• Jamie Shannon

A town called Aktau - not the kind of place to vacation

Wednesday 1st September


I made it to Kazakhstan. That’s something I was never quite sure I’d hear myself saying. What an awesome feeling. I can now finally say I have arrived in Asia proper and under my own steam - somewhat.


Arriving in Kazakhstan after crossing the Caspian Sea


My first morning in the country, yet still on the boat, was a strange one. I was woken up at about 5 am by someone prodding my shoulder. I looked up to find a soldier and the Captain staring down at me and waving my passport in my face. Clearly I had missed something as there was no sign of the Russians either.

I was motioned to go up to the canteen area where I found every person on the ship present. Why am I always late for everything? The next few hours were some of the most disorientating of my life. With absolutely no one speaking English and myself not knowing what was going on at most points, it was really quite stressful. I didn’t know where to stand or what to do. Am I a foot passenger or do I join the motorists like I usually do. Do I leave my bags in the cabin or take them with me? When do I get my bike?


In the end I grabbed my bags that I had taken on board with me and was quickly herded onto a waiting minibus with the other foot passengers for the short kilometre ride to passport control. After waiting one hour there I was told I could now collect my bike from the ship but the Georgian man, whom was kitted out in his best Nike tracksuit, told me to leave my three ‘important bags there in the customs building. No problem he said. Okay so I’ll do that. When I arrived back forty minutes later the building was locked with no one around to open it.


When I tried to ask the soldiers about the building, they just kept asking to look in my bags. No, no, no, this can wait. I need to get into that building. Three bags inside see. (inserts imaginary key into hole). They didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. They just wanted to see inside my bag’s. I think it was just curiosity as they had already been checked twice.


I walked back to the building and waited it out. I mean surely someone must have a key.


A little later, the Georgian guy came wandering over and asked me what I was doing there. I told him I was waiting for someone to open the building as he himself had insisted on my leaving my bags there. No problem you had said. He then wandered off never to be seen again.

I was getting really pissed off at this point. I had left them there like two hours ago now. I didn’t even know if they were still there. Someone might have moved them and If they had done so, how on earth would I ever find them If I couldn’t even communicate the idea of a door being locked.


When what seemed like an eternity has passed, I saw the two ladies whom had actually stamped my passport walking past and out of the port and so I ran after them. I had to shout through the guards building for them to stop at which point I asked the border guards to let me through. The ladies however couldn’t understand me either but their driver could. He spoke English. Horahhhh. I told him of my dilemma upon which he passed the information onto a soldier walking past and I was eventually given the news that I would have to wait another thirty mins. At least they all knew what I wanted now.


Fifteen minutes later, a young soldier walked over and I finally had my beloved bags. These three bags had everything of any value in them and I was so happy to be reunited with them. Note to self: Never trust anyone, not because of malice but just because things change and never let your stuff go out of your sight.


I rode the five km’s from the port and on into the city of Aktau on the shores of the Caspian Sea where I found a café that offered wifi. I was again left completely disorientated as I was now back in the land of Cyrillic and even finding a hotel would become tiresome. Luckily, they don’t write wi-fi in Cyrillic.


I sat there and deliberated with myself about my options: to stock on provisions now and cycle out into the desert or to get a hotel for the evening and leave tomorrow.


Aktau is not a place I’d like to write a postcard from but with over 1000 km’s of desert between here and my first city in Uzbekistan, it’s not a place I’m in a hurry to leave either. With this in mind, I have treated myself somewhat to a proper hotel for two nights. I think I’m going to need it in preparation for the journey ahead.