and then for us to be called to border control. Eventually the usual forms were issued and at about 11.00 we were called to the border office with our bags. We also carried two boxes of food from the truck, together with the food supplies we had purchased ourselves as we did not know if we would have access to Penelope again until we reached Azerbaijan. It was a pretty well loaded down and rather motley crew who assembled to leave Turkmenistan and set off on the high seas.
We sat in the border control office and watched the three generations of a local family gather for the crossing. Their luggage was incredible! 2 enormous flat screen televisions, a washing machine (!), a large carpet, several large plastic bags and a number of wheelie trolleys all collected themselves around them.
We eventually got through the ‘getting out of Turkmenistan’ process and found ourselves sitting outside the office on the jetty with a wooden walkway in front of us leading into the bowels of the ship and with the truck in front of us, waiting to be searched for the usual guns and drugs. At about 2.00 pm we received the nod. Simon drove Penelope across and we trooped into the ship, alongside the railway goods carriages already in position. (The ship has railway lines in it!) After several attempts, space was found for Penelope and we were allowed to climb up to what was, I think, our third class accommodation.
As we walked along the deck, looking at the rust frequently displayed where there were joints of ironwork, I hoped its workings were a little more up to date than it’s obvious longevity. This was a soviet ship that had been around a very long time. Black smoke belched out of its twin chimneys, grey washing hung out on washing lines strung between various bits of apparatus. Signs directed us to a dining room and shopwhich were never found and were probably long gone!
We were shown into a communal area with aged photographs depicting many medalled veterans of a previous era. Arranged around the walls were what looked like ex-aircraft chairs, some with arms and some with just the metal carcus of arms. All had been ‘covered’ with loose covers in various stages of (dis)repair. A dead plant in cement like earth sat in an iron pot in the centre of the room. The only other piece of furniture was a much mended table.
We shared a cabin with Wendy and Sarah, the Australian ladies we have shared with before. The cabin was very small with three narrow plastic cupboards, 4 bunk beds, a sink with no plumbing connection and half a broken mirror. Ancient wires hung out the remains of a plug socket. One positive thing was the porthole that opened – we could get air!
The ferry left at 4.00 pm with an estimated journey time of 16 hours.
We had more or less exhausted our selves by 8.30 pm having not slept much the night before. We had spent some time outside on deck on an area I termed as the ‘sun deck’ but it had no seats so sitting was a bit of an issue. We had then cobbled together two meals from the truck and our own supplies (lunch and supper). We had no way of recharging IPads so our reading was running out – so an early night was the only sensible option.
We had politely turned down the offer of bedding and I slept on top of my sleeping bag in my silk liner sack.
I opted for the upper bunk and slept well, despite a slight anxiety that if there was a heavy swell I was likely fall out of the wide open window – sorry – porthole that my bunk gave rather too easy access. There was a cooling breeze and luckily our crossing was flat calm. No lives were lost.