Beyneu – Aktau Kazakhstan
2 – 3 May (Thu–Fri)
Made the Beyneu - Aktau train with seconds to spare.
Packed-up and waiting at car 21 exit upon arriving at Beyneu station. The car manager points me to the ticket office and I'm off.
Across the platform is a standing train between me and the station. I follow others around this train only to find one more very, very long passenger train between me and my destination. But doors are open, and stairs lowered on a car nearby. Yes, I go up one side, in the train and down the other. Now where is the ticket office. Someone is saying Aktau, Aktau off in the distance and I guess a share-taxi is collecting passengers.
The train station has a system to check departing bags through an x-ray machine, but to my left are two ticket counters. I just leave my bag next to the x-ray machine and head for the shorter line. The two security officials initially object and are only briefly perplexed, and then appear to understand my predicament. I figured they will watch my bags - and they do.
The lady in the ticket booth understands my Google note, carefully written in Russian, and says one word: Yes. She tries to give me exact change and I take the notes and the ticket and leave the change for her. Grab my bags and then back to the gallant I know too well.
Made it into car 21 and in less than 5 minutes - really - the doors shut and the train begins moving - for about 3km and stops. OK now what?
Eventually, I half-understand that there is a single track between Beyneu and Aktau and my train is slotted to use that track starting at 10.00pm. About 9.45pm the train returns to Beyneu station, picks-up passengers and now we are off.
I never read my ticket - I simply gave it to the car manager. I guess it had a 10.00pm departure. All that rush and anxiety that could have been avoided if I understood Russian - I could have had a decent dinner near the train station. Alas...
This has become a 28 hour train ride, as we arrive in Aktau at 8.00am. I had not planned for such a long journey and was just about out of food and water. Fortunately, at some unknown station a woman was selling bottled water and large steamed dumplings in plastic bags. So that's dinner.
When I woke up my travelling companion and her baby were gone. Never got her name - only a picture of mother and child along with pictures of some of the women selling stuff in the train throughout the day. I was a curiosity and so they kind of adopted me.
First glimpse of morning and found that the desert had been replaced by grassland and the beauty of a Kazakhstan sunrise.
The three train officials assigned to my car had become my mates, as each endeared themselves to me during this long journey. The manager was smart and helpful, the young boy cleaned-up and did what he was told, and then there was the former Russian boxer with 10 children. He was so proud, not of his children but because it demonstrated he was virile--a real man -- who was probably hired to manage difficult passengers.
It was great to be in Aktau at 8.00am on a Friday morning. Now a taxi to the cargo ship ticket office - not at the port but in the city. I had a small map of the city in my guide book that identified the ticket office as number 17 on a list of 17 important Aktau locations.
I accepted the first taxi driver that approached me - a young man with a pleasant demeanour. I gave him some trouble on the price he wanted but eventually accepted - knowing that an office is more difficult to find than a hotel. I was going to need his help to achieve my goal - Shamsiya had assured me the next boat was departing on Friday.
I showed him the guide book but he drove past where I figured the office might be. OK - it’s his city and he must know. But no, he did not know.
After 30 minutes of confusion (lucky I did not fight him on the price he wanted) we figured out that he had taken me to the 17th District in Aktau (17 is the randomly assigned number for the ticket office in the guild book and has nothing to do with its physical location (actually, it is in the 5th district).
With this clarification, we laughed, I took a selfie while he was driving (see picture), and a picture of my first glimpse of the Caspian Sea from the taxi window, and we found the ticket office. I gave him a 50-percent tip.
The Russian woman selling tickets - behind a desk - seemed very Russian but with enough English to manage the transaction. Yes, a boat was departing at 8.00pm that night. The boat was named Professor Yul. The ticket would cost US$80 but payment must be in KZ Tenge - 30,700. No problem. She asked for my passport and made a call - to the port - to confirm my passage. I told her I had a visa for Azerbaijan and she wrote out the ticket and gave it to me. All good.
I asked when the boat would arrive - Saturday evening around 10.00pm, I learned. So, I asked when I would meet Immigration and Customs and she immediately understood the context of my question - she has done this before.
She asked about the validity date of my Azerbaijan eVisa? The 6th of May and I realise that I better show her the eVisa I had purchased on-line over a month ago. She assured me that I would NOT be allowed to board the boat with this document, as I would be meeting with Azerbaijan Immigration on the May 5th. Alas...
The 6th May eVisa had been my decision and I could have selected any day but once selected I was locked in to that date - CAN NOT arrive before May 6th. When I made that decision, I could not imagine that I could get to Aktau any earlier, but my travel has been rather efficient – especially considering the formidable barriers between Samarkand and Aktau.
She told me that the next boat departs on Monday or Tuesday (6th or 7th May). She suggested that I return on Monday morning and she could confirm the schedule and re-write my ticket. I wished her a good weekend and she smiled.
Taken from a moving taxi