Baku (Azerbaijan), 13.05.2013
The day starts with a panoramic view over Tbilisi as the sun rises, some clouds – it could be a painting. A quick breakfast on Betsy’s Hotel’s fantastic terrace, and off to GT Motors through the crazy Tbilisi morning traffic. The guys there were super friendly, we fixed the car together in 1,5h and now feel comfortable to survive quite a bit without problems. We just have too much weight on the roof.
While we wait for the OK of the Azeri embassy for our visas we sit in cafes in Tbilisi, relax, enjoy the day, connect with friends at home in Europe. The city is really great, the area around the hotel is different from the more touristy old town we saw last time. It feels like Berlin in the 90’ies in some way, trashy, catching up, energetic, bohéme. Then the green light for the visas arrived, and off we went to pick them up.
At 17:30 we finally left town headed for Azerbaijan, arriving at the border 1h later. Georgian controls were quick and friendly, although there was quite a line of cars waiting. But we had to wait 1h to get to the Azeri controls. While we waited in line with others, we met several people. A woman waiting in the car beside us started talking to us in Russian, and gave us some apples, lemon and water. Then we “talked” to a lady selling food between the cars. She gave us a “Georgian snickers“, walnuts drowned in a sticky sweet syrup and in a sausage-like form. Everybody was very friendly as we all shared the pain of waiting in the heat at best mosquito time.
When we finally got close to the Azeri border control barracks we were taken off the line and told to drive to a control building at the side of the road, where they usually check minibuses and transporters. And there we waited another hour, nobody seemed to bother about checking is out. We watched a constant come and go of all kinds of officials. There were the “men in black”, civilian officials in black suit, white shirt, black tie and shining black shoes, smart but not as smart as the security staff at the Atatürk memorial in Ankara (Turkey). Then there were the military officials, one type in blue or green camouflage field jackets, and the ones in proper uniform. And then the customs officials, that looked like in every other border. All these people strolled around the cars, directed people and vehicles, looked very serious and suspicious, checked their phones and walky talkies. We were not quite sure what their work consisted of honestly.
After several requests, we finally got ordered into a hangar once the previous car was checked and asked to unpack the entire car. All bags went through an X-ray scanner and we had to explain the purpose of every item. Several other men stood around, we were not sure if officers or travellers. One guy spoke German and explained us how they kept him 24h at the border already and made him pay thousands of euros for food he was importing from Germany with no apparent reason.
After this we thought we’re done. He he, too optimistic… This was the first real border, with real controls and real problems and real waste of time. So when our documents got checked suddenly an issue arose, that some powers of attorney were needed for the car. But these documents are safe in Madrid, we only had a scan with us. “Well, without this document obviously you cannot enter, absolutely forbidden” explained a guy on a cell phone that the customs official had called since we didn’t speak any language in common. Then came a very serious lecture of a very important official of how we have to adapt to Azerbaijan’s customs and that it was impossible to enter without the proper documentation. Half an hour of calls and discussions later we made them understand that we only want to transit through Azerbaijan on the way to Iran and would be out in 3 days. We came with visas, invitation letters and hotel reservation in Baku, all we were told to provide. Once we threatened to go back to Georgia and enter Iran via Turkey, Skipping their country on our trip, a “very special exception” became possible suddenly. We had to print the scan of the Spanish document and were instructed to only stay an absolute maximum of three days, otherwise they would fine us thousands of Euros. And to never come back again to Azerbaijan without powers of attorney. And to be so kind to leave the border staff 50 euros or dollars for their “help”. We then got our car insurance for another 40 USD, paid other 20 USD for something we didn’t understand, and had to wait until midnight to enter the country, since the three days were running on a clock after 00:00. We’re really looking forward to the fun on some other borders ahead of us, the next one is in 2 days…
While we waited for midnight, the customs staff came to chat with us between one control and the next. We spoke about our trip, our car, they explained us the traffic rules of Azerbaijan. They insisted very much that we pay attention to speed limits (90km/h on country roads) and to the many radar controls to avoid hefty fines. Before leaving I approached the official to give him the dollars they had asked for, but he declined, shook hands smiling and wished us luck on our trip.
At 00:45 we had made it and passed the border! Our first serious border! In only 5h, plus the 1h in time difference in Azerbaijan. It was pitch black outside, no road signs, but good roads. We were so awake from the hassle and turned off from the welcome we had received that we decided to drive to Baku overnight. We fuelled up at the first gas station and started a “find the speed limit sign and adjust the tempomat” game. As said, there are almost no road signs. The concept of advising when a limit is lifted in unheard of. We really tried our best, driving slowly, looking for indications. But we got flashed three times, no idea why, and at very slow speeds. At some point we were stopped at a police road block. Passport, car passport, driving license and into the police station. The officer spoke in Russian and showed me pictures of our car at 88km/h. I was happy to have respected the speed limit, but suddenly in that specific piece of the road the limit was 60 apparently. Obviously no sign had alerted of this. We spent 30-40 minutes arguing, he showed me a pile of fines to other drivers, all foreign (mostly Georgians, but also Russians, Ukrainians , and said all the time “bank, straf”. He also opened a big drawer full of bank payment receipt. It became clear now how the police in this country can afford a fleet of brand new, shiny BMWs. He wanted us to wait until the next morning, go to a bank and pay a hefty fine of 300 Manat (300 Euro) to get the driving license and documents back. We clarified this was not an option and finally settled to pay him USD 200 in cash without receipt and leave on the spot. What an irony, the “corrupt” border official revealed to be a friendly man, and a police official that should issue a fine ultimately got the cash in his pocket.
The next hours were all 50 km/h through the night, avoiding wrong-way drivers, sudden fog and guessing the unmarked road ahead. We crossed a town called Ganja (yes, it’s the real name, we did not hallucinate), where we got lost and had a chance to see many streets of it and realize it has a beautiful old center. In shifts one of us kept driving slowly while the other slept, until the next day began. At sunrise we stopped for a roadside espresso from our mobile bar. Then followed hours through flat land until we reached the Caspian Sea! Turning north, Baku appeared another 1,5h later, covered in morning dust and jammed by quite aggressive traffic. After another hour of block by block search we finally found our hotel, 9,5h of driving from the border. And overlooking the sea we close our day. “Tomorrow” (aka after a siesta) we’ll start discovering Baku.
Videos are being uploaded.
Trip data (Day/Total)
– Km driven: 625/11.262
– Hrs driving: approx 16,5h/-
– Diesel l/100km: 7,7/9,4 (0,45 MAN / 0,44 Euro per liter)