On the Ferry
08 August, 2012; 16:36
After much waiting, we are finally on the ferry to Aktau. Ferry might be a bit generous of a term, as it’s more a bulk freighter meant to carry trucks; the heat is draining, the bugs abundant, and the conditions apalling at the nicest description. I can only hope the water (which I’ve resorted to drinking) is potable.
We waited around all day yesterday to hear from Ishmael, and finally, around 1:30, he told us that we’d get to board around 7 or 8. Since we’d had nothing but delays associated with him, we were skeptical. This time, however, he called us up and we were at the docks loading up the cars around 8:30. We took everything we thought we’d need for 22 hours, which included 5L of water, 2 cans of mackerel in oil, 2 cans of beans, 1 jar of pickled vegetables, and 4 loaves of bread. With Alyx (and a good chunk of our original budget) gone, we expect to be eating light for the rest of the trip and expeted this to be good practice.
Even at night, the sun long down, the boat was miserably hot. We all slept fitfully and in various places through the night. The most comfortable, by far, is on the bow, where the wind is highest; it keeps you cool as well as discourages the flies and mosquitos. Being the most comfortable, it was also the most crowded, and, by the time we discovered it, there was no sleeping space that wasn’t in the middle of a walkway. I managed most of the last half of the night and the better part of the morning to sleep in my bunk, but only because a slight breeze picked up between the open door and window.
For lack of a better place to describe it, I’ll take a moment here to detail the bathroom situation onboard. Initially, we expected the worst possible outcome, and, fortunately (though it seems a poor time to use the word) it isn’t as bad as it possibly could be. The toilet does flush effectively. That’s it. That’s the one redeeming factor of the toilet. Otherwise… it is what I’ve come to call a “squatter,” meaning that there is no seat, and one must squat to use it in any way that would normally require sitting. Also, there is no toilet paper, the people onboard being forced to use a biday (sorry for the spelling). Lastly, the smell is almost enough to warrant hanging yourself off the side of the boat to do your business; the only way I can describe it is to imagine a state fair port-a-potty in which a ripe melon was busted and left to bake in the sun for a day. I’ve no idea where this smell comes from, but I cannot imagine I really want to find out either.
I originally expected the heat to be the most oppressive and maddening thing about this experience, but I was seriously wrong. It is most certainly the boredom that will drive us all mad, and we will arrive on the shores of Kazakhstan having burnt the cars, eaten the crew, and taken to a general life of insanity. The heat and bugs serve as secondary offenders, leaving everyone is low spirits, thus compounding the unending boredom. I’ve read, I’ve listened to my book on tape, I’ve eaten, and I’ve talked. And I’ve napped. I’ve probably slept, however restlessly, a good 16 of the past 24 hours. I suppose my only recourse is to restart the cycle, though I only expect it to occupy half the time it did originally. Needless to say, there has been much time for introspection, but all I’ve learned is that I should have packed sunscreen.
Our Italian friends found someone with satelite internet to check our position on a map. According to them, at probably 17 hours on our boat, we’re almost halfway to Aktau. In an attempt to bring some semblance of hope to our situation, they then did the math, and estimated that, averaging 10 knots, we should be at our destination around seven. It is now 5 local time, and, even with binoculars, there is no land in sight. I’m still hoping for our original estimation of making landfall around midnight, mostly because I need to hope that.
The truck drivers seem to be fairing much better than the rest of us. They have others they can talk to, a few have their trucks on the deck, so they can use the privacy and air-conditioning, and they have, above all else, the experience. I thought our time driving would have readied us better for this, but it’s the process of doing nothing but waiting that is draining. At least on the road we are our own little band of adventurers in control of our own destiny. I suppose, as goes the boat, life soldiers on.