First thing Wednesday morning we arrive at the Turkmenistan Consulate in Baku (yet again, this is starting to feel like Ground Hog Day) to see about Pam’s visa. Ishmael, the fixer, is already there along with a few other ralliers. Fully understanding what is at stake here, I walk straight up to Ishmael and said hello to him first before I chatted it up with the rest of the ralliers.
Tall, scruffy, intense, knew our team and who we were as soon as I walked up. We’ve been exchanging a few Facebook messages on the group page and this is the first time we’ve meet in person, its funny how that happens. He is driving alone and has meet up with a couple of Lithuanians (who are not on the rally just having their own massive road trip) and have been looking after Lachlan a little. Ishmael asks if Lachlan wants his help with the visa and getting on the boat, Lachlan being a little naïve to the way of the world told Ishmael, no, he will do it himself.
After much ado, (note: declaring your profession as a journalist of any sort, even a travel writer or blogger for countries such as Turkmenistan is not a good idea) we finally were able to secure Pam’s name on a list for a visa on arrival.
We head for the port once again!
Now we wait.
Teams pulls up to the port gradually, some set up their camping stove in the parking lot and make lunch while others opt for what is already cooked or pre-packaged for lunch. Ishmael goes in and out of the ticket office and everyone who has employed his service waits for what is next. Is there a boat today? Maybe. We could only hope.
Lachlan and the Lithuanian couple (they speak Russian) goes into the ticket office and tries to buy their ticket. The ticket officer rejects Lachlan and told him outright that he will not sell him a ticket.
Ahhh! Lachlan has pissed off the fixer. A fixer with friends at key junctures of your trip is not someone you want to make an enemy of. Lachlan approaches Ishmael to see if he will help him. The offer is rejected. Ishmael tells Lachlan to do it on his own since he thinks he can.
In the mean time, our cars are being measured, $80 USD per meter, and our passports are being collected. Lachlan starts to panic and not sure what to do. Should he come back tomorrow? Should he stay and keep on waiting to see if the ticket officer would sell him a ticket at the last minute? He is staring to have the look of a caged animal in his eyes.
I walk over to Ishmael and attempt to work my powers of persuasion. From Ishmael’s point of view, Lachlan’s rejection of his service made him a grifter and a swindle where in fact, Ishmael believes that he is here to help, to be of service to us ralliers. I reassure Ishmael’s value to myself and Pam, of all the help he has given us in securing Pam’s visa, and plead on Lachlan’s behalf with big pretty eyes with the final line of logic being that if Lachlan does not get on the boat tonight then Ishmael would still have to deal with him tomorrow or the next day. He caves and agrees to help Lachlan.
We pay $100 per person and $80 per meter on our car and we move the car 20 meters down the dock from where we were and wait.
The drivers (registered owner of the car) and passengers (your mates) each approach customs in different groups and you wait. One window after another, one stamps after another and a final unorganized mob scene to pay your loading fee (each car is assessed differently and ours came out to be $15 USD) we finally were able to drive our cars onto the cargo ferry that will take us across the Caspian Sea.
Time Check, 9pm.
We pay $5 USD each and share a 4 person cabin with another rally team and then head above deck with our dinner and couple tiny bottles of scotch. We all need a drink tonight! The sense of relief is palatable from everyone. Lachlan and I review the day and his experience with Ishmael. Now that he is on the boat and all is well, he believes that was possible for him to get on the boat by himself without needing to grease the fixer. On our bill of landing for the car it lists the prices per person and for the car. The passenger is charged $85 USD (approx) and the car is $70 USD per meter. Ishmael took a percentage from that particular transaction as well as his stated $15 USD fee.
“You know what you paid for today?” I ask Lachlan.
“You didn’t pay Ishmael to get on the boat, you paid for a lesson in the way the world works.”
We are happy to be on the boat at last, even if we have not sailed and who is to say when we will actually set sail. But at last, us, the car, are on the boat and we are a step closer in our progress and our final destination.
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