Posts tagged ‘Azerbaijan’

Hitchhiking from Baku to Tbilisi

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 =)


August 17, 2010 at 8:29 am 9 comments

Oh yes! I’d love some E. Coli!

This is going to be a semi-personal post about my body. I was so unnerved yesterday thinking that I was being a hypochondriac that I was relieved to see the specks of bright blood coming out of my urethra after peeing. It was confirmed. I wasn’t imagining a urinary tract infection, I had one.

The main cause of urinary tract infections in women is E. Coli bacteria. And as it turns out,  Azerbaijan beaches are full of them!

The sea water in Sumgait contains E. coli and other harmful bacterias in the amount of 9,500-180,400 for a liter of water, 4500-11200 per liter of water in Shikh and 3,000-13,800 per liter of water in Sahil.

And guess what I did the day before I felt my symptoms? A long swim at the beach in Shuvalan…

With friends from Italy, Germany and Switzerland

July 28, 2010 at 6:15 am 6 comments

Life in Baku

Over a month ago I wrote about the scarcity of foreign workers in Azerbaijan. According to today’s news Azerbaijan’s current labor migration quota is 10,700 people, but only 7,091 foreign citizens worked in 912 companies by 1 July 2010. These foreign workers held citizenship in 87 different countries, including Turkey (3,225 people), the UK (1,350), Georgia (312), India (244), U.S. (198), and Russia (176).


Apologies for neglecting this blog for so long! I’ve been busy and really unenthusiastic about writing about it. Although i promise to post some pictures from my last two trips to Lerik and Xinaliq!

I have new flatmates. There is a French girl who’s an intern in the French embassy, a German girl and Ph’d student who came to Baku for a seminar, a Swiss guy who’s an intern at an NGO, and starting from yesterday an Italian guy who’s also an intern. We also have guests and couchsurfers often. Last week my friends Dmitry (Moscow) and Isabel (Belgium) visited me. Our flat is really wonderful, genial & gregarious.

Stairs up to Shahidlar Khiyabani (Martyr's Cemetery) in honor of the men, women and children killed on January 20th, 1990 by the Soviet forces.

Watch meykhana on youtube.

July 23, 2010 at 4:22 am Leave a comment

Existential migration

I came upon an interesting concept last night called “existential migration,” conceived by psychologist Greg Madison.

Unlike economic migration, simple wanderlust, exile, or variations of forced migration, ‘existential migration’ is conceived as a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about existence by leaving one’s homeland and becoming a foreigner.

Some interesting tidbits:

  • ‘Existential migration’ is conceived as a chosen attempt to express or address fundamental aspects of existence by leaving one’s homeland and becoming a foreigner.
  • These ‘existential migrants’ discover more about themselves and feel more alive when confronting unfamiliar cultures. These individuals move cross-culturally, sometimes repeatedly, in search of self-understanding and adventure.
  • The importance of trying to fulfil individual potentials, the importance of freedom and independence, openness to experiences of the mystery of life, and the valuing of difference and foreignness as a stimulus to personal awareness and broadening perspectives are consistent themes amongst ‘existential migrants.’
  • Among this population there is a marked preference for the strange and foreign over the familiar or conventional.
  • Most ‘existential migrants’ leave their home cultures because they never felt ‘at home’ in the first place. For some, the choice to leave can eventually result in not being at home anywhere in the world, leaving these individuals to live within a sort of ‘homelessness’ that includes a complex mix of inconsolable loss as well as perpetual adventure and self-discovery.
  • The ‘feeling of home’ arises from specific interactions with our surroundings that could potentially occur anywhere, at any time. This is in contrast to the usual definition of home as geographical place.

Is this me?

July 23, 2010 at 4:07 am 4 comments

Kiva visit to Fuzuli

Last week I visited Fuzuli to meet two borrowers of my credit union for ‘borrower verification’.

See my post & video here.

July 14, 2010 at 6:28 am Leave a comment


Last weekend (June 26-29) I went to Zaqatala, a region in the northwest between Georgia and Dagestan. The Avars are an ethnic group who make up 25% of Zaqatala’s population. In the village I stayed in (at a PCVs house) 27 km outside Zaqatala town, most of the population was Avar. Besides some light hiking and a brisk walk through the town market, I visited the village school and “English conversation club” led by the PCV, a birthday celebration for the Avar 19th century hero Şamim Imam at the village mosque, and attended an Avar wedding. Here’s a video I made with images from my trip =)

July 5, 2010 at 11:14 am 2 comments

Video update

Check out the video i made last week showing me meeting borrowers for the fellows blog.

June 30, 2010 at 10:13 am 3 comments

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