We set off a little late, after a deep bicycle cleaning.
The street is quiet, fairly flat. Arrived at Rustavi, the landscape changes completely and becomes desert. Rustavi is a city quite weird city, there are only car-dealers and big Soviet-style apartment. Then we approach our last climb (at least for a while).
The desert hills around us are beautiful. Then the plain. It’s really absurd how the landscape can change so fast in Georgia, after only twenty kilometers from Tbilisi seems to be in another continent.
After a some more flat kilometers we spot a creek near which there is a nice grove of olive trees, it is a nice place for our little house. We are about 6 kilometers from the border but it’s already 20 and we’ll risk losing too much time at the border and arriving in the dark.
July 23, 2014
After more than a month we have to say goodbye to Georgia. Before the border we stop to buy food, no one speaks Georgian already here and we see the first mosque. Although some men offer us Vodka. In this period there is Ramadan (until July 29), but apparently they don’t respect it very much!
After a few kilometers we arrive at the border, we make it fast, when they see us on bikes always make us jump the queue! The last sign we see in Georgia wishes us good luck in Azerbaijan! We hope…
We ask where we can find an ATM, we need to withdraw Azerbaijani manat. They tell us we can find it only 40 kilometers away!
This must be the only customs between the two countries without an ATM. There would be no problem if not for the fact that we have to eat! We are hungry!
Fortunately, at the second attempt we find a restaurant where they tell us we can pay with debit cards. The menu does not exist, we quickly realize we are no longer in Georgia. They bring Daniele in the kitchen and make him see what’s there. Then they bring everything they have, which basically consists of the usual salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, cheese, bread, meat with boiled potatoes and a kebab (which is a sort of grilled lamb sausage). And the tea, bringing it into the teapot along with the classic little glasses. After lunch we meet two Spanish guys who hitch-hike to Baku, they will take the ship to Kazakhstan like us.
We set off, it is very hot, the road is flat, with a little up and down but nothing challenging. Everyone greets us, even more than in Georgia.
Eventually we cross a village where there is a cash machine, we drink the worst coffee ever (ok, we are no longer in Georgia, we must realize it and start drinking only tea).
After this pleasant town, I think about twenty kilometers, we reach another small river, take the dirt road that runs along and we are in another grove of olive trees.
Perfect, we were hoping for, the shade along this road is a very rare thing indeed.
We cook a pasta, giving some even to a cat that meows for a good half an hour and we go to bed.
While dismantle the camp a gentleman appears, we deduce he’s the owner of the olive trees. He says, I think, that we did good to sleep here, is a nice shady spot. Then grabs Daniele and brings him to his house (which is right above us), he comes back with at least 5 kilos of apples, tomatoes and nuts. He tried to refuse trying to explain that we already have too much weight on the bicycle, but there was nothing to do. Well, we’ll try to get rid of them just back on the highway. We decide to leave the bag at a bus stop, hoping that someone will take it. Although apples where much more than bitter!
After about thirty kilometers we stop at a gas station to get a bit of water and I take the opportunity to ask if they can inflate my back wheel.
Just leave and i get a puncture, or so it seems. Daniele is in front and can not hear my screams! My wheel is completely on the ground and the pump is on Daniele’s bike! Basically I can’t do anything else than screaming until Daniele becomes a dot.
Then providentially a man stops, Russian plate, asking the usual things (where I come from, etc…) but I immediately commission him to go stop my “husband” and tell him to wait me. He goes, and I hope he understood!
He had got it right!
At the end the problem of the bike was the following: the genius of the service station had unscrewed the valve, inflated the wheel, but didn’t screwed it back. Probably he never inflated the wheel of a bike before. However, it’s ok, just need to inflate the tube again. Meanwhile Vasil (the one with the russian car) invites us for a tea a few kilometers further on, come on! In some way we menage to communicate (with the help of our dictionary) and then he invites us for dinner at his house, he says he is about ten kilometers. We follow him, the kilometers are 15, then 20, and then we no longer see the car!
After 25 kilometers we think he abandoned us, well, doesn’t matter. But at the 30th kilometer, close to Shemkir, he reappears! As always, motorists do not have the slightest perception of distances!
We cross the city, just 16,000 inhabitants, but it is the capital of the region.
To our left is a large park, with lots of bike path inside. Everything is well-kept, the lawn is perfect. And there is no shortage, here as everywhere in this country, of huge photos of former president (the father) died in 2003, always accompanied by a few words that should be a quote. I’d be curious to know what it says.
Along the way we often saw these photos, placed in gardens in the desert always with someone cutting the grass, or giving water to trees that otherwise would never survive there. They are in perfect populist dictatorship style.
After crossing the city, we finally arrive at Vasil’s home, where we meet the mother, wife, four children and another girl. But above all, we meet the dinner.
Thanks to the dictionary we can talk a lot. Vasil lived in Moscow for two decades, he comes back to this house on holiday. After dinner we have a shower, amazing. We pitch the tent in the garden. The mother of Vasil wants to make us sleep in the house but we are afraid of morning surprises, we don’t want tomorrow to be asked for money… you never know… and we stand firm on our decision to mount the Palatka (tent in russian).
Upon waking they prepare us breakfast. Vasil wants to take us for a car ride on the mountains around Shemkir. Let’s go. The mountains are completely devoid of vegetation. Nobody lives here. We met only a few cows, we do not understand what they’re doing there, there is almost nothing to eat. Vasil says that further on the landscape is beautiful, but we should enter the Nagorno Karabaq area which is not possible.
Then we go home, we greet everybody and we leave.
It’s the usual infernal heat. My bike makes a tremendous noise, we find a man who gives us some ‘grease for the chain, which is almost dry.
We stop to eat in one most absurd “restaurant” in the world. It ‘a pretty big place with lots of giant sign with colorful pictures of the dishes, they are always those three mentioned above (boiled meat, kebab and salad). There comes a guy who only speaks Azerbaijani, we try to ask for the menu, which of course does not exist (the dishes are always those three in all the restaurants so it makes no sense to write them down), but here there are not even those! The boy brings us to a sort of showcase and lets us see what’s inside, basically nothing. We see cheese and sausage, we ask those and a salad. We do not have time to return to the table that lunch is served! He brought the dish with those hot dogs, raw, straight from the fridge and with a lot of film on! Same thing for the cheese.
The cheese stinks, pretty much. And even the sausage doesn’t look good.
We eat the salad and yogurt while the guy shoots some loud music in our ears. Let’s run away. Perplexity.
We arrive in Ganja, we eat ice cream and keep on pedaling.
The temperature is always about 46°. It ‘s late, we’d like to get on the Kura river but can’t make it. At the hundredth kilometer we stop to sleep in the middle of a group of trees along the road. The heat is still unaffordable, at least up to 11pm, falling asleep is not easy.
Today there is some small cloud that covers the sun every so often, the degrees are “only” 40. After ten kilometers we arrive at the river Kura. Near the stairs leading to the river there’s a little police guardhouse. There comes a policeman who tells us where we can swim, we leave the bikes there and go down.
I can’t have a bath, monthly issues always at the wrong time.
The policeman is watching us from above, and I’m watching him, I do not have a lot of confidence. Daniele gets a little swim and we go up, the cop boasts us an Eddie Murphy smile and invites us for a tea. It seems that we can not refuse. I have a phobia for certain uniforms. Before leaving to make tea (the kettle is outside) he offers us a glass of water which tastes a bit like sewer… and then tomatoes, cucumbers and hot dogs, stolen from his colleague’s bag. After an hour we’re finally able to conclude the preparation of tea but a call comes in, it seems that the boss is coming and he basically kicks us out there. It was really funny, he talked for an hour in Azerbaijani, the only thing clear was that he hated Armenia and that is native from Nagorno Karabaq.
However, thanks to the arrival of the boss we can leave. We lost a rare moment of cloudy sky.
We would like to get one day in advance to Baku, July 28.
Above all, we would like to get to sea as soon as possible. Therefore, we should do at least 110 kilometers a day. But the heat is deadly, even if the road is flat.
After eighty kilometers we stop for a drink, I get a Fanta, that just makes me a strange effect. After five kilometers I feel bad, my head is spinning and I feel sick!
Just before I spotted in the distance a group of trees and a dirt road that seemed to lead right there. Let’s get to it. We are in a nice pitch of pomegranates, shaded, perfect. It’s like magic. Nearby is a useful springs to wash my face, where Daniele meets a wandering bull, he also wants to wash his face but it is an educated bull and, seeing that at that time the spring is occupied, he goes away and come back later.
But I have the nausea and can not eat. Daniele tempts me with the noodles… but just can’t make it. I crash in the tent and try to sleep.
Sleepless night with vomiting attached. I just can’t pedal. We reach the freeway and luckily just a few hundred meters away there is a restaurant where all the martchroutka passing by stop for a break, which looks a little mafioso. We drink some tea and I can eat a some watermelon. We wait for some bus with destination Baku.
I’m sick, the road is flat and there is not much to see.
After a fifteen minutes comes the first minibus to Baku, we ask the driver if he can load our bikes and panniers. He tells us he will check after eating (boiled meat can not wait).
After lunch he says okay, we load everything and we go.
Desert to the right, desert to the left. Along the way some watermelons and melons sellers whose tries to shelter themselves from the sun in the small shade of a few trees, more and more rare.
Then comes the sea, it is at our right but we barely see it, there are often long walls between the road and the sea. Probably the private property of a few oligarchs.
But from what we can see the color of the water tends to a pea green.
We arrive at the bus station in Baku, ask a taxi driver how much he wants to take us to the house of the guy who will host us in Baku and he shoot us a ridiculous amount of money, something like 30 euro. Besides, he doesn’t even know where the address is.
We check on the GPS, the house is less then two kilometers from here. We’ll bike, I’m not as sick as having to pay a 30 euro taxi. Although there are other gentlemen who tell us that the taxi drivers are crazy and give us directions.
We immediately find the street, but the house-number is a problem, the path is a string of Soviet apartment blocks without house numbers and without bells. Fortunately, while we wander back and forth Ismail (fiction name) appears before us. The father was playing chess in there somewhere, saw us passing and he warned the son. He lives on the 9th floor, luckily there’s an elevator and in a few trips we can bring all our things. We’ve been together for an hour, then he and his wife go out and I go almost immediately to sleep.