21.06.2017 - 21.06.2017 25 °C
Day 28 Wednesday 21 June 2017
Border Crossing Day Georgia / Azerbaijan
Sighnaghi to Qax / 166 km
- The weather has improved significantly since last evening and views from the breakfast table over old Sighnaghi have too.
- The trip now has a name - London to South Caucasus & Return 2017 (LAAG / London Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia )
- Border days are always exciting - especially when crossing into a 'new' country, unchartered territory as it were. At last the guide books will start meaning sense because they now have immediate relevance. Doing research on Azerbaijan 6 months ago was a rather 'dry' process. It will all come alive today.
- You'll be hearing Azerbaijan mentioned a lot this weekend. Baku, the capital city is hosting the Formula 1 Grand Prix. A road rather than a circuit race. Had we realised this at the time of planning, we may have decided to visit Baku after all.
- It is the Azeri border that concerns us most. They don't like old diesel vehicles and can refuse entry if the truck does not comply. Our truck came off the assembly line just in time.
- As is so often the case we arrive at the border not knowing the procedure. The overhead sign wishing us luck does not inspire advance confidence. There are rarely any written instructions. We wing it, play it by ear, ease our way through politely. It is very much case by case. That's part of the travel experience.
- As it happens, the border is quiet today. There are no queues so we have the officials' undivided attention. The vehicle records are as important as our personal papers.
- Our truck is checked over by a sniffer dog & the human eye. Luggage goes through a scanner. Payment is made for road tax & insurance, amounting to about £75. The amount charged does not seem to be time related.
- In all the whole procedure takes just over an hour. Not bad at all and far less than we anticipated.
- At the first petrol station after the border we fill up. Diesel is a quarter of the price back home. It is one of the distinct advantages of having vast oil reserves and being a major oil producing country.
- Just by the petrol station is a cluster of bee hives and they are being inspected for their honey output. The beekeeper is at least wearing partial protective clothing.
- It is not long until we get another photo opportunity. A farmer is shearing his small herd of sheep by the roadside. It is around 25C and sunny. The sheep are lying calmly together under the shade of a large tree. They seem very content to be in a queue for a much needed haircut.
- The first place we visit is Zaqatala, Azerbaijan's hazelnut capital. The oldest part of town is some 2km uphill. We park up and have a walk around - our main job is to find a bank so that we can withdraw some local money. It helps!
- Inspired by Lonely Planet we then drive some 8 km further uphill to a village called Car but pronounced 'Jar'. It reads well - a chocolate box village with rustic restaurants tucked away in its woodland fringes. It's lunch time - worth a look don't you think?
- We are not sure any of the Lonely Planet team actually went to Car! The road is only suitable for 4x4 vehicles; satnav & the maps me app both have trouble picking up GPS signal and there are no restaurants in evidence. Yes it's rural and not unattractive but chocolate box pretty is an exaggeration. Shame on you Lonely Planet. This is not the first time we have experienced such discrepancy.
- We are now not so far from Qax where we are staying overnight. It's a bad afternoon for navigator. Signposting, Garmin, and Maps Me App all agree on the route so SG forgets to check the map. Had she done so she would have realised that AG intended a different route to the one we now drive. With good reason, since the road is in very bad condition and full of potholes. Oh dear. So 45 km on a very slow road. Tedious to say the least, for both driver & navigator.
- Once in Qax, we again follow a Lonely Planet recommendation ( FOMO! ) to drive a further 5 km uphill to a little mountainside community called Ilisu. Fortunately the road is OK and the snow capped mountains in the distance make for pleasant scenery. But diminutive village of photogenic old homes is somewhat overstated. We do hope that Lonely –Planet are not setting a trend for Azerbaijan experiences.
- We are staying in the rather pompous sounding 'El Resort' - it is a huge residential complex with park like gardens, tennis court, indoor swimming pool, gym, bar, restaurant. Oh, and a prayer room. It is devoid of atmosphere and we seem to be the only guests. Why on earth has such a monstrosity been built ? Who might the clientele be?
- Thank goodness we are only staying one night. Dinner is perhaps the worst of our trip to date. A truck supper would have been preferable. We still have stocks and another two nights in Azerbaijan, so perhaps tomorrow.
- Azerbaijan is a Muslim country - we have seen and heard mosques since our arrival here but the density of mosques is far, far less than in Turkey. It is also Ramadan of course. But there is no problem in ordering a beer at the bar well before sunset. Attitudes are obviously more relaxed here.
- SG momentarily contemplates a glass of chilled white wine to lift her spirits and to improve the taste of the pizza that is about to be served. But when the bottles of wine are brought to the counter for her to choose, Diet coke suddenly seems the best option.