Sunday, 18 May 2014

N 40.22.33 E 49.51.07 Baku

We have 72 hours in Azerbaijan - or at least Calypso has or face a steep fine. We arrived at the border crossing from Georgia ( passing under the "good luck" sign) having tidied away any evidence of being in Armenia. Other than the entry and exit stamps in the passport. Surprisingly easy and quick process with the only problem being the friendly question to me - what is the name of the Canadian men's basketball team. I offered a hockey team, but they let me in anyway.

Azerbaijan is clearly more prosperous than Georgia or Armenia. Few half finished or derelict buildings. Lots of industrial activity and more stores than just markets - computers, hair salons, furniture, building supplies. Even as we pass the small farms, there are more animals and the houses are better kept. We are following the mountains south east toward Baku, but the land is fairly flat and definitely drier. Think southern Alberta and you'll have a good idea.

We spent our first night in Seki - which in Azeri has a little squiggle under the "s" to make it sound "sh" and the "e" is upside-down and sounds bit like an "a". Oldest town in Azerbaijan - about 2000 BC. One of the stops on the silk road - our hotel was on the site of an original caravanserai and renovated a la soviet style in the 1970s. What was fascinating was a quick tour of the Khan's summer palace. Built in the mid 1700s and not destroyed by the soviets. Almost all is original not restored. Beautiful vivid frescoes painted by local artists. Couldn't take photos but am including a couple of photos of postcards. We ended our night at a restaurant recommended by lonely planet - discounts for veterans of the Karabakh war and hunters. Definitely a hunting theme to the decor.

Day two, heading toward Baku. Getting drier and hotter. Pipelines running above the surface and resting on rocks or cement bricks to level them. Bringing oil from central Asia and the Azeri offshore wells from Baku to the Black Sea or to Russia or Iran.

Checked out the mud volcanoes just north of Baku and bushcamped there. The mud is cool and the burbling is created by escaping natural gas. Great fun watching, listening, feeling.

Day three. Up and out of camp before 6:00. We are getting really good at this. Gear for three to five days is coming into the hotel as Calypso gets put in a Custom compound till she gets on the ferry. Getting out of Azerbaijan and into Turkmenistan is an iffy science.

Baku is something else. 1.8 million people and scads of oil money. We walked the park on the Caspian and checked out the buildings. Workers sweeping leaves and polishing the sidewalks. And got taken in by a cup of Nescafe for over 4 CAD and then a lovely lunch in the mall for more than I wish to admit.

Lonely Planet 2000 talked about the pollution and devastation coming into Baku. Much of it has been hidden by high and beautiful walls along the highway.

Note about leaving being an iffy science. Turkmenistan embassy is closed today for a conference and doesn't usually do visas except Monday or Friday. They would be ok with us applying on arrival, but Azerbaijan won't let us out. Ah well, getting in was ridiculously simple even if I didn't know the name of the Canadian men's basketball team. My brother, Tom, tells me it is "Canadian"".

Gas price translates to CAD 1.18

courtyard of our caravanserai
outside, it is a desert

gas pipeline

Mark, Jordan and Steve playing in the mud

Turkish beer and lemonade in Baku

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