Celebrating your birthday in a foreign capital is a special experience. The strange displays of wealth and the contrasts of Turkic history overlaid with inept Soviet industrial management and modern oil booms make Baku an odd and occasionally frustrating place to explore. Still, on my birthday, everything seems to be falling into place: we found the ferry office (“Parom Kassa!”) AND the Turkmenistan consulate (around the corner from the embassy, up an unmarked and muddy alley), a mechanic argreed to tune our bikes for free, the sun finally came out, and I think I might have just been invited to an Azerbaijani wedding. The year ahead looks good.
Walnuts? Cherries? Eggs? We can pickle that!
Stealth camping is always a source of minor stress at the end of the day: you want to be off the road in a quiet spot, and out of sight so no body bothers you, but not so far away that you are wasting energy getting there. Sometimes, I dreamed we would happen on an abandoned fortress that we could hide ourselves away in. On two occasions, that dream came true.
Stalin looks out over waiting train passengers in his hometown of Gori, Georgia. The greatest mass murderer in human history is revered here, and almost no where else in the world can you find statues and likenesses of him in public.
Looking up successive valleys, each more twisted and inaccessible than the next, gives one a good idea about how the mosaic of cultures and ethnicities came to inhabit this mountainous land. The stark newness of the road and infrastructure tells how recently some of these communities were liked to the modern world, for good and ill.
Leaving Tbilisi, we raced north and east, eager to be in the mountains again. After tracing the foothills of the Caucasus into Azerbaijan, we stopped for a much needed rest at the restored caravansarai in Seki.
Filling up our water bottles, buying food, or asking for directions always gave us a nice rest, and gave passersby a chance to ring us and ask questions. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Are you married?’ and ‘Do you have an iPhone and how much does it cost?’ top the list.
The (phallic) contrasts of Baku city. Oil money has remade the city half a dozen times over the last century and a half, leaving strange contrasts.
While the mountains were ever present on the horizon, it was not often that we ventured into them. The Greater and Lesser Caucasus ranges sandwich the fertile valleys of Georgia and Azerbaijan, giving us fresh produce and good wine, and (mostly) snow-free roads.
To see the supposed smallest book in the world, pay the Museum of Miniature Books a visit. You won’t be sorry. Admission is free.
The dreaded Baku Ferry Office. The only clue as to its true purpose was a couple of Mongol Rally stickers on the sheet metal door. We waited here for 3 hours before bulling our way to the ticket desk and demanding tickets. This won us another 5 hours wait, and a bunk on a cargo ship across the Caspian.