24.06.2017 - 24.06.2017 25 °C
Day 31 Saturday June 24 2017
Genja to Davit Gareja, Georgia / 228 km
- After a mediocre supper, made only palatable by Azeri red wine, our hopes are for a breakfast that gives plenty of nutrition and choice. Sadly not. It's even difficult to find something to 'take' for lunch. Cold hard boiled eggs are back on the menu and a piece of peelable fruit. That's it.
Decent coffee is essential to our wellbeing, so shamelessly we bring in our own coffee pot and brew.
- Weather is more as you would expect for Central Asia - sunny & 25C as we hit the road.
- Is Azerbaijan on the cusp of development or in decline from a previous burst?
- Petrol stations that are not in service, empty showrooms, clocks all over the place that can only tell the correct time twice a day, half finished buildings, hotels that are empty save for us and a few local businessmen, a non existent hospitality industry except for Hubble Bubble bars, tea shops and hotel restaurants where we eat in solitude.
- And yet looking at the 'work in progress' in the central part of Genja, there are definitely aspirations of grandeur. One day the bulldozers will leave and the transformation into a traffic free, leafy, historic centre with modern facilities will be complete. This has no doubt already been achieved in the glitzy capital of Baku.
- Despite the abundant sunshine in this part of the world, there is little evidence of solar panels. Oil is presumably too cheap to bother with more expensive alternative types of energy.
- Thankfully today is another Georgia Day. We leave Azerbaijan, on balance glad that we have come; regretting perhaps that we did not have access to a local guide to give us insight into the Azeri culture. But we are also very disappointed with the accuracy of the Lonely Planet guide for this region. It is not up to their usual standard either in terms of depth or accuracy. We cannot even write to challenge - the author has compiled the Azerbaijan section under a pseudonym.
- As we leave through the west of the city, the feel of oil wealth is more in evidence - the wide dual carriageways with monumental roundabouts, flagpoles ready for the next important political visitor, a huge park with facilities for concerts, fairground, museum and a full size copy of the Arc de Triomphe, - and there's not a soul in sight.
- In fact the Azeris have done a good job of also copying intellectual property rights of oil companies. Some of whom are presumably in partnership with them in other business streams. AG is particularly good at spotting faux branding - how's about Azpetrol - it uses forecourt canopies and tankers in the BP livery, identical in all but name. Or Likoil instead of the correct Lukoil brand of petrol stations ( Russian company ) - an unfortunate choice of name really!
- This is not the first country that we have visited where there are blatant copyright infringements. Copyright protection is expensive and seems impossible to enforce in a global market ...
- Car ownership in Azerbaijan no doubt reflects socio-economic divisions in Azeri society. There are many old and even older Lada cars, rust buckets practically held together by tape. Then there are the Mercedes, BMWs & Toyotas. The police patrol cars use BMWs.
- As we head west on the M2 road we are not far from the Armenian border - as the crow flies it is perhaps 10 km away. But there is no open crossing point and no mention is made in road signage of the proximity of an international border. Judging by the terrain and ridge of mountains it looks very much like a natural geopolitical border.
- The Azeri / Georgian border crossing that we select is known as Siniq Korpu. It gives us the closest access to Davit Gareja, our destination for today. It is also the busiest we have so far encountered. It's going to take a while to get through. Plus it's a Saturday which despite its Muslim allegiance is a weekend for Azerjaiban too. We queue with trucks and cars from Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. We are the only outsiders. Money changers pace up and down the queues of cars, touting for business. We have spent all our Azeri didgeridoos at the hotel this morning and we already have some Georgian currency. So no deals from us.
- The big expensive cars approaching the border seem to think they can queue jump. It's a test of nerves - police v influence in some other area of society. AG and SG do our best to prevent it happening, but sometimes we feel on dangerous territory. Literally.
- There is embellishment of the Azeri border going on - more work in progress. There always seems to be. Today it is the central reservation area separating the traffic leaving Azerbaijan and those just arriving. We cannot help but reflect that money would be better spent on improving procedures rather than on aesthetics.
- The border process lasts 2 hours. To be fair the majority of that time is spent in the queue that we share with trucks to get to the exit gates. We use one of our passports to leave Aerbaijan and our second one to enter Georgia. This is to facilitate , we hope, our entry into Armenia in a few days time. As mentioned before relationships between Armenia & Azerbaijan are strained and they do not welcome passports with each other's stamps.
- Once again our route takes us tantalisingly close to Tbilisi but it is still not on our agenda. Not until tomorrow. Instead we turn off the main road and civilisation and drive across spectacular open and remote countryside to Udabno .
- We arrive mid afternoon at the Oasis (Party) Club & Hostel in the little farming village of Udabno. In Soviet times 2000 people lived here, now there is only a population of around 200. Many houses have simply been abandoned. But nowadays it is a great stopping place to visit Davit Gareja - either for the night or a late lunch before heading back to Tbilisi. Oasis Club seems to be the focal point of the village - the restaurant is full and raucous as we enter. The Locals (men ) come drinking here too. Accommodation is comfortable but basic - there is a dormitory and a 'hotel wing' of 4 rooms with small private bathroom. It is worth mentioning that on the back of Oasis Club's success at attracting a constant flow of clientele, there are now other home stays advertising their facilities within the village. Oh and you can also camp in the grounds, presumably at an even cheaper price.
- It's a very chilled place - after the stress of the border crossing and driving on very rough roads in the heat, we also need to chill down a bit ourselves - then we'll feel more at home.
- But to settle in right now, would be to miss out on evening light at Davit Gareja. So that's where we head - a half hour drive or so on very rough track. We see several cyclists who are pushing their bikes and looking extremely tired. Why would you?!
- We do indeed see Lavra Monastery in a gorgeous light. Established in 6C this was the original in a complex that grew to incorporate 15 different monasteries in a very remote area close to the Azerbaijan border. It has been restored since Russian times and there are once again monks living here. In fact as we peep inside the church, a monk enters to illuminate the candles in front of the closed altar. No doubt an evening ritual as sunset approaches.
- We do not have time to explore Udabno Monastery - we take the wrong footpath and it's obvious we'll run out of daylight if we persevere. We will return tomorrow morning. But now it's time to return to our Oasis for the night and do some chilling.