Category Archives: By Country

Crossing the Caspian Sea

Baku, Azerbaijan –> Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan

Ferry: 100 USD, 18 hours

On Monday morning, I went to the embassy and managed to get my visa. But it was already 11am, and I knew usually people arrive at the ferry at 10am. I hurriedly took a taxi to the ferry terminal, where the ticket lady was just closing the office. ‘Ferry today?’I ask. ‘Yes, where are your bags? bistra, quickly!’ So without any time tospare, I ran back to the apartment, grabbed my things, and returned to the ferry. No time for internetting :(

Customs took longer than expected–one officer asked me a lot of questions. Why did my passport look so old? Why did you go to Armenia? Other questions about Armenia…Do I really look that suspicious?

Finally I got on the boat and within a few hours, we were off to sea!

P1010307 P1010308 P1010309 P1010310 leaving Baku port

P1010316 this Turkmen family were the only other passengers on the boat, and they took care of me as part of their family, even though I spoke no Russian or Turkmen

P1010315 P1010317 P1010313 P1010320 P1010321portable water heater

P1010324the ship’s manager has a lot of Azerbaijan pride

P1010326 P1010327arriving in Turkmenbashi the next morning

P1010331since I arrived on the morning of June 18, and my visa didnt start until June 19, I camped out at the waiting area in the Turkmenbashi ferry terminal. The officers let me in at midnight.


The Wizard of Az(erbaijan)

***So sorry for the lack of posts. Internet access kept evading me from Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan. I hope these next few posts will make up for it!


Ok, there were no wizards, no yellow brick roads and no red shoes to bring me back to Kansas.

But in Azerbaijan, there was TEA! Ah, tea, how I have missed you since Turkey. If you dont already know, Chinese people love tea and always drink tea, so it was a delight to enter Azerbaijan and sit down at a proper chay evi (tea house).

From Tbilisi I cycled my way along the Caucasus mountains to Baku, Azerbaijan where I would finish the first phase of my journey, West of the Caspian Sea.


Tbilisi -> Signagi

On a bright sunny Wednesday morning, I bade goodbye to my wonderful Persian friends in Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia) and began cycling towards the Caucasus mountains. I was headed for Lagodekhi and the northern border post with Azerbaijan. The road was good and surrounded by many vineyards and quaint churches along the way. In the evening I set up camp in the forest near Signagi — it was quite a nice campspot–away from any villages and a bit jungle-like. I fell asleep in my tent on the mossy ground and listening to all sorts of chirping insects.

P1010111not a bike tourist, but a Georgian with a lot of bottles!

P1010109vineyards and countryside

P1010100 P1010102fruit stands and “Georgian snickers’


Signagi -> Katex, Azerbaijan

The next morning I rode past some Georgian villages and a game reserve. It was interesting that some people greeted me with ‘Salam’, the standard greeting in Azerbaijan, but I was still in Georgia at that point. The Caucausus Mountains got closer and closer, until they loomed over me as the road followed the base of the mountains. Since it was my last day in Georgia, I bought some fresh khachapuri for lunch. Khachapuri is a Georgian specialty, a savory pastry filled with cheese or meat or both. Very yummy! Although, I bet this would be even tastier if you cycled here in the winter time when you really crave something hot, cheesy, and salty. With the blazing sun for the past few days, I was more in the mood for ice cream. Luckily, there are many local brands of ice cream in Georgia, so ice cream is cheap and you can find it in every village, even the remote ones. And  so, I started the wonderful habit of having ice cream once a day.  Surely, my favorite time of day!

P1010143one last cross before the border


P1010103fruit rollups, anyone?

I was a little worried about the border crossing into Azerbaijan, since I had visited Armenia. To my surprise, no questions were asked and before long I entered the Land of Azerbaijan.


Without giving a long history lesson, Azerbaijan was once part of the Ottoman Empire before it was absorbed by the USSR. Their main language, Azerbaijani, is very similar to Turkish (the languages are discernible) and most of the population also speaks Russian.  So, I found myself speaking Turksian (Turkish – Russian).

P1010152typical town sign with Azeri flag

P1010151 Caucasus mountains!

P1010154 P1010153 interesting architecture

In the evening I rode through Balaken and entered the town called Katex. It was nice to speak Turkish again–I was able to communicate more than in Georgia or Armenia. As I was riding along, a car stopped for me and the guy Gugush invited me for chai then dinner at a nearby restaurant where he had many friends. I have been secretly missing Turkish hospitality so I was really excited to be invited for chai again. The rest of the evening was spent eating and drinking with his friends. Gugush kept ordering food until I really couldnt eat anymore. Ye! Ye! (Eat! Eat!) He kept saying. Eventually Gugush arranged for me to camp at the restaurant, and he left with his friends around midnight. That night there were some crazy lightning storms in the distance.

P1010161 P1010160Gugush invites me to dinner and drinks. camping at the restaurant with nice view and crazy lightning storms!


Katex -> Seki

P1010162P1010165many pretty statues

P1010166typical Azerbaijani traffic in Zaqatala: cluster****


P1010175some nice ladies in Qax invite me for tea. Tea here is served with Iranian and Russian candy

P1010177P1010178met crazy Russian cycle tourist who looked like he just woke out of bed and went for a bike ride

P1010179Azerbaijan–land of manicured roundabouts

P1010180also land of quaint towns

P1010186and quaint villages

P1010196 P1010191 Seki town, another night of crazy lightning storms (in the distance)

Seki -> Bunut

P1010199P1010201P1010202P1010204hazelnut snickers!

P1010205P1010208World War II memorialP1010211P1010213Azeri decor

P1010214some very cute kids waling on a pipeline


P1010216Parvis and his wife hosts me after I asked them if I can camp on their farm


Bunut -> Muganli


P1010224local cheese from the local butcher


P1010227rewarded with nice views after some kick-butt climbs

Muganli -> 80 km before Baku

P1010230more fruitrollups for me from this friendly vendor


P1010234village well

P1010236cool streetside carvings of famous anicent scholars

P1010239heydar aliyev, apparently man of current-day Azerbaijan


P1010252P1010253village women beating and washing wool in river

P1010259solar in Azerbaijan!



80 km before Baku -> Baku

P1010262Once leaving the mountains towards the sea, the landscape changes dramatically from lush green to pretty dry and boring landscape

P1010264This car of 1 man with 6 women invited me for tea on the roadside. And even gave me water to wash my feet!  They were taking a break from farmwork.The 6 women were really hearty and we shared many laughs together for a good hour in Azeri-Turkish. They didnt want their picture taken though.

P1010265This is what you call a CROSSWIND!

P1010272P1010273Entering Baku, the big city!



I arrived a few days earlier in Baku than I expected. I guess I should be more confident about my biking abilities in the future. When I arrived in town, I met my couchsurfing host Gulmira, and she arranged for me to sleep at her friend Alex’s apartment. Alex lived in a nice place in the center of town, so it would be convenient for me to run errands. Also I would get a room with a full size bed all to myself, and even get to use a bathtub–practially like a 5-star hotel. I felt so incredibly lucky.

I had 7 days to get my Turkmenistan visa and find out about the ferry to Turkmenistan. Although 5 days seemed like a lot of time at first, but it turns out that people here dont get things done here like they do in the US or Europe or China. There is a saying in Azerbaijan, ‘Bugun git, sabah gel’ which means ‘Go today, come tomorrow’, which also means that things dont really get done.

First, the ferry from Baku to Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan does not have a timetable. It leaves whenever it fills up with cargo and there are often delays, which is to say, it leaves whenever it feels like it. When I asked the ticket lady how often the ferry leaves, she replied ’50/50′. AFter a few gestures, I interpreted that she meant the ferry leaves every other day. But really, who knows. The ticket office was also in a non-descript building off a dirt road with no sign or anything.

Second was the case with my Turkmenistan visa. Even though I had applied for the visa already in Ankara, and I just had to pick up the visa in Baku, it was not as easy a task as it would seem. I went to the embassy on the Wednesday morning. The officer at the embassy said the embassy was only open on Fridays and Mondays from 9.30am-12pm. ‘Come back Friday’, he says. When Gulmira tried to explain to him (in Azeri) that I was in a hurry to catch the ferry, the officer said ‘Is she a tourist? Why dont you go show her around?’ *sigh* Not believing the officer, I went back again on Thursday morning, and a different officer said the same thing. Finally on Friday I went again, but by 10am, there were already a lot of people in front of me in line. When it was my turn 2 hours later, the consul said ‘Come back Monday. I give you visa.’ I tried to complain, but was shortly hurried away. I was worried because my Turkmen visa dates were set for Wednesday, which means I would have to catch the ferry on Monday, and I would rather not have to deal with the embassy again on Monday. Such is life I guess, and these lessons teach you really how to manage things that are out of your control. Better to enjoy the moment instead of worrying about the things you cannot control!

So I spent the weekend entertaining my hosts and exploring Baku. Baku is a main hub for oil companies and therefore has a lot of expats working for companies like BP. Because of the oil industry, Baku has many fancy buildings (tyring to be like another Dubai), but because of the way things get done in Azerbaijan, Baku doesnt feel quite like other ‘modern’ cities. There is an uncertainty in the identity in Baku–a mix of old and new.

My hosts: Alex is from the UK and works as a contractor for an oil company in Baku. HIs career has brought him throughout North Africa, and he reminisced greatly about his life in Libya. I shared my own wonderful experiences when I biked through Sudan in 2009. I had several meals with his coworkers and got a taste of expat life in Baku, mainly expats working for BP. Gulmira is a local Azerbaijani, an English teacher trying to figure out life as the new generation in Azerbaijan. She actually lived in the US for 5 months several years ago on an internship.

Gulmira and Alex took me to a beautiful traditional Azeri carpet store in the old town and we saw the worlds tallest flagpole.

P1010304 P1010306 P1010300 P1010295 azeri carpets

P1010293 P1010291ancient things in the old city P1010287 P1010289McDonalds

P1010286fried food stand

P1010285 non-descript location of the ticket office for Caspian Sea ferry. uh yeah, its one of those doors.P1010283 fancy building, beatup truck

P1010278 helicopter and fighter jet flyovers for Army day!

P1010276 P1010275

Armenia and Georgia again, in Persian style

Yerevan -> Tbilisi, Georgia

Iran, oh Iran. It was part of my dream for this trip to visit Iran, but I was not able to because of visa issues. Hence, I came the way I came from Turkey to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to Central Asia. However, fate always has its own way of making things happen. After meeting Mehdi and Mahyar, I almost felt like I had a true experience of Iran.

I seem to be having writers block at the moment, so some highlights of the last few fantastic days riding with Mehdi and Mahyar.

Yerevan -> Sevan (and Lake Sevan)

– visiting the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan


– charging cell phones at the Iranian mosque in Yerevan


– Mahyar belting traditional Persian songs while riding


– super uphill day to Sevan; after not sleeping and eating enough the day before, I was exhausted, but the guys were a constant encouragement, and Mahyar even pushed me up the hill several times!


– fish dinner at Sevan: delightful reward after a hard days cycling


– peaceful night of camping at Lake Sevan


P1010017wow, free camping signs!



Sevan -> Ijevan

– spooky tunnel, awesome downhill and fantastic scenery in to Dilijan, passing Armenia’s Silk Road


– dancing at the cafe in Ijevan with 20 teenagers and aunties blasting music


– buying raw fish from a local fisherman and barbecuing the fish at camp that night

P1010035 P1010036


Ijevan -> Noyemberian

– 8am woke up and Mehdi and Mahyar’s BIKES WERE GONE!

– we were camped 5 km from the city of Ijevan. Hitchhiked to the police station, had tea and chocolate with a nice lady police officer. 2 police cars drove us back to the campsite.

– an Armenian guy and his Irish friend helped us tremendously by translating, the police searched the surrounding bush area, and eventually found the bikes stashed away in the bush!

– after this fiasco, we managed to leave camp by 12pm.

– riding past roads and villages previously belonging by Azerbaijan

P1010043 P1010044

– really nice Armenian shopkeeper lady who was also the librarian at the school. she was very eager to speak English which is a nice change from the norm.


– camped on farm


Noyemberian -> Tbilisi, Georgia

– back into Georgia because that is the only way to get from Armenia to Azerbaijan

– at the border, the officer looked at my passport and looking at the Iranian guys and me, said ‘Iran and America, friends!’ I replied that people are friends but government are not friends! The officer laughed and said he knows, he was just joking. ‘Like Georgia and Russia!’

– the road is full of cherry and mulberry trees…yum!


– finding couchsurfing host  in Tbilisi. Bahman, another Persian. SO EXCITED FOR A SHOWER. he was also hosting another Persian, Mahdi.

– two rest days in Tbilisi with all the Persians, because rest days are great. Met a bunch of wonderful people at the hostel Mehdi and Mahyar stayed at.

P1010058 P1010062 P1010066P1010068 P1010071 P1010074 P1010081 P1010085 P1010093 P1010092 P1010089


Leaving for Baku, Azerbaijan now! To the Caspian Sea!


Into Armenia

Akhaltsikhe, Georgia –> Yerevan, Armenia

As much as I enjoyed meeting and cycling with Zbyna and Lucy, we had slightly different plans–they were waiting in Akhaltsikhe to meet friends (they were bringing spare cycle parts), and I was anxious to cycle to Armenia since I have limited time to get to Baku. And so, we parted ways in Akhaltsikhe after some errands and a funny encounter with a drunk guy who offered us cha-cha (homemade wine).

To Armenian border
To Armenian border
P1000914 P1000910
Panda says: hobbits were in Georgia!
Panda says: hobbits were in Georgia!
Georgia baker
Georgia baker

From Akhaltsikhe I rode about 20km, camped by the river, and the next morning I was off early hoping to get close to the Armenian border by the end of the day. In the afternoon, I stopped for supplies at the town of Akhalkalaki. First stop, ice cream at a small shop where (I think) the lady offered coffee and a shower (in need of more Russian…). I declined since it was too hot for coffee and I wanted to keep moving. Second stop, market for rice and locally made chocolate covered peanuts! The shop manager spoke a little English, and he asked me where I was going. When I told him Yerevan, then Georgia again and then Azerbaijan, he frowned. I found out then that he was actually from Armenia (‘this is Armenian part of Georgia’, he says, ‘many Armenians live here’), and I just made the mistake of mentioning Azerbaijan. Oops…Since the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict is such a sensitive topic at the moment, its really not a good topic of conversation. I quickly left and stopped again at the next fruit stand which was also run by an Armenian family — this really is the Armenian part of Georgia! Finally I left town and camped in a nice grove of trees 10 km before the border.

railway car bridge
railway car bridge
awesome castle
awesome castle
P1000945 P1000930

To Armenia! Why Armenia? Why not Armenia?! For one, new countries are always exciting. For two, since several of my friends are Armenian-American, I wanted to understand more of Armenia’s history and culture, and its long-standing conflict with its neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan.


The border took a little longer than expected, since the ATM didnt work and I had a little run around trying to change money. But otherwise it was smooth: the visa was for 21 days and cost $7. At every border it always funny to see the perplexed faces on the officers when they see my US passport. Its as if they’re asking ‘Are you REALLY from America?’

I cycled to Yerevan for two days alone, enjoying the solitude and chance to reflect. Since my Russian is still lacking, I did not really speak with locals, and so I became more of an observer in Armenia. I was told that ARmenia is quite a poor country. Because the borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed, and the border with Iran is so remote and mountainous, almost everything into Armenia must come through Georgia, and Georgia isnt particularly rich either, yet. I could see Armenias poverty as I was riding along. There is not much farmland or development, villages are small and spread out, and most of the scenery was a lot of rocks and lacking trees.  Also, you cant find internet anywhere and there were a whole lot of potholes.


camping at old soviet bunkhouse
camping at old soviet bunkhouse
car mechanic
car mechanic


After 200 km of undeveloped landscape, it was quite  a surprise to enter Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia. It was like a different world–modern, developed, the roads are good, and there were actual painted lanes on the roads (not since Turkey)!

entering yerevan
entering yerevan

P1000966 P1000964

Couchsurfing again didnt work out in Yerevan, so I rode into the city, wondering where I would sleep for the night, when…cyclists! Two cyclists again. They were two Iranian guys (Mehdi and Mahyar) who were cycling for 2 weeks from Tabriz, Iran to Batumi, Georgia. We agreed to ride together to Tbilisi, Georgia.

meeting Mahyar and Mehdi in Yerevan
meeting Mahyar and Mehdi in Yerevan

From here on was quite the experience with Mehdi and Mahyar for several days. They hardly spoke English, but they were fun guys. It was quite incredible that we were able to communicate and share many laughs despite the language barrier. Sometimes Mahyar would yell in Farsi (Persian) and I would yell back in Cantonese.

After meeting in the streets of Yerevan, Mehdi, Mahyar, and I biked around Yerevan for a bit, then hung out at a local park where I stopped to fix my brakes and we met several exchange students. Two of the students were from Hong Kong, and they were pleasantly surprised to find out I was also a Hong Konger. Mehdi and Mahyar met some other Iranians, and the other Iranians invited us to the disco that night. We said we would join them when we were finished.


My brakes seemed to be acting funny since the crazy dirt road to Akhaltsikhe. The brake pads were also severely worn, and I didnt have enough spare ones. Mehdi and I worked on my brakes for awhile, but it still didnt seem quite right. Just then, several Armenian guys biked past, and offered to help. I told them I wanted to change my brake cable and change the brake pads. They made a few phone calls to the local bike shop, and to my luck, they said they would keep the bike shop open for me at 10pm!

Brake pads caput

Brake pads caput

At the bike shop, the mechanic was an old Armenian guy who seemed a bit drunk, but we had a lot of good laughs and he liked being called “Master”. Finally by 11pm, my brakes were fixed and I got all the spare parts I needed. The bike shop was so nice they didnt charge me for the repair (welcome to Armenia! they said.) We were too tired for the disco by then, so we just found camp on a side street and called it a night.

Yerevan Bike mechanic 'master' and others

Yerevan Bike mechanic ‘master’ and others

bike shop at 11pm
bike shop at 11pm
Yerevan city camping

Yerevan city camping


Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia.
The whole day through.
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind.
-Ray Charles, Georgia On My Mind

Batumi -> Akhalktishe

Batumi was the first time Ive stayed at a hostel on a bike trip. But the nice thing about it is you get to meet other travellers. Waking up at the hostel, I chatted with my roommate for a bit. Shes from France, also traveling alone in Central Asia for 6months–not on a bike though. Then I went outside to the common area and met a group of other travellers who were all speaking in Russian. Most of them were from Ukraine, but turns out, one of them was a Polish guy from New York! I asked them to teach me some Russian before heading off to the internet cafe.

Around 5pm, I finally hopped on my bicycle again and left the city. Pretty soon it was a small road and rural villages. Around 6.30, I passed a small village where several guys were waiting at a bus stop. One of them called out to me in English so I stopped. Another guy came over. The second guy asked if I spoke Georgian? Russian? German? French? I said I didnt speak any of those languages. Really tells you about the history of which languages were important to people living here. Apparently not English. The first guy spoke a little English, and translated that the second guy offered to host me as a guest in his house. Georgian hospitality, no problem! the first guy says. I accepted and the first guy left.

The rest of the evening was rather hopeless lost in translation with the second guy. All I understood was his name was Giorgi. Giorgi was very kind and hospitable though. He and his mother provided me dinner, tea, coffee, also a hot shower and a bed to sleep on. You cant ask for much more, really. Because we couldnt talk to each other, in the evening Giorgi and his mother watched TV while I studied Russian and Georgian from my books. Two very strange, foreign alphabets. I kept hearing in my head the stereotypical Asian mother voice, ‘You must study study!’


The next morning I left Giorgis house. Turns out their dog ate my prize bag of bread, cherries, and chocolate that I had strapped to the outside of my bike. Oh well. The riding was nice, through a beautiful lush green valley. In the afternoon, I met my very first cyclists! They were heading the opposite way, but I was so excited to meet them. They were a Swiss couple and have been traveling for more than a year around the world, but not all by bicycle. We shared many stories and they told me the road turns to dirt in the next town, and that there is a huge mountain pass in the middle of the dirt road. I was going to have an exciting day tomorrow!


Soon after meeting the dirt road, I found a perfect camp spot–away from the road and flat. The next morning I woke up early and started the huge climb on the dirt road. Errgggghhh…it was really tough riding.

P1000883 P1000885

Some days you have good days, some days you have bad days, and some days you have downright miserable days. This day was just that. At least, it started off like it. When I started in the morning I mustered all my strength on the uphill dirt road–very hard when youre alone and you dont speak the language at all. By noon, I was exhausted. I stopped to take a nap. Before long, I woke up and there were two boys next to me. Eager for some local interaction, I tried talking to them. Since they took particular interest to my bike, I let them ride it just for a few meters. While one of them was riding my bike, my pannier fell off the bike and ripped. The boys said sorry. There was nothing else I could do but sit down and repair the pannier, so I did. I took out everything out of the pannier–tools and souvenirs–and started putting in cable ties to hold together the pannier. The boys looked through my things curiously and got me water. They left as I was finishing up, and just as I was packing up my things, I realized I was missing some tools and cigarettes–the kids stole it!

Long story short, eventually I got my things back–everything–after some evil eye staredowns and kung fu moves aka going to their houses and confronting them in front of their families. Before long I was back on my bike, but very shaken up from the experience. Then not too long after, some other kids threw away my stick. It was really not my day.

The kids dad made me a new stick. But in the end it was all too much for me. I sat on the ground, crying and crying, wondering why I left home, how I was not brave enough for this, missing my family and friends, wanting to be out of this country. I was ready to give up, go home.

Just then, a cyclist! A cyclist in my direction! Actually, two cyclists. Like angels from heaven, two cyclists appeared on the road–a Czech couple. My dreams of meeting cycling companions came true. Just at that moment!

Boy, was I glad to meet them. I told them about the very bad day I was having. The Czech guy then says ‘Lets get up this mountain pass and have a beer!’ Wow. From there the road got worse and worse, more steep, more rough. But I didnt care. I was so filled with new hope that despite thunderstorms and the cold wet rain and rough riding, I could keep cycling. I watched Lucy and Zvinda go up, so I did too, and before long we made it up the pass. At the top, we celebrated with nice hot tea. Ive never felt in such paradise.


Soon after we found a nice camp spot and enjoyed a meal together. The next morning we cycled to the next city Akhaltiskhe. And here I am now!

Hoping to make it to Armenia in several days and update again there. See you soon!

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