Week 7

June 17 to June 23

On June 17, I took a short drive to Davit Gareja, again getting lost several times while trying to leave Tbilisi. The sparse road signs were confusing and sometimes plain wrong, and my inability to read the Georgian script, which is not dissimilar from what a five year old child with attention deficit disorder would scratch into their parent’s car with a screwdriver, does not exactly help.

The monastery in Davit Gareja is thoroughly unspectacular. What is left today is a modern reconstruction of the ancient buildings, which were destroyed several times, ones by the Mongol hordes under King Mongo (my favourite king), later by the Persian Shah Abbas, who in the process of the attack had decided to slaughter some 6000 monks who lived there.

To be quite honest, this is the most interesting picture I took in Davit Gareja.

The landscape is somewhat interesting if you are dedicated geologist.

I had my camping gear with me, but after seeing a viper escaping from my footsteps and picturing waking up in a sleeping bag full of snakes looking for warmth in the morning, I decided to stay at a hostel run by a group of Polish in the town of Udabno. And what a splendid decision. I was warmly welcomed, used the garage in the hostel to tighten the chain on the bike which had become looser and looser over the fast few kilometers, and later joined a group of Czech people in the restaurant who were celebrating a birthday with vast amounts of Chacha.

At 08:00 in the next morning, I drove back to Tbilisi, picked up the Kazakh and Azerbaijani visa, not without having some of my tools stolen, probably by a guard outside the Azerbaijani embassy, who saw me put them into the pocket of my jacket, which I had to leave outside the embassy.

Back at the hostel I met Sarah, and we spent the afternoon in the splendid “Carpe Diem Café” just below the Tbilisi castle.

Evening view from Tbilisi castle. Unfortunately taken with my phone.

On June 19, after one more lengthy struggle, I managed to escape from the gravitational pull of Tbilisi one last time. The first border crossing I reached was heavily guarded, but, as the guard explained to me, only allowed for herds of animals. Njet Machina!

I went to another border crossing, left Georgia, and was received friendly by the Azeri border guards. A large amount of paperwork had to be filled out, including an insurance that cost me 10€. Photos of my oil smeared face and vehicle were taken. The processing took about two hours, which was, according to one customs officer, due to the fact that my bike did not fulfill Euro4 pollution norms.

I started chatting with the officer, and he explained to me that it was his duty to inspect incoming baggage for drugs and weapons. “Narcotics”, I asked incredulously “and bombs?” He nodded gravely, glad to have found someone who recognized the importance of his hard job. We chatted on, and suddenly he noticed that it was actually his job to inspect incoming luggage. He told me to open the panniers, and I explained dutifully the purpose of each tool. After 5 minutes, the superficial inspection is over, I received a handful of paperwork of outstanding importance, and was allowed to enter the country. I drove to Ganja, a city with wide alleys and big houses, where I found a hotel.

At night, the city resembled a ghost town. The mighty buildings and numerous fountains were brightly lit, and almost no-one was walking in the streets. I went to bed early.

To escape the heat, I went to Lahic near Ismaili in the mountains. The temperature was much lower up here, and the roads are formidably out of shape, just perfect for the KLR with the TKC-80 tires with an ever-so-slowly decreasing amount of profile.

At a homestay I met Bart, a Polish surveyor contracting for BP who lives in Baku. He offered me a place to stay in Baku for the next couple of days, which I gladly accepted.

In the evening, Bart and I had dinner with the host and were later joined by the host’s son with friends. The son asked me when I was born. I replied with “‘86”, and he told me that he was born in the same year. “Chernobyl, huh?” I asked, grinning. Father and son got quiet, the conversation stagnated. Later Bart explained that the father had told him that he had been a liquidator after the disaster, and that they had worked in shifts of 1 minute per day.

After a hearty breakfast, I drove to Baku on June 21. The route was first scenic, then dull and hot. I was sweating in the motorcycle clothes. The 40°C breeze did not exactly cool me down anymore. Traffic in the city was modest, since cars not registered in Baku were forbidden to enter the city during the European Games.

In the evening I met Bart, and we went for dinner at the Araz Café, a formidable small eatery near Fountain Square.

I got up late, had some passport photographs made and went to the Uzbek embassy to apply for the visa. In the office I met a British cyclist who explained to me how glad he was to have applied for a 30 day visa - 10 days just wouldn’t be enough.

The frail elderly man with Asian features at the counter gave him his passport, saying “It is accepted, but just for ten days”, only to start giggling uncontrollably when the cyclist found out that the visa was actually approved for 30 days.

I asked the man behind the counter whether I as a Swiss need a letter of invitation to apply for a visa. He thumbed a thick book, rearranged his spectacles and told me in a surprisingly deep voice that Swiss citizens actually require two letters of invitation, just to start giggling again.

I filled out the paperwork, handed him my sixteen passport photos, just to be sure it’s enough, and he assured me that sixteen are indeed enough.

On the way to the center I met a German couple, Bjarne and Mona, who were on the way to Mongolia on BMW GS 650s, coming from Iran. [Blog: www.ryestones.com] We exchanged contact details and went back down to the centre.

The rest of the day I wasted in the pompous city of Baku, which is desperately trying to hide its soviet heritage between magnificent fassades and huge glass-and-steel palaces.

Flame Towers in Baku.

In the evening, Bart and I were planning to go to the Heydar Aliev Palace, but got stuck in one of the many fantastic restaurants that Bart, an expert in finding good places to eat, led us to.

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