Hitchhiking to Alat

The way from Astara to Alat is faster than anticipated: looking at around 200 km of flat asphalt road I expect 2 full days of riding.

When I'm taking a break under a bridge in the late afternoon, a truck driver asks me where I'm going. Turns out he's got the same destination for the day: Alat!

I quickly put my bike and luggage onto his empty cargo area and jump onto the passenger seat: my first hitch hike with the bike has begun.

The truck barely exceeds 55 kph on the highway, but it's still double of what I'm doing at the bike.

2 hours and some supermarket stops later, we arrive in Alat where the truckers friends welcome me enthusiastically and barbecue preparations are starting: I'm invited for dinner and to stay the night -- all in viewing distance of the port who is now merely a 5 km ride away.

Crossing the Caspian Sea

Around Alat port

Adventurous stories have been told about week long camping at the port in precarious conditions. When I arrive at the port in the morning, I come mentally prepared and cannot believe my luck when I'm told the ferry would be leaving the same day (I remain skeptical).

A few hours later and with 80$ less in my wallet I find myself waiting at the port in the company of another cyclist (Matt from England) and 2 girls from NZ and Serbia, both traveling by foot / public transport.

Around 4pm, the embarkation procedure starts and us "pedestrians" are the first allowed on board. The ship seems more or less abandoned, save for 2 crew members at the gate who collect our passports and tickets and tell us to "go up, right, right".

I'm cursing about not having taken time to reorganize my bags a little bit. Now I have to haul all my bags through narrow stairways to one of the upper decks. No staff member is to be seen and us foreigners set up camp somewhere on the side of the ship.

After about 1 or 2 hours of waiting without any information, finally a somewhat English speaking staff member shows up and we get assigned our rooms.

The shower/WC in the 2 person cabin Matt and I are given doesn't work, but the alternative (staying in a 4 bed cabin) is even less appealing, seeing how crammed those are). At least the bed linen given to me seems clean (the bed itself ... is not)

A floating ruin

A Dutch motorcyclist which I had met at the port and who had arrived with that very ship, described the Mercury 1 to me as "a floating ruin". "And that's one of the good ships", he goes on. "The 'Professor Gul' is even worse".

Guess I'm in luck :)

In fact, the ship is not in the best shape. Everything is rusty, falling apart, run-down. Handrails are falling off, pipes leaking water, doors not closing. The life boats look outdated despite having a "last test date 10-2018" stamp.

Some showers and toilets stalls are without light. Toilet paper? Not included. Vast areas in the mess and hallway are "fenced off" with ropes or curtains for whatever reason.

Granted I'm not an expert in ships it does seem kind of miraculous to me how that ship is staying afloat.

Most baffling to me however is the fact, that we're traveling with an open dock: is that even legal?

At least the dinner is okay, though the portions aren't too big. I'm still happy having brought some water and food (we just get soft drinks with the meals) and water is not easy to find.

And just as dinner ends, the ship is leaving the port: the crossing has begun.

The night passes quickly. And so does the next day, thanks to various naps. Peeking into the various cabins (most of which keep their doors open to improve ventilation) sleeping seems to be the main activity onboard of the vessel.

Just before dinner, around 7pm, we're docking at the port near Kuryk. Too bad, as most of us had hoped for another night +dinner on the ship, and an early fresh start into the day the next morning.

After docking it will take another 2 hours until we clear customs and I can enter country no 12:

Kazakhstan