Hey guys! Wow, I have been so busy since my last blog post WiFi doesn't seem to have really reached Azerbaijan yet! I haven't had a chance to write a full blog yet, but I want to share some of my favourite pictures of the trip so far with you. Each one tells a story!
Landing in Tbilisi, Georgia we needed to take Sus's bike in a taxi from the airport to our couchsurfing host, a 25km journey. We immediately found a taxi driver who I can assume only saw getting the bike there in one piece as a challenge. His car was far too small, the bike protruding out the boot considerably. “No Problem”, he said tying the boot down with a single piece of string. Unsurprisingly, it was a problem and 15 metres down the road we were getting out to tie the boot down again. This scenario repeated a few times before we adopted more drastic measures and gaffa taped the boot down. Now with that issue resolved, the taxi driver got down to the more important business; he wanted to drink some wine. He produced a big 5 litre plastic jug of wine and would occasionally pull over and ask us if we wanted to drink with him. The whole journey only cost about £7, but we were just happy to survive it. It was very clear we were both a long way from home.
Rounding a corner revealed two other crazy bike tourers standing by the side of the road. I immediately pulled over to speak to them, and was soon becoming well acquainted with Haim and Norga, a couple from Israel cycling all the way to China. And the best part? They were 56 and 59 years old, but not letting age stop them! We spent an afternoon cycling with them before they headed off to a nice hotel and we went in search of an empty field!
I always enjoy setting up camp after a day on the bike so I can begin to process everything I've seen, write my diary, eat a massive meal and slow down. It's not hard to enjoy with a view like this one! Just as we had set up tent, a shepherd began herding his 100+ strong flock of sheep straight towards us. It's always a tense moment, wondering if they will object to our camping there! He didn't mind us camping in his field. He had a small canvas tent and makeshift sheep pen 200 metres away and he invited us to share a glass of cay with him later that evening. He was extremely interested in our story and rang his English-speaking daughter to act as our translator over the phone.
Travelling allows for the unexpected to happen at any moment. Cycling along one evening a man calls 'salam' out to us and rears his horse up on its hind legs, taking us completely by surprise. He proceeded to do it another 20 times to allow us to get a good photo. Then, when the horse finally seemed exhausted he let me climb on and have a ride, taking me back to my time on the horse ranch. Thankfully, the poor horse was all 'buckaroo-ed' out!
Energy and life seem to be all around you in Georgia and Azerbaijan with sheep and cattle constantly being herded around between different grazing pastures. It often seems like the whole town is out moving their livestock around. It is an impressive sight to see and always reminds me I am a world away from the little corner of Kent I call home.
It amazes me to think about how different people live around the world. Can you imagine buying your meat at the side of the road like this?
“AZERBAIJAN BORDER, GOOD LUCK” One of the more foreboding welcomes to a country I have ever had. Unsure of exactly why I might need luck, I proceeded hesitantly into Azerbaijan, hoping I wouldn't have to find out.
People in Azerbaijan seem to live off cay (tea), and you will see men sitting around sipping glass after glass all day. We must get called over to join them at least 10 times a day. At one particular cay break, the men seemed especially interested in my trip from England to Azerbaijan so after a quick rummage in the panniers I handed them my inflatable globe to illustrate my route. They began to search for England but got lost searching for it somewhere in South America. Next they began to search for Azerbaijan which they also couldn't find. After pointing out where I lived and where they lived, they became absolutely obsessed with the globe with a child-like focus oblivious to everything going on around them. They didn't look away for more than 10 minutes, and it was awesome to see them so interested and animated in the world around them.
When planning my route I always search for the mountains and head there. It is certainly much harder cycling but made so worthwhile by the tiny villages you pass along the way, the incredible panoramas and views you get and the sense of achievement you get reaching the top of a mountain pass, followed by the adrenaline of speeding down the other side. Georgia and Azerbaijan had plenty to offer in the form of mountains!
As we got further east in Azerbaijan, the landscape changed considerably. Gone were the mountains, the verdant hues of green, and the sense of energy. In came the flat, semi-arid, dry (hot!) landscape, spectacular in its own empty, featureless way!