It's been a demanding nine days since Tblisi with no rest day, a surprisingly high relief on the foothills of the Eastern Greater Caucasus and only moderately good weather, rainy particularly during the nights. We haven't had all that much contact with the local people, but needed to get accustomed to the way prices - e.g. in food places - are a matter of negotiation and bargaining. It doesn't help to agree a price beforehand, they'll bring more anyway and also charge for it. Well, a good exercise to prepare for Central Asia, I guess. And people are always curious about what we're doing: to avoid the crudest misunderstandings, we use a printed leaflet in the local languages and a map. Also my little bit of Russian helps a lot, but intercultural communication just involves so many other things than use of words. Things become difficult when people start to touch our bikes or even request a ride. (Stupid me allowed a drunken man in Georgia to do so; I suffered the worst minutes of the whole journey so far.) In that case: Paidyom, we have to go on...
Also the scenery has turned much more Asian recently. While dreaming of drier weather during rainy nights in the tent, the desert was there as soon as we descended into the Caspian Sea basin. Crossing the Qobustan area for about 90 kilometres west of Baku, vegetation disappears: first the trees, then the scrub and finally even the grass on which the many sheep flocks feed. We've seen the last green forests for some time to come.
Elevations along the southern foothills of the Eastern Caucasus
The roads are dominated by two car brands, Lada and the products of a German manufacturer of premium cars. Lorries are carrying either sheep or gigantic oil pipeline elements. Cycling into 2-million-inhabitants-Baku is a process difficult to describe. Approaching the largest city on the Caspian Sea, one first sees shacks and rotting industrial plants relating to the more distant times of the oil boom. Then it's housing areas of the poorer type followed by the belt of furniture and car retailers that have come to represent the 'new times' in so many of the former Eastern Bloc countries. Finally in the central area it is a struggle for biker's survival on the busy six-lane urban highways. And at the very end of the journey there is of course the UNESCO-protected old town, the beach boulevards and all the other sites of national significance. As bikers we can draw the conclusion that Azerbaijan consists of two parts: rich and poor or: Baku and the rest. What keeps them together is former president Aliyev (father of the current president), whose image and statements are on display everywhere.
Proudly presented: first desert image of the trip (Qobustan, 50 km west of Baku)
After 56 days of travelling since Olympia and 3400km personal mileage on bicycle we're now facing Central Asia. Boat departure times from Baku to Turkmenbashi are very flexible and have no fixed schedule, so today is just waiting, waiting, waiting... The organizers are doing a great job to make arrangements which for individual tourists would be almost impossible to take care of in reasonable time. Until a few days ago we had non confirmation of visas to Uzbekistan (the matter was dealt with even on diplomatic level) and a rescheduling of the route through Kazakhstan (or even Afghanistan!) would not have been to everybody's mind. So we have learned to cope with a variety of uncertainties from day to day. And then there are of course all the other personal little and big stories that can occupy peoples' minds much more than the great sights along the way: stories about physical distress, changing social relationships in the group, lost and broken property (clothing items, electronic equipment, one passport etc.), minor injuries and almost-accidents. So:
Next update probably from Ashgabat.
Complete track since Tblisi and photo show: http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=18163