Because it is hard for Azeris to get a schengen visa, they made it hard for us to have an azeri one -fair enough ; but crossing the border was way easier than expected. We got warned about bribes and corruption at the customs, but none of this happened. As we were on bikes, we were kindly asked to bypass the (big) queue of cars waiting for inspection, and go straight to the passport stamper, who didn’t make any problem to approve our visit, even ending our interaction with a friendly “Welcome to Azerbaijan!”. At the inspection, the guys asked our age and were being curious about the trip…but didn’t bother to open our bags and let us go without check (so far, nobody ever opened our bags).
Azerbaijan, we’re in!
Entering Azerbaijan was a symbolic step in our trip as it marked the border between the christian and and the muslim world, in which we will stay until the chinese border. From now on, we will hopefully be welcomed with tea instead of vodka, and we’ll be looking for the mosques rather than the churches when getting into towns. We look forward to feel the changes on our bikes.
The azeri alphabet is somehow readable for us, and the language is quite similar to Turkish. We learned the winning combo of words you should know in every country you go : Salam (Hello), Salamat gal (Goodbye), and Sag ol (Thanks) ; but we mostly use Russian when talking with people on the road. Prices have changed : petrol is much cheaper (0,5€/litre), meat and packed food (brands) more expensive. And hotels prices are way too high : rooms seems to all cost at least 30-50€ per night per person, even in remote places. However, normal food like bread, fruits, or cheese, stay very, very cheap. Porsches Cayenne ride next to 40 year old Ladas ; the middle class seems to be inexistant.
Brand new roads and AZ Petrol gas stations : modern Azerbaijan
Kids riding horse carriages in the fields : traditional Azerbaijan
As there are currently very few tourists in Azerbaijan, everyone wants to meet us and talk to us. Same as in Georgia, drivers show support by horning, some people wave, some people shout ; all in a very friendly, welcoming way. Kids request high five on the road, and we are being offered fruits, sweets and water from the street sellers.
Lots of melons / watermelons on the road
Coolest kid in town, with Mercedes Benz horn on his bike
We followed the Caucasus next to the russian border and the first city we stopped was Balakan, as we needed to eat. We could only order food by showing what was on our neighboor’s table, as all the dishes have their own azeri names. We met there our first Azeris friends, and to our surprise, they were having beers, while others were having vodka…it looks like soviet era left some trace in Azeri’s habits.
Muslims drinking beer, Nico drinking tea. Something is wrong!
After few hours of pleasant cycling, we started looking for a place next to the city of Qakh. We found a remote corner with a house, decided to go and knock at the door to see if we could set up the tent. It was a family business with 2 small lakes where they produce fishes, harvest some fruit trees, and have a few cows. We were more than welcomed by Mahrer, working there, then met the cousin and nephew, who run the business together. Ilkin, our age and graduated from Management school, explained us that they also run a business of mineral water, SuperMineral.
They asked us if we wanted to sleep in the house, but we prefered to camp as it was a beautiful place and beautiful day. We then were offered tea and food in the house, where we spent a nice evening with Mahrer. Azeri hospitality, here we go!
Camping next to the lake
Mahrer and his bear