Ralliers heading for Turkmenistan via Caspian Sea, by Charlie Grosso

Having successfully obtained my 5 day transit visa for Turkmenistan in Istanbul, we hoped that the process would be the same for Pam’s Turkmenistan visa. We submitted her paper work in Istanbul and they told her that she could pick it up in Baku.

9am. At the Turkmenistan Consulate in Baku. (It is not where google map tells you. Have a taxi take you there. We only found it because a taxi driver gave us directions.)

Meet Ishmael. A local tour agent who speaks about 6 different languages and is acting as the local fixer for all the ralliers to complete the visa process and get them on the ferry crossing the Caspian.

No go with Pam’s visa (URRG!). The Turkmen Consulate in Baku wants a letter of invite, even though according to the official published Turkmen visa requirements that is not necessary. I was able to get my transit visa without it.

We sit inside “the office” (a spares room in a house that opens onto an alley way) and we smile and we wait. We explain to the nice men with the power to grant Pam a visa of what we were told in Istanbul and we wait. They check the computer for her name. Nothing. We smile and quietly sit there. They tell us that we should call Istanbul and we ask if they would call instead. After all, neither of us speaks Turkish or Russian. They first say no. So we smile and quietly sit in the chair and wait.

Eventually, phone calls are made. We hear Pam’s name being mentioned. We perk up with hope. The consulate officers speak with Ishmael and tell us that maybe we can fix it on Wednesday. Two hours later, we exit the embassy with some sort of hope that all could be well.   Now we need to drop our car off at the port as our car has only been granted permission to be in Azerbaijan for 3 days when we entered the country.

1130am. We drop off some of our stuff off at the apartment and head for the port. We meet up with about a dozen fellow ralliers who are headed for the ferry to Turkmenbashi (very sad that we can’t be on the boat on the same day).

12pm. The gas tank is full and so is all of our spare fuel containers. Gas is literally cheaper than water here. I bought 68 Liters for 38 AZN.

We wait for the ferry to cross the Caspian Sea, by Charlie Grosso


Penguin Suit Comes out! by Charlie Grosso

1pm. We wait at the port with all the ralliers. Ishmael is spear heading the official paper work and communication with the powers that be. All of us have nothing to do except hang out, play soccer, put on a penguin suit and shoot the breeze.

230pm. Ishmeal wants me to head into the office with him with my passport and paper work for the car. He is also getting a little flirty. He tells me that he will fix Pam’s visa problem and get us on a boat on Wed. I head into the office with him and the men stares. I can’t tell if I am attracting attention because I am Chinese or because I am a woman.

Wait and come back. I’ve been told. I shade my face with the giant folder of paper work and I wait.

4pm. All the teams who are heading for Turkmenistan are asked to drive through the port gate only to wait on the other side of the wall.

Mongol Ralliers Wait on the other side of the wall at port, by Charlie Grosso

430pm. Hungry. I’ve only had breakfast and Pam has not eaten at all. I don’t want to leave without knowing the car is all sorted out and it is okay to go. Ishmeal wants to go have a beer after and given the fact that he is charmed by me and also acting as our fixer, I am starting to feel a little bit like I’m beholden to him.

Make no mistake, there is a very distinct line here, drawn on cold hard concert, as to what I will and will not do to get what we need but still….. I find myself conflicted here. We smile and bat our eyes to get what we want, often and frequently. Most of the time, it is really just being nice, ask politely and smile sweetly but then there are time when the other’s intention are not clear and the power dynamic is not in your favor. What does one do?

A hand stand to entertain ourselves, by Charlie Grosso

5pm. We can leave at last. Ishmeal drives our car like a crazy person back into town and we  have our first proper meal of the day.

What I learned…..

Never raise your voice in an embassy, keep on asking if there is anything they can do to help and quietly sit there will eventually result in a solution of some sort. They don’t really want to stare at your pretty face all day, even if it means they have to go out of their way to help you so that you will leave.

Someone needs to write a handbook for women on evasive maneuvers on how to get your fixer to keep on helping you without being out rightly rude in rebuffing their advances. I usually play dumb but that doesn’t always work so well.
The clock has started to tick on my Turkmenistan visa. Now we really need things to happen!


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