Day 67-70 Cycling through Azerbaijan

The last few hours up to the border to Azerbaijan was slightly uphill and the heat was intense. We spent our last coins in the Georgian currency Lari by buying 4 pieces of chewing gum at a shop 50 meters from the border.

Exit Georgia...

Exit Georgia…

A georgian border guard asked for our passports, flipped through my passport several times and asked if I had another passport too. I do have a second passport but that was already delivered to Baku and I couldn’t understand the reason for his question.

After another minute of careful inspection of my passport the officer asked ”when and where did you enter Georgia?”

I replied ”June 20, at the border south of Batumi”. The officer then told me there was no entry stamp in my passport. He flipped through the pages once again and then he looked closely at the azerbaijan visa sticker and told me that it looked like the azeri consul must have put the visa sticker right on top of my entry stamp to Georgia. He mumbled something about ”stupid consul” and told me it wasn’t my problem, took my passport and went to check my entry date in his computer system before givingin me my exit stamp.

Georgia is a country I have started to like. They have made big progress when it comes to moving the society away from the old soviet heritage. One thing I learned during my stay was that just like elsewhere in the former soviet union corruption was rampant in Georgia. In 2005 the government took the drastic decision to fire 95% of the police force and start over with new officers who got a salary increase of several hundred percent. I bet there were lots of influential people who were not so satisfied with this but now Georgia’s police force is ranked as being on western european level when it comes to corruption.

Our entry into the country was late in the afternoon and we stopped in the first city to get some cash before continuing out of town to find somewhere to pitch our tent. We found lots of potential camp sites but they all had some drawbacks, but during a fast speed down a hill Wej dropped one of her water bottles and when we stopped to pick it up we saw a great camp site just some 50 meters beside the road.

Campsite. Soon 85 cattle and a cowboy on his horse were to arrive

Campsite. Soon 85 cattle and a cowboy on his horse were to arrive

We love eating good food but we let professionals take us on culinary excursions in the local cuisine. When we cook ourselves we stick to some simple basic food and today was the third day in a row when we ate spagetti with a sauce consisting of tomato paste, onion and fried salami. Good taste, but it starts to be boring by now.

In the morning we found out that we had camped in a field where cattle graze and as we were preparing our morning coffee we saw one, two, three and many many more cows coming walking through the gate into the field where we had stayed. Behind the long row of cattle was a guy on a horse – a true cowboy. He closed the gate behind the cows and came over to talk to us. As usual the language barrier was too great to overcome, but this was a cowboy of the 21 century. He soon pulled out a smartphone of his pocket and we could communicate via his google translate app…..

The cowboy and I...

The cowboy and I…

The cowboy told us to drop by his house further down the road and have a cup of tea and then left us. Half an hour later when we were cycling along the road we heard the sound of a galloping horse behind is. It was the cowboy who was anxious we would miss his house and had hurried to catch up with us.

The cowboy, his niece and nephew and Wej

The cowboy, his niece and nephew and Wej

The cowboy lived with his grandmother and brother’s family in a small house. his grandmother was a colorful and decisive old women who countiously shouted out orders to the people around her. The cowboy just nodded and smiled to us as a sign of not taking her seriously.

Just like in Turkey they served their guests tea but here they but some leaves of mint in the tea glass to make it mint tea.

Mint tea

Mint tea

After having some tea we continued our ride along the valley with the snow capped mountains of the great Caucasus on our left. The landscape was very green and we very often found ourselves riding through alleys with large trees on both sides.

It was a hot day and in the afternoon the heat was so intense it was almost impossible to cycle. We decided to take a rest at the first possible place that could offer us shade and something cold to drink. Three large trucks parked beside the road made us hope for a cafe or restaurant but when we got close we found three truck drivers preparing lunch in the shade between their trucks. They were driving in a caravan from Turkey to Baku and since they were turkish it didn’t even take half a minute until we were invited to share their lunch of fried fish, fresh salad, Trabzon bread, cold water and turkish tea. These guys showed that the turkish hospitality is extended beyond the borders of Turkey…. 🙂

Lunch with the Turkish truckers

Lunch with the Turkish truckers

During the late afternoon the heat was so intense that I developed a rash on the inside of my thighs and needed to get a proper shower and not only a wash with my water bottle. Lucky us to find that AZ Petrol in the next town runs its own motel. It was a bit expensive but it had AIRCONDITION 🙂 Dear readers and followers – not so many months ago we sought indoor shelter to stay warm, now we go indoors to enjoy AC….. 🙂

We rode through Georgia with an simple map we got second hand from a Thai touring cyclists we met in Batumi and it worked fine. When we entered Azerbaijan we didn’t even have a simple map – we had none and just follewed the road signs.

While we still were on the Georgian side of the border we could see mountains growing bigger and bigger as we got closer and once inside Azerbaijan we rode parallell to the mountains. The first few days the landscape was very green and there were forests everywhere and cattle were grazing on the grassy fields. We highly enjoyed this kind of landscape but 1,5 days before entering Baku the landscape changed dramatically.

After a giant climb to Gabala city it was time to find somewhere to sleep and we ended up at a little local bakery just outside the town. We asked the owners if we could camp in their garden and they didn’t only allow us to stay there. They also provided us with fresh bread.

On our fourth day in Azerbaijan the landscape changed from very green to a brown, dry semi dessert. The shade was gone and the heat got even worse. Our plan was to get to the city of Samaxi where we would try to camp. We knew there would have to get across a valley with a steep downhill followed by just as steep uphill section. It wasn’t hard to ride down, but the climb out of the valley was the steepest so far on our journey. It was in fact so steep that we almost had to push the bikes. We rode at 3-4 km/h and often stopped to rest.

It may not look steep on this photo but I can guarantee it was in reality

It may not look steep on this photo but I can guarantee it was in reality

In Samaxi we soon found another AZ Petrol station and we stopped to wash ourselves at their restroom. When the owner asked where we were going to stay we quickly asked if he knew where we could camp. He pointed to a lawn just across the street. Since our plan was to start riding at 5 AM we thought we could as well just sit and sleep at a hidden corner at the gas station. After having had dinner at the gas station’s cafe the owner suggested we could sleep in the prayer room of the gas station. We parked our bikes inside the prayer room and then fell asleep on the thick carpets.

Living on a prayer... ;-)

Living on a prayer… 😉

There is not much to say about the ride into Baku. It was 120 km across a dry semi dessert and I found the views rather boring. We stopped in a few small towns to have a cold drink and on top of one of the hills there was a large stall selling melons. We stopped there to buy one, but was offered one for free 🙂

Melons for free only for cyclists

Melons for free only for cyclists

Riding into Baku was rather uncomplicated. The city only has 2-3 million people and we followed the signs into the centre and then used our map from the guide book to get to the hostel in the old town that we had planned to stay at.

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