Clouds had gathered overnight, it wasn’t raining but a think fog was starting to set. Breakfast (porridge, bread, butter, coffee) and set off. We had been told that we had to pay to camp the night before, but when we went in to pay the guy working at the visitors center refused to take our money. I think he liked that we had used a tarp and not a tent: “no tent on grass, you don’t need to pay”.
We were right by the Azerbaijan border, no sooner had we left Lagodekhi did we arrive at the crossing, only 7km away. The Georgian border guard had a good time looking at all the visas in my passport, he was thumbing through it for about 20 minutes and even radioed someone about the Pakistan and Iran visas. But it didn’t amount to anything and he waved me through and on to the Azerbaijan border where I met up with Finn.
At the Azerbaijan border we were questioned about Armenia at least three times by every guard we met. “Have you been to Armenia?” “Will you go to Armenia?” “Do you have Armenia stamp in passport?”. We also had to go through a pretty extensive baggage search and X-ray but, again, it didn’t result in anything just procedure. It did take a lot of time though, and it was over an hour before we were on the road again. The Azerbaijan side of the border was a bit more flamboyant than the Georgian end, the whole crossing is blocked at the end by two huge iron gates in a stone arch that the guard open and close manually every time someone comes through.
By the time we got through the fog had really set in and we couldn’t see much beside the road in front of us and a few meters either side. We pulled into the town of Balakan for lunch, a big enough place where our bikes and shorts garnered a lot of interest.
Outside of Balakan the road was lined with houses and walls, much like the settlements on the Georgian side of the border. The traffic was becoming more frequent as we moved further into the country. Already we noticed that the drivers were very friendly here, most of them waving or beeping as we rode by.
At a fork in the road we turned off the main route and onto a smaller road that would take us closer the mountains. We pulled into a small shop by the road. A bunch of old Azeri men stood outside and were pretty interested as usual. One problem we’ve had so far is explaining where Ireland is to locals who want to talk and ask where we are from. A lot of people don’t know Ireland but in Azerbaijan they have (for whatever reason) a picture of Europe on the money. So we were able to finally communicate where our little corner of the world was.
After the shop we found a nice camp spot in a wide flat flood plain next to a river. We walked a while away from the road and in our own little bubble of fog we set up by a solitary tree and settled down to our first night in Azerbaijan.