How to pack your bike for a flight:
1) ask local bike shops for a cardboard bike box. Most will be happy to give you one for free :)
2) try and get some bubble wrap or foam tubing. If you can't find any (like us) choose the clothes you like the least / secretly want to ruin as an excuse to go shopping!
3) try to take off the pedals, go back to the bike shop to ask them to loosen them when it appears you can't get them off yourself, get home and realise that you still can't undo the pedals even though they are loosened, hit them with a hammer til the screw loosens
4) take off the handlebars, front wheel and saddle
5) wrap as much of the bike as possible in clothes, cardboard, padding and more clothes. Pay special attention to the wheels and cassettes
6) grab a friend and try and lift it all into the box and keep your fingers crossed that it fits!
7) pack in the front wheel and all the other bits you took off around the bike
8) add in as many soft clothes and bags as possible to stop it wobbling around
9) hope that it is under 30kg!
After successfully arriving in Baku, Azerbaijan with people and bikes amazingly all in one piece. We settled in to enjoy a few days in Baku whilst waiting for our Kazakhstan visa before getting the infamous Caspian Sea ferry.
After a delay applying for the visa as the embassy had moved locations but not updated any embassy websites, we turned up to find a whole street of kitchen shops! But the next day we had better luck and submitted our applications to be picked up in 3 days time.
Baku is a beautiful city, we were staying in the old town which had gorgeous walls, towers and lots and lots of carpet shop!
When reading the Lonely Planet guide Baku seems like a funny old place, the guide recommended taking the fun train along the prom to see the world's second largest flag pole and the building commonly referred you by locals ad the Death Star (apparently it was supposed to Represent the sun but as it is under construction resembles more the base of the evil Imperial Empire.
We also visited some mud volcanoes (described by Lonely Planet as 'geologically flatulent'), saw some petroglyphs and visited a zoronasian temple - an ancient fire worshipping religion.
Along with the old city and ancient sites Baku has lots of high fashion shops and of course the grand prix, which successfully made me feel like an grubby tourist walking around in the same clothes I've been wearing for nearly 4 months now.
Baku was a really great surprise and I'd love to go back there again and buy a carpet, unfortunately it just wasn't realistic to bungee one to my bike although that would have been awsome!
We met some lovely people in the hostel and had our first taste of the Russian tradition of drinking vodka thanks to a lovely Russian man who was staying there too. We also met three brits who were doing the Mongol Rally, it sounds insane but also hilarious. I have future plans to do the Ramshackle rally to the La Tomatina festival in Spain one day :)
We picked up our Kazakh visas on Friday morning and, with the help of our wonderful hostel owner Michael, headed straight down to the ferry port to buy tickets as we heard there was a boat that very same day.
The whole Caspian Sea experience was one I had read a lot about and was both nervous and excited for. It turns out that overall we were very very lucky, you'll see why.
We arrived at the ticket office and were told to go wait by a scary lady. I spent that time visiting 11 different banks trying to
Find one that sold US Dollars, the only currency accepted for the ticket. After only a 2 hour wait we were called in to buy our tickets. We were then given the wonderful news that the ferry would be leaving from Baku not Alat (70km away)!! We couldn't believe or ears as all passengers board at Alat, that's the way it works. Even Michael, the hostel owner, couldn't believe it and rang them to double check we were right. Apparently it was the first time that had happened this year, super lucky!
So we packed up and headed to the ferry at 6pm, went through passport and custom control and then had a wait while all the lorries were loaded on. We spent a lovely few hours having (awful) coffee and chatting to the customs officer, who turned out to have a whole camping set in the boot of his car which he proudly showed us.
We board first and were shown to a cabin, Then went to watch the other cyclists board, we knew there was a cyclist called Josh and a motorcyclist called Joe as we'd met them at the ticket office earlier, but we were also joined by Chloe and Will a British couple on a tandem bike! So it was a lovely little bunch of us on board and we couldn't have asked for better company.
Boarding over we went to the mess hall for our evening meal of pasta soup (yes we got a ferry which served food, another lucky thing as not all do and our bags were loaded with noodles just in case there was no food on board). We were invited to join the lorry drivers for some vodka later on. After settling into our cabin (and after one crew member gave me a small fish to eat and another crew member took it away!) we headed down to join them in some contraband vodka, the cook Ira snuck two bottles on board in a pile of laundry!
One lorry driver, Wassel, was particularly nice and spoke a few words of English and was our self appointed host for the evening pouring us vodka, toasting and then pouring us all a glass of water each time. We quickly learnt that with the vodka he would keep pouring until we said stop and if you weren't paying attention you'd end up with a glass full!
It was a funny evening getting to know the other cyclists and trying to communicate with the Kazakh and Russian drivers. One, who called himself the Robin Hood of Kazakhstan, played played a couple of tunes on Will and Chloes mini guitar as everyone stood around smoking in deck.
We woke up at 5.30am the next morning, wrapped up as took a blanket to the top deck to watch the sunrise over the Caspian Sea. It was absolutely stunning with nothing but sea all around and gorgeous colours.
The next day was mostly spent napping and reading as there's really not much to do on a boat. We napped in our cabin and on the top deck, the boys risking it even though the drivers claimed it would give them erectile dysfunction!
In the evening we rigged up two laptops to play Thelma and Louise and thanks to Will got the sound to play at the same time. We knew that the ferry would arrive in Aktau at about 1am but had convinced ourselves that they would let us sleep til morning before unloading. Oh how wrong we were!
At 1am we had a banging on the door and a man speaking in Kazakh gesturing to get up. Of course none of us were packed so we set about hurriedly gathering our stuff together. The man came back twice more before bringing someone who spoke English. He told us it was only passport control and we didn't need our bags yet. Do we head up and are met by a whole troop of the Kazakh army on board with sniffer dogs. We head to the passport control building and actually get through pretty quickly, the lorry drivers had a lot more paperwork, and head back to finish packing and unload our bikes. We make it through custom control which consists of the army pointing at our bags and us trying to mime what is in them.
By this point it is 3am and Aktau is 7km away and we don't have hostel booked. We are shattered and make the joint decision to try and get a few hours sleep outside passport control and then cycle into Aktau at a more reasonable hour.
Too tired to get anything comfortable out of my bags I put my head on the tent bag and try to sleep. For once my ability to fall asleep instantly anywhere let me down! But to be fair I was unconfortable, cold and there were people going in and out all night and a train that went by a couple of times. But I convinced myself that rest was just as good as sleep and I'd feel fine in the morning. Not the best nights sleep ever, note to self, it's always worth getting something comfy to lie on before going to sleep.
Morning came and we headed into Aktau after a hold up at the port gate where they refused to raise the barrier for us. Turns out they thought we needed an import tax and forms for our bikes but we got that straightened out.
We also bumped into the Mongol rally guys again! Turns or we definately got the better ferry, theirs left before us and arrived later and it sounded like their cabin was in the middle of the boat, really hot with no windows!
So we are in Kazakhstan and about to head into the steppe for the next stage of our adventure. Central Asia has been really fun so far, looking forward to the next bit!
A Wheely Long Journey Blog
Charlie and Lou are twins from Cheshire, UK on a mission to cycle back to their childhood home in Hong Kong.