Continuation. . .
After the police tried to insist we have to take a hotel for the night, we ignored them and put our tent up for the night behind the old guy’s shack. During that night we had super strong gusts of wind and Anton had to get up and stake all the guy ropes so we could sleep. In the morning the wind was still blowing and we were relieved that it was blowing in our direction! So after some breakfast with our host, we set off following the main road to Baku on M2 through Ganja.
One night we were looking for a place to camp for the night and asked at a house if it was ok to camp in a paddock near their house. They opened the gate straight away, let us in with our bikes and told us we will sleep inside. Immediately after, we were sitting at the table being fed more than we could possibly eat, and they aked us how many nights we wanted to stay. We said one, but they insisted we stay 2 nights. So we had a very nice weekend and had the opportunity to learn some Azerbaijan vocabulary. During dinner, the father of the family called an old friend (Edgar) who lives in Baku, he spoke English and said to message him on what’sapp when we arrive in Baku.
The day before we cycled into Baku, we saw lots of police officers and military personnel standing on the side of the road, and were wondering what in heck was going on. After half an hour, a police car stopped and an officer told us we had to go back a couple hundred meters to a fruit shop and wait there because the President of Azerbaijan was on his way to Baku. We were very annoyed as it was almost dark and we needed to find a place to camp. The fruit shop was owned by a former high police officer now retired. After realizing the President was going to pass an hour and a half later and that it would be dark by then, we kind of insisted that he allow us to camp in the garden! He showed us a shed that they use in summer to sell vegetables. It had an old sofa bed inside and he also gave us a heater. Then we went inside the shop to drink chai while waiting for the president to pass.
We felt like we were under house arrest as we were not allowed even to be outside. When the long line of police cars were passing, I lifted the phone to take a photo and the police officer immediately jumped up and told me to put the phone down. He explained that if the police see a camera flash, they will immediately begin shooting! It is not allowed to take photos of the president! These Azeris don’t mess about! After the President passed, everything was more relaxed and we were offered dinner and chai with the police officer. So at least we didn’t have to put the tent up!
“The Flame Towers consist of three buildings: South, East and West. The tallest of the 3 towers is 183m high and the buildings consist of apartments, a hotel and office blocks. The facades of the three Flame Towers function as large display screens with the use of more than 10,000 high-power LED luminaries, supplied by the Osram subsidiary Traxon Technologies and Vetas Electric Lighting.“
We arrived in Baku 11 days after we crossed in to Azerbajan. In Baku we were hosted by an amazing family (3 brothers). Even though the sun didn’t shine much while we were there, we still had time to explore the city and walk around taking photos. We also spent a long time going from bank to bank to try to exchange some Georgian Laris we found in a bag that we forgot to change while in Ganja. Apparently no bank is changing Georgian Lari in Baku. One bank told us the Russian bank (VTB) will, but after searching for multiple branches that where marked on the map, we discovered they are all closed in the city centre. We located one near Ganclik metro station but they also told us they do not exchange Georgian Lari. Eventually our friend told us to try near the 28 May station. There are some men who exchange money on the street (illegaly). So we went and started haggling about the exchange and when they heard we need USD because we’re going to Iran, the guy pulled out a wad of Iranian bank notes(Rials) and we realised he was keen to get rid of them, so we managed to squeeze him for a very good exchange. It was hilarious that as we were talking to these illegal exchange guys, some police officers approached us. We thought we might have some trouble. . . instead they became our translators and helped us to exchange money! We felt rich walking away with over a million Rials (35euros)!
We spent 11 days in Baku as Anton’s wisdom tooth decided not to continue cycling with us anymore and had to be extracted, then he had to wait for the stitching to be taken out 1 week later.
Near home there was a little kiosk that sells freshly made Kutab, so we often ate it on our way home. It was very cheap and delicious!
We were lucky enough that our host and his girlfriend are 4th year students at the Baku university of dentistry so we didn’t need to look for one. We had several days to relax while we were waiting for Anton’s stitches to be taken out.
Unfortunately he had lots of pain for the first 3 days so we didn’t do much, but it was nice to catch up on a few things, calling home, washing some clothing and just resting.
One evening we met with Edgar who invited us for dinner in a traditional Azerbaijani restaurant and afterwards he bought us some beautifully hand crafted and painted mugs from the Christmas market as a souvenir to remember our time in Azerbaijan.
One rule of Azerbaijan is that every tourist that stays in the country for more than 10 days must register with the immigration office at an address. We were not informed by the police at the boarder but our hosts tried to register us on the 11th day. They were told it was too late and we must visit the immigration centre to pay a fine. On the last day in Baku we also had to withdraw some USD from the ATM for exchanging in Iran. Foreign cards do not work in Iran because of the sanctions. In Azerbaijan unfortunately, the ATMs will give only $200 per transaction (to combat black market and money laundering etc.) so we had to pay the expensive ATM fees and bank charges on a few transactions rather than just one, very annoying! We would highly recommend taking USD out in Georgia.
In Baku we also went to the Uzbekistan embassy to apply for tourist visa to be picked up in Tehran.
On our way to the border we visited the Gobustan mud volcanos and spent an hour or so looking at all the fascinating mud holes noisily bubbling and overflowing everywhere.
We decided to go the Lankaran migration office on our way to the border as we didn’t want to cycle back 50km like some other cyclists we heard about. At the office we explained our story and the police officer immediately told us we had to pay a fine as we broke their law. He asked us the name and number of where we stayed in Baku and made a (very obviously fake) phone call. He told us our friends were not answering, then said we have to pay a 200 manat (€100) fine each. We insisted we don’t have that amount of money to pay and so finally he told us we will have to be deported with restricted entry to Azerbaijan for 2 years. We were annoyed about their disorganised system and said with a shrug that it didn’t bother us at all. We had to fill in various forms and after making us wait for two and a half hours, they finally gave us the deportation papers just before the office closing time after sun set. We were told that we would have 48 hours to leave the country, but it is actually 2 days counting the day we went to the office and the border customs closes at 18:00, so we actually had 24 hours. So the following day we had to make sure to be there on time, we didn’t want any other issues with the officials of Azerbaijan.
We then went in to Lankaran to buy some food and the owner of the shop invited us to sleep at his house. We soon realized it was a second house and we would be staying in the house by ourselves! Our bikes were locked in a secure garage and we were given the keys. After cooking dinner we made chai to share with the owner when he came back around 22:00 to check if we were ok.
The following day we reached Astara by lunch time and wanted to sit in the main street to eat some fruit when a government official walked up and began talking with us. He invited us to a cafe and we spent some time drinking chai and eating some sweet pastries when we realised we had to hurry to the border. There we had to wait almost half an hour for the officer to fill in all the various papers before we could happily cycle to Iranian border control.