One the way to Baku, we took another overnight bus. While in the one we took to Iran we were greeted by a friendly family, we were introduced to a gang of traders on this one. We boarded the bus at 8 o’clock and were delayed for an hour because of an argument between the driver and some passengers. Finally we got on the bus and all was well until we got to the border. Aah, the border.
We got up at 5 am and had to wait another half hour before we could finally go to passport control. Once there, it took ten minutes before we finished but we had to wait for everyone else. Eventually, we were told to get on the bus where we waited for another ten minutes because a passenger ran into trouble in passport control.
Once that was sorted, the bus started moving but stopped literally after one metre. We got off again to go through security which was right next to passport control. This was where the fun began.
I and my family got through, no problem. Well, we were questioned a bit, but compared to what happened next, it was nothing.
A couple of other passengers got through too, but there still remained a big group of old ladies carrying massive amounts of luggage (a dozen bag each or so).
The thing was, because of the exchange rate, consumer goods especially were very cheap in Iran, so they all bought a lot of stuff and were planning to resell it for a higher price in Azerbaijan.
But there is a limit to how many items you can bring into the country, so each woman spent at least one hour arguing with the border patrol. As a result, we waited almost ten hours at the border.
When the issue seemed finally solved, and the bus passed security as well, we were told to get on. But, of course, we were held back, again, because some passengers had unresolved issues with their passports. At that point, I didn’t really care or mind too much, because I was comfortably sitting on the bus, reading my kindle, but eventually even I felt restless, because another hour had passed to no avail.
Eventually, the bus went and there was no issue… until half an hour later. The bus stopped on the side and a passenger went out only to come back ten minutes later. This went on several times all the way to Baku. The passengers were already selling their goods along the way!
What was meant to be a 16 hour bus ride, turned into a 24 hour ride, but at least we arrived that same day.
What a relief.

Forgetting the terrible bus ride, I really, really liked Baku. It was modern everywhere – even the underground tunnels were large and clean ( as opposed to the ones in London). The atmosphere was very warm and welcoming and the view was beautiful. Baku is home to three Flame Towers, which are lit up at night and are stunning at sunset.

The picture above was taken at the top of Maiden Tower. It was fun climbing all the stairs. There is no confirmed theory on why it was built, and plenty of legends on the reason behind the name, which I found particularly interesting, as they mostly consisted of a woman jumping off and committing suicide.

Anyway, the Flame Towers are now my favourite building.

Near the Flame Towers is the Caspian Waterfront Mall, which, at first sight, looks very much like the Sydney Opera House in… well, Sydney.

It is difficult to decide which I prefer: Baku or Batumi. In terms of view, either would do, but in terms of atmosphere and people, I would pick Baku. As I mentioned before, the atmosphere is very welcoming – it was very relaxing and comforting to walk along the coast at night. The food is amazing and the people are so friendly. For instance, we were trying to find our way to the hotel and around 6 strangers on the train came over to help guide us to our location.
One Azeri guy who spoke fluent French even went out of his way to get off the train with us and guide us to the hotel before going back. He also went out of his way to mention to my mum that he was already engaged after she made a point on how kind it was for him to help us.
Azeri guy, if you’re reading this, thank you again for helping us. By the way, my mum is still too attracted to my dad, so there is no way she would fall for another man.

Ok, I now know why we were on a bus for 24 hours and at the border control for more than 10… it was all training for this: the boat from Baku to Aktau. Upon calling the port every morning, we were told there would be a ship at 22.00 on our third day in Baku. My dad was worried we might not find tickets (it is a cargo ship which takes passengers for a price; you can’t book or get tickets anywhere else but here at the sea port), so we checked out from the hotel at Baku at 14.00 and we waited at the seaport (it is 70 km from the hotel, in the middle of nowhere). The place was absolutely deserted if it weren’t for many, many trucks, a makeshift toilet, shower, store, tea place, custom offices. All of those were self contained in middle size ship containers (and of course we were asked to pay tourist price for anything we touched). Once there we were duly informed that the boat might arrive at 22.00, we might be able to board at 2.00 am and we might depart at 5.00 am; If no storm hits us we might be on the boat for as little as 20 hours. I couldn’t even fathom how long it would be before we will be able to disembark once at the Kazakhstan border!

Well, good news. The boat never docked at 22.00. We spent the night sleeping on the table, drunken style.

P. S. In the name of full disclosure: my mum had sent a WhatsApp to close friends and family with some details of our sea trip ahead which might sound familiar to what written above… I felt it was good enough to include it here (plagiarism??? ๐Ÿค”๐Ÿค)

Turns out we actually spent a whole 24 hours at the empty seaport, waiting for the ship.
In addition, I noticed this:

…which left me not very reassured about the journey ahead. I was wary throughout the whole ride until we arrived in Aktau, Kazakhstan.

On the other hand, the container we stayed the night in, played Skyscraper at some point (in Russian!), so I was settled. ๐Ÿ‘

Furthermore, we had interesting company. We met our first traveller on our trip : an American, who goes by the name Wongie. ๐Ÿ‘‹Hello, Michael.

So, there you have it folks, an American in Azerbaijan. Stay tuned.