Sunday, May 24, 2015

Over The Garden Wall

The word "paradise" entered English from the French paradis, inherited from the Latin paradisus, from Greek parádeisos (παράδεισος), from an Old Iranian *paridayda- "walled enclosure". By the 6th/5th century BCE, the Old Iranian word had been adopted as Assyrian pardesu "domain". It subsequently came to indicate walled estates, especially the carefully tended royal parks and menageries.  

Short ride out of Tbilisi in consideration of a possibly complicated border crossing into Azerbaijan.  We had been warned in advance of a possible detour close to the border due the main road being severely flooded with high rapidly flowing water.  Arriving at the flooding we found it to be no where near as severe as it had been before so we proceeded to ride through the 1/2 foot or so of water the mile or so across the flood zone.  All made it through without incident.  On the Georgia side there was an interesting sign either bidding as adieu or something else.  The chase van was emptied and we piled the excess gear onto (or behind) our bikes and headed East.

The first few of us made it through relatively easily with little formality but with a whole lot of bureaucracy.  Azerbaijan is a wealthy country from Caspian Basin oil production and that richness was immediately obvious crossing over from much poorer Georgia.  The route we were following was the same from previous years, in fact it is the GPS track recorded from 4-years ago.  While the roads when we first entered were first rate, the main road we were following quickly deteriorated into a sequence of mud holes and gravel piles.  This went on through several villages and 10s of miles and I couldn't have been happier as this was exactly the road I had in my mind when I started setting the bike up last year in preparation for this trip.  As the rest of the group straggled into the hotel we started hearing stories that there were issues at the border and not everything went as swimmingly as the it had with the first few through.  Turns out the license plate capture camera stopped working and the Azerbaijani officials shut down the border in both directions for 3-hours until they could find someone to fix it.

The vegetation changed dramatically from lush and verdant to arid and desert as we rode down from the high country to the Caspian Sea coast.  Rumour is that this will be the last of substantial green we will see for quite awhile.  The Baku drivers have a reputation of being overly aggressive, it being Sunday those guys must have stayed home as we rode through the city to the hotel in a very civilized manner.

Rest day in Baku with a walking tour through old town then catching up on various things.

As usual, we attracted a lot of attention as we walked around.

In the afternoon some people continued on to visit an old temple while others did needed bike maintenance.  When I went to put my sun glasses on that morning I found that one of the little screws had gone missing.  Having done a quick walk about the afternoon before I knew exactly where I could go to get them fixed.  I found the spot and had a completely incomprehensible conversation with the two girls working there that I believed concluded with directions for me to return at 6PM that day to pick up my glasses.  Just before 6 I returned and the glasses had been fixed.  I have no idea if this was just happenstance or I had correctly deduced the correct information but regardless I was the funniest thing those two had ever encountered judging but the amount of laughter I generated from them upon my return.

Big day as we crossed the border into Iran.  The previous night we had been invited to the club house of the local Harley Owners Group.  One of the members is a local media mogul and the club house was about as posh a place as you could imagine.  Over tea and deserts we had been warned and to be prepared for the extended amount of time that would be required to exit Azerbaijan and enter Iran.  7-hours after arriving at the border we crossed through the gates into Iran.  I don't think anyone did not have the hugest smile on their face as we rode the short 10-miles to the hotel.

And the Brian project rolls on through Azerbaijan and Iran.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Other Side Of The World

At around noon local time time today when we crossed the border into Azerbaijan I found myself exactly at a 12-hours time differential from where I live back in beautiful Bellingham Washington.  By my calculations that puts me on the other side of the world.  Now when I as growing up whenever Bugs Bunny dug himself a hole deep enough to reach the other side of the world he always ended up in China.   I am just a little disappointed in having been mislead for so long and that he really should have poked his head out of his hole here in Azerbaijan.

Late start as it was there was only a short run up to the Georgia border from Trabzon Turkey with the hotel only a few minutes on the other side.  We had been warned of a series of speed traps on the coastal road we would be riding so the speeds were kept reasonable, although the increasingly heavier rain had a lot to do with that as well (cue the video cliche).

Some confusion at the Turkey border exit as there were issues with the data entry regarding all the bikes that had entered the country in the container.  I guess it was not an insurmountable problem as we were all soon in Georgia and headed to Batumi.  After checking in the rain let off enough for a short walking tour of the town.  This place is strange.  Every building has an abundance of decoration of every style and epoch.  Building size protuberances have been added just as facades.  Large modern ostentatiously designed edifices sit empty after a change in government changed priorities.

Mostly a transit day as we rode East across Georgia from the Black Sea to the capital Tblisi.  A stop around lunch time in Gori to walk through the Joseph Stalin museum.  The town of Gori is where Stalin was born and the shack he spent the first few years of his life is enshrined in the backyard of the museum as his personal train carriage.  It was a strange place to visit.

Riding into Tblisi was an experience in urban warfare that I'm sure is only practice for what is to come.  The GPS was barely any help as construction had shut down the direct routes to the hotel.  As there was some international government and business conference in town we had been relegated down to a 3-star hotel well away from the action and on street parking that extended onto the sidewalk in order to fit all the bikes and sidecar. 

Rest day in Tblisi.  Walking tour with our guide Inga through the old town and over to the sulphur baths.

Helge had made arrangements to purchase about $1000 worth of gifts and needed essentials for a local orphanage to which we all had contributed.  After the walking tour we hoped on the bus and drove out of town to the orphanage to deliver the goods.  We spent an enjoyable hour or so interacting with everyone who lived at the facility and learned that is just more than orphaned children who found refuge there.  After getting back into town, dinner was yet another continuous glutinous feast of Georgian food accompanied by some traditional music and dancing.  After dinner we had the opportunity to participate in a round table discussion with a former diplomat who had a lot of insight into the local geopolitical environment.

While a large chunk of the group riding down to Armenia for the day I headed off to the Davit Gareji monastery complex South East of Tblisi.  I decided to pass on the optional Armenian leg as I wanted a little more time in the city and to see what Georgia was like when it wasn't raining.  There were two access options up to the site; one a "maintained" road, the other a 4-wheel drive recommended.  I chose the former and can only imagine what the unmaintained route would have been like.  The road deteriorated almost from the start and I was standing up on the pegs for the last 20km, picking my way through pot holes the size of trucks and avoiding as best I could the mud puddles (well maybe just the biggest ones).  Getting to the parking lot it was a little tough to feel like a motorcycle riding hero when I found a couple of taxis, some transport vans and a large tour bus already parked there.  Oh well.  The ride was worth it as the views were great and the one monastery that was easily accessible was interesting to walk around.

Oh, and the Brian Project is well and truly under way.