Friday, August 29, 2014

A brief visit to the kingdom of Azerbaijan (17.08.2014 - 21.08.2014)

Ridiculous expensive visa, lengthy border procedure, police every 100 meters and CCTV every 50 meters, expensive hotels, boiling heat and stinking oil wells: Welcome to Azerbaijan! 
If it wasn't for our Uzbek visa we wouldn't have come here...

You may have heard that Azerbaijan is a Republik, it isn't. It is run by the Aliyev family. The current president inherited the throne from his father. Also other parts of the government are in family hand as well as much of the money.
They try to push Baku as a holiday location (?!?) by constructing modern high rise buildings. The famous flames of Baku are one example. But of course the Azeri quality standards are so low that one of the three flames is already inhabitable, lol.

After five hours including some paperwork and insurance for our car we were finally admitted inside. Only to be stopped about 100km later for alleged speeding... Since leaving Europe/Austria we would drive as fast the street & car allowed and the other vehicles did. Not so in Azerbaijan... The cop wanted us to return to the last police post and pay a hefty fine of 200AZN (1AZN = 1€UR). Something we had been warned in Batumi and Tbilisi about :(. Knowing we still had a long ride in front of us we managed to talk him down to 50€ and could head on. 
It is quite tiring to drive in these countries: taking care of other vehicles, the street condition, pedestrians and free wandering livestock. Now we also had to respect the speed limit, which changed every fucking 200m! 

Somehow we made it to Baku in the middle of the night only to get up early the next morning for our visas. Thanks to online research we had the GPS coordinates of the two embassies, otherwise we would never have found them. Sadly the Turkmenistan embassy was closed till we had our Uzbek visa payed and collected. We need to organize this in Tehran...

Later we visited the harbor and saw the infamous train ferry over the Caspian Sea. Yes a train ferry! They also transport cars, but most of the time it is stuck in front of the harbor and you have to wait an unknown time on this stinking rust bucket (which occasionally sinks). Another reason to take the route through Iran!
In the evening we took a stroll in the city center. All the big and luxurious brands have stores here. I don't know who should buy that stuff...
One of the few attractions in Baku are the ever burning flames. Gas is seeping from the ground and keeps burning since hundred (?) of years. Sadly the spot isn't too welcoming as they have poured concrete over most of the place.
After three nights we had enough and left the city after visiting the Iranian ambassador (more of this in the next post). 

We stopped on the way south in Qobustan to snap some pictures of the stone carvings. The engravings date back between 5'000 - 40'000 years, says Wikipedia. Driving to the place we missed the ticket office so had to bribe the park guard ;)
Next were the mud volcanoes on schedule. One third of all the mud volcanoes in the world can be found in Azerbaijan. Activated by underground natural gas deposit they push mud to the surface which results in gurgling and hissing cones. Supposedly the mud is good for your skin, we didn't try it out tough. Besides us was only one other visitor around, covered entirely in mud :D

In the town of Bilasuvar in front of the Iranian border was no hotel to be found. So we decided to camp in the field. After all the field worker had left and we had just started cooking dinner a car showed up. It was the local policeman wanting to know what we did here... With a lot of hand signs we finally managed to get the message across where after he wanted to invite us to his place. After we declined we got warned about some wild animals (dog, dingo, wolf? Something with pointy ears) and he left. 
An uncomfortable night later (Genti even had heard some howling) we finally left this country...