Published: May 19th 2010May 2nd 2010
For the whole of our 48 hours in Azerbaijan the country is hidden under one enormous rain cloud.
As we ride up to the Georgia-Azerbaijan border its raining and we are made to queue at the barrier just sitting on our bikes in the pouring rain being slowly called forward two at a time to be stamped out of Georgia. At least getting into Azerbaijan we are allowed to sit in the warm customs office with the 4 officials; one to fill out a short form for each foreign vehicle, take 5 Euro of its owner then sit around, one to take a few grubby note off the occasional local driver and then sit around, one to play computer games and one with an enormous pile of passports and V5s in front of him very, very, very slowly filling out a form on the computer, one very important question seems to be your father's first name - critical info if you are going to be driving a foreign vehicle across their country!!. It takes about 45minutes to process the 1st person. Somehow we end up at the front of the queue as the system seems to be to put the
last passport through the door on the top of the pile.
Unfortunately it continues pouring with rain for the whole 100 miles from the border to our hotel in Saki and the next 220 miles to Baku so we don't see much of the countryside. Occasionally the clouds lift and we get a brief, tantalising glimpse of the scenery the guide book describes as “the best in Azerbaijan; the thickly wooded foothills of the high Caucasus Mountains with views of white tipped peaks, travelling through timeless villages with ancient Albanian church ruins and very ruined castles”.
Each little village we pass through has an enormous gateway announcing its name and in the centre an enormous flag pole flying the Azerbaijan flag. All along the roadside there are posters of the president and models praising the good public works that have been completed. Every now and then we pass a gaggle of roadside stalls selling apples or what look like bright green peas in bottles. The best is when we climb up the hairpins near Agsu on each hairpin is a frame with lamb carcasses dangling from it. Then higher up all the little shashlik stalls start to appear
either perched right on the edge with, presumably, great views out over the plains below or with cute little picnic tables set out in the woods. On a sunny warm day it would have been a great place to stop and soak up the countryside with a few locals.
We go off route again at Kis to visit one of the timeless villages with a renovated round towered Albanian church. The church is right at the top of the village via very steep, wet, narrow, cobbled roads. Strangely there's a statue of Thor Heyerdal outside it - the explanation; the old Norse Sagas tells of the god Odin who led his people from land called Aser east of the Caucasus which seems to tie with the original people who lived in this area in pre-Christian times. Indeed the Bronze-age skeletons unearthed way beneath the church are incredibly tall. The little church is on the site of a pre-Christian temple and its still important to the local Muslim population. They come here to walk round the church 3 times and stick a penny to the wall, if it stays in place their wish will come true.
In Saki we
stay in an old Karavansary (a lodging house for the silk road camel caravans) with vaulted brick ceilings in the rooms. We have just distributed our damp soggy gear round the room when the rain gets even heavier and starts pouring through our ceiling!! The little restaurant in the town square looks deserted but there's lots of noise coming out of it - turns out all the locals are installed in small wooden booths round the upstairs balcony, never find out why but when they try to sit us at a table in the centre of the restaurant we demand our own little booth- its like having your dinner inside a sauna.
Baku has an Old City complete with walls, cobbled streets, overhanging wooden houses and palaces. A nice spot for an evening stroll even if it is still raining. We don't get to visit it properly
as we have to spend the day sat in readiness by the bike waiting to board a 'ferry' across the Caspian Sea.
It feels like we haven't really given Azerbaijan a chance. The spectacular High Caucasus views have been hidden behind clouds and we haven't had the time to explore the
villages and meet the locals. Seems like we will have to come back again to see it on a sunny day.
There are more photos below