Azerbaijersy Part 109 Aug 2010, by Uncategorized in
Our attempt to wake up early and get out of Tbilisi this morning was met with the usual struggle to coordinate 6 people and 3 cars, but after getting some Georgian Lari and a delicious little breakfast in a charming area of downtown Tbilisi, we were off about 11am and on our way to the border. We actually made good time and were at the border by 12:30… but we immediately lost another hour due to another time zone change. This border crossing put Georgia’s & Turkey’s to complete shame. We queued up for a couple hours, inching our way to the holding pen where drivers were separated from passengers who had to move along to Azerbaijan and wait for us. Justin had already paid for his road tax, but had to wait for Jean and I as they wanted to process all the rally teams together. This is when the real struggle began.
We were hot and had already been waiting for hours to get to this point. Jean and I queued up at a little office door with several pushy Azeri & Georgian men, all waiting to get our car documents processed. One of the agents looked like Barry Corbin’s character from War Games, and one of the men waiting was Azerbaijan’s version of Luke Perry. We had fun with the celeb look alike game for a while, but eventually we were just restless to get into the booth. This was very much like waiting to get into the Russian consulate. A few men snaked past us which was frustrating because the agent moved SO SLOW to process everything. Eventually we were ushered in together but a few other men still tried to cut in… at this point the agent got very angry at them, and for about 5 minutes there was a lot of screaming and shouting while Jean and I watched the agent assert his authority. He ended up chasing these guys out of the office and was replaced by a new agent who seemed no less surly. This new guy pushed us around a bit, and when we tried to make sure everything was correct he got even more stern. I don’t know if he was illiterate or what, but he could not spell my name correctly, and shh’d me when I asked about it. I gave him my address, that was entered wrong. Then he insisted we get a 3 day transit visa even though we already had our 30 day tourist visa. Eventually an agent who spoke English came in and explained the cars could only get a 3 day transit visa due to being Right Hand Drive. Now, granted, we want to be in this country no longer than necessary to get on the ferry in Baku, but if there are any issues a 3 day transit visa might not be long enough. We tried to negotiate and give the soft offer for bribes “is there a special fee we can pay for a longer visa??”… but he didn’t bite at all. 3 days, that’s it. Then he demanded we have a document that authorized Jean to drive the car since it was registered in my name. I offered to write a contract right there that gave authorization, but he wouldn’t have it. He tried to suggest we go back to London to get “official” document, and in 2 seconds the issue magically was dropped (and never brought up again).
About another hour to get our Azerbaijan insurance, my passport was confiscated for 30 minutes, the car was “inspected” with a very brief look inside… the agent thought my laptop might be a gun but took my word that it wasn’t, and finally after about 5 hours we were through the gates!
We had originally hoped to make Baku in the evening, but it was already 6pm! Uggh. We got on the M1 “motorway”, and followed the flow of traffic, but were immediately pulled over for “speeding” (at 55 miles an hour). After the crazy driving in Georgia, we could not believe it. The cops shook down Justin & the girls in the other car as Tom & I sat waiting for the bribing to begin… but the cops took off and left us alone. We were having trouble getting food and gas since there was nowhere to get local currency, nobody would accept credit cards and nobody wanted to exchange any cash (Georgian, US or Euros)… eventually we found a guy who would take our dollars. A few more hours drive at a slower pace, stop for a quick bite and a gas fill up, and all of the sudden it was getting dark. I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of camping given the inhospitable welcome we had received so far and the lack of what looked like any kind of public place to sleep. Given the good roads and our experience from the night before, I insisted we push on towards Baku. But after another police check point the road worsened considerably, and we all started to worry about more pot holes and punctured tires.
We were arriving in Ganja, probably Azerbaijan’s second biggest city, when in front of us appeared an oasis… a hotel, and not just any hotel, a large hotel that was likely to accept a credit card and have a free room. I joked over the radio that looked like a Ramada… but low and behold it was. The rooms were pricey, but given our other options this was really our best choice. I explained to the reception that we were doing this for a charitable cause and they did knock 20% off the room rate right away.
So here we are, in a really clean room with awesome facilities and internet awaiting our updates! I’m getting some photos & our progress map uploaded, and catching a few zzz’s before we get up and start over again on our way to Baku. Once we make the ferry we’ll probably be out of touch (no cell, internet or satellite service while the boat is moving, we are guessing) for a day or two, but hopefully we can make it to Turkmenistan with no visa problems and not too much of wallets skinned.
Until then, Da Svedonya!