April 23

Finally we’re back on the bikes.  The scenery is green, the poppies are blooming and the road is flat and straight.  Unfortunately, the heat has cranked up somewhat – it’s now about 35 degrees so I’m drinking gallons and gallons of water.  40km outside of Jizzakh, the next town, two Uzbek girls, both called Savara, drive past me and pull in to the side of the road.  They speak no English or Russian, so we can’t really communicate, but after twenty minutes of us taking photos and attempting to talk, they tell us to text them when we arrive in Jizzakh.  I have no idea what might happen, but I’m certainly willing to find out!

The road deteriorates when we get closer to Jizzakh, but after two hours we arrive and find a cafe to sit in.  I get the impression that Jizzakh is a University town, and this is confirmed by Aziz and Oscar, two Uzbek guys who speak perfect English who, luckily, sat down beside us in the cafe we were in.  We talk for a while before the Savaras turn up and they are able to translate for us, thankfully.  First of all, Savara1 and Savara2 decide they want us to stay the night.  So we walk for half an hour to find the only hotel in town that tourists can stay in, before the girls pay for it – classic Uzbek hospitality.  Then, we go to what I can only describe as the most surreal dinner in my entire life. 

We arrive, after showers and a change of clothes in the hotel, by taxi to an incredibly grand-looking building.  There is gilt everywhere, and lavish decorations.  Aziz, translating, tells us that we have a choice of three rooms.  This is starting to feel like the beginning of a story.  They pull open the first room to reveal a dance floor and they ask us if it looks good.  We both reply, enthusiastically, that it looks brilliant, and the six of us dive in. 

We struggle through the mass of people to a table.  The lights are down, and everyone is jumping to Uzbek techno mixed with Scottish fiddle music even though it’s still early.  I look down at the table to see that there is cutlery in front of me.  On the table there are four bottles of vodka.  I get the feeling things are only going to get stranger.  I’m right.  At some signal, the lights go back up, the music stops and everyone who was dancing ten seconds ago is now sitting at their table, waiting for food.  By this point a nine year old girl has joined our party.  She likes to dance and she’s going to make damn sure Ryan and I dance with her.  The vodka starts.  It doesn’t stop for a while – only shots.  The food arrives – dishes and dishes and dishes of delicious vegetables, meat and steaming rice and we drink vodka and beer as we work our way through these piles of food. 

That was the first course, there are two more to come.  I’m already full.  But, of course, between courses there is a break for dancing.  The music comes back on, the lights dim and everyone gets up to dance.  The young girl is as insistent as I would expect and half as shy – she drags us all up to dance and I don’t have the willpower to resist her iron determination.  So we dance and dance and dance and then we’re dragged back to our seats by this girl, who sits us down.  Savara1, to my left, hands me another shot of vodka and suddenly, Hogwarts-style, the food has arrived.  Stomach almost full, I push to eat as much as I can, as it’s really delicious.  More vodka and beer, then the food is gone and the dancing begins again.  More techno, more fiddle music and lots of drunk, happy Uzbeks.  We’re the centre of attention.  Finally the music finishes, the food is all finished and we’ve run out of beer.  We call it a night.  The girls take us back to the hotel, and Savara1 tells me she’ll pick me up in the morning so we can hang out.  I crawl into bed, completely exhausted by one of the oddest experiences I’ve ever had. 

April 21

After our satisfying tourist day, we had an equally satisfying admin day in which: we were able to get my phone unlocked (turned out it already was); buy a SIM so we could have mobile internet in Uzbekistan; pick up our tickets to Samarkand from the station; and get our stuff together for our train journey.  We bade goodbye to Roma around 3pm and trundled down to the station, eager to be off.  It’s annoying that we don’t have enough time to cycle to Samarkand, but not much to be done about the strictness of Uzbek visas. 

As we expected, the train was great fun again.  Within minutes we’d made a bunch of friends, especially a guy named Ergash, who bought us some beer, fed us some bread and talked with us until it was time to pass out. The trains in Uzbekistan really are just wonderful.  People recommend the compartments, but I loved being able to sit in a small community of people, forced into intimacy by our shared space and enjoy each other’s company – all with no shared language.  As night came, I lay my head alongside an open window and felt the breeze from the desert cool me as I passed off to sleep.

April 20

Our first ancient Silk Road city today – Khiva. We picked ourselves up off the floor of Roma’s restaurant and after a spot of scrambled eggs and sausages we were dropped off at the trolleybus station.  It was a fun ride, as we were 100% the centre of attention, but Uzbek people being a little shy, it took the middle-aged woman sitting to my right to break down the floodgates.  After a small prod and some introductions, firmly establishing my proficiency in Russian at chou-choute, whatever that means, I was able to explain what we were doing on the bus and in Uzbekistan in general, and soon it became a bit of a free-for-all of questions, photos and smiling and laughing.  Uzbekistan is just the best. 

Once we arrived in Khiva we split our time equally between wandering around gobsmacked by the ancient city, taking photos of incredible architecture, artwork and museums and being mobbed by people demanding a photo.  Needless to sat we’re on a lot of people’s cameras, probably labelled as ‘those hairy guys’.  Khiva is a beautiful city, and I can’t do it justice in words or pictures – you have to go there and see.  The thick walls extend all the way around the old city and the inside is a maze of mausoleums, mosques, museums, madrassas, minarets and other equally inspiring m-words.  After spending an incredible afternoon in Khiva, we jumped back on the trolleybus, repeating our first journey – mainly with the attention and the photos again – and when we arrived back at Roma’s place we went back out to get more kebabs from the incredible kebab house, this time with his brother and cousin. 

 

April 18

Well today was both an awesome and an incredibly frustrating day.  We woke up in the middle of the desert, with absolutely nothing around us in any direction.  Slowly got our stuff packed away, and I stopped for a while to pump up my rear tyre as it was a little low.  Once we got going it became clear that my rear inner had a problem, either a flat or something else I don’t know.  There was still some pressure in it, unlike a flat, but it wasn’t holding pressure very well.  So I sat in the desert for twenty minutes, and slowly switched over the tyre.  It was very pleasant to do so, sitting in the sun on the edge of a desert, getting beeps and waves from people driving past – there are worse times and places to have to sit for a while.  Once I got rolling properly it felt great as the roads got smoother and started to have a few nice wee hills.  After a day of nothing but flat, even a small rise is enough to rouse you from your cycling slumber and that’s always a good thing. 

Well the day progressed, as they do, and the sun got hotter and hotter, but it was manageable.  My new hat was just great.  Around lunch time, I stopped outside a little village to eat an orange and an apple.  Just as i did so, an old man popped up and we had a very animated conversation about the trip, and he told me about his life.  It’s really incredible how much information you can convey just using basic sign language.  I learned he was married, had three kids, lived in Urgench and worked at a petrol station.  He had come up to pick up some greens and was just about to catch the bus back home.  We shared my orange and apple, then as the bus was coming I hopped on my bike and headed off. 

As I rolled into the centre of this dusty little village, i saw Ryan’s bike abandoned by the side of the road, and a lot of people on the other side of the road started shouting at me, indicating away from the road.  I was sure that he had probably just gone for a whizz, so I stopped to have some bread.  Ten minutes passed and he still hadn’t appeared, so I started to get a little nervous.  I cycled around where the people were indicating, and tried to ask some of the people around about, but no one had any idea what I was talking about.  Finally, a 10 year old called Danya rode up and told me to follow him.  Two minutes later i found my erstwhile companion being plied with lunch by a 52-year old Kazakh lady who, it turned out, was the local German teacher.  She provided us with a lovely spread of tea, food, sweets and, surprisingly, conversation in French which was a nice change of pace. 

After we were finished, we took some photos of her and her daughter and their beautiful home.  Houses in Uzbekistan, like in Kazakhstan (or the one Kazakh house I saw at least), seem a little drab on the outside but once you enter them they are amazing.  They are always a sea of throws, cushions and carpets, all decorated in the most beautiful colours and designs – of course they’re all hand-made by the women in the house.  The clothes that the women wear in this part of the world are just amazing as well, with most incredible assortment of patterns and colours that never seem to clash.  The headscarves, skirts and kerchiefs they have are only matched by the incredibly boring uniform of the Central Asian man – jeans and leather jackets.

After stuffing ourselves, we got back on the road to Urgench, and the road quality disappeared, until it was just tarmac broken into little circles everywhere on the road.  It was often faster just to ride on the dirt on the side of the road, but this of course presented it’s own problems.  Well, we got to Urgench eventually, after passing a number of enticing places for swimming.  I’ve heard a lot about issues with water in this area of Uzbekistan, so once we found a nice swimming hole we made sure to ask someone if we could swim there.  Unfortunately they said definitely not, forbidden, so we got back on our bikes, sweaty as anything, and headed into Urgench. 

Now Urgench is an odd place.  It’s situated in the middle of a desert – but some parts of it are incredible lush.  The park in the middle of town is as green as Perthshire and is full of imposing monuments and statues.  It’s flanked on all sides by baroque style Govt buildings and it is undeniably beautiful, but it’s eerily reminiscent of Baku in that it feels distinctly unnatural – as soon as you leave that central park, it quickly goes back to dusty and windswept.

As we needed a hotel, we headed for the first one I spotted.  It was definitely a fancy place, but as Ryan pointed out, fancy doesn’t necessarily equate to expensive.  Well in Urgench it bloody well does – $160 for Ryan and I.  As we quickly disappeared from sight to another, hopefully cheaper hotel, an Italian American accent hailed us and asked where we were from.  An odd accent to hear in an odd city, so we wheeled back round and went to meet Roma.  He would quickly become our friend and saviour – an Uzbek guy who’d lived in New York, LA and Vegas for six years, hence the accent, and was such a cool dude. 

We told him we needed to find a hotel, and over the course of the next hour and half, cycling all over Urgench the cheapest hotel we found was 80 dollars for the two of us.  This was clearly a fucking insane price for a hotel in a town with literally no attractions.  Khiva, one of the most famous and ancient cities on the Silk Road is 30km away, and that’s apparently the reason why hotels are charging so much.  But there were no tourists in Urgench, obviously, as Khiva is only 30km away.  Why would you stay in Urgench and pay a shit-ton and not even be in the city you want to see?! 

Trying to find a hotel in Urgench was incredibly frustrating of course, and finally we just asked Roma if we could camp on the grass behind his restaurant.  This was around 630, as we’d spent three hours just roaming Urgench trying to find something approximating a cheap place to stay.  Roma was was totally cool with us staying, and after we’d dumped our bikes we went in and had some beautiful cheeseburgers, some Uzbek pasties and some butter chicken.  After dinner he informed us that Chelsea were playing Manchester City across the street if we wanted to join him, so around 9pm we sauntered over, and after a couple of beers the guys in the next booth asked Roma where we were from.

At this point, it became evident that the football was going to be abandoned – the collective reply from the lads was one of such astonishment when Roma recounted our adventure so far.  They had a million questions, to which we tried to answer them all.  One of the things they were most impressed with was the fact that we stayed in the desert – apparently the wild animals there are something to be afraid of.  They offered us some vodka, so we took a shot with them, and then they started to talk football.  They asked us our teams, so I said Arsenal and Barcelona, and Ryan told them Man City and Real Madrid – apparently el Classico is a really big deal in Uzbekistan – and they showed us pictures of two fortunate children’s birth certificates – one was Messi and the other Neymar, and yes, that’s their first names. 

Well, we chatted to them for a while, and they invited us to a Thai massage, and to go fishing with them the next day.  Unfortunately, we told them, we were going to Khiva the next day, so immediately one of the guys offered to drive us there!  Well, sure dude!  it’s either that or a taxi or a train, and even if he can’t speak English it don’t matter.  Ideally we could meet up with Jahangir, a teenager we met while we were cruising around town who was going to Khiva the next day, and he could help us out with the touristy stuff. 

After inviting us to come to Khiva with him, the same guy, Umka, told me he was going to bring his Barcelona jersey for me and called his brother to come over and bring it.  True to his word, his brother rocked up twenty minutes later with a jersey over his shoulder.  Roma explained to us that Umka had two jerseys, one blue and one black – the blue was his favourite.  He had asked his brother to bring the black one, but for whatever reason he had brought the blue one.  Even though it wasn’t the one he had intended to give me, he said a promise is a promise and handed it over immediately.  I was totally in shock, and tried to refuse it but he was having none of it.  I immediately put it on and the guys just went wild, we spent about fifteen minutes taking photos, and the lads shouted at each other, Barca vs Real – it was just such a funny experience. 

After the guys left, and the game ended, Roma took us to this insanely good, traditional kebab joint outside of town.  We sat in these bamboo huts and ate the most delicious kebab while sipping down cheap Uzbek beer.  It was probably the best kebab we’ve had in the entire trip, with lumps of fat in it, and the bread dripped in a meat broth.  Totally simple, but just so delicious.  Roma had offered us to crash on the floor in his restaurant and since it meant we didn’t have to set up our tents we jumped at the chance. 

April 17

Soon we were back at the station and waiting for our train in the cold.  It pulled up about 1245 and we awkwardly dragged our bikes and bags on board – funnily enough we didn’t get charged for our bikes this time and within minutes I was quickly adopted by some old Kazakh women.  Over the course of the next few hours, as we approached the Uzbek border, they would wake me up whenever I needed to show a passport, fill in a form, or wait for customs officers.  The soldiers who met us were all inquisitive and very friendly and one of the officers in charge spoke excellent English.  They made the usual inquisitions about what we were carrying, one of these things being medicines.  I was told that the Uzbek border guards would confiscate anything stronger than paracetamol, so when asked if I had any medicine, I told him ‘paracetamol, ibuprofen, eye drops…’  He jumped in with ‘That’s fine’ before I had to continue my list to include the very strong painkillers I was carrying and we quickly moved onto a good conversation about the state of the world.  As he left he shook my hand, stared me square in the eye and told me ‘Good luck brother’.  I felt it wasn’t something he said to just anyone, and it really resonated with me.   

A few hours later I woke up to a familiar scene – the endless desert.  Luckily, there were plenty of diversions – little children, a constant stream of hawkers and hordes of curious middle-aged women.  Thankfully the train didn’t take the advertised 24 hours, and so by 2pm we were back on the bikes and rode until the sun set, dropping red and orange all across the landscape.  We had found an especially lush piece of grass to camp beside, and after finally getting back on the bikes after what felt like ages it felt great to be riding again – especially as we had lovely roads to ride on.

Well, you know what they say about good things – they never last.  Our roads didn’t.  They switched quickly between excellent and terrible for quite a while.  Thankfully, we had a beautiful tailwind, strong as hell, so we were outside Nukus by 1030.  We crossed the Amu Darya – the ancient Oxus for you history buffs – on the way into Nukus and once there we went to see the Savitsky Art Museum that the friendly officer had told me about. 

Funnily enough, as we arrived there was a school visit, so we quickly became the centre of attention.  Once we got inside though, there was a large percentage of Western tourists walking around, which was a very weird feeling.  For the longest time, since Cappadocia really, we hadn’t seen tourists, and so it was quite a disconcerting feeling.  Normally we’re something extremely rare in people’s lives and they will often literally come running to see us – I’m literally the first Scottish person most of these people have ever met – so it was very weird being ‘just another tourist’.  Probably just having our special status revoked is what I didn’t like!

After we finished at the Savitsky – the home of Karakalpak culture – we headed to the bazaar.  It was the best shopping experience I’ve ever had, with no-one able to speak English and so call out to me, and stalls jumbled on top of each other – samsa being cooked beside silk dresses and ties being sold beside loo roll.  I picked up a new hat for the desert, FBI of course, and after I returned to the bikes to let Ryan have a wander, I was quickly surrounded by a throng of curious Uzbeks.  The English speaker quickly materialised, as I was struggling with my Russian and was able to translate for everyone.  As is always the case in Uzbekistan, it was great fun and such a spectacle – the Uzbek people are so flipping friendly and charming that I’m very comfortable with being surrounded by thirty people peering at me and shouting questions. 

On our way out of Nukus towards Urgench, a cyclist in a snazzy road bike flashed by us.  When we pulled up to him beside the traffic lights, he introduced himself as Wallace.  He rode with us for a while and we walked about his bikes, before he had to say goodbye.  A few photos later, and an attempt at riding Ryan’s bike, we got on our way.  The road we were supposed to be riding was in an absolutely atrocious condition, but there was a brand new one being built right beside it, so we quickly hopped onto that one and took it as far as it went.  It petered out after about 60k, but meant we were able to rack up a decent 125k today.  It’ll be another 90 or so to Urgench tomorrow, where we’ll take a hotel to get registered, then a day trip to Khiva and a train to Samarkand that night, or the next day.  I’m very conscious that I have only two weeks in this country and I’m quickly falling in love with it.  After we made camp in the Kyzyl-Kum desert, the sunset kept us up for an hour or so and I finally got round to changing the oil in my Rohloff – no idea if i did it properly but so long as it keeps working I’ll be happy.

April 15

There’s not a lot to do on a boat that’s crossing the Caspian sea.  One thing I can recommend is finding the nearest Georgian man – in this case Thomas (Jefferson) to my Charlie (Chaplin) – and get yourself invited to his train for a drink.  10am arrived and with it came tchacha, vino and cognac.  By 11am Ryan and I were both a bit pissed so I tottered back to bed for a nap and then watched a few films, and within a half hour Ryan joined me – not in the same bed of course. 

Considering i’ve heard nightmares about these boats, I was pleasantly surprised. We had a cabin to ourselves, which we didn’t have to pay any extra for, no one tried to scam us (not even a little!) and the food was all free and served bang on time.  Paying 1 Manat for clean sheets was no problem, even if the duvet cover was very odd (a big hole cut out of the middle that you stuffed the blanket through).

We scouted out the boat over the course of the day, but our cargo ship was pretty small and there wasn’t an awful lot to do.  Invariably, this meant another visit to Thomas’s train, with his friend Joseph – Joseph Stalin of course – meant more cognac and a couple episodes of Game of Thrones in Russian.  By 10 I was pooped from doing nothing all day apart from drinking and watching the sea pass, so I crashed, knowing we wouldn’t be up until at least 8 – I’d heard the customs office didn’t open until 9.  How wrong i was to be.

Our door was thrust open at 2am, with the first mate shouting at us in Russian.  He made it clear that we had docked, and that we had to get off his bloody boat.  We tried to explain that it was 2am, and surely it would wait until the morning, but he was pretty adamant.  Obviously we gave in and started gathering our things.  I went down to get my bags loaded onto my bike, and when Ryan joined me he had a soldier in tow.  He turned out be a friendly chap, Khali, and he quite clearly wanted us to get moving.  He made this clear by looking over our bikes with his torch and gently saying davai davai to us every minute or two.  He escorted us to passport control and customs, before waving goodbye to us on the other side.

Well now it was 3am, pitch-black and we had no idea where we were so we cycled through the dark for a bit.  After a half hour of this, we realised we weren’t achieving much so threw up the tent and got some shuteye.  Four hours later, we realised we had camped between the main road leading out of Aktau (absolutely chock-full of cars) and a very busy train line which had been hammering us with horns all night.  We broke camp quickly and headed into town, cycling about for a while before finding a fancy hotel where there was a beautiful Kazakh girl who spoke perfect English and was very willing to help us out!  She gave us the password for the wifi then told me she’d look up all the information for the trains we needed and told us to sit down in the comfy seats, even though we were quite bedraggled and a little smelly.  Central Asian hospitality starting to kick in I think. 

Within ten minutes, she came over to tell me the first train (Aktau to Beyneu) would leave at 11am, taking 10 hours, then the second train would leave at 1am the next morning and take 24.  Bit of a nightmare, but best we had.  All we had to do was buy tickets and get to Mangyshlak.  Ticket buying was a little tricky, but I eventually found a Kazakh lassie in a bank who spoke english who was again very willing to help us.  She told me that the people in the bank thought I was dressing strangely in an awkward attempt to blend in, when in fact I was just living out of a small waterproof bag.  Very soon we had our tickets, then it was only a quick dash across town, including going across some rather bumpy dirt roads and we were soon ready to load up for the train.

The train was pretty boring but we met a really lovely kid, Adilet, which changed the kilter of the journey. He talked to us for a while in broken English which he was learning out of a magical book that could speak in Russian, Kazakh and English.  I am yet to decipher how it works.  Once we were a few hours outside of Beyneu he invited us to his house for the time between our connecting trains.  When we arrived we walked to his house which wasn’t far, then his family made us a feast and we gorged on wifi.  His middle-aged sister told him to tell me that she thought I was beautiful.  I’m rapidly becoming a fan of these very lovely Central Asian women. 

April 13

After an incredibly pleasant stay in Baku where I made so many friends and had such a good time, we were finally able to make it to the boat today.  We got notice at 11am that there was a boat, and it was leaving at 7pm – we had to pick up tickets by 12 and be there by 5!  Not a hell of a lot of time to get things done, so we summoned the help of our Azeri crew. After about ten minutes, Chinara told me she would be able to come over and help me with the tickets – great success.  She called the ticket office who told us that we had until 1pm to get tickets, so no need to panic, then she arrived at 12 at our place with a taxi in tow.  Kamran arrived at the same time, and he ran upstairs to help Ryan get the taxi sorted out, as well as consume the rest of the new Game of Thrones episodes before we headed out into the great Asian yonder. 

We made it to the ticket office pretty quickly, with Chinara asking one pertinent question on the way – would we need our passports? I assured her that probably wouldn’t be a problem.  Obviously, I turned out to be wrong, but with scans of my passport on my phone, and Ryan’s quickly sent through to her phone we managed to dodge that bullet.  Just as we were about to leave, Chinara’s face widened in horror as she heard the woman in charge say that there was no boat today, but thankfully, that was to Turkmenistan – we were still on our lucky streak. Our boat, however, would not leave until 10pm, so we didn’t need to be there until 8.  Since it was 1230 and we’d just had a number of near heart attacks getting ourselves in order we headed back to the flat to relax. 

Since the port the ferry leaves from is, of course, 70km south of Baku, we had a taxi booked for 615.  As it arrives, we realise it’s way too small to get the bikes in, so Kamran calls two more and as I stress on the steps outside the apartment, they slowly make their way over.  We manage to fit the bikes inside one of the taxis, with only a little shoving, and we’re off!  It takes us about an hour to get to the port – made more difficult by the fact that it’s so new it doesn’t show up on any maps – and after we’ve unloaded our bikes and bags, we quickly dash through customs to find the only boat in the port – the Agdam, our home for the next day – or potentially more.

April 4

Woke up hungover as shit, and once we’d finally dragged our bodies out of bed, we went for lunch at a London pub and had a full English.  Not enough beans and the sausages were a bit weird, but it was excellent nonetheless.  Afterwards, we returned to the Shirvanshah’s palace to take the posed photos again, as Umut and Jochem wanted to do it.  After wandering around the old town and having a pint in an Irish bar while watching the football, we went to an Azeri volleyball game. 

Women’s volleyball seems to be a big game in Azerbaijan, and people take it very seriously.  One of Jochem’s friends work as the physio to Lokomotiv, so they quickly became our team.  I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much, but one I was able to understand what was happening it turned out to be awesome. Our team won as well, which was nice, and after screaming ourselves hoarse we went home and I passed out.  Waking again at 1am, it turned out everyone was still up drinking beer so of course I joined them and stayed up until 6am. 

April 3

We woke in the morning to meet Jochem, a Dutch guy working for the Embassy, and Vicente, a Spanish guy who had been studying in Baku.  They were Umut’s flatmates and super friendly – Vicente offered to show us around Baku which was real nice of him.  He showed us some of the sights, then took us to a miniature book museum, which was surprisingly cool, and then we headed to the Shirvanshah’s palace where we got some incredible photos taken.

That night, we had a few beers then came incredibly close to booking flights to Las Vegas for Umut to marry his American girlfriend.  We’d found flights, arranged what to do with all our stuff (one of the guys would take a night train from Baku to Tbilisi) and figured out how to continue on as we’d have to miss out Turkmenistan.  Just as we were about to book flights, Umut’s girlfriend wisely told us that if they got married, he would have to stay in the country for at least two months otherwise he’d be barred from American citizenship.  So we ended up going out to a couple of bars and clubs instead and had a great night, but man, we came so close to a side adventure that we could really taste it.

April 2

Woke early and on the road quickly, keen to get to Sheki as soon as we could.  It was a chill morning and the clouds were in, but thankfully it wasn’t raining too hard.  It didn’t take us too long to arrive, two hours or so, and once we arrived we did the usual – go to the main square and find some WiFi.  In this case, a basement tea/beer shop, which I felt to be an odd combination.  With a little help from google translate, the guys in the shop were able to tell us where we could get a bus to Baku, how long it would take and how expensive it was.  As we need to be there tomorrow, bright and early, we’re bussing it to Baku. 

The bus station wasn’t hard to find, and buying tickets considerably easier.  The man spoke English, the only bus that we could put our bikes in was leaving in an hour and it was only 6 Manat.  Result!  Ryan decided to guard the stuff, among the rapidly growing crowd of people, and I hopped on mine, sans kit, to head off to the caravanserai.  Of course, it was the top of the bloody hill and cobblestones all the way, but it was beautiful, and suitably ancient.  I wandered around for a few minutes, then realised my bus was leaving in a half hour so high-tailed it back down the hill to the station.  We loaded up our bikes – literally wheeled them straight on – and embarked.  The trip was slow, incredibly hot and full of truly terrible azeri music and TV, but we got to Baku in six hours, so a punishment worth managing. 

We arrived in Baku at 8pm on the outskirts of the city, and after a suitably traumatic ride, involving the only route into Baku being a motorway, going the wrong way, some bloody mental driving and Ryan’s front light not working, we arrived outside The Brewery, a pub in the centre of town where we were meeting Umut, our host from couchsurfing.  We headed inside to find a crowd of expats and a large number of Scots, which was a pleasant surprise, and we whiled away the evening telling them of our adventure so far, before a stroll through Baku to Umut’s place where we passed out.