14 May 2012

Azerbaijan: Escape from Baku

Our issue in Azerbaijan was the visa issued to us by the Azerbaijani Embassy in The Hague.  We had 5 days to enter and exit the country all while knowing that the ferry can take up to 10 days to ship out to Kazakhstan.  It seemed like a ploy to get more money out of us.  There is no information regarding the ferry's departure until it arrives into the Baku port.  There they decide where it will go, Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan.  The only way to get this info is to call every morning at 10am. 
The ferry ticket office - baku port

After a few days of hearing "Niyet", we finally heard a "Dah".  Aika from the Caspian Hostel translated for us telling us to get down there to buy tickets.
our all-day taxi ride cost us 70 euro
Ah, we were relieved.  Now, we needed to go to immigration as we were on day 6 of our 3 day (plus 48 hours so 5 days total) visa.  We would need to pay a fine of 300 manat (300 Euro) per person for overstaying the visa – very annoying.  The ferry ticket plus motorcycle cost us 170 manat.  On to the port to set sail…
taking money to pay the 300 euro fine
At first, customs says that there is not ship sailing to Aktau.  Ok, we thought, this is strange. Then  he asked for our paperwork.  After giving him everything, he then said that even if there were a vessel, we could not sail until tomorrow.  We had to pay a fine of 21 manat (21 euros) for the motorcycle overstaying the visa.  An immigration officer arrived, as he spoke a little English and confirmed that there was a vessel leaving, however, he could not help us.  We begged and pleaded for 2 hours and nothing could be accomplished.  All we kept hearing was “immigration, no problem, come back tomorrow for ship”.  Yeah, the ships do not run that frequently.
the reason we could not travel the first time around
 We left very demoralized.  We are trying to leave the country legally, to continue our journey, but are not being allowed.  We have 48 hours left on our new visa until it expires.  We start thinking of all the options, fly to Georgia to file for a new visa, fly to Istanbul, take the next vessel to Turkmenistan (Scott) then meet up with HJ in Kazakhstan.  All of this was thought about during the 15 minute ride back to the Caspian Hostel.  When we arrived, Vicente was still up and very surprised to see us.  After a recount of the night’s adventure, he shook his head in disbelief. We climbed back in the bunks we have been staying in and went to sleep.
back at the Caspian Hostel
Just 2 days later (friday 3 May) (24 hours after our newly extended visa had expired) we were instructed to go down to the port quickly because the vessel would be leaving shortly, this was at 10am.  We jumped in a cab (the same one from the other day) and headed to the ticket office at the port.  We did not need to be at the ticket office as our tickets from the other day are still valid.  We were informed that the vessel would be leaving in 3 hours from then…we still needed to pay the custom’s fine and arrange the immigration permission to leave…it would be tight/near impossible to catch this vessel.
We decided to skip immigration, pay the custom's fine and return back to the hostel, pack our goods and head out.  We prepared everything pretty quickly and were out within an hour.  Back at the port, we cleared the custom’s portion in under an hour.  
Baku Port - 2nd try: we can see and smell the ferry
Next was immigration…after seeing our paperwork, the custom’s officer says one word “problem”.  Jesus, not again…we are so close to leaving but so far.  We want to go, but Azerbaijan will not allow us to go.  Scott was a bit frustrated and called the US Embassy to see if they could help out.  In fact they could not do anything, but after the embassy lady spoke with the custom’s guy, he assured her that we would catch that ferry if we went down to the main immigration offices. 
The visit this time around to immigration was not that friendly.  After discussions that we were going to be removed from Azerbaijan back to our home countries (HJ to Netherlands and Scott to USA - not Kazakhstan), another lady came down to ask us why we did not leave.  We explained our situation about customs, the transit visa, and the ferry to Aktau.  We told her that we are trying to leave every day and that today, the ferry is running and waiting for us to get back to the port to sail.  She lobbied for us to her chief and received the kind word that he would let us go.  The paper was issued in under 15 minutes and we were heading back to the port. 
We were holding our breath if the vessel was still there.  Sure enough, it was.  We quickly cleared immigration, jumped on the bikes and headed to the vessel, not looking back.
Baku in the fog
We were finally on our way to Aktau… 


  1. Cuba was easy :-)

  2. I would be so stressed. Glad in the end you were able to finally leave that country!