May 19 – Azerbaijan

I spend the morning in Tbilisi dodging cars, busses and police. The traffic is this city if unbelievable. There are police cars everywhere, but they don’t seem to pull anyone over and are driving just as bad as the rest of the traffic. I constantly wondered what they were doing out there.

Apparently there are no real rules when it comes to traffic flow or lanes, as just about anything goes. My only rule was – don’t get hit. Between the center of the road and the ditch, it’s a full-blown free for all. Go as fast as you can, and move over when someone is coming the opposite direction. Seriously, even police cars pass in oncoming traffic as well as on the right. Nobody is upset, no apparent road rage, it’s just the way it is. When someone honks, it means MOVE OVER NOW, I’M COMING THROUGH – and they do.

After 3 hours racing around the city and playing frogger on my bike, I decide my luck is gong to run out at some point, so I head out of town for Azerbaijan.

I’ve heard the police corruption in Azerbaijan is horrible and traffic fines steep. I read on someone’s blog, it took the man $2000 to get from Tbilisi to Baku, due to fines. Knowing I’ve already blown more than my reserve with the Turkish shipping extortion ring, I decided to follow the speed limit all day. What I didn’t realize is that the speed limit is mostly 50kph (31mph) with some stretches of 90kph (55mph) and on a very rare occasion 110kph (68mph). So it took me about 10 hrs of riding to go 575 kilometers. That’s an average speed of about 35mph. An absolutely PAINFUL stretch of road. I wasn’t the only one abiding the speed limit, as it turns out even the locals drive as they the law limits, and for good reason; I probably saw no less than 50 patrol cars and just as many electronic check points along the way.  Needless to say, I was wiped out and sore by the time I arrived in Baku last night at 9:00. 

During the soul searching stretch of road, I had plenty of time to worry about the upcoming day and need to seek out a cargo ship passage to Turkmenistan. To make matters worse, at the AZ border, the guard to me, and I quote, “I’m giving you 3 days to get out of Azerbaijan, go to port and leave country – understand, 3 days”. He smirked as he slammed the stamp down on my passport. The whole border crossing was a bit of a shit show; after going back and forth between rooms trying to get my passport stamped, I ended up at room “6” looking to buy vehicle insurance. The very round Russian looking man sitting behind the desk blowing smoke in my face, said “10 manat”. Of course I didn’t have any manat at this point because I obviously wasn’t across the border yet to exchange; I offered him $10 dollars (about same exchange rate as manat) or 20 Georgian lira (about half the value as a manat). He took the 20 lira and sat for a moment, he then reached out and snatched another 20 lira out of my hand and said to the gentlemen beside him (I’m guessing), “lira are worthless, I’ll take two” and the two men busted out in laughter and kept saying something about the lira. There is no love lost between the two countries – in fact, we’re lucky to be able to cross between the borders. As I was leaving, the only words spoken to me in English were by some nice young military fellow – “good luck” he said with a laugh, and I was off.

Anyway, tomorrow I need to go down to the shipyard and “discuss” with some Russian-speaking captain that I need passage to Turkmenistan on his fine ship. I must admit, I’m really quite concerned about the whole upcoming process. After a tough day of trying to communicate with no translation app, I’m not feeling very confident at the moment.

No photos today, just one I took a couple days ago in Turkey.  It’s nice to know the opium trade is still alive and well in Turkey.  This was taken well up into the eastern mountains.  There are quite of few of these crops scattered throughout.  Maybe the farmers just really like the colors?

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