Tag Archives: Cycling Azerbaijan

The final countdown!

15 Jul


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Eydar Aliev cultural center on the way to the harbour

We made it to the boat. The process to get on the boat to Aqtau (or Turkmenbashi) is pretty horrible so here are a few more tips and information for those who are on the same itinerary. The info below is what we believe to have understood, with the help of our azeris friends :
– There are 2 ports, 6 km away from each other. One for passengers, one for cargo. For cars and motorbikes, it is cheaper to get on the cargo port, located in Saga (Google maps : ) ; for bicycles and regular passengers, the passenger boat should be cheaper. Each boat seem to leave few times a week ; at least at this time of the year -july-. They leave when they are ready to leave ; meaning that there are enough goods/people on board.
– Prices :
Cargo boat : Ticket per person around 100USD + about 70USD per meter for the vehicle. Passengers without vehicles may be allowed to get in, but only if the cargo is fully loaded and still has extra room. You can only have your ticket at the last minute as they seem not to be able to count if there is extra room or not before the trucks are on the boat. Ticket for a simple passenger on the cargo may go up to 200 USD. They would probably pretext that they are not legally allowed to let you in, as there is petrol on the boat, and charge you more for that reason.
Passenger boat : Each passenger pays around 100USD. It is free for a bicycle. Apparently, they can charge a lot for registered vehicles : up to 1500USD per car. Whether this is true or not is a mystery, as we were on bicycles.Image

Last ride under a pooring rain just to be sure we deserve our ticket

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2pm and still not sure we gonna make it

On both boats, you may have to pay a sort of bribe at the custom, as the guys may pretext that they offer you a favour to let you on the boat, and that they may have earned more with other vehicles. We had to pay an extra 100 USD to get our passport stamped and get on the boat.
– All the people we met did not speak english at all, some had some russian. Most were far from being helpful, antipathic and corrupted. Playing with the nerves of travellers seem to be one of their favourite activity. Being accompanied in the process by a local azeri is definitely a big plus.
– Information they give you may be wrong. Make sure to double/triple check, or stay there even if they tell you that there is no boat. In our experience, the antipathic girl at the ticket office (passenger harbour) told us this morning that we wouldn’t get our (passenger) boat today. We then went to the other harbour, where truck drivers were waiting to get on the cargo. When they started loading, we went to get a ticket, and they told us to go back to the passenger harbour as we could get one boat today. Arrived there, we could finally get our ticket. Because our visa was expiring today, the staff was in a position to ask us for a bribe that we couldn’t refuse to pay. It might be the reason why we only could leave today.
– The ride from Baku to Aqtau last for approximately 20 hours. However you will have to wait good few hours before and after commuting. We got on the boat at 4.30PM, it is now 10.30PM and we’re still in the harbour. Our visa is expiring at midnight, so we may be physically illegal in Azerbaijan soon. Technically, we’re not, as our visa got its exit stamp earlier in the afternoon.
– On the passenger boat, you get a little cabin. Beds have no sheet, shower and bathroom are rusty, but it is ok. The staff is ok, too. You can buy food and drinks on the boat. May be a little expensive.
– The process may be long and drive you crazy. The guys could make you do multiple return trips between the 2 harbours before getting some information, and finally a ticket. We bicycled around 80 km between the 2 harbours over the last 3 days, before getting ours.
– Be carefull with your Visa. Make sure to have few extra days available in Baku as you may have to wait for a few days. The longest we’ve heard was a french guy (no vehicle) stuck 10 days in Baku.
– If your visa expires, you probably will have to pay 300USD fine. It is only possible to extend the azeri visa if you are very sick, or there for business reasons.
– In case you can’t make it work by the sea, you can take a plane to Aqtau. There is a daily connection between Baku and Aqtau, with Azal Airlines. Right now, buying a ticket for the very same day you’d fly costs around 220USD.Image

The one who has the key of our freedom

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Am I really on a Boat?

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looking to the future

So now let’s drink some Georgian tchatcha we kept for celebration 🙂 Because the boat finally left after being for 3 hours and 17 minutes officially illegal in Azerbaidjan 😉

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Day 67 : May the force be with you to Baku

10 Jul

Let’s go, before we burn.

The ride to Baku was supposed to go quick. We woke up early as we feared the heat we’d face around midday…but had to deal with wind instead. We quickly packed our tent and left our remote spot as soon as we were ready. We had no fresh food beside the few fruits that were left from yesterday, and thought we’d eat on the way.

Oblical ride

A brutal lateral wind slowed us down, and pushed us away from the road many times the whole morning. It took lot of concentration to balance ourselves between natural, lateral wind, combined with trucks aspiration coming from both sides. We felt like little flies moving with the wind.

As the area was pretty empty, we had to pedal about 20 kilometers to find a place to eat, in a bar/restaurant for the truck drivers working on the sites around. We ordered food by going in the kitchen and show the cook what we wanted from the pans, and were pleased to get something else than the shashliks we are usually offered in first place.

Friendly azeris, truck drivers

While eating, we heard a big explosion from behind, then saw a smoke cloud moving with the wind. Everybody was a bit surprised, but we’ll never know what this was.  It wouldn’t be the only ‘bang’ that day!

Getting out of the desert took much more time than we thought, because of the wind, still blowing strong in the afternoon. It was an amusing situation, that also had the advantage of decreasing the feeling of heat. The scenery remained beautiful.

The entrance in the capital had been quite hectic. We rode in insane traffic jams, caused by an accident involving the car of bribe and groom. Sad. Ten minutes later, another crash occured next to us : a car hit, full speed, the back of a bus. A good introduction to Baku. We decided to take it easy, as the traffic was very dense, and drivers a bit wild.

Baku outskirts

We have been amazed by the size of Baku. It’s a huge city, full of skyscrapers and expensive cars. It smells oil money, architecture is very modern, and many buildings are currently in progress. We reached the sea side to take a break from the traffic jams, and looked at Kazahkstan in the horizon. We realized that we reached the furthest point in Europe, and that we were at the southest point of the trip. Also that we were easter than the whole Irak.

Our contact in Baku is Tahira, a friend of a friend. We got to her flat after 12 more kilometers in Baku city center. We cycled, amazed about how gigantic this city is. We made it after some confusion to find the right building…there are too many of them. We got welcomed with lots of delicious azeri food, specially cooked for us, and were happy to take a proper shower, after 5 days in the wild.

Day 66 : Final battle with the Caucasus

8 Jul

Ramila woke us up with some cups of sugared, hot milk in the sunny morning. We took a quick shower with the hose normally used to water the garden, played with the kids, and said bye to the family and neighboors.

The ride was hilly for a few dozens of kilometers, then started getting steeper. We went through several mountains, sweating a lot. After climbing a long one, we stopped for lunch, rehydration, and waited for the sun to calm down, as it was very hot that day.

Azeri delicatessen

We gained more elevation in the afternoon, and had breathtaking landscapes over the whole region. Kids selling fruits gave of full bags of pears and apples, telling us we would need them for the next climb…they were right! The last hill of the Caucasus  was no joke : 5km, 12 to 15% climb with no break, 1 hour ride.

Nico is high (but not at the top!)

Last chapter of the Caucasus

 …and getting there!

Woup Woup!

Arrived on the other side of the mountain, the landscape completely changed and we entered a semi desertic region, very dry, where yellow replaced green, and where it nearly never rains. The good part is that we started getting down, for a long time. The late afternoon was very enjoyable : fast ride on a nice road, refreshing wind, and sun setting over beautiful mountains.

We took a small path next to the road to put the tent, got away from the main road and found our spot : a small valley in the desert, the bed of a spring river. This was our first introduction to desertic regions, and we really enjoyed its peaceful quietness. We had a good sleep under the stars, out of any kind of civilization.

Day 65 : Closer to the locals

8 Jul

Traditional azeri dinner

We woke up under a cloudy sky, which was good not to burn in the tent. We released the bikes from the tree root we locked them in, then started cycling towards Ismayilli, 100km away from Oguz, where we slept.  The ride was enjoyable  and we stopped for lunch after 40 km, to get some fish next to a small river. Then the sun came back and we got back on the road. The scenery remained really nice as we were surrounded by big snowy peaks. Around 6 pm we entered the Ismayilli state reserve ; a forest with big trees providing enjoyable shade, with some waterfalls here and there. We took a break at one of them for beer and pictures, then rode the last 20km of the day.

  Ismayilli reserve

Around 8 we started to look for a camping spot out of town. We saw some fields at the bottom of the moutain and went to a farmer to ask if we could sleep in the area. It didn’t take long before all the family and neighbours showed up and invited us to sleep in their backyard to make sure that we would be safe.

After some exchange in russian to explain the trip we were on, we set up the tent and showed them our gear, in which they were very interested. Ramila, the mother, offered us freshly baked bread and came with a liter of homemade, delicious plum juice. We started cooking next to our tent, then they offered us to come in and share food. We brought our cucumbers, sausages and ketchup (that they really liked!), and they had potato soup, bread, and tomatoes.

Outdoor kitchen

After dinner, we started playing football with the 3 kids in the backyard, pumped their ball, walked them on our bicycles, and tried to communicate in Azery with Emin, the father, whom range of russian words wasn’t bigger than ours.

Getting ready for le Tour de France

The family lives with its 2 cows, 2 veals, sheeps and horse, and does not seem to rely on money to sustain. Emin was therefore extremely happy when we offered him our 3 batteries for his torch, that didn’t work anymore. We did what we could to help the family a little bit, and felt pretty good about the rich exchanges we had that night. We went to sleep, inspired by countryside people from Azerbaijan.

Day 64 : Last bits of Caucasus

7 Jul

We got woken up by thunder and rain in our tent, so we quickly moved back to the house. We then met another family member, who welcomed us inside for a warm cup of tea. We then shared noodles and bread together before saying goodbye to Saha and hit the road.

We decided to take the smaller road as it was supposed to be more beautiful, rode along the caucasus and were amazed by magnificient scenery of high Caucasus, where we could see 4000+ meters high summits, being a natural border with Russia.

Most rivers are empty at this time of the year

At dinner time, we luckily passed through a street full of ladies baking traditional bread, where we bought our food for the night. We then cycled some more kilometers before finding a good camping spot next to an abandoned church on a hill above a river. We asked the local sheppard if we could camp and he had no objection at all. We ended up the evening in the church, improvising a Dubstep party. Unfortunately, nobody joined us!

Day 63 : In Azerbaijan. Insha’Allah!

7 Jul

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