Hitchhiking from Baku to Tbilisi

August 17, 2010 at 8:29 am 9 comments

I missed the night train from Baku to Tbilisi on Saturday night because I was too slow to leave the flat. The station, which is actually only about 15 minutes away, seemed menacing at a quarter to 10 (the train was scheduled to leave at 10pm). There’s no way it will leave on time, I thought. If trains are anything like the post office system here, I’ll be lucky to leave by midnight. But just in case we took a taxi…

The first driver we stopped wouldn’t accept 1 AZN for this very short distance. And then we had trouble finding another taxi. When we finally did it was so late that we paid whatever the taxi wanted, which was 5 AZN. And when we got to the station and ran to the platform, my heart heavy with apprehension, it was with a quite blow that I heard “the train left 5 minutes ago.”

I sat against some wall, out of breath and panting, empty-headed and stupefied at my own stupidity. A half dozen taxi drivers surrounded us, promising that they could drive me to the next train station stop 150 km away for 50 AZN. Leave us alone, I groaned, irritated more by my own irresponsibility than their presence.

Ulrich was bargaining with them on my behalf. Stop it, I don’t want to go, was all I could muster to say. And then I had an idea. We’ve had several couchsurfers visit us from Georgia by hitchhiking from Tbilisi to Baku and then hitchhiking back. The distance is only 750 km and if Ulrich joined me till the border, it might be quite an adventure.

And so it was decided. We’d wake up early the next morning, hitchhike together to the border and than Ulrich would hitchhike back to Baku, while I’d continue by myself to Tbilisi.

We bought some ice cream to celebrate.

—–

The next morning we left the house at 7:30am. I ate 3 eggs, Ulrich had some meet and rice given to us by our neighbor the previous night. In Azerbaijan, when a person dies his/her family lay out a large tent on the street and hold a ceder like meal for relatives and neighbors who want to honor the deceased. We didn’t attend because we didn’t know how.

We took a bus to Yeni avtovagzal, thinking we’d find the highway near the main bus station. It was there but it was completely inaccessible for hitchhiking because there was no spot for a car to safely stop. After walking along the highway for a quarter of an hour we decided to go back and find a bus out of town. The bus took us a mere kilometer further to the parting point for Sumgait and Shamaxi. We needed the Shamaxi direction..

Ulrich in the front seat talking to the driver in Turkish/Azeri

The first ride we got was going all the way to Sheki in the northwest. He was an old funny man. The first thing I said to him was “are you a taxi?” in a haughty frustrated voice because of his white Lada. He wasn’t. He drove us to Mingechuar, which was almost half way to the border. On the way occurred the first of the two meetings we had with police. He was telling us how shitty police are in Azerbaijan, always bothering him, when somewhere outside Ishmaili he was pulled him over for not wearing his seat belt. Ironically, he’d been wearing it most of the time and had just taken it off 2 minutes before the policeman muttered something over his loudspeaker and we stopped. Our driver walked over to the police car agitated and started arguing. Minutes later he came back saying “the swine took away my license.”

We drove to a store. The driver bought some more credit for his phone, called his friend and then drove back to find the police man who was busy laughing with another driver he’d stopped. Our driver ran to him and handed him the phone. Then he got into the police man’s car. He’s probably paying a bribe I said to Ulrich. Before he left the cop he shook his hand and spoke a few gregarious words in parting. Then he told us that the policeman had agreed to be friends instead and returned his license to him…

The other episode we had with the police was less pleasant. The police stopped our driver at one of those narrow passes on the road between the “sidewalk” and a stopped truck. Our driver didn’t turn of his engine, so the angry policeman reached in and turned it off himself. After some yelling the policeman tried to pull our driver out of the car by his grabbing his neck. I tried to “help” by offering the police some candy we had but I was ignored. When our driver left the car voluntarily after some time, another policeman (who’d been observing the whole episode from a distance) came by and said to us in English with a toothy smile “Azerbaijan good, Azerbaijan good.” But our driver’s license was taken and he couldn’t get it back so easily..

Watermelon is sold everywhere in Azerbaijan

With our new friends in Mingechuar

Our second ride, which we picked up roughly 10 km before Mingechuar was with two young men who invited us to their home for tea. There the young man’s mother and wife served us tea and sweets, while his young daughter ran around. I ate the most delicious fig jam I’ve ever had. Before we left, they put many of the sweets in a plastic bag for us and gave them to us to take.

In Ganja we were picked up by a group of 3 young people, two Azeri guys and one girl. They had a race car and drove really fast, and I wondered whether we’d have a third encounter with Azeri police. It was the first time I’d hitchhiked with an Azeri woman in the car. This woman, who was about my age, held hands with one of the men, and laughed loudly. She was definitely part of the group, which was nice and unusual, since I’ve rarely seen women in the company of Azeri men who were not their family.

Ulrich carrying my backpack...

Our last ride to the border happened quite late in the day. It was a lorry driven by a Turkish man who’d stopped for us earlier. But he took too long to stop and as he did so, another car pulled up, and so we were distracted by the other car and he drove away.

He was married to a Georgian woman and lived in Georgia. His job was transporting things from Istanbul to Baku and now he was returning with an empty truck back to Istanbul. The sun was setting.

goodbye Azerbaijan

He left us at the border and said he could wait for me if I wanted to drive with him into Tbilisi. But I wanted to say goodbye to Ulrich and so he didn’t wait. My last meal in Azerbaijan was in a café by the border and it was surprisingly tasty. By the time the food was served the sun had set completely, and I ate in the dark – grilled potatoes, eggplant, fresh white cheese and a salad.

Ulrich and I parted at the border – “Red bridge” and I walked into a small room for an inquisition. “What is in your backpack?” asked the young female border officer. Just a laptop and a book, I answered. “What kind of book” she asked? “What does it say about Armenia?”

She was worried I had the lonely planet, which described Karaback as part of Armenia rather than occupied territory. Don’t worry, I assured her, I’ve spent three months working with IDPs and I have much sympathy for the Azerbaijani people.

Without problem they stamped my passport and I went out into the dark empty alley that separates Azerbaijan from Georgia. An old woman carrying bananas tried to sell some to me. Ahead was a small building full of people awaiting their Georgian visas. “How  long have you been waiting” I asked. “3 hours” said one, “4 hours” said another. “At least give us the forms to fill out” pleaded a middle-aged man with the security. I stood around, detesting the dryness in my throat and regretting not taking more water. Then I realized that everyone was Russian and that maybe with my American passport I didn’t have to wait. I approached the patrol and asked. It took her a minute to stamp my passport and there I was ..alone in Georgia. I apologized to the Russians and left hoping to catch one of the lorries I saw waiting at the border.

There were several dozen cars waiting to leave Georgia, but none of the lorries I had seen on the Azerbaijani border were entering Georgia. And the cars I had seen parked outside probably belonged to the Russians who were stucked in the beurocratic limbo without their visas.

A taxi man offered his services. I told him I had no money to pay for a cab. The truth was that I simply didn’t want to pay. I wanted to hitchhike all the way. I wanted an adventure. Not an ordinary taxi ride. He said he’d drive me anyway, so long as I had a coffee with him first. “No thanks” I repeated.

A car pulled up from the Georgian side and did a u-turn, parking right in front of me. I saw some lights flashing from the Azeri side. Someone is finally coming and now this bugger blocking my way!

I ran towards the driving car when it approached. It stopped. “Where are you going? Tbilisi?” “No just a village not far away from here.”

“Are you going to Tbilisi?” asked the man who’s car had been blocking my way. The border patrol was now urging him to move his car and he was in a hurry to leave… “Get in and I’ll take you.”

We drove along the very dark and empty road to Rustavi. All together, it only about an hour to drive to Tbilisi from the border. He drove me all the way to my hostel and here I sit writing this on a sunny Tuesday afternoon surrounded by travelers from Poland, Czech Republic, and America =)

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Entry filed under: travel. Tags: , , .

Oh yes! I’d love some E. Coli! Tkibuli, development, hitchhiking, more

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ulrichjosias  |  August 17, 2010 at 8:46 am

    How fun it would’ve been to be stopped by police in the “race car”! That driver was already driving without a license… But he knew the road very well! Thanks for that lovely day trip!

    Reply
  • 2. Christopher  |  August 17, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    That is some adventure. Great story.

    Reply
  • 3. Dina  |  August 18, 2010 at 12:26 am

    These are the places that I have been to Georgia:
    Kutaisi
    Vardzia
    Bakuriani
    Borzhomi

    Not sure about the spelling.

    Reply
  • 4. krysta  |  August 21, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    I’m glad you made it to Georgia! I was a little nervous about how that last part of the story was going to end, with the guy who asked you to have coffee with him…but I’ve learned recently that sometimes you can just trust your intuition in situations like that, or else, just not worry so much. Talk to you soon.

    Reply
  • 5. Bogdan Stelistul  |  August 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Salut!!!My name is bogdan from Romania!!!
    We can be friends ???
    http://bogdanstelistul.blogspot.com/

    Reply
  • 6. Elaborate Inefficiency | A Schubert Blog  |  September 11, 2010 at 4:24 am

    […] Posted on September 11, 2010 by ulrichjosias As I was hitchhiking from Baku to Qırmızı Körpü, some time ago, one of the guys who took us for a ride talked to me […]

    Reply
  • 7. Elaborate Inefficiency « Here we Are  |  September 24, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    […] September 11, 2010 tags: Azerbaijan, Baku, Inefficiency, Post by ulrichjosias As I was hitchhiking from Baku to Qırmızı Körpü, some time ago, one of the guys who took us for a ride talked to me […]

    Reply
  • 8. blondeindo  |  July 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Interesting report. Thank you for sharing! We will try to hitch-hike with three people from Baku to Tbilisi.

    Reply
    • 9. Lena Shuster  |  July 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm

      blondeindo…when you get to tbilisi if you don’t have a place to stay yet i recommend tbilisi hostel.. it’s super fun :P

      http://tbilisihostel.com

      Reply

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