Leaving Baku took longer than I expected. From the point we were ready to board, until the moment of departure, we have been asked for documents probably five times. It seems like this is a completely random thing. Some guards don’t do anything. They just look at the pages of the passport and read silly stuff they find interesting. They compare visa photographs and ask personal questions mixed with dirty jokes. Speaking Turkish, I naturally became the translator and guide for Jehan and Isabel all through the way from the port of Baku to the port of Aktau, a total of 5 days spent together with truckers and guards… My job included all sorts of cajolery, mediation, alteration and explanations required to move on.

The ferry itself, Miss Mercury is actually a very old bitch. Details such as the operation instructions on the casino coin machines reveal that she used to be a German boat sailing god knows where. It probably had some good days back when the aristocracy used to dress up for a nice dinner and had their cigars at the launge… Now all it sees is the truckers. For the time being, we are sailing on calm waters but you can tell this is not always the case. Some parts of the carpets in the rooms are missing. They’ve been carefully cut and removed probably because of heavy stains. It’s not hard to imagine seasick truckers throwing up. I’ve definately extended the limits of my psychological hygene. It’s a very revealing experience.

We are currently anchored a few miles from Aktau. The ferry is not harboring yet. It’s been sitting here for more than 20 hours. The crew say that the horbor is busy, but there aren’t too many ships around. Sinan thinks that they are trying to spend some time waiting for the passengers to accumulate on the port before the journey back to Baku. They do not want to pay any horbor fees so they keep us here instead. It’s a crazy idea. But maybe true.

Nobody is complaining because we’re actually having a good time. Jehan, Mehmet and I slept on the deck yesterday night, watching the stars and the lights of Aktau. It’s bigger and brighter than I expected. There are even a few high storey buildings. In the morning, I suddenly woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the city. The sky was bright orange with the sun barely showing up over the buildings. As if some voice in my head said: “Wake up! You have to see this!”

Six of us have formed an involuntary team. We constantly eat and drink together. Recep and Mehmet work together and they stay at the same room. They have all sorts of food in the truck. Sinan likes their company. Truckers have a unique way of grouping among themselves. Isabel enjoys the high calorie food and warms up the environment with her light feminine attitude. Five men wouldn’t hang out together for this long without her presence. Jehan likes to be near her and the free food. He performs card games and plays nice tunes on his harmonica, transforming blank minutes into memorable moods. I do the translation and provide the compact stove to cook the meals on. Needless to say, I like all these people and enjoy observing the energy in between…

Mehmet was talking about being a truck driver the night we were sleeping on the deck. He was explaining how the life at home and the life on the road are seperated from each other. “When I wake up the first morning and see my son sleeping in his room, I become a completely different man! The whole trip feels like a dream I vaguely remember” he said.

I sometimes get this feeling too… All of the people here share only one thing in common. Road! They know what it’s like to be on it. They know how it moves on. We all exchange contact numbers despite this awareness of transience. We are living a memory. And I know it as it’s happening.

The true value of times like this are usually realized later on in life. That’s why past times often seem happier than present. As if there is a delay in our recognition of happiness… On the road, with transient people, this delay seems to disappear. You know very well that all you have is now and here.

Sinan is actually a very religous guy. But even that stops on the road. Islam does not require you to pray while you’re travelling. He never married despite the efforts of his family back in Ağı He has a lover somewhere in Tashkent whom he hasn’t seen for the past 7 months. “She’s not answering my calls anymore!” he said. Maybe that’s why he keeps singing sad songs on every occasion. It’s nice to listen to him and remember my own love. It’s been 3 months for us… Long enough to feel that sort of a song deep in my heart.

Recep is a funny old man. He is from Gaziantep and likes to eat a lot. He knows many languages and cultures on a basic level. He’s a respected figure among the drivers, a complete know-how man with worn out traditional values. He enjoys being the father figure, while at the same time trying to keep his distance in judgement. Truck drivers know only two kind of women. Women back at home such as their wives and daughters, and women on the side of the road.

Isabel doesn’t quite fit into any of these categories and I had to do a good translation job of explaining what she was doing to protect her from falling into either. Every man on the ship had to figure out what she was. They all expressed their concerns about a beautiful girl cycling alone through the Kazakh desert. Particularly because they knew very well what kind of a feeling this image arouses… For them, she either had to be taken under custody or deserved to be raped. For a traveller, I don’t know which is worse.

Jehan is French. I don’t think I need to say anything else. But I guess he deserves a bit more since he was lucky enough to make it this far in his journey from Paris to Tokyo. The reasons as to how he managed to survive until now completely escape my understanding. He is a very slim guy lost in an oversize motorcycle jacket. He doesn’t know any sort of maintenance and does not seem to care. The way he packs his luggage on the bike is a complete mess in my standards. The rear tire is worn out beyond recognition, and the chain is slack. At one point, a piece of cloth he wears around his neck, the french thingy, got caught in the rear sprocket. I had to stop him. He said “I had the feeling that there was something wrong!” He doesn’t care about hygene and couldn’t even pronounce it properly. He walks barefoot on every opportunity and plays the harmonica on every occasion. He likes climbing up on weird places and sometimes falls asleep there. He carries a furry toy mascot called Marmot, which he claims to be a groundhog of some sort but I had to ask which end was the head. Oh! I almost forgot! He talks a lot and falls in love easily. I really don’t know how he made it this far from France and why I like this guy so much!

The ferry finally docked. We were hoping to be allowed to the vehicles but insead they let us out through the passanger exit. I was carrying my tankbag, drysack, one of the side panniers, my helmet, CamelBak and the bike jacket with me. So it was a bit disappointing to be directed to a bus instead of the bike. We were taken to the Kazakh border control office at around midnight. We passed the passport control but the customs was closed until tomorrow morning so we would be waiting in the zone for the night. Anyway, it was too late to find a place to stay in the city. After passport control, we had to walk back to the ferry because there was no bus. I was sweating like a pig but it felt good to be in Kazakhstan. We loaded the bikes and headed for the truck park within the zone. The night passed as usual camping by the side of the truck near the kitchen cabinet. We had some food and drinks. Some of the custom guards were making redundant checks before the actual control that was due the following morning, Recep explained me that they were looking for things to snatch like cigarettes and alcohol. Indeed one of them wanted to check my bike. He asked me to open the pannier and took a pack of cigarette I had in there. It was all too natural for him.

Back in the trucks side, Recep told me something quite disturbing. He claimed that the Kazakh soldier thought Isabel was a prostitute and wanted to be with her. He had to convince the guy otherwise and even lied about Isabel visiting some consular family relation in Kazakhstan. Recep looked serious and insisted that she accompanied them in the truck through Kazakhstan. Isabel asked me what was going on. She could see I was worried. I had to translate.

I’m not a hard core feminist, but the truck option didn’t seem like a resolution to me. She was here to cycle and see the culture. It would be a shame to give up that ambition because of a stupid soldier’s comments. On the other hand there seemed to be a real threat for her. I explained the situation with careful words and gave her one other option. My Uzbek visa was starting on the 15th. I had to be in Kazakhstan until then. I was going to take it slow anyway so I suggested travelling on the same route until Uzbekistan. Jehan also agreed on the idea. Him and I would be giving her a head start early in the morning. We would leave later in the afternoon, meeting her on the road once. Then we would set up camp, or find a place to stay and wait for her to arrive. She had until morning to decide.

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