Friday 28th July - Hello Baku
We woke up to a nice breakfast in the garden terrace of our hotel. James and Patrick got up quite late, both boys were completely exhausted from the drive the day before. James wasn't having the best morning, he was extremely drained and commented on how it was a miracle we got to the accomodation last night. James was seriously considering why he'd come on the trip; we all get our bad days on the rally, today was James'. He was getting quite sick and tired of the constant long driving days and lack of rest. James was reminded that we needed to leg it on the first half of the trip so we could take our time through the deserts of Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Natalie tried to motivate James into eating some breakfast; Haylee reminded him we were half way through the trip and he couldn't quit now, it would be worth it in the end (we hope). Patrick offered to drive for the day. In the end James perked up a bit. Haylee took shotgun and assisted Patrick with navigation while James took her seat in the back and had a few naps.
While packing our car an older couple exited the hotel we'd stayed at and walked over to us. They shouted 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!' We'd found some fellow Strayans! They explained that they'd just come from Iran and absolutely loved it there, they'd never met kinder people before. The husband had even lost his wallet while in the country and had it returned by a taxi driver the next day. They were very curious about our trip and were shocked we didn't have any air con in our car. We farewelled them and wished them a nice time in Tbilisi.
An hour after leaving Tbilisi we came across the Georgia - Azerbaijan border. We were prepared for another long wait. The average was approx four hours, we were crossing our fingers, arms and toes that it would be less because the heat and humidity was intense. We were happy to see a few other teams in the single file car line including our Aussie mates from Adelaide who are also in a Fiat Panda. It was the first time we'd seen the Polish team since seeing them at Goodwood.
Two hours later we finally reached the boom gate and were told by a guard that Natalie and James would need to get out and walk through the border while Haylee (the owner of the car) and Patrick could stay inside. Natalie and James had their passports stamped and waited on the other side while Haylee and Patrick went through a long process of getting papers stamped and insurance purchased. The guards didn't speak any English but were able to point to all the windows we needed to visit. Some young guards kept putting their hands inside the car and beeping our horn for a bit of fun.
(this car was at the border crossing, she'd made a fine rally car!)
We picked up Natalie and James and headed off on our way to Baku. The long stretch of road to Baku is an absolute speed camera trap. Every five-ten minutes we'd come across yet another camera. The most frustrating thing was the lack of speed camera signs on the roads. They pretty much set you up for failure.
At around 6:30pm we decided to venture off the speed trap highway and find a town with some food. We drove fifteen minutes out of our way to a town called Mingachevir which we later discovered was the fourth largest city in Azerbaijan. Safe to say Azerbaijan must not be a very populated country if Mingachevir is considered 'large'. After driving around for a bit we almost gave up on looking for food. A number of cafes had people in them but it was a massive men's club and looked like gambling places masquerading as a restaurant. We noticed some dodgem cars randomly set up near a park then saw a nice building with people sitting on a balcony eating. A restaurant! Five minutes later we were sitting upstairs in a super fancy restaurant thinking we wouldn't be able to afford the food. We were the only ones in the restaurant despite there being a whole buffet and take away place downstairs filled with locals. The two waiters there spoke absolutely no English so we used good 'ole google translate. The more surprising thing was that they had English menus for us to read. Fortunately we could afford the food, the most expensive dish was around $10aud. We ate like kings and queens then continued on with our drive to Baku with another three hours of driving. The weather was extremely humid upon leaving Mingachevir, it was a warning for the sweaty evening we had ahead of us.
(standard fancy servo in Azerbaijan)
We arrived in Baku well after midnight after driving through some beautiful mountain ranges. We'd booked an apartment for the night however when we arrived at the address we couldn't find it. Searching up and down the street we weren't able to find any signs for the accommodation. Finally giving up we decided we try some hostels in the Old City of Baku. The Old City is an ancient walled area of Baku which is mostly closed to traffic. We parked just outside the walls and walked in, it was now 2am and we were getting really tired. The humidity was crazy high and we were all dripping. Three hostels turned us down and even a super fancy hotel we tried said they were booked up. Definitely not one of our finest nights. Haylee found a hotel outside the city walls approx a five minute drive that might have accommodation. If it didn't we'd be at rock bottom. Fortunately they had one room with three beds in it, we'd have to put one person on the floor which wasn't an issue. At this point we were willing to take anything. We finally settled in to our room to find that there was a lady of the night next door with her customer (we'd seen them check in five minute earlier). Ear plugs securely in we went to bed trying to block out all neighbouring sounds!