Chapter VI: Busting it to Baku

Into Asia we go, with one goal in mind: hustle east as quickly as possible until we reach Baku, Azerbaijan, the launching pad for an erratic and unpredictable ferry ride across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan. So, we set out to cross 3 countries and 2 borders in 2 days, ideally arriving in time to collect our Turkmen visas at the consulate by opening of business Monday. Upon a Google Maps check, however, we learned it’s a good 40 hours from our location outside Istanbul to Baku, with turbulent traffic patterns, strangely strict speed limits, bombastic border bosses, and hilly highways along the way.

On Saturday, the first day of our supposed sprint, we swallowed our sumptuous honey and drove across Turkey’s northern roadway. A giant loaf of bread combined with a dip into our peanut butter reserves to sustain us, we traversed this Texas-sized nation successfully, arriving at the Georgian border just before midnight. While waiting in the queue to enter the land of peaches and Coca Cola, it was… surprise, Goulet team member Mess’s birthday! A haphazard happy birthday song sufficed the strangest start to Eric’s 25th year he could imagine. Now fully loaded with our OG car registration, the border patrol proved quick and easy this time around, a refreshing change of pace for the Goulet clan.

If you asked Eric a year ago where he’d be on his 24th bday, it’d take him about a year to come up with the Turkey-Georgia border.

 

We pulled into Batumi, the Atlantic City of the Black Sea, in the darkest hour of night. With our eyes literally closing shut behind our tired lids, we desperately searched for the guest house we’d reserved for the night. Just when we were prepared for another night in the Auto G, an insomniac shirtless man smoking off his balcony somehow provided us precise directions to our place of rest. So, down the road, to the right, along the coast until we reached the train station, at which point just up the block we happened upon the address that matched our online reservation. Unpredictably accommodating at 4am, the family operating the guest house awoke in unison to our arrival, as they pleasantly presented us towels and a welcoming smile that kept us at peace until day break.

In the morning Eric arranged the Goulets to meet up with his good pal from back home, Keith, who was 4 months into a 2-year Peace Corps commitment in this remote ex-Soviet republic. Ecstatically elated to reunite with a familiar face, Keith toured us around Batumi, brought us to feast on traditional Georgian meaty soup dumplings, khinkali, and informed us of the customs and traditions of his new home. We discovered an abundance of hilarious tidbits of which I will share a few with you: Georgia is an oasis in this part of the world for loving Abrahamooley, or Jews; farting and burping is strictly forbidden, even when in the company of only dudes; saying “thank you so much” translates roughly to “doo doo mudbutt”; driving drunk is not only permitted, but a test to your masculinity; and you must make lengthy toasts before imbibing any and all alcoholic beverages, which ruins all hope of playing a fluid game of beer pong with the locals.

Don't let any of that juice drip! Failing to suck down all the soup in khinkali is a sign of weakness in Georgia
Don’t let any of that juice drip! Failing to suck down all the soup in khinkali is a sign of weakness in Georgia


After meeting Keith’s wonderful host grandma and teaching her to say “Goulet!”, we handed our buddy his first and last roll of quality toilet paper during his 2-year stay in Georgia, and again took off east, at around 3pm, Keith basking in pure glee in the scorching sun behind us. Google Maps prescribed 18 hours or so from Batumi to Baku, but an unexpected 6-hour sojourn at the lovely Azerbaijan border bounced our arrival backwards beyond Monday’s business day hours. At the border cross we encountered some hilarious border guard-pedestrian bitch slap fighting and screaming, even at 4am. When the border guard could not explain, nor even properly gesture, his displeasure with Brian’s iPhone recording of the incident, we knew we were in unexplored territory. Brian got away from the border iPhone in hand, as the Goulets giggled their way into this unknown nation.

Eric shouts "doo doo mudbutt!" to Keith and his host babushka for hosting the Goulets in Batumi
Eric shouts “doo doo mudbutt!” to Keith and his host babushka for hosting the Goulets in Batumi

 

Rotating naps with tired driving into dawn’s daylight, we began a multi-hour car drive across the forgettable Azerbaijani desert plains. The most notable stop was a water break in a random roadside village, where a roly poly Azerbaijani store attendant repaired our busted car window, nonfunctional due to a warped metal apparatus within the frame of the door. Repair work free of charge because we were guests in this unnamed village, we hurried on towards Baku, deep into midday Monday and still hundreds of kilometers away. Recording glorious GoPro footage that never happened after an accidental deletion of memory, we drove into the arising Azerbaijani capital in search of the monumental J.W. Marriott, of which a night’s stay was gifted by our friend Jeremy, the 4th Goulet team member who regrettably had to bail when his job rejected his proposal.

The waves of kindness continue into Azerbaijan. This guy dug deep to get our window back set right into the door
The waves of kindness continue into Azerbaijan. This guy dug deep to get our window back set right into the door

 

We had made it to Baku, which was no feeble feat: we drove nearly 1,400 miles in under 3 days and now brutally exhausted and overextended, a night’s rest in a world renowned hotel seemed laughable beyond luxurious. Nonetheless, we bathed under boisterous beams of blasting water, dried ourselves with comically comfortable regal robes and napped in remarkable relaxation until dinner time.

Around 9pm, feeling as if we were cheating the essence of the Rally with our one-night stay in luxury, we met up with a friend’s friend in old town Baku, who took us to an authentic Azerbaijani restaurant and presented us with a glorious platter of grilled kebab that was forced upon us until near expulsion. We were also introduced us to Azerbaijan’s 2008 Olympic gold medal winner Elnur Mammadli, a judo champion with the appearance to match. Brian challenged him to arm wrestling but the proud champion declined, thus making Brian a true American hero. Forcing slabs of meat down our gullet so as not to offend our hosts, we nearly consumed all food before us, which left our bellies bulging and our bodies beleaguered. We opted to saunter calmly down the main Azerbaijani boardwalk and back to the Marriott to rest.

Huge thanks to Betul for hooking us up with her Azerbaijani friend, Ulkar and her big sis, who took us out to an unforgettable traditional dinner.
Huge thanks to Betul for hooking us up with her Azerbaijani friend, Ulkar and her big sis, who took us out to an unforgettable traditional dinner

 

Tuesday morning represented the beginning of our endless mission out of Azerbaijan. The plan was simple: get our Turkmenistan visas from the consulate downtown and leave Baku as soon as possible. This plan, however, was smashed to bits when we reunited with our old pals, the Irish motor bicyclists, Lock, Stock, and 3 Smokin’ Hondas. Having met this trio back at the launch party, we exchanged our respective rally narratives up to this point and shared a good laugh. Despite some close calls, Stephen and the lot made it to Baku, and joined us as caravan partners for the next several hundred miles.

IMG_6767
We’re going to Turkmenistan with these stinky Irishmen!

Together with our lepriconed neighbors, we collected our Turkmenistan visas and rushed to the port to see when the next ferry would leave for Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan. Having heard rumors of days of waiting and hundreds of dollars in bribes required to get across the Caspian Sea, we learned all of it was true. We waited a full 2 days in port until our ferry, Professor Gul(et) set sail, and had to pay a hefty $660 to catch the ride. Now hooked up with a whole bundle of Mongol Rally teams with which to caravan into this unearthed land, we bounced around on the boat, drinking our precious little alcoholic subsidies, dabbling in some yoga sessions led by poorly trained yogi Brian, and eagerly awaited landfall into our next nation of exploration.

Yogi Brian leads the other Goulets, and Irishman Stephen, into a series of yoga poses to pass the time on the ferry to Turkmenbashi. Here's our favorite
Yogi Brian leads the other Goulets, and Irishman Stephen, in a series of yoga poses to pass the time on the ferry to Turkmenbashi. Here’s our favorite

 

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    One thought on “Chapter VI: Busting it to Baku

    1. karen says:

      Here I go –another note that I can not see. This was a fantastic update. I get quite a flavor of the trip from your descriptions. Love the alliteration. Keem ’em cccoming.

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