Day 440: You’ve GOT To Be Kidding

16.03.10:

The day started slowly, with me finally dragging myself out of bed around 11pm. I spent most of the day packing my bag, organising my tapes and doing a bunch of boring stuff that possibly doesn’t warrant a mention in this great big bulging blog of mine.

At 4pm, it was time to hit the road again… I had a good two and a half hours to make the train to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan – what could possibly go wrong?

Ah yes. What could…?

Rati had a couple of things to be getting on with, so he said he’d join Michael and I at the station later. We headed off to town, asking the cabbie to take us to the post office as it was high time for me to send some tapes back to the UK for safe keeping. When we got to the post office, it didn’t take us long to figure out that something was amiss – it was a derelict shell. Nothing to stop you walking in there, mind, but a derelict shell it was.

We were redirected down the street. Eventually finding the new post office across the road from the HSBC in a scuzzy courtyard with ‘Post Office’ printed on A4 paper and stuck to the wall with paste. We went inside and were directed to a third Post Office, one that handles international post, this time over the other side of the Mikvari River that rushes through the middle of the city like a man possessed.

So it was another taxi ride before finally finding somewhere I could post my tapes. Only I couldn’t. Why? Because the electricity was down and so they couldn’t weigh the bugger, all 314 grams of it. They told us to come back tomorrow. I’d be in Azerbaijan. Luckily, a jovial Georgian chap who spoke English came to our aid. He took the tapes, went next door to the swish courier company and plonked the tapes on their scales before they could stop him. He ran back into the Post Office triumphant. 314 grams it was. That’ll be €11 please. What what? Eleven Euro? Have you lost your mind… the tapes didn’t cost that much!! Oh yeah, and it will take three weeks to get there.

If it gets there.

Well I was stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, so I said fine. Then she tried to put all the required stamps on the tiny package. Twenty of ’em. Luckily for some reason best kept to the Georgians, they can stick their stamps over other stamps as long as they leave a few millimetres revealed down one side. It looked like somebody was playing stamp poker.

Ah well, soon enough it was all ready to go and blimey is that the time it was 5.30pm. Time to get that train.

The American girl yesterday told me it left at 6.30pm. Rati called them today to confirm and they said it left at 6.45pm, so I thought I was uncharacteristically getting there in good time. Ha!

Tbilisi’s train station is currently being refurbished and is in a remarkable state of disarray at the moment. Michael and I spent ten minutes queuing at the wrong counter before being told we were at the wrong counter and then going up to the correct counter and waiting another ten minutes for no discernable reason. At this point Rati showed up and I asked him what gives. He asked the girl in the window next to the international departures one (number 14, if you’re interested, not that there are 14 windows in the station, there’s more like 5) what was happening and she said that there were no more tickets for the train because the train leaves in six minutes’ time.

It was 6.09pm.

But we had been told the train left at 6.45, or 6.30 at the earliest – plus we’d been there for twenty minutes.

She didn’t give a f–k

I was ready to explode.

You could try asking on the train. So Rati, Michael and I pegged it like Trainspotting over to the platform on which the Baku train was waiting. Can we….?

No.

But…

No.

Is there anything we can do?

You could take a taxi to the next town, head the train off at the pass, so to speak and get on there.

This is madness. The train is here!!

Sorry.

Okay, other than the fact that I desperately want to get this journey finished sometime this decade, if I don’t get to Baku for tomorrow morning, I’m going to have plenty big trouble getting the necessary visas for Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan before the weekend. I needed to be on that train. There was only one thing for it… it was taxi time. Rati did the fast talkin’ and after saying my hearty thanks and farewells to my wonderful Georgian host and my fellow wayfarer Michael I jumped into a cab which then raced like a loon (not that Georgian drivers drive any other way) to the town of Rustavi, halfway to the border with Azerbaijan.

Can I just say at this point that Georgian drivers are the WORST in the world. Yup, even worse than Nigerians. If that’s possible. You see, Nigerians may drive like suicidal maniacs on the wrong side of the motorway, but at least they’re sober. I’m firmly convinced that every taxi I took in Georgia was driven by a chap more sozzled than Winston Churchill on VE day.

My cabbie to Rustavi wasn’t as bad as some I’ve had, he only nearly killed me seven times. We beat the train and got to the station just as it was pulling in. Yippee!!

I bounded over to the copper standing on the platform (well, the ground) and asked him where I could buy a ticket. He looked confused. Then I spoke to the lady conductor on the train I had spoken to in Tbilisi. I was supposed to buy the ticket at another station on the way here. Was I? Crikey, this is complicated. Can I get on?

No.

Can I get on if I pay double.

Yes.

Great.

Just wait there for five minutes on the freezing cold platform. Well, ground.

Okay.

(five minutes later….)

Just spoken to the boss, she says no.

But… but….

Here’s what you need to do. Take another taxi to the border, it won’t take long. Cross the border on foot and take the bus.

But the bus left at 3pm today!

That was the international bus. This is a bus that doesn’t cross the border – it leaves from the Azerbaijani side. If you hurry, you’ll make it.

Secret revealed knowledge eh? There’s nothin’ like it. So back in a taxi (and another €15 – still cheaper than a five minute ride in a Italian taxi) and by about 8.30pm I was crossing the border. My Armenian visa raised a few eyebrows (Azerbaijan and Armenia are at war, a cold war, but war nonetheless) but after twenty or so minutes they let me in.

WOO! AZERBAIJAN!! Country 147. What a break!

There were people offering me taxis to Baku (it’s 450km! Are they mad?!), but there like a great big slab of wonderful metal on wheels was a proper coach ready and waiting to head to Baku. I made it in the nick of time – like the coach from Igoumenitsa to Istanbul it left before I got to my seat.

The (Prince) Caspian Sea here I come!

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