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Here is our Newsletter #9!
Hiking in Georgia

After our party-days at the GEM-Festival in Anaklia at the Black Sea Coast, we needed silence and loneliness. We drove up the scenic Georgian Military Highway to Great Caucasus again (but this time to the eastern part), from just after Tbilisi up north to the Russian border in Kazbegi region. There are several valleys to the east and west. One of them hosts the small village of Juta. It is known for its beautiful setting next to the rough rocks of the Chauki massive. A famous hike starts from Juta over the Chauki pass at around 3300 m and down to the village Roshka. 
An early morning, we parked Willie in Juta and started the hike. The scenery was beautiful and we met some nice Georgian guys on the way. We camped close to Roshka. The next two days, we took a detour back to Juta, crossing two other passes. As this route is less known and tough in some parts, we were hiking alone, enjoying the mountains, valleys, rivers and canyons. The second night, we camped next to a stream, just 20 m down from its spring. The bath in the evening was quiet refreshing.
To make sure to get some proteins during the hike!
Cold in the morning, but always sunny days!
We stayed in the mountainous region of Kazbegi for a couple of days and relaxed our legs. Then, we drove in southeastern direction, heading to the border to Azerbaijan!
New look for Heiner :)
The beard is growing. But too much hair doesn't fit to the hot weather. Cutting the beard was no option, so...
Tough start in Azerbaijan

Happy about receiving our visas for Azerbaijan in Tbilisi without any problems, we entered the border. We had read something about new laws in Azerbaijan regarding older cars but could not find any clear statement anywhere. We got our visas stamped (these are valid for 30 days in a specific date frame). We walked over to the customs counter - and the discussions started. The friendly but inflexible customs officer denied every trial from our side. There shall be a law for foreign cars, that states that only cars built after 2006 are allowed to enter Azerbaijan. An exception could be a transit visa for 72 hours. But for this case, we would have to have a visa for an ongoing country (Russia, Kazakhstan or Iran). The only possibility to enter the country with Willie would be to pay a deposit of 10.000 USD, cash at the border. We would get it back when we leave the country (...).
We tried everything for around four hours to convince the customs officer: smiling, begging, claiming, asking for the boss, even hints to give some bakshish. But nothing was successful. 
Finally, we gave up. We agreed to park Willie on the Georgian side and travel in Azerbaijan without him. We also could have just skipped Azerbaijan but we were too disappointed to give everything up.
But then, a new problem appeared. As our passports with the visas already got stamped, we were not allowed to leave Azerbaijan without getting stamped the visas for leaving. That means, that they would not be valid anymore. The customs guy spoke to the border guy, the border guy called someone, discussed with the customs guy, got angry, called someone, argued with the customs guy again, called again someone. And in the end the solution was: Anna stays at the border office as deposit, Heiner drives Willie back to Georgia and comes back by feet - and they do not stamp his visa as invalid.
Well, after around 5 hours, many stretched nerves and a bad feeling of leaving Willie behind, we finally left the border office. It was late afternoon already and we had no clue how to move on. There were some taxis waiting outside the border. But then, a Hummer with a German car plate appeared at the border gate. It was Stefan from Ulm, on the way to Baku. He took us with him and even drove us in a little detour to our first stop; to Sheki in the Northwest.

Sheki and Lahic - two lovely villages

Our guide book states Sheki as the "loveliest town in Azerbaijan". The following two days, we visited the beautiful Old Town, the administrative building and summer residence of Shaki Khans, built in 1797, his winter palace and the busy Bazaar. We lived in a big former caravanserai, and enjoyed the typical sweets from Sheki: fried dough rolls, deeply dunked into liquid sugar.
After two days, we got up early and went to the bus station. There, they told us, there was no bus to our next destination for the next two to three hours. After a while, we found a taxi driver who drove us for a very reasonable price. We spent two days in the village Lahic, west of Sheki. Once, this was a coppersmith stronghold. Today, there are still two workshops, where the coppersmiths perform their art.
While we were looking for a place for lunch, we saw a pretty new building. A woman came by and told us (more pantomimes) that it is the local hospital. Our of (Anna's) curiosity, we entered the building. Everything was new and bright. But no patient was inside. One of the nurses showed Anna the emergency room, the laboratory and some other rooms. But still, no patient nor a doctor. The people of Lahic seem to be very healthy.
The next day, we got up early again. We had heard that there is a minibus from Lahic to Baku every day at 8 am. But it has only seven seats. We hoped that we could get two of them and wanted to be the first at the bus station. Indeed, we were the first ones. But at 8.15 am there was still no driver nor any other passenger, only a small bus was standing there.
A man, who has a small shop in Lahic, offered us to take us with him to the next bigger town. From there, we could take a bus to Baku. We agreed and enjoyed a very speedy drive down the valley with Azeri music
Some timing problems

At noon, we arrived in Baku. We took the metro to our hotel in the middle of the Old Town.
From the beginning of our stay in Azerbaijan, we were confused about the time. Our guide book said that this country does have summer and winter time (contrary to Georgia). That meant that we had to add another hour compared to Georgian time (our phones did that automatically). Also, the clocks on the highways showed this time. But some clocks showed the Georgian time. We thought that they had just forgotten to change these in summer time. As we entered the Metro in Baku, again, every clock showed the Georgian time. Our first stop in Baku was the train station. We bought our tickets for the night train to the Georgian border for the end of the week. There, finally, we asked an officer what time it is and how confused we had been (but at least for the departure of the train we should know the right time). He told us that in 2016, the government decided to skip the summer time for the first time. Later, our tour guide told us the reason: Azerbaijan wants to stay closer to the European time.
When we had left the train station, we started laughing. We had gotten up at 5 am the previous two days (thinking that it was 6 am) and had been waiting at the bus stations at 7 am, wondering that there was no bus nor other passengers. We decided to be happy about the hour we had just won and went for a cay (tea).

Baku - a capital with many faces, and a lot of swank

We discovered Azerbaijan's capital Baku for four days. We visited the Old Town and the surrounding booming modern districts (e.g. the Heydar Aliyev Centre on the pictures below), walked along the Bulvar at the Caspian Sea. We had a nice free guided tour by an Azeri student.
A day trip from Baku took us to a fire temple on the Abseron peninsula. Another holy fire place is the natural site of Yanar Dag. There, natural gas comes out of some rocks - and was inflamed by a cigarette from a shepherd in the 1950s, burning since then. Unfortunately, we forgot to bring our BBQ sausages.
During our stay, the Chess Olympiad took place in the Crystal Hall in Baku (in the building of the Eurovision Songcontest in 2012). Before we went to the train station for the night train on our last evening, we watched some chess games there (at the beginning quiet boring but after a while, following one game out of around 100, honestly pretty exciting).
The night train took us back to Georgia. The ride was funny, bumpy and loud, 100% unforgettable!
You can watch a short video from the ride on our Facebook page!
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Last days in Georgia have arrived

Back in Georgia, we spent a few days in the South, at a really nice place, run by a Polish couple. It is a hostel-cottage-restaurant thing, we just camped next to the cottages. There, we met many nice people from around the world (Wolfgang from Germany, Bartek from Poland, Nikolao from Columbia etc.). One evening, we enjoyed a concert by two Georgian choirs.
Only a few places are left on our "list" for Georgia. After visiting the mountaineous valleys of Khevseturi and Tusheti (Great Caucasus again) and tasting some wine in Kakheti, we are going to country number 10, to Armenia!
Change of plans

Some of you may have our rough route in the mind. We were planning to go to Iran after Armenia, then Central Asia, Mongolia, China, Southeast Asia and so on. Maybe, some of you are already thinking: What? They are still in Georgia? Are they never going to leave that country? For these: We will leave but you are right, we have been here for a quiet long time now. We adapted to a pretty slow travel pace in the last weeks. And we like it. =) But this causes a change of plans. In Mongolia, it is getting really cold already. October may still be possible, but later it is way too freezing there. As you can imagine, we won't make it to Mongolia until October. Also parts of Central Asia are getting cold soon (especially the mountain areas of Kirgistan and Tajikistan which we really want to visit). To make a long story short, we have just recieved our visas for Pakistan (thanks to Anna's Dad who arranged everything because we had to apply for it in Germany). The actual route is this now: Armenia, Iran, Pakistan, India - for the winter. Then, China, Central Asia, Mongolia and shipping from Russia to Australia next year. Some countries in Southeast Asia have just changed their laws for overlanding. It seems to be very complicated right now, to travel there with the own car. So, we may going to backpack there or rent a car or something like that. We will see.
Of course, we know that Pakistan is not the easiest and safest country to travel. We would have skip this country but now we have read a lot from other overlanders who traveled there. And they were very excited. Let's cross fingers that nothing will happen and we can enjoy this seemingly beautiful country.
FOR YOU

And to calm your minds down after this long newsletter, you get your regular gift. One of our best pictures! This time, part of the front of the winter palace of Shaki Kahns in Sheki, Azerbaijan! Enjoy, and thanks for reading!
Just click HERE

 
See you on the road!
Anna and Heiner
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