The altitude when we left Georgia was 600 metres and Baku was at -29 so it should be all downhill from the border! The border crossing was straight forward, our panniers went through an x-ray machine, everyone was friendly. After a couple of hours we were cycling along quiet tree lined roads with excellent tarmac.
It was less than 1km before we had our first tea stop, a farmer beckoned us to stop and join him and his family for some excellent Azeri cay. This would set the tone for the rest of the day. It was very hot well into high 30s and cay was surprisingly refreshing. There were shepherds herding big flocks along the road and horse and carts. The few cars were all Ladas.
We were heading for Seki to stay in the 17th century Kervanseray which had been restored into a hotel. Typically, it was set on a hill and the last 8 kms were all up. Seki is a pretty city with the truly amazing Palace of the Shaki Khans built in 1797 which has the most exquisite interiors with beautiful stained glass windows.
We stayed in the Kervanseray for one night in a typical vaulted room with our transport safely beneath us like centuries of travellers on the silk road have done before.
Fortunately the weather was changing and we had a few overcast days. We made the most of these to put some distance in before the hot weather returned. The roads were definately up and down. We took shelter in a petrol station from a thunderstorm and enquired about the road ahead. Up and down we were told with 4 ups.Each up got steeper and higher and the downs shorter. The last up was just under 400 metres of vertical climb with an average gradient of 10%. Hitting 17% in places…….
The roads were very good and often tree lined which gave some welcome shade. We had asked about best routes at various tea houses and after a general discussion we were advised on the best roads and those that had “super tarmac”. As we got nearer the bigger towns the ratio of Ladas to SUVs dropped. The driving was generally good and we were given plenty of space and felt safe on the roads.
After our up and down day we had made it to Samaxi and stayed in a cheap hotel on the edge of town. The wind picked up and overnight it started raining heavily. This carried on all next morning. We wanted to get to Baku 115km away. It was too wet to cycle and we didn’t want to spend another day in the hotel.
We set off hoping that the rain would stop. It was pretty clear that was unlikely so we decided to try a taxi. We stopped a Lada estate with a big roof rack and negotiated a ride to the edge of Baku. The route took us through scrubby looking desert into Baku.
We liked Baku, it is a big modern city with loads of beautifully kept parks. It has a well restored old town and some amazing modern buildings.There is a lovely park with a long boulevard right on the shore of the Caspian. The Caspian glimmers with a rather odd reddish hue due to the pollution.
The roads are big and wide often 6 lanes and cycling through it was easy. Most of the cars were big and expensive and gave us a wide berth. The driving was less frenetic than in Turkey.
We had read various blogs about getting a transit visa for Turkmenistan in Baku and none had inspired any confidence. The embassy and bank had moved and people reported problems.
We easily found the embassy by searching on gomap.az and cycled there. The embassy opened at 9.30. It is only open for visas on Monday and Friday mornings. We had applied in Ankara and after a little time (the Azeri and Turkish computer systems don’t talk to each other) we were sent to pay at a bank a few km away near the centre. We returned to pick up our visas 170$ lighter. The staff were very pleasant and spoke reasonable english. We posted the details on http://caravanistan.com/visa/turkmenistan/
The next step was to get tickets for the boat across the Caspian to Turkmenabashi. Again most blogs had covered the difficulties people had encountered. We found the office fairly easily. It is run by a very nice lady who speaks russian. There were no boats today but hopefully we will get one tomorrow.