The Caucasus: Azerbaijan and Georgia
The Caucasus region is a mountain range between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea and is considered to be the world's most ethnically diverse region. Over eight days we rode through Azerbaijan and Georgia. We had planned to detour into Armenia for a few days but cancelled this plan in favour of more time on the coast of Croatia - something we'd been dreaming about when riding through the Iranian Desert!
The first thing we noticed as we crossed from Iran to Azerbaijan was the freedom of the Azeri people in comparison to their Iranian neighhbours. The women wore bikinis and there were a variety of cars and motorbikes on the road. The roads were small, windy and only double lane making it very slow riding. We stopped in a small town to find some lunch. After looking for a park and taking off all our riding gear we soon found that they only served drinks - something that we were going to become used to throughout the region. We were starving and left the teahouse. When we went to pay, a local man had already paid for us saying it was his welcome gift to us!
We arrived in Baku late in the afternoon and were very impressed with the city. There was a good mix of new and old buildings and an impressive boulevarde along the water front. There were still banners and a buzz in the air from the 2015 Baku European Games which had finished days before.
At our hostel we met a large group of guys taking part in the Mongol Rally Charity Event. They were heading towards Mongolia with a similar route to which we had just travelled. We spent some hours showing them the different route options through Mongolia and gave them a few tips for the Stans.
After a couple of days rest in Baku we began our ride towards the Black Sea Coast. We rode to a town called Sheki on the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. We stayed in an amazing Caravansarai and tried a traditional Azerbaijani meal called 'piti'. It consists of mutton, chickpeas, chestnuts, and potatoes. There is a special process to follow to eat the meal correctly so we let the resturant owner show us how it was done. He also insisted that we try some of his homemade beer, which the Azeri people call 'pive'.
We were surprised at how easy it was to get into Georgia in comparison with the countries we had previously come through - we didn't even have to get off the bikes and it took less than five minutes compared to a few hours!
We had heard about Georgian wine and so stopped off at a Schuchmann Winery on our way to Tbilisi. It was very fancy and as we tasted the different wines we agreed that our meal (veal wth red wine sauce) was most likely the best of the trip so far! We also met some fellow Aussies at the winery who though it was hilarious to see motorbikes in the middle of Georgia with Queensland number plates. They had just finished working at the European Games in Azerbaijan and gave us some tips on the region.
We got back on the road and made our way to Tbilisi. We spent a little while searching for a hotel with parking and eventually settled for a hostel where we didn't have to put the bikes on the main road. Tbilisi was a really cool city. As we walked around we began to realise that we no longer stood out as foreigners. We checked out the city view and enjoyed some shisha and tea.
We got up early and made tracks to the Black Sea Coast. We were pretty stoked to get to the sea and jumped in for a swim. One lesson we learned was don't wear riding gear after swimming without properly drying or having a freshwater shower. Our riding gear absolutely stank later on.
We had a rest day in Batumi and Todd celebrated his birthday with a feed and a few beers on the boardwalk.
From Three to Two - Farewell Zano!
With the challenging leg of the trip completed, and with the freedom of time, in Baku, Zane made plans to meet his girlfriend Claire in Croatia at around the same time as we had planned to be in London. Rather than ride to Croatia and spend a month waiting for Claire he decided to slow down and spend more time in Georgia, Turkey and the Balkans.
Todd and Alex said farewell to Zane in Tbilisi and will continue to ride to London. Good luck Zano and we hope you enjoy the rest of your adventure, wherever that my be. It's been awesome - Cheers!