Passenger’s log, portgate supplemental, we set sail on the good ship Berkarar, a state-owned Turkmeni vessel. By state-owned we mean the property of the beloved leader Mr Burdymukhamedov, whose pictures adorned the interior of the ship (you’ll have to trust us on this one, however, as there were no photos allowed - Burdy is not a big fan of social media).
It was to prove a fateful journey, one where the stars aligned, Venus crossed Saturn, and Cupid proved that his aim can be occasionally wayward...
It all began at the check-in desk, Rachel - as designated driver and first on the boat - had the unenviable task of trying to secure the team one of the few available cabins for the night (the alternative, and only marginally cheaper, sleeping arrangement being an airplane style seating concourse - think 200+ people, no showers, and 4 solitary cubicles for collective man-made jetsam).
With comfortably more ralliers than cabins, Rach snapped up the one remaining bed quicker than you can say “Burdymukhamedov for eternal leader”, and resorted to pairing up with other drivers with spare beds to make sure the whole team had somewhere to rest. At which point a shining white knight in the form of a giant man from Finland piped up to say that he had a twin cabin with space for one...if Ow was amenable to sharing? And so a new bromance was born: Marcus the bearded, brutish bear and Owen, the little spoon that couldn’t say no.
Before bedding down for the night we were all treated to our first “free” meal of the trip. We had barely eaten anything in the past 24 hours, so it’s fair to say, we were feeling enthusiastic as we strolled into the canteen, with a willingness to eat almost anything. This slightly hubristic approach to consumption was to prove something of a poison challis, literally. The suspicious chicken (which was avoided by Rachel) was accompanied by a combination of dry pasta and the ability to construct your very own (highly rationed) Marie Rose sauce. By the following day, Mongoler after Mongoler was struck down, or at least sat down, with digestive discomfort.
Owen’s bed-buddy had been particularly badly afflicted, although it wasn’t enough to put Owen off spending a further night with him later in the trip...
So, 17 hours after boarding, 3 days after arriving at the Port in Baku, we docked in Turkmenistan. What awaited us, and the other ralliers, was a further 10 hours of border control and customs checks... but we had finally made it to the ‘stans.