Alright, I’m done whining. Azerbaijan has totally restored my enthusiasm for this trip! I can read the letters, can sort of communicate, and everybody smiles! The people here are very nice, it reminds me of Turkey (They basically speak Turkish, but don’t tell them that). The friendliness and innocent curiosity I associate with Turkey can be found here. I made 70 kilometers today, despite feeling pretty cruddy. I am having a hard time staying hydrated, and I was dehydrated from sickness to begin with. I also need to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, which is hard to carry in this weather. Back to peanutbutter, bread, crackers, juice. Not doing my stomach any favors.
I was feeling shaky and sick when I stopped at about 5:30, and it was right in front of a motel. I sprang for it. Felt like a toilet and a shower wpuld do me good, and it is supposed to rain tonight again, after this the weather will be fair and fiery. I’m ready for this though! Amazing how despondent I get. It happens when I’m in a city too long, as soon as I got into some sparsely populated territory I felt better again. LET’S DO THIS! (I say to myself…)
You know, for a tough-as-nails fellow with a good head on his shoulders (debatable, I know, but just go with it) I sure am an emotional wreck sometimes.
I am always finding myself where people stop to pee. Those are all tissues.
It is 2:30 in the afternoon. I am sitting in an abandoned gas station somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I would be riding my bike- I would like to be, in fact, but it is simply too hot. I ride for about fifteen minutes before I start frantically seeking safe harbor from the vile rays of the evil day star that seems to think I would be better off baked in a nice crispy skin. So, I figure I’ll bring us up to date. The morning of the 15th I wpke up in the motel room tired, wishing there weren’t a check-out time. I got up quickly though, as I realized that my bowels were insisting quite urgently on a complete purge, and I spent a good amount of time on the toilet, until everything I had to give was washed right out of me. I decided I would wait til eleven, and if my bunghole showed no signs of atopping I’d have to book another night. Come eleven I was pretty empty though, so I took off. I was tired all day, and dehydrated, of course, but it wasn’t bad, the sky was overcast and gave me a nice reprieve from the heat. I bought some fruit and camped in a nice field. I woke up tired, of course, and it had rained in the night. It rained nonstop for four hours that day. I was tempted to remark that it is ridiculous how much it has rained this year- I’m in Azerbaijan in the tail-end of July, for Pete’s sake, and it has rained heavy four days in a row- but decided to appreciate it, for I will be cooked alive soon… like today.
It was frustrating finding camping, as most of the vast tracts of land that seemed opportune had turned to a sticky, muddy mess. I did find a nice spot in some trees without any mud though, surprisingly. I have expected to be in hotels or hostels the last three nights, really, but the camping seems to present itself at the right moments. I like camping, but I miss camping in the wilderness. I am usually within hearing range of a highway, a few kilometers from a town, never in the mountains next to an alpine lake with sweeping vistas and the peaceful calm of nature without any sign of humanity. I miss that. I am happy to be here, but the longer I am out the more I miss home. I miss the forests, I miss American English, I miss American food, I miss my friends and family. But I am not sad, not pining. I am excited- the longer I am away, the happier I will be to be home, of this I am sure. I do not have the comfort of anything familiar; though this doesn’t bother me much, it will be really nice to experience again. I was thinking last night of all the things I would lament over when I was home, and how none of those problems are present out here. I would like to work enough that those problems are not around to greet me when I return. I want to feel that I have the amount of freedom and controk that I actually have, I don’t want to be powerless or feel trapped by the influences of capitalism, social expectations, obsession with symbols of status and the all-but-ubiquitous aspirations to the status quo. If I get even a whiff of that crap I will probably whisk straight off to India or South America waving a big middle finger behind me. While I still have the money to do so, anyways. I may end up teaching English abroad anyways, it is an awfully easy way to make money and be somewhere else.
really haven’t touched on my time in Tbilisi yet, have I? So much occurred in the THREE WEEKS I was there (still can’t believe that) that I can only provide the highlights:
I stayed in a very nice hostel for 4 euros a night that I kept getting booked out of. I met a Brit who had been travelling for four years. He was almost set on by a pack of wolves in Lebanon- one sniffed his buttcrack- and was somehow engaged to a girl in Morocco whose family thought Allah sent as a test of their hospitality. Je escaped. I met a small, 40-year-old bisexual man with one arm from Hong Kong who had been travelling for three years. He said he hoped something bad happened to me so that I grow as a person. He told me stories from working in a hospice in India for three months. He really wanted to do things to my butt. Yep. I met a very intelligent, very kind fellow from Istanbul who spoke a lot of languages and knew everything about Central Asia. He was also quite a cook. I met an awesome Swiss backpacker. I met a strange Iranian guy. I met a normal Iranian guy. I met a Korean-American guy who jad been just about everywhere. These long-term travellers were pretty convinced that I would never stop travelling, not after a trip like this. We’ll see. I stayed at an Iranian club-owner’s apartment for a week. I went to his club. It was very tastefully decorated and very loud.
I had my back cassette and chain replaced on my bike. It was expensive. I bought some new shorts. I bought some new underwear. I bought a long-sleeve running jacket for the sun. I explored Tbilisi quite thoroughly, walking all over the place with a friend. I saw cathedrals, baptisms, weddings, murals. I listened to some very nice amateur jazz. I watched a little traditional dancing. I witnessed the most ridiculous, apathetic, self-centered guitarist in the known universe and it was immensely entertaining. I ate a ton of khinkali, which is just dumplings. I ate a variety of khachapuri, which is simply any combination of cheese and bread. These are the traditional Georgian dishes. Not very interesting, but delicious.
I stayed in a dilapidated old hostel for 3 euros a night owned by a young Egyptian guy whose social skills were a little hit or miss. I drank a lot of beer and watched a lot of the world cup. I met a number of Dutch people and a hilarious Scottish duo, brothers, who lived up to their country’s reputation famously. I really like those guys. I met a kid from Colorado who lost his credit card. He also lost one of his vintage Chacos while he was passed out in a park, and was told the dogs had run off with it. He was jealous of mine, which thus far are still a pair. I got incredibly, terribly sick. I hung out with Marine, the French girl. I met another British hitchhiker named Bertie whom I liked a lot and hope to see again somewhere in the stans. I encountered many other people and did many specific things, but even the summary is too long. I know that city quite well, nice place. I get stir-crazy before too long though. So there you are, we are UP TO DATE! I should make it to Gobustan and the mud volcanoes tomorrow, hopefully before the heat sets in. To do so I ought to ride another 50k today. I’ll get right on that after the heat wears off, which should be about seven p.m. Or maybe, just maybe, I will set off again in agonizing 5k stints and suffer through this blistering afternoon, which is going nowhere in a hurry. Remind me to buy a hat. Or maybe I should start riding at night. I’m sure I’ll have to eventually, this heat is madness.
Flat, flat, flat.
Well,yesterday was supposed to be a short, easy day and it turned into a very long, very difficult day. I shot into Gobustan and popped into a gas station to check my map. I was planning to stay at a hostel I saw on the map about 50k from Baku city center. I was coerced into going to the mud volcanoes, which were, frankly, underwhelming. I was intrigued by the ponds of what looked like crude oil though. I had to ride up a dirt road and push my bike up two 35-40% grade hills to see these “amazing” mud volcanoes. It was some methane gas rising through some mud, which looks pretty much how it sounds. They made some amusing wet fart sounds, but pretty underwhelming. After this I casually rolled up to the hostel as the day started heating up quite a bit.
The hostel did not exist. Oh well, I sort of suspected, and just continued on through the heat. For a long time. Nothing cheap. And then the wind hit. Had to be about 40 mph, because it took me almost three hours to ride 13 kilometers. It took awhile, but eventually I got pretty frustrated about this. It was like riding on a treadmill and it really wrecked me, I’m more sore than I have been in months, but I made it into central Baku, which is a really, really, nice city. Nicer than many Western cities, full of Western architecture- I saw a Victorian style house- with lots of quality stonework, gothic and romanesque styles, along with very interesting modern architecture. It’s an incredibly wealthy city, and pretty much the only thing in Azerbaijan: not the only interesting thing, the only thing at all. The rest of the country is flat, hot, and very poor. Many people make 150 dollars a month. When I learned this I began to lie about how much my bike is worth. It would take more than a year’s pay for most people to buy my set-up. Geez.
So, aside from the glaring, shrieking, flagrant wealth disparity, a few other interesting things about Azerbaijan: it turned 100 this year. All the natural gas pipes are exposed, which is the way it is in Georgia as well.
My abandoned gas station
Some kid trying out the bike
Kid in the blue runs the store
Artistic picture of my butt.
Some excellent news: I met an American cyclist who is going my way, so I have someone to ride with! He’s cool, from California, and began from L.A., riding to Miami and then flying to France from there. He has a friend meeting him today, flying in from the States, and I guess there is ANOTHER American that will probably catch the same boat. I am also here with Marine, and the English hitchhiker Bertie should be arriving today, so we have quite a crew assembling! Just what I needed. I wasn’t looking forward to riding through the desert solo. Hopefully it goes well, it is different riding with other people. Camping should be super fun though!