Firstly I must apologise to any avid followers for the lack of updates recently. I have been grafting away trying to make up some time after being delayed in both Georgia and Azerbaijan with visa and ferry complications. By the way, thanks for all your messages and Facebook comments, they really perked me up last night.
Anyway, I made it into Russia on Wednesday 20 June and am currently in a nice Hostel in Novosibirsk where I have good internet access so can catch up on a few things.
I can't believe how long ago my last update was but I will try and fill you in with progress and get up to date before I move on from here for Irkutsk.
Saturday 2 June, Day 30 - Baku, Azerbaijan
There was a thunder storm during the night and I had forgotten to put the cowling on my tent. I got a little damp but managed to throw the outside ground sheet over the tent and this stopped the leak. Up at 5.30am, thanks to the cockerels, and set off for Baku about 6am being very careful not to pick up another speeding fine on the way. Reached Baku early afternoon and was amazed at the size of it.
I could see I was going to have fun finding the only cheap hostel I could see on the internet. I rode round for ages and stopped for a pot of tea at one of the many squares to try and get my bearings.
Was just about to give up when I spotted a sign for the Meridien Hotel and I left the bike and went to look for it on foot. A guy spotted me and called over was I looking for a hostel. I must look like a seasoned traveller by now. He was related to the owner of the Caspian Sea Hostel and showed me the way up an alley.
It is a great location very close to the sea front and centre of town. Paid for 3 nights at 16 Euros per night which is a little expensive but there are no alternatives in Baku. The small room I was in has four sets of bunk beds and all the bottom bunks were taken so I chose a top bunk in the corner and moved in. The hostel owner showed me where I could park close by so I went to get the bike.
This place is certainly ‘backpacker central’ and the first people I met were a Swiss girl and a German guy on a Honda CB750 just arrived from Aktau so I was able to pick up some more information on the ferries. Next arrival was an Australian guy called Mark lives in London. He was a journalist and very well travelled so gave me some pointers on South America.
Sunday 3 June, Day 31 - Baku, Azerbaijan
This morning I met 2 French guys who are staying at the Hostel. They are touring on bicycles and hoping to catch the boat to Aktau today or tomorrow. They showed me on Google maps where the Kazakhstan embassy is which was really helpful.
I went off to find the new ferry terminal and almost got knocked off when a brand new white BMW X5 gave me a good shunt on my left pannier at the lights. I had a couple of minor contacts in Tbilisi but nothing like this. I was left with white paint on my luggage so I guess he regretted it later.
I found the Ro-Ro terminal but the guys on security there couldn’t understand me at all and called a woman who spoke English. She told me I had to go to the Old Port but this in contradiction to the research I have done. I tried to explain about the 3 day customs rule and she told me I should leave the bike with customs at the Old Port.
After riding up and down the sea front a few times I found the Old Port terminal and found a good man at the desk who spoke English. I explained about the 3 day rule and that I would not be leaving for at least 4 days. He took me to speak to the car park attendant who would be looking after the bike. The attendant was not happy and wanted some cash to keep an eye on the bike. This all seemed wrong to me but what can you do? I agreed to pay 5 Manat a day and took my luggage, apart from the panniers, back to the hostel.
Sat on the hostel balcony and had a few beers with a guy called Mat from Perth. He works in the mining industry doing Geo-Phys surveys and lives near Perth. Mat had come through Iran and was heading west. A guy from Poland turned up who had also been to Iran. He and Mat exchanged stories and it sounds like a great place to visit.
The girl from California asked if she and her French boyfriend could tag along when I go to the Kazakhstan embassy tomorrow and I was happy to have some company.
Monday 4 June, Day 32 - Baku, Azerbaijan
Set off around 10am to find the Kazakhstan Consulate in Baku on Inglab Street. I realized it was going to be more difficult to find than I had expected so decided to get a cab as there were plenty around. The guy asked for 5 Manat and I agreed without arguing. When I realized how far away the Embassy was I was glad I hadn’t continued walking.
I rang the bell at the Embassy and spoke to a man over the intercom who explained that they were closed and I should come back after 9.30 Tuesday to Friday. I walked slowly back to the Hostel soaking up the Baku atmosphere.
Went to get a street stall kebab with the German couple, Marcus and Esther, from Frankfurt then sat on the balcony and drank a few beers. The Pakistani guy showed up and sat and chatted for a while. We talked about cricket and he invited me to come and stay at his home in Islamabad. He was in Baku for a month while his visa for Montenegro was authorized.
Tuesday 5 June, Day 33 - Baku, Azerbaijan
Shared a taxi to the Embassy with Marcus and Esther, the American girl and her French boyfriend. When we got there the official told me the process would take at least 4 days and gave me the forms to fill in. They have a system whereby you have to deposit the $30 fee at a bank in Baku and bring the receipt when you come to collect the visa so we all went off to find the bank.
As we were coming out of the Embassy I met the 2 Belgian cyclists that I had met back in Georgia. They had left their bikes in Sheki and come to Baku by train but were struggling to find the Turkmenistan Embassy. I asked Tim to forward me the email address of James the cyclist from Durham.
Back at the Hostel, an American guy had moved in to the bed opposite and we got talking. His name was Dustin from Montana and he had a job teaching English in one of the northern towns. He explained a few of the local customs and culinary delights. While we were talking we heard on the news that 3 Azerbaijan soldiers had been killed in the Nagorno-Karabakh area.
Walked down to the Old Port to check on the bike and the parking attendant came over to ask questions that I didn’t understand. I told him ‘Kazakhstan 3 days’ and this seemed to satisfy him for the time being. The sooner I get my visa and get moving the better.