So I had nothing important to do today, it was a big public holiday in Baku and the main road through town were shut. I was looking forward to meeting up with Lala again later on and she had kindly offered me a couch at her brother’s flat. I imagined I’d go to the port, talk with somebody who knew what was going on, find out that the next ferry for Kazakhstan would be leaving in X-many days and have to wait it out. If I was lucky, it would be leaving before Tuesday. If I was REALLY lucky, it might be leaving tomorrow. To be honest, I really couldn’t be bothered, what with all the celebrations going on, but I walked down the hill from Nick’s to the Metro station, filled up my ‘oyster’ card (at 20p a trip, it’s value for money HEAR THAT BORIS?) and after arriving at the Main Station I plodded over to the port.
I was in no rush, and I didn’t get there until just after 2pm. I was taken into the portacabin and I spoke to the lady who through broken English told me to go and get my bags from my hotel. I didn’t understand what on Earth she was on about. My bags? From my hotel? Why?
Because the boat to Kazakhstan leaves in an hour. I couldn’t believe my ears.
My jaw hit the ground and my feet hit the road. My taxi cunningly took the route around town and by 3pm I was back at Nicks throwing my scattered belongings into my bag like a wife who’s just caught her husband with his pants down attempting the Heimlich Manoeuver on his secretary. Nick, being the SUPERSTAR LEGEND that he is, went to the grocers and picked me up some provisions for my journey over the Caspian Sea. He met me on the way out of his building and we promised to meet up again in the wonderful land of Oz. Thanking him profusely, texting Lala to explain what was going on (she had arranged to take me to an art gallery and all sorts, damnit!) I stuffed myself in a taxi and headed back to the port, hoping that by ‘the boat leaves in one hour’ the woman meant ‘the boat leaves in two hours’.
I got there at about half three, weighed down with bags and nonsense. The woman in the portacabin looked at me in that ‘oh dear, I’ve got some bad news for you, young man’ way that seems to be universal to humankind.
The boat was full.
Full? How could it be full?!
It only has eleven places for passengers.
ELEVEN PLACES?!? Why didn’t you tell me this before I legged it all the way to the other side of town and back like a man deranged?
But somebody might not turn up.
Out of a hundred, maybe. Out of ELEVEN?
Oh, six are already here.
So if one out of the FIVE people we’re waiting for doesn’t turn up, I get a place on the boat?
Yeah. Come back here at four.
I looked at my watch. It was twenty to four. I sat on the concrete by the boomgate, gobsmacked by this turn of events. An image came into my head – Lawrence Olivier and the other Olympian Gods playing with toy versions of their favourite humans for fun. The next boat wouldn’t be for 10 days. I’d probably be here until April. Why do the Gods mock me so?!
At half four, the lady came out of her portacabin. My heart was in my mouth. She flicked me a smile and coaxed me inside.
I was in.
Dead Man’s Hughes Strikes Again.
What are the chances of the last 24 hours of my life all working out so perfectly? Hundreds to one against, I’d say, but I’m not a gambling man – the house always wins. I got my ticket, barrelled through customs and bundled myself onto the ‘Naxçivan’.
After paying a whopping $120 for my passage, I was more than a little miffed when the guy on board wanted a further $15 for a skanky cabin. I haggled him down to $10 and got rid of my Azeri change by buying a bottle of Fanta. Dinner didn’t look to appetising (a sausage from a moldy fridge) so I made do with my processed cheese and bread that Nick had thankfully given me and settled in for the night with a movie – Confessions of A Dangerous Mind. Got a bit freaked out at one point when I realised that the main character was a little bit too similar to me for comfort.
By the way, I’ve got a GREAT idea for a game show…
DID YOU KNOW? Azerbaijan has a map of Europe on their banknotes – stretching all the way to the Caspian. FANCY THAT! Is somebody gearing up to join the EU by any chance? Does Russia know?