Return to GlobeRiders Home Page

Silk Road 2007 Live!Journal

Silk Road 2007 Live!Journal Chapters Menu

Week Three Chapter - 15 ~ 21 May 2007 - Azerbaijan, Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan

National Flag of Turkmenistan National Flag of Turkmenistan National Flag of Turkmenistan

"You must pray that the way be long, full of adventures and experiences." - Constantine Peter Cavafy

"If you have something to say, then say it. If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts. The noise will return soon enough. In the meantime, you’re better off going out into the big, wide world, having some adventures and refilling your well. Trying to create when you don’t feel like it is like making conversation for the sake of making conversation." - Hugh Macleod,

Starting location for this week: Sheki, Azerbaijan
Ending location for this week: Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan
Planned mileage for this week: 735 miles (1,176 kilometers)

Salam ælæyküm - "Hello" in Azerbaijani

Salam aleykum - "Hello" in Turkmen

After driving over cracked and broken pavement through countryside that is almost exclusively agrarian, dodging dogs, herds of sheep, goats and cattle, it's a rude awakening to enter the free-for-all melee of rush-hour traffic in this city that runs on the commerce of "black gold", the scent of oil is in the air. Dripping and covered in mud from two days of heavy rain, our group checks into the 5-star Hyatt Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Three weeks into the ride, the once shiny bikes and spotless riding suits are looking "a bit off".  A few turn-signals are dangling, some minus their amber lenses, there's a cracked mirror here and there, the once geometrically perfect panniers show dents and scratches, factory finishes are dulled by a coat of grime.

The hotel staff takes it all in stride, bellhops rush up with carts to whisk luggage away, security personnel direct riders to assigned parking areas, immaculate receptionists encode smart card room keys, silent elevators disgorge riders to their respective floors. In the rooms, more pilllows on the beds than most people here have in their living room.  Air-conditioning, broadband internet access, satellite TV, digital phone systems, stocked mini-bars, the entire complex surrounding a magnificent courtyard centered by a perfect pool.

Just one day earlier, our lodging was a centuries old, restored caravansary, forerunner of the modern service station.  Its stout stone walls also enclosed a courtyard, only this one was once full of feed and water for camels, the complex being a fortress to protect the ancient caravans, and provide a safe haven with food and refreshment for weary traders.  On our first tour, the lodging didn't have hot water.  They since had installed electric heaters in all the rooms, but the joke was on us - when we first arrived, the power was out.

If nothing else, the Silk Road Adventure is a journey in contrast in almost all respects. On our fuel-injected, servo-assisted, ABS-enabled bikes, we pass horse-drawn conveyances that probably haven't changed since the dawn of internal combustion. After a linen and china buffet breakfast, we take refuge from the rain in a smoke-filled "cafe", where men are the only customers, and tea the only item on the menu, served only by men.

Credit cards are almost as worthless as the Dollar or Euro. We haven't seen a Starbucks or McDonalds since leaving Istanbul (and are probably better for it).  Wal-Mart doesn't exists here, the superstores are non-existant, the most common vehicle is a Russian-built Lada.  Truly Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore. . . .

Welcome to Week Three of the Silk Road!

Mike, Your Webmeister

* * * * * * * * * *

The many forms of "Hello" in over 800 languages and other useful words and phrases are courtesy of Jennifer's Language Page.

To find out what time it is there (or anywhere!), visit The World Clock.

To see where they are now, visit the Navigation Technology Chapter.

For more information about the countries in this week's leg of the Silk Road, please visit the resources listed below:

The World Factbook, maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States

- Azerbaijan


The Consular Information Sheets, provided by the Department of State of the United States

- Azerbaijan


The web-based, free-content encyclopedia entries at Wikipedia, maintained by "GlobeWriters" everywhere

- Azerbaijan


Marco Polo

- Silk Road

Day 15 - 15 May 2997 - Baku, Azerbaijan
In a previous Live!Journal entry, I noted that our Turkish guide, Kaz, informed us that the Turkish goodbye (said by the one staying behind to the one leaving) translated loosely as "Go with laughter".

There is an active community of BMW GS riders in the Pacific Northwest (USA/Canada) that are members of NW_GS Riders Internet mail list (an Internet-based forum). One of them, the irascible Ged Schwartz from British Columbia, Canada, sent the following "correction":

"Mike, being the gentleman he is, left off the ending of that traditional Turkish phrase...."

"Go with at the pretty girls, keep your wine from the infidels, and praise the goats". "

In addition, he forwarded the graphic to the left in protest of rising fuel prices around the word

Day 16 - 16 May 2007 - Baku, Azerbaijan
Hi Everyone,

I am one of the overlanders who rode to Istanbul. I traveled across Europe taking in as many places as I could on the way down.

I came through Serbia and Kosovo en route to meet the other overlanders in Greece. We then rode on to Istanbul together.

Coming in by a land border, we were lucky to avoid the hassle with Customs clearance at the port, and only had to get our tires changed at a tire shop (on market day, the day we went).

The ride through Turkey was amazing. The people are so friendly, especially in the mountain villages some of us went through.

We have a choice to ride good roads or sections of dirt road and I find it is these latter roads that bring you into the villages that offer the most.

The first few riders through in the morning usually arrive looking for the road out. After a few tries and with help from the locals, you're on your way. The next lot of riders have it easier as now the locals know where you want to go and they stand out pointing out the roads without anyone else needing to stop to ask for directions.

Some places, we might decide to stop for tea and then we are immediately surrounded by the locals wanting to know where we are from, etc., and you end up in the tea shop having tea and when you go to pay, someone has already paid the bill. The people of turkey are very friendly and have set the standard high for the rest trip.

We are in Georgia now and the driving here requires a lot of attention. We have a couple of days in Tblisi and today, myself, Mark, Vince and Henry went on a side trip to Armenia.
Tomorrow we are heading to Azerbaijan.

Slan for now,


Day 16 - 16 May 2007 - Baku, Azerbaijan
[The following is a joint effort from myself (Pete) and Joe Laumer]

The 'short cut' from Batumi to Tblisi:

The day couldn't have started better. A local television station interviewed a few of us (I guess we're news). Joe and I had decided to take a shorter alternate route from the port city of Batumi to Georgia's capital city, Tblisi The map showed the route as a 'red' road, suggesting that it was of the same quality as the one that the rest of the group was to take.

The night before, we had shown our Georgian guide, Nino, our intended route. She assured us that "... yes it is a good road that they use all the time to travel between Batumi and Tblisi"

In retrospect, it is obvious that she didn't know what road we were referring to.

Although it took us an hour to find our way out of the city, the smooth tarmac was inviting, at least for the 1st 20 or 30 km. Still paved but bumpy, we rode for about 70 km to a town called Khulo. As we passed through small towns, many people were waving at us by crossing their arms back and forth. "What friendly people, these Georgians!"

In retrospect, we're pretty sure they were telling us to turn around.

As we climbed higher and higher towards the mountain pass, road conditions deteriorated precipitously. We stopped at the 1st of 3 streams rushing across the road to evaluate its depth and bed. We got up on the pegs and didn't get down for the next 2 hours. Potholes, ruts, uncleared mudslides just kept coming with increasing frequency.

After negotiating some significant mudholes, a car stopped to tell us that there was snow in the pass and that we couldn't make it through with motorcycles. We were at 4,000 feet elevation and still had 2,500 to go. It had taken an hour to go 20 km and we had to come to grips with the fact that the sensible thing to do would be to turn around.

At 15:30 we arrived back at our starting point, Batumi, after having ridden some of the most difficult conditions that either of us had ever experienced.

And we didn't even drop the bikes!

At this point it was obvious that we weren't going to make it to Tblisi to join the rest of the group, so it was decided that we would ride as far as we could during daylight. Cattle (and sheep and pigs and chickens and bad drivers) on the road totally excluded the option of night time riding.

We passed several small towns till we arrived in Kutaisi and found 'Hotel Sunny' with the help of a dodgy character in a Mercedes.

Unbeknownst to us, Nino, our worrying guide, had been on her cell phone since early afternoon with the all the police departments between Batumi and Tblisi, looking for us. Even after we phoned in later that afternoon to let everyone know we were fine, she continued to worry till she saw us in person the next day. I think the GlobeRiders tour aged her a few years!

We were decompressing on the hotel's restaurant patio with a few beers and a bottle of ice cold pepper vodka when we met David and his brother Michael, both of whom spoke excellent English and were glad to discuss world affairs and the future of Georgia

It was a great opportunity to learn the personal views of a couple of young Georgians. They invited us into the restaurant to join their 'supra'. This is a Georgian Friday night dinner party with (too many) toasts to just about everything you can imagine. This scene was like something lifted right out of the Seventies, complete with a disco ball and karaoke. It was a fantastic ending to a great day of adventure. Needless to say, we slept well that night.

Like all experiences, there were lessons to be learned...

1. Not all 'red' roads are the same in Georgia.

2. When the whole town is waving by making an 'X' with their arms, it doesn't necessarily mean 'hello'.

3. Georgian wine packs a punch.

Pete and Joe (The Adventurers!)

Day 16 - 16 May 2007 - Baku, Azerbaijan
Impressions of Georgia and Azerbaijan

When you only spend a few days in a country, you’re just scratching the surface – that’s the case for our travels through Georgia and Azerbaijan. We spent 4 nights in Georgia and 3 nights in Azerbaijan, before boarding ourselves and the motorcycles onto a freight ferry (tomorrow) to cross the Caspian Sea. Should be interesting!

The days we did spend in these two countries were fascinating. Hard to believe that it was only as recent as 1991 when republics declared their independence from Russia, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Gorbachev resigned on December 25, 1991 and the Soviet parliament acknowledged the dissolution of the USSR on December 26.

Georgia and Azerbaijan appear to be struggling with poverty, economic inequality, creating their own identity, contributions (or lack thereof) from Russia and the U.S., impacts of modernization, renewal of neighborhoods, and age-old clashes with neighboring countries. For example, we learned first hand at the border that Azerbaijanis and Armenians don’t really like each other – now, what’s up with that? They live right next door!

Upon crossing the border into Georgia from Turkey, we were met with many smiling faces and handshakes, “Welcome to Georgia!” The ride along the Black Sea coast with the Caucasus Mountains to the south was beautiful as we headed through small villages to Batumi. Our walking tour of Batumi revealed how strongly people feel about ridding their city/country of reminders of the 70-year Russian occupation. They’ve spent a lot of resources turning drab institutional-like apartments into colorful ones. We also came across workers who were removing Russian stars (20 pounds each) on a steel fence with a torch.

From Batumi we stopped in Gori (birthplace of Stalin), then onto Tblisi, capital of Georgia. And what an entrance it was during Friday rush hour!!!! I think this was the first major introduction to chaotic traffic for the boys (we cheated them from Istanbul traffic by taking a ferry out of the city). They all did impressively well. We were warned to stay clear of tinted-windowed cars and for good reason. Too bad I wasn't taking videos! But apparently this was just practice for China.

You can feel and see a difference as you cross the border from Georgia into Azerbaijan. The major one is Georgia is easy to spell and Azerbaijan isn't!

But however you spell it, it's more mountainous, hence rainier, hence greener, hence more sheep, hence more sheep getting butchered in doorways – you get the picture. We had two picturesque riding days through this greener area, but also two days of rain – so we only imagined the picturesque part. But given the road conditions, the riders wouldn't be looking around much anyway – the roads were gravel, pot holed, rough, wet, muddy, greasy, nasty – requiring quick reactions. As we approached a drier landscape it stopped raining and all of a sudden we thought we were back in Wyoming. From there we hightailed into the bustling and construction-filled capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, where it's obvious all the money for this country is.

It's easy to right the world, however, from my room in a 5-star Hyatt Hotel. . . .

Until next time,

Linda and Mike

Day 16 - 17 May 2007 - Baku, Azerbaijan
Hello Again,

It is 10:30 at night here in Baku, and in the morning we are heading for the port to get a boat to Turkmenistan.

My left arm is very sore at the moment. Normally it is your right arm, that being the side of the throttle which does not get a rest. The reason is because we spend most of the time waving at people along the roads. The motorbikes attract a lot of attention as we go along and you will regularly see kids running to the road to wave as we go by.

We crossed into Azerbaijan 3 days ago. The buildings have improved and there are not as many empty factories as in Georgia, but there are a lot more animals to watch for, cows walking the road and wild horses tied along side the road.

We have had rain here the first two days, the second day being the worst. The rain was so heavy it was washing debris onto the road. The roads were very slippy and you needed to be very smooth on the bike I think I got on a bit better than most being from Ireland, we have to ride in the rain a lot.

We see so much on this trip. It seems like we have been gone a long time, I have to keep a diary to try and remember everything.

Slan for now,


Day 16 - 16 May 2007 - Baku, Azerbaijan
Old meets new. . . .

As we were working on our bikes in the parking lot of the Hyatt Hotel here in Baku, one of the many ex-pats here working in the oil industry stopped by to introduce himself and asked if he could offer any assistance.

Turns out a number of riders needed mirrors, the roads and parking lots had both taken their toll, and even a tip-over at a dead stop could break things off. As is true of motorcyclists everywhere, this local rider had a stash of take-off and spares parts at home. Dan and Mark jumped into his car to see what he had.

Shortly thereafter, the unmistakable sound of a Boxer engine thundered into the parking lot, but the four-wheeled vehicle they had left in returned minus a wheel! Our new-found savior was the proud owner of a Russian-built 1996 Ural sidecar, one of 16 or so in the local club.

As an owner of one of these venerable machines myself, I found it highly amusing that a Russian-built sidecar was ferrying spares to late model German machines, on the grounds of an American hotel chain in Azerbaijan.

The 3rd photo shows a close-up of a custom-stitched cover for the trunk-mounted spare wheel, a standard feature of these unusual machines.  Thanks to the "Baku Bad Boys" for rendering aid to our travelers far from home.

Bound for Turkmenistan,


Day 15 - 15 May 2007- Baku, Azerbaijan
Subject: A Typical Day on the Road with All our GlobeRiders Friends: Day 15 - Sheki to Baku in Azerbaijan, Distance: 166 miles

Our morning starts at 6:15 with the alarm clock beeping in my ear. We typically shower the night before so Linda and I have just enough time to pack our luggage, take it to the motorcycle, pack it away and get to breakfast by 7am. The decision is made on the weather for the day to determine how many layers of clothing will be worn under our riding suits. It’s nice to make the right call so changing on the road is not necessary, but with so little space, anything is accessible on the motorcycle in less than 30 seconds. The forecast for today is cool and rainy so several layers of clothing and rain suits will start the day.

Our motorcycle luggage includes 2 soft bags with our personal stuff for overnight and the rear top box which has our rain gear, first aid kit, water with some snacks and extra warm garments if needed during the day. Linda wears a fanny pack which carries the camera so when bad weather comes the camera goes in the top box for protection. We have the luxury of a chase vehicle which carries the laptop computer along with a small suitcase with our extra changes of clothing. This is a luxury we are able to have because we are traveling with two persons on the same motorcycle.

Each morning, I take the cover off the motorcycle and pack away the soft bags in the aluminum panniers that stay mounted to the motorcycle. Almost half of each pannier is loaded with tools for the motorcycle, spare inner tubes for the tires, an electric tire pump, the motorcycle cover, and parts that may be necessary for repair on the road during the day so sometimes it is challenging to get the lid closed with the addition of our clothes.

Breakfast takes about 30 minutes. The briefing for the ride today was given last night so we know any little special details for the day. We are warned about road conditions with large pot holes, rough narrow mountain roads with lots of livestock and people along the route including possible flooding due to the hard rain last night. Our riding companions, Roger and Jack, have agreed on a 7:45 departure for today. Linda and I return to our room to gather the riding jackets, helmets and gloves and head to the motorcycle. All riders are gathered at the secure parking area just outside the hotel and start to depart in groups of individuals that have the same riding style and speed. There are no alternate routes today so all the riders will be on the same route. Helge adjusts the shocks on the BMW motorcycles this morning anticipating a rougher road than any day previously.

The route out of town is dotted with buses, cars and people along the roadside. Life goes on for the local people. It is early morning with typical people busily making their way to work, children to school or herding the animals to pasture along the roadside. Horns blowing from passing cars are a sign of acceptance and interest, along with head nods from the locals and waving of hands from the children. Even over the sound of the motorcycle you can hear the yelling of “Welcome” from the people.

It’s raining and the roads are slick. Puddles are everywhere hiding the depth of the pot holes. There’s not much traffic out of town as we work our way up mountain roads and pass through small remote villages. Passing trucks on the small narrow roads are the major challenge with water spray coming from the truck tires blocking a clear view to make a pass. All is going well as different groups of riders pass us as we stopped for fuel.

It is about 11:30 am coming down a mountain road and we come upon a large group of riders on the side of the road waving their hands to slow down. There has been an accident. Dan, from Cleveland, has lost control on the slick road in a turn and ran off the road with his motorcycle. The panniers burst open on impact throwing contents all along the side of the road. Luckily Dan is okay - a little shook up, but great in spirits. Helge arrives to assess any motorcycle damage. It can be repaired to ride, but will be transported to Baku via the chase vehicle which also gives Dan time to relax in the van for the remainder of the day. It is very unfortunate that any accident takes place, but it is a reminder that with slick roads and unfamiliar territory, caution is best. We leave knowing Dan is okay, Helge is assisting, and the chase vehicle is coming behind us. The roads will get more challenging as the day progresses.

Returning to the elevation of the mountains the roads deteriorate. Fog now adds to the challenges of the day. Large pot holes hidden with debris crossing the road from the torrents of rain the night before challenge even the best riders; a lot of concentration is needed for these riding conditions. Some of the roads were like rivers with so much water, sand, dirt, mud and stones, washed onto the road due to poor design of drainage along the shoulder. It is still raining but not so hard. Crossing the bridges, the rivers are overflowing with mud and tremendous flows of water. Soil is being washed away from all areas of the river banks.

Now we are a group of 6 riders following us as I spot a sign for a restaurant. The timing could not be better. The large facility is ready for our company and excited to see such a spectacle of motorcycles pulling into the parking lot on such a miserable day. Dripping wet, we undress as more riders see our bikes and pull in. Our group of 10 is ready for some hot tea and to eat. Linda does the honor of visiting the kitchen to check out the “fixings of the day”. The food is delicious and the hospitality is very gracious. Little or no English is spoken by our hosts.

With our hearts warmed and renewed spirits we don our rain gear again and head down the road. The landscape begins to change. We are leaving the wet, lush green area and coming into a high desert region just prior to our arrival in Baku. The roads are dry, little pot holes, with strong winds crossing the rolling hills. The scenery is beautiful so we stop to take some photos. Unfortunately, we couldn’t capture photos of the bad road conditions we encountered earlier. Jeff, one of the GlobeRiders guides, has caught up with Roger, Jack and I. I ask Jeff to join me for an off-road photo shoot, so we take off down the road to leave the asphalt and venture into the high rolling desert hills. Roger, Jack and Linda wait patiently for our return. It was the highlight of the day for me with Jeff and I taking photos of each other enjoying riding the hills and dirt.

Baku is a large city, but our Hyatt Hotel is very easy to find. At 4pm, we are the last to arrive at the hotel for the day but the last 2 hours were very pleasant riding. The bell boys are eager to help with the luggage to our room. A shower for the day, a change of clothes, and Linda and I are ready for the 7pm dinner. Our dinner will be held at the local bikers club and we expected to meet some of the locals and see their motorcycles. Our bus arrives and delivers us to the very nice private facility. We are hungry for the food of the evening. Helge is interviewed by the local bike club organizer for the TV.

Unfortunately, I think they thought we would all be night owls, but after the long challenging day of riding, we departed the club at 10pm and the local bikers had not yet made their appearance. It’s after 10:30pm with our arrival at the hotel. Time for bed. It is the end of a day on the road with our friends. Tomorrow will be a sighting seeing day in Baku.


Day 20 - 20 May 2007 - Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan
“So, girlfriend (with large jug), let me tell you what it’s really like to be the only woman (and passenger) on the trip!”

Kaz, our local guide in Turkey, comically referred to me as “the rose amongst many thorns”. I feel very fortunate to share this experience with my boyfriend, Mike, and even more fortunate to be the only woman on the trip. I’ve been asked by friends back home, “how did that happen?” or told, “only you could have made that happen.” But really, it was just coincidence. Women have been on other GlobeRiders trips – as riders and passengers. If any of you women reading this have an opportunity to go – I have only two words of advice – DO IT!

As the only woman on this trip. . . . .

I have a personal driver – Mike Mathews – who I feel very safe with on the back of the motorcycle. Add 19 new brothers to that and I feel pretty darn protected during this trip.

I don’t have to work on the motorcycles (see Mike Paull bending over his sidecar).

A woman friend who lived in Turkey for a few months told me to “get used to being stared at”. Well, even though everyone stares at all the motorcyclists and motorcycles, I can’t help but feel like I’m getting different kinds of stares from males and females. But to be honest, I think I’m out-stared by Mike Paull and his sidecar machine (see Mike Paull upright).

As the only passenger, I’m able to take pictures of the guys riding (see Mike Paull ride). Also see others ride on the way to the ferry as we leave Azerbaijan, with a particularly nice shot of Joe alone.

The guys depend on me for really important things, like reminding them of Mother’s Day, Father’s Fay, birthdays and anniversaries; and guarding their luggage “with my life” while they were securing their motorcycles on the ferry across the Caspian Sea.

I’ve observed that just a little estrogen in the group “controls” the amount of testosterone released at any one time – which I believe would easily quadruple in my absence.

Sometimes I get special treatment from Helge, our leader. Here we are in the picture together - he’s telling me all about Norway – for the umpteenth time.

Since I love to backpack, it wasn’t hard for me to be a “wash and wear” participant – get up and get out. I’m trying to get rid of the stereotypes that it’s always women who delay everyone and pack too much crap. Fortunately, if I did need help packing, Mark’s unique technique of smashing all his things into a pannier with his foot would work.

While others were reading about the countries we’re visiting (before we arrived in Turkey), I re-read “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. The refresher course has helped immensely!

With a little help from a scarf, I can blend in with the locals more easily than the men.

I confess that I don’t really know much about motorcycles – I know that everyone has a BMW except for Mike’s Triumph Tiger. I couldn’t tell you even now which kinds of BMWs everyone has. I have learned, however, that all the guys on this trip suffer from what Henry refers to as: MBS – multiple bike syndrome.

I knew I was in for a lot of shop talk when the first chapter of the GlobeRiders journal was introduced as: “Bikes and Bios” versus “Bios and Bikes”. They like to talk about their families, but they LOVE to talk about motorcycles and motorcycling – but, really, family members - you knew that already, didn’t you? Sometimes when I’m listening to them talk about technology, motorcycle repairs, etc., I am reminded of that Gary Larson cartoon where the dog owner is talking to his dog, and the bubble coming out of the dog’s brain is, “blah, blah, blah, blah….” (in this scenario, I’m the dog).

With all sincerity, I’m traveling with the best group of men I could ever ask for. They are smart, cooperative, funny, considerate, and competent riders. I hope one day to meet everyone’s loved ones who are waiting for their safe return. In different ways, at different times we all miss our loved ones. I miss my dad and family and have missed wonderful events - the birth of Arden and Brad's baby girl, Morgan Piper; Erika and David's wedding; Corey's 21st birthday; and Chelsea's high school graduation.  But I'm blessed that they love me and support my being here.

So, girlfriend, that's a little of what it's like....



Day 20 - 20 May 2007 - Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan
Subject: Mama and the 3 Amigos

Urgup to Amasya & Trabzon, Turkey to Batumi & Tblisi, Georgia to Sheki & Baku, Azerbaijan - from here we took a ferry across the Caspian Sea into Turkmenistan.

I was surprised by the sudden differences between the three countries. Not an environmental difference as much as a socio-economic difference. In Turkey, the country appeared prosperous and so the people appeared happier, yet crossing into Georgia the mood turned more somber and unhappy. Tblisi, we were told, had an unemployment rate of approximately 40% and even in some towns we passed through it was said that the unemployment rate was as high as 80%.

I believe the former Soviet Republics suffered a lot under their reign, yet Azerbaijan seems to have suffered less due to its massive energy reserves. However, there still exists a large disparity between “the haves and the have-nots.” If you’re a “have-not” and are lucky enough to buy a car, you will be driving a junky Soviet-made Lada. On the other hand, if you’re a “have” type person, you’ll be driving either a black Mercedes or a black BMW with black tinted windows.

We boarded the ferry in Baku, Azerbaijan on Friday, May 18th at around 1 p.m. After lunch I went back to my cabin and succumbed to the splashing waves and the drone of the engines for a nice two- hour nap. Of course, after dinner I couldn’t go back to sleep and thus watched movies on my iPod until we landed in Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan – at 2 a.m. on Saturday morning. With little sleep, we battled customs for about 5 hours until we were released. Then we had a 365 mile journey ahead to Ashkhabad.

On the way to Ashkhabad , Turkmenistan, Mark, Dennis and I stopped in a small village called Kazandzhik. Kazandzhik lies about 180 miles southeast of Turkmenbashi. Mark appears to have a sixth sense for finding adventure and on this day we found one that will stay with us for a lifetime.

As we crossed over some railroad tracks there was a small compound that was partially fenced. Mark spotted a few Russian motorcycles parked in the compound and decided that it would be safe place to stop. Boy was he right!!

As we dismounted our iron steeds, lots of villagers came out to greet us. Not 3 or 4, but more like 30 or 40. Suddenly an older gentleman came out and directed us over to a shady spot under an arbor full of grape vines. An older woman, whom we believed to be the matriarch of the village, came out and spread a carpet on the ground for us to sit on.

By their emotions we could tell they were very glad to see us and they insisted that we sit down and join them for lunch. Off to the side we could see several older women squatting by 2 large iron-type woks, cooking over fires with a large Anatolian Shepherd dog watching their every move for scraps.

As we sat down, the elder woman started yelling orders out to several other people and the food and drinks started to appear. A large plate of rice, carrots and meat was placed before us, which I found out later was a traditional plate representing hospitality. While eating our gracious hosts’ food, the elder woman started chanting a song and then the rest of the village joined in to serenade us. When we finished our food, the elder woman again began to chant out a song while 4 young girls started to dance in unison. It was a lovely sight to behold.

After the dance the villagers gathered around a platform where young women were standing and throwing treats out to the children. I remembered I had packed some Razorback stickers with me so I grabbed a handful and threw them out into the crowd as well. After the festivities were over, we headed back to our bikes.

Before we mounted up we thanked our gracious guests for the lovely meal and warm companionship. We knew they didn’t understand a word we said, nor could we understand them, but our eyes said it all. Our last farewell was with the elder woman whom we now called “Mama”.

Mama gave each of us a blue handkerchief as we each said our good byes. Mama came to Dennis last and gave him a big hug. So with “thank you’s” aside, we mounted our bikes and said goodbye to Mama and the rest of the villagers and headed onto Ashkhabad.

I am now getting a little homesick, but I am very thankful to my family for allowing me such a great opportunity for an adventure of a lifetime.

Love to you all,


Day 20 - Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan
Azerbaijan – Mountains and Rain

Crossing the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan was like any other border. Lots of administration to keep people employed, but very few things that were difficult or worth getting upset over. Curiously they demanded that we completely declare all the cash we were carrying into the country, but otherwise it was fairly straight-forward. This was surprising because it was the first time in all my travels that I’ve been asked to do that.

Once we got beyond the border, the real change became evident. Azerbaijan has probably 1/10th the amount of cars that Georgia has. Want to know how I measured it? I counted the animals. I swear, in Azerbaijan, for the first 100 miles there were more farm animals on the roads than there were cars. Cows, horses, sheep, goats, dogs, you name it, and it was on the road staring at you, or grazing just off the road on the shoulders. I kept looking for a picture that might typify the animal traffic, and then I saw this flock of sheep ahead.

When I’m traveling on the road I am always an observer of the world around me, but rarely do I actually get pulled into a moment. This one touched me for some reason. There I was, in the rain, on a small country road in the mountains of Azerbaijan, wanting to get a photo of the flock as it neared me. I stopped the bike along the side of the road and grabbed my camera, walking out into the middle.

As I watched the flock of sheep being driven towards me, I didn’t recognize that there were three men driving them. Two were walking along with very large wooden staffs, yipping and whistling to the dogs moving the sheep along. One was on horseback, trailing along the edges of the fields. As they neared, I pointed at my camera and then to them, asking with gestures if it was okay. The one nodded yes, and I began to snap pictures as the flock of sheep surged around me. I was intently focused on the one herder walking nearest to me when he suddenly held up his hand with a look that froze me. He then slowly pointed down and I realized that I was less than 5 feet away from the guard dogs, all of whom were silently, and intently, focused on me. They were not wagging their tails or moving a single muscle.

I instantly knew that with one command from him, they would literally have been on me in less than a second. I froze even more. Then he smiled and squatted down to gather them in, and to reassure them I was not an enemy. Then he waved to me to take his pictures with the dogs. Never have I seen such cold-eyed, borderline feral dogs from so close, with absolutely no restraint or protection between them and I. My safety and existence depended on his control of those dogs. Even the pups who were following along behind were not friendly towards strangers.

What made it even more bizarre was the fact that none of them had ears, and their look and the shape of their heads made them almost seem like wraiths from a horrible science fiction movie. I stood silently, then slowly turned my camera towards him so he could see the picture of him and his dogs. He smiled, nodded his head, then whistled a command and was gone, walking down the road again with his dogs, following and protecting his flock. The entire experience lasted but about 3 minutes, but I didn’t get back on the bike for quite a while. The power and intensity in the eyes of those dogs still haunts me. But the smile and warmth of the shepherd amazed me. He was a man who loved what he had, and was proud of it. I was thankful he shared three minutes of his life with me, even though we never spoke a word. His eyes and the way he loved his dogs spoke volumes.

Photos by Jeff Munn

Day 21 - 21 May 2007 - Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan
This entry comes from Pete and Jason…

The Georgian Military Highway runs north from Tblisi, Georgia to the dissident Russian territory of Chicana. Being a military highway, it has good tarmac most of the way.

The night before, Jason and I had decided to explore the route. Our guides, Nino and Sasha, caught wind our plans and strongly advised against trying to get to the Chechnya border, suggesting that the roar of the mighty motorcycles might trigger an avalanche. Jason thanked them for their somewhat illogical concerns and we set off.

As the towns got smaller and smaller, we passed several large, bizarre monuments along the side of the road abstractly depicting religious motifs. We stopped at an ancient Orthodox church in Ananuri, built 800 years ago. As an added bonus, a service was being held (it was Sunday morning). We lit 2 candles and drank in the mysterious experience for a few minutes.

Heading north the road snaked through some spectacular canyons with numerous switchbacks. At one corner 5 babushkas displayed the traditional Georgian hats for sale. We stopped to chat and bargain with them for souvenirs. They gave us several excellent photo opportunities.

The road became increasingly surrounded by snow, flanked by the imposing peaks of the Caucasus mountains. The temperature had dropped to 4°C. By this time the road had changed to gravel with so many potholes that it was no longer possible to drive around them. At 2300 metres elevation, we encountered the first of 4 snow sheds designed to protect the road from avalanches.

These long, dark, deteriorating concrete tunnels had varying surfaces of mud and ice. The 5th tunnel convinced us that we had reached the end of our journey – it was downhill, extra long, and curved around a mountain. We figured the return trip might be too difficult to attempt on motorcycles with the tires that we had.

Perched on a cliff nearby, an unusual monument required further inspection. The massive curved mural of brightly coloured tiles depicted various important events in Georgian history.

A bowl of hot chicken soup at a ski resort was just the right fuel needed for the return trip back to Tblisi

The shepherds graze large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle along the side of the road. Pack horses, donkeys and dogs complete the menagerie of men and animals, routinely blocking the road and testing the mettle of the vehicles that must share the way.

Just another exercise in patience and a reminder that there are many things here we have absolutely no control over. Just go with the flow and don’t sweat it.

Day 21 - 21 May 2007 - Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan

As I get ready for my trip to Istanbul, I have packed and repacked more than enough times. I now have a pile of stuff that I am leaving home. A motorcycle only holds so many parts, computers, clothes, tools, satellite phones, cell phones, and books. I think that I have enough stuff, but now, what do I use to hold it all on the bike? I picked a back pack.

I arrive in Istanbul and soon meet Bill Jenkins at baggage claim and find that his panniers did not arrive on his plane. Fortunately we will be in Istanbul for about four days and he will have time for them to get here. As we pull into the hotel, hanging out the window of the Blue House is Mike Mathews and Linda Sikorowski. It is nice to finally meet the people who I have been emailing for the last four months.

It took us two days to get the bikes out of customs, but everyone was in good spirits and we finally got the bikes out, and we were on our way to Bursa the next day. We drove through Turkey trying to keep up with our guide, Kaz. What a great country in which to ride a motorcycle! Then we are on to Georgia and Batumi on the shore of the Black Sea. It is a resort town and we get to relax for a while.

We ride to Tblisi, the capital of Georgia, and spend two wonderful days sightseeing and getting our bikes cleaned and ready to the next stage of the ride.

We then ride on to Azerbaijan and spend two days riding in the rain. It was slippery and we had a few mishaps, but fortunately nothing where anyone got hurt. It is unfortunate that it rained because I think we missed seeing a beautiful countryside. We spend a few days in Baku, Azerbaijan and had a great time. The hit of one night was the belly dancing.

After waiting a day for the ferry to arrive from Turkmenbashi, so we can go through customs in Azerbaijan and take the ferry over to Turkmenistan, we leave a about noon and arrive in Turkmenistan at 2 am the next morning. We then take five hours to go thru customs on the Turkmenistan side of the Caspian Sea, and after breakfast we ride 400 miles to Ashkhabad, the capital of Turkmenistan.

What a city! We are in awe of the white buildings and the statues of the First President, Turkmanbashi, who died Dec. 21, 2006.

We tried to ride to the Iranian border but were not allowed by the Turkmen army at their border crossing.

So far, for me, the highlight of the trip was the Sunday market in Ashkhabad. We were able to see the trading of camels, sheep, horses, and cows in the live market. And across the way we saw the largest flea market I have ever seen. There was more there to buy than at a normal Wal-Mart.

There are many more exciting days to come. I am learning a lot about the culture of all the people in all the countries that we pass through. I am also learning that there is tremendous power in the oil of these countries.

But the best of all I am learning that the people that we meet are fantastic. I am finding that in this part of the world, the people are as friendly and warm as anywhere. We have not had a bad experience with anyone, including the security in Turkmenistan and the guards at the border crossings.

More later from the Silk Road,

Roger Hansen

Helge Pedersen Images from the Silk Road

(Final Two Images by Bill Jenkins)

Silk Road 2007 Live!Journal Chapters Menu

Copyright © 2009 GlobeRiders, LLC ®.  All rights reserved.