Hi, my name is Phil and this blog describes a Solo Round The World Motorcycle Trip I am starting in May 2012. The blog also contains info on other motorbike trips I have made. It is named after the Lee Marvin hit from the 1969 film Paint Your Wagon. It just seems to sum up how I feel when I am on the road. I was born..etc..etc..

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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

1 June 2012

Friday 1 June, Day 29 - Georgia to Azerbaijan

What a day!  Got up with a slight hangover after four or five beers last night and went to apologize to Babek for missing him last night at the Hangar Bar.

Loaded up, said my goodbyes to the hostel owner, and set off for the border at about 10am. Had a nice easy journey there and the landscape on the way changes the concrete jungle to empty rolling grassland,  giving me a taste of what I believe Kazakhstan and Russia will be like.  It gets very blowy on one of the higher altitude stretches and I had a serious moment up there caused by turbulence from a wagon on my previous visit to the border so I was on my guard.  At the border, I put my ground sheet down and sat in the shade of the bike to have some bread and cheese before going to the checkpoint.

As I was sat there, being watched intently by the various people hanging around, a motorbike came through from Azerbaijan with a Toyota Landcruiser support vehicle and trailer loaded with tyres etc.  They waved so I went over and they explained that there were eleven more bikes coming through.

They were on a pilgrimage to Mekka but unfortunately they had to change the end destination to Istanbul because of problems getting across Syria.  They also told me that there was a 3 day limit on bikes staying in Azerbaijan.  We had a great chat for 10 mins or so until they left for Tbilisi.

I was alone again and made my way to the checkpoint. Exiting Georgia was fine as usual but the problems started when I took a picture of the Azerbaijan checkpoint.  A soldier came over and started talking at me but I didn’t understand what he was getting at.  He called someone then waved me on.  Another official then came over and told me to show him my camera. I twigged what the problem was and showed him the photo I had taken .  He said it was ok because it did not show the soldier.

I was then taken to another guard who looked at my documents and said there was a problem.  He passed me on to his boss who called someone and handed me the phone.  The man on the other end explained that the bike could only stay in Azerbaijan for 3 days.  Today is Friday and I can’t go to the Kazakhstan Embassy until Monday and won’t get my visa until at least Wednesday and then I have to get a boat which has no schedule. 

The guy knew all this and told me to take the bike to customs at the port before the 3 days expire or I will have a problem.  He also told me I had to pay the border guard $10 or $20 or possibly $40 for his help.  I gave the phone back to the guard and he started filling in the computer forms.  This was an ordeal as he was definitely the least friendly guard I had encountered so far.

After half an hour he passed me on to his boss, I was slowly working my way up the ladder, who did more forms and asked me for $20.  I asked him what it was for and he couldn’t explain.  Just ‘pay $20’.

I relented because it was hot and I could see myself getting stuck there having already upset them with the photo episode.  He took my dollars and told me to go back to the previous guy.  He then asked for $15 dollars and I worked out that this was for third party motor insurance. Fair enough!

During this whole process there was one soldier who has hanging around and kept smiling at me and rolling his eyes at the other officials.  This gave me a degree of comfort that the whole thing was not a problem and I just had to play my part.  At long last I was waved through without them even looking at the bike.  Other cars were being emptied and searched.

There is an area in Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh where a long running armed conflict with Armenia is still going on.  I had read a little about this and checked the map to ensure I gave it a wide berth.  I left the border hot and bothered and not too impressed with my first dealings with the Azerbaijanis.  However, my first stop, after only 20km or so, cheered me up when the guys at the café would not let me leave without having 2 cups of Chai.

At my next stop I filled up with fuel and was pleased to see the price was around 0.5 Euros a litre.  Excellent!  However, 30 miles down the road the bike started chugging the same as it had in Albania.  I got it started but ground to a halt another three times and was starting to get very concerned.  After about 8km of chugging the bike eventually started to run smoother and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  From now on I will opt for the higher grade fuel as it is only 2 cents a litre more.  I am also going to see if I can pick up some fuel additive in the next day or so.

The landscape from the border to Baku is flat as a pancake and the road is boring as hell.  So I was having a little sing song to myself to keep awake when I could swear a camera flashed.  I didn’t even see one.  I thought about it for a while and decided I would probably get away with it as the camera must have been facing me and the number plate is on the rear.

My hopes were dashed when I was flagged down by a policeman outside a Polis Station.  I pulled up to him and he told me there was ‘Problem’ and motioned for me to get off the bike and come inside. In the control room I was shown camera footage of me with a speed of 78 kph indicated.  He told me I had to pay $100.  I huffed and puffed for a few moments trying to buy a little time to think. $100 seemed excessive and I was already on a downer after my border experiences.

I couldn’t see any way of arguing about this without taking a risk of getting kicked out of the country so I relented and paid the dollars. I rode away seething and swearing out load inside my helmet just to let off steam.  I can really do without unnecessary expenses like these.

I calmed down slowly and decided to try and find a free camp site for the night but the landscape is so featureless I could see it might not be so easy.  I saw a sign for 2 villages so I pulled off the highway and rode for about 5 km to a small village where 4 or 5 men were playing dominoes. I stopped to say hello and tried to strike up a conversation.  They were a bit wary and suspicious at first, but as usual the world map showing my route helped explain what I was up to and sparked some debate.

They said I could put my tent on the farm yard in the centre of the village.  One of the younger men helped me pitch my tent and got me some water.  Just as I was making coffee three men turned up and said they were Police and could I show my documents.  They made some phone calls to check my documents with immigration and then told me I had to move on as this place was not safe and the local people were criminals.  They also said that there was danger from wolves. 

One of them offered for me to stay at his house but I refused and said I would just get some rest then move on towards Baku.  I went over to explain to the locals that I had to move and they seemed disappointed.  Eventually the Police left and I went over to the locals again to try and explain.  They told me to ignore the Police and one of the men’s wives had arrived and they asked me to go to their house to eat.  I said that I had eaten but some Chai would be very nice and off we went.

They were a great family and the father told me he had served in the Soviet army in Berlin.  We talked about football as usual and his daughter practiced her English on me.  After leaving their house I was presented with 3 separate gifts of fruit and veg by villagers and was overwhelmed with the warmth of these people.  I was also visited twice during the night by people asking me to come to their houses to stay.  Once again, I graciously refused even though one of them did tell me that there were Cobras around.

Today had turned out to be one of the best so far but it had been expensive!

1 comment:

  1. Well done Phil, every experience is a rewarding one, but sometimes not all that much fun. I'm not looking forward to struggling to find a camp spot when I get there. Keep up the good work.