So it came to be that, instead of crossing Turkmenistan, we will have to travel back to Europe, cross Azerbaijan as fast as possible and board a ship which will take us from Baku to Aktau in Kazakhstan. Somehow we managed to transit through Azerbaijan in three days and leave the country before we even started to realise that we had arrived. We had learned from our previous mistakes and this time we did not have any expectations towards Azerbaijan – probably the only things we knew about this country were connected with oil and Nagorno-Karabakh. We think that you should let yourself form your own opinion and let everyone else form theirs. Truth be told, there was one reason why we wanted to cross the Iranian/Azeri border as fast as possible – after the dry law of Iran we finally had an opportunity to test real Azeri beer (preferably from two liter plastic bottle).
We had planned to find a way how to cross the Caspian Sea with a ship
Iranian visas in our pockets and our bikes screaming to get back on the road, we left Yerevan late in the afternoon (some time after 4 p.m.) on 15th March. Obviously our time management could have been a little bita lot better, but by the time we had organized all the little bits and bobs and said goodbyes it was somehow already late. Since we had set this as our absolute last leaving date (we wanted to make it in time for the Nowruz celebrations in Iran) we stuck to the plan and were hoping to cycle the flat distance till just before the first big uphill.
As usual, unexpected events occur along the way and we found ourselves some 20 or so km outside of Yerevan city border joining an Armenian picnic which mainly consisted of crispy lavash, freshly grilled fish and a lot of vodka. After a few toasts on Janapar (journey in Armenian), good health and happiness we managed to excuse ourselves, saying we still have some distance we planned to cover.
We had decided to go to Armenia without any expectations (not to repeat the same mistakes we’d made when entering Georgia) – no premature opinions, not expecting anything really, we would wait for Armenia to show its colours itself. This turned out to be the best decision we could have made.
The time has finally come to write about one of the most eventful parts of our trip so far – crossing Stavropol Krai (Ставропо́льский край), Kabardino-Balkaria (Кабарди́но-Балка́рская Респу́блика) and North Ossetia-Alania (Республика Северная Осетия — Алания), but mainly to write about the people we met there. The latter federal subjects of Russia would rarely be found on a tourists’ wish list nor would they be the first choice for travellers’ routes if other options were at hand. With all the literature and information given to us and advises that the regions might be dangerous and a little wild, we were still pretty excited to be closing in on the North Caucasus.
It was well after midnight when the ferry approached Russian port “Kavkaz” and all of its passengers rushed to get back to their personal vehicles, buses or cargo trucks. I was the only cyclist on board and as soon as the gate opened I was ready to head into the unknown. I could only guess what is waiting for me there – how many kilometres I would have to pedal tonight to get to our camping spot and what will locals think about the flying Latvian flag (we had an impression that a lot of Russians do not like Latvians very much).
I had to encounter the first surprise right after I left the ferry – it turned out that the passenger terminal is located on a narrow and long strip of land and I will have to cycle for approximately eleven kilometres to reach the Russian mainland and thus our camping site. Fearing no darkness and exhaustion I headed to the coast. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the asphalt is of decent quality and the road is lit by countless lanterns. Most probably the road has been renovated to accommodate the increasing flow of transport after the annexation of Crimean peninsula. This comparatively short cycling trip was notable for mainly two reasons – the annoying headwind and the late hour of day. At the very end of this land strip I was greeted by Russian police at the police checkpoint – it was really a pleasant meeting as they allowed me to continue without any interesting questions (they were really friendly and humorous). I waved goodbye to the officers and cycled on to look for our camp site.