A bunch of years ago, when we were still in school, my German teacher used to call us Azerbaijan “Volkskünstler”. As there is no real translation for this name you are going to have to live with it. Literally translated it would be a folk artist. In German it is a name for guys making their living a bit different. Some of them are doing well, some of them not so, some of them do it a little eccentric and some don’t do much at all. The one thing they have in common: you don’t know how they are making their money. Back then, in school, obviously I was never going to see those Azerbaijan Volkskünstler in my life.
There are about 10 million of them hiding in the Caucasus ranges and its surroundings. Unfortunately their leaders seem to be a little afraid of foreigners. So right at the borderline we got to know what that would mean. Even though we had an approved 30 day visa in our passport they gave us 3 days to exit the country as our car does not fulfill Euro 4 emission standards. Eventually we made it across the border knowing that each additional day would mean a 200$ fine. We went towards Baku as quick as we could, until we were stopped by a flat and lost exhaust on just 10km. With half a day delay we arrived to Baku wanting to ask for extension for our stay. Finally we ended up at the head of customs with some really nice guys. After explaining the problem and lunch break they helped us out immediately. They gave us two weeks in the country. Back to the car the guy from the parking lot was already waiting for us with a BBQ meal. At the end we spent 4 days and nights in this incredible city. It is as clean as I have never seen a city before. The underground passages are in polished clean marble, the asphalt prepared for formula 1 and the grass perfectly cut. The one thing we enjoyed most were the European style bars and pubs. We mean those which are nice and cozy without neon lights and ready to spend a few hours there. As the international attention is growing those bars are getting their customers. The large oil and gas reservoirs and the strategically good location between the Caspian see, Iran and Russia brings a lot of international influence. The European Song Contest, the first European Games and the Formula 1 race this year gets the wanted attention by the media. At this point of time it doesn’t get any further than Baku but we expect the rest of the country to be changed quite soon. They are already building highways, making the whole country easily accessible for tourists from Baku.
Right now, large parts are undiscovered by the crowds of tourists. Maybe this is the reason we feel as safe as we have never before on our trip. Just like all the locals do this is
definitely a country to leave the car unlocked. Besides the tired comments against the conflict we don’t notice anything about Bergkarabach.
Unfortunately we had to pass the north of the country very quickly as we needed to extend the visa. The south has enough to offer for us to stay a couple of more days. After visiting the Fire mountain and the temple of Zoroastrians we headed out to one of the volcanos. This active volcano wasn’t just a normal one. It was a mud volcano. Beeing fed by spring water and sulfur it is continuously erupting. For us, a perfect spot to stay the day and a night.
After that we spend a few relaxed days in Lankaran before those Master-Volkskünstler got us struggling again. As we enjoyed this country so much, we stayed more than 10 days here. What we didn’t
know: people staying longer than 10 days would have to register with the police. Wanting to exit the country they made us return 40km to the next police station. The fine they wanted was 200$ per
person. A lot too much for us. The alternative was a 1 year immigration lock. Not really what we wanted as this was our plan C to get to Uzbekistan if we can’t get a visa for Turkmenistan. The
officials were really nice, speaking perfect German but there was just no way to get out of this. So we cannot return for a year now.
At the end we must say that the Azerbaijan Volkskünstler are really really nice but came up with some really really strange laws. Still, this little country became a real highlight on our trip so far and we will definitely keep it in good memories.