Looping through Armenia meant the Azerbaijani boarder guards gave me a comprehensive shake down. There’s no love lost between the two countries, or Armenia and Turkey for that matter. Meaning the only route in and out was via Georgia. But it was worth it, for such a small country it packs one hell a visual punch; forested foot hills climbing to the highlands, lake Sevan fringed by steppe meadows against a backdrop of mountains and volcanoes, the baking hot Western lowlands in the shadow of snow capped Mount Ararat, where a man named Noah marooned his ship.
This year marks the 100 year anniversary of the Armenian genocide, taking a trip to the memorial and museum in the capital Yerevan it’s hard to dispute the horrors of what took place. 1.5 million Armenians killed, able bodied men in massacres and forced labor, and women, children, elderly and infirm sent on death marches from within their historic homeland, now part of Turkey, into the Syrian desert by the Ottoman government and ‘The Red Sultan’. Without wanting to get too political the Turkish see things differently and do not officially recognise the word genocide for what happened under the Ottoman rule. One person I spoke to suggested the British played a hand, encouraging the uprising of the Armenians against the Ottomans in an attempt to help the cause in Gallipoli. And that turned out disastrously.
Leaving Armenia gave another chance to practice the bribery skills which had been on hold since Bulgaria. Heading out of the city along a road best resembling a building site and missing the junction hidden in the back of a petrol station I made a quick U turn to get back on track. 10 miles later PC Armenia caught up with me, speeding and an illegal U turn, all for the reasonable price of €200, showing him the lonely €20 in my wallet the ‘fine’ dropped quickly to €30, this didn’t solve the problem of not having enough, luckily he didn’t understand when I asked if he expected me to pull the rest Papillon style out of my arse. Eventually the penny dropped that unless he wanted to spend all day by the roadside watching the farmers work the field, while keeping me company and missing the opportunity to ‘fine’ other unsuspecting road users, he best take the money and go. At least he had the decency to salute after the robbery, sorry fine. Strangely I never did get any paperwork.
Nipping briefly back through Georgia to make the link between Armenia and Azerbaijan, I stopped the night in Sighnaghi a beautiful hill town overlooking from precarious cliffs the hot lowlands and boarder below, giving chance to have one last meal of khachapuri and double checked my research about crossing into Azerbaijan with an Armenian stamp. Unless you’ve visited Karabakh, the disputed area currently under Armenian control following the Nagorono-Karabakh War, there is no reason to be refuse entry. When they said I couldn’t enter, I had the knowledge to stand my ground, eventually after inspecting the contents of every bag the mood lightened and I was on my way. Myself with a 30 day visa, but ridiculously the bike with only 72 hrs to transit the country. Old Peril doesn’t meet the emissions regulations for foreign vehicles, leaving me with 2 choices; leave a $2000 cash deposit with I was assured would be returned on exiting the country, or dispensation to transit. I later met 2 different bikers who’d been given 30 days for the bike, perhaps it’s based on which way the wind blows that day, but I don’t suppose the trip to Armenia helped.
With only 72hrs to get the bike to customs in Baku, the next 2 days were spent skirting the edge of the Caucuses, breathing in the noxious fumes of Ladas and Urals which ironically wouldn’t even come close to European standards. The landscape giving way from green mountains to arid grassland and finally just out of sight of Baku the first taste of desert. Arriving in time to get the bike secured away in port customs with couple of other bike (of which we’ll see much more later) and blag a ticket to the closing ceremony of the inaugural European Olympic Games. Which was a huge yet controversial deal in Baku and Azerbaijan, but didn’t get much coverage back home. In case you didn’t know Great Britain came 3rd in the medals table, behind Russia and Azerbaijan and most importantly above Germany.