6:00 in the morning, an hour back I was woken up by some roosters. A little annoyed by the bed in which I’m not able to stretch my legs I discovered I really can’t sleep anymore. I’m not sure my head is still able to handle all of this.. So let’s write.

We certainly left the west behind in the past few days. Though the amount of cows (and dead puppies 😢) on the roads of Azerbaijan is still the same, it feels like we’ve entered a completely different world.

Sad as it was, we had to leave Georgia behind. As you might have noticed in my previous writing, the country still amazed me limitless. The green, the snow, those mountains… Such beauty. And we’ve taken our time to discover it. Finally we’ve slowed down our pace a little, taking a few days here and there to spend off the bike and in this beauty. But the trees were already whispering about it. Slowly we saw some of their colors changing, some single leaves found their way to the ground, sighting that the end of summer was near. We discovered on our last days in Georgia that autumn truly was at stake. The sky had changed into a solid grey mass, while the air felt moist. We found our way to the previous capital of the country, Mtskheta (it’s amazing how many consonants those Georgians can put our after each other in a single word) to discover some ancient churches and castles, hidden away in the clouds. As we already spend quite a lot of money, no, not true actually, I should say as we’ve had quite a lot of paid nights already we really wanted to camp again. A village like this didn’t seem the right place, but when we went up a hill I laid eyes on a deserted Sovjet building. Perfect to hide both our tent and bikes for the rain to come, what a delight would it be not to let everything dry (if that would even be possible) in the morning. Truly, it might sound like a lot less work, not to have a house anymore, when you never have to clean it, at least that’s what I expected, but I discovered it’s surely not. Setting up and breaking down your house everyday, doing all your laundry by hand, giving all our stuff some air, and everything else is much more work, believe me. But so far the side note 😉

The bikes looked stunning and bold inside that old building. Though it felt a bit like we were some local addict hiding away in this place I definitely saw the beauty of it.

We crossed the border to my first new country of this trip, oh yeah! Azerbaijan here we come. Border crossings generally are a pain in the ass, but this one went pretty smooth. Apart from us wanting to pay for the fines we received earlier. We went to the “bank” (better name it small office occupied with one not-so-hard-working person with the name of a random bank on it) we were told, after more than 1,5 hour of waiting, seeing the guy make a few phone calls, have some walks to the border police with our passports at hand, and him staring to his computer for most of the time, that it was not possible. Internet problem. Awesome! As our passports were already stamped out of Georgia we decided to leave it like this, a trip back to a real bank would be too much hassle. Let’s hope that if we enter Georgia again our fines are not a hundredfold.

Azerbaijan was still grey and rainy. So instead of a planned multiple day hike through the mountains in the apparently snowy northeastern part we had to adapt our travel plan. A visit to a small mountain village named Kis made us aware of the ever present receiving and waving goodbye committee, consisting of boys and men, closely inspecting us and our motorbikes, nodding and pointing like if they are real salesmen. And if they had the chance they made sure to have some photos, preferably with us, our bikes, my blond hair and themselves included. I believe we have to get used to it. But already after a few days my honest smile on their photos is vanished.. I do wonder though where all these people come from, since everywhere we stopped they just magically appear. Would they all be lurking around corners all day, waiting for some innocent bikers to come around? Jokes aside, though I really have to get used to the amounts of people and differently defined privacy, those people all have, most often, been extremely helpful, trying without the possibility to exchange a single word, to provide us with whatever we needed, including but not limited to tea, seats, water, fruit, bread, well you name it. And that is amazing.

In Kis I also discovered that my recent falls haven’t been without any damage. The pannier rack on the left side of my bike was snapped on one of the attachment points. And since the highway was, already for 40 kilometer, changed into a shaky dirt track winding around the real highway-under-construction, it didn’t feel like duct tape was going to do the job. Next to that road we saw a man welding a part on one of the many present Lada Nivas. That’s our guy! Again without exchanging a single word we were able to point him in the right direction. After putting a sigaret in the corner of his mount and pulling the rack back into place he took his welding machine and fixed it. When the job was done I asked him how much we owed him. He shook his head and waived me off, refusing to take any money from us. My heart melted.

That day we’ve been driving for too long. Long stretches of nothingness couldn’t provide any hideaway place to put our tent, and when we thought we found something it started raining heavily and mosquitoes decided to attack us. Back on that bike to search a little more. Yet when it became dark, I barely saw a thing (only to discover the next day that my light was broken..) and the roads became a little too winding I didn’t find it very funny anymore. We pulled over to ask a restaurant owner where we could find an hotel. After a lot of hassle the whole family that gathered made clear that we could spend the night at their place, when we’d pay a 100 manat (little over €50). That is absolutely crazy, that is more than our day budget and we’ve never spend that much money on any night. But after a short discussion and talking the price down to 90 manat we decided that continuing wasn’t an option either. One of the customers of my previous job gave me on one of my last days a €50 tip, for the service and to spend on a hotel when we’d be really tired. So if you read this, thank you again! It is spend on this 🙂 For now, we took it for an expensive lesson. And it was a little fun too. The toilet pot was broken, so we had to use a hole in the ground of their backyard. The shower didn’t work either so a big pan with water was warmed on the stove and we eventually could take a “shower” with that. We were stuffed with food, bringing our own outdated bread was not-done. And we were amazingly annoyed by the kid of 3, really lacked some manners, and spoiled by both the parents and grandparents who lived all in that same house. Communication in any spoken language was not possible, but well, you find your ways.

Next day, after some family portraits on our bikes, we headed off to Göygöl, the lake that was hopefully finally going to show us some of the natural beauty of Azerbaijan. We found it fully covered in fog. We had a good laugh, made beautiful pictures of a swan and went off. But not after we were invited for tea and lunch on the picnic area where our bikes were parked by some lovely people from Baku. The lady even insisted on giving me her necklace. I couldn’t refuse and didn’t know what to say either. This hospitality and the kindness of all these people is admiring. It is interesting to notice that never in my life I’ve been asked this many times if we are married. And if we have kids. Of course! Where do you expect we’ve left them? Hey mom, can you watch our babies for the coming two years? Or should we just stick them in our pannier, putting little holes in the metal for them to breath. I thought about that for Zora, our cat, but Ruben didn’t even allow me that 😉

Well, sorry guys you missed out on it, but at least for now we decided we are married. The liberal attitude towards not being married is changing. Even young people looked weird at us when we asked for one large bed instead of two single beds. But you are not married, right? Really?! It feels so old fashioned, and the rebellious teenager in me tends to take over again. But who am I to judge… We discovered that marrying has a whole different status than it has back home. The girl who invited us for lunch appeared to be engaged. When I asked about her fiancée she proudly said to know him already for six whole months! And the marriage, which we were invited to, will take place in November. I wonder how you think to know someone after such a short time. How on earth can you decide to stick with that person for the complete rest of your life?! Ruben and I met this weekend 7 years back, and this journey makes me only realize that there is still so much I don’t know about him, so much to discover. But it probably is just our imprinted social-cultural desire to first get to know each other completely before you take such a big step. It is all about perspective, isn’t it…

After that many people, and sleeping in strangers houses we looked forward to a quiet night in our own tent again. So we tried. We found a nice spot near a canal (yay! They even have other types of waterways outside the Netherlands) on something we thought to be a deserted dirt road. Wrong. And so were we about the quiet night in our tent. Within 15 minutes an old Lada arrived. 4 people stepped out of it, and after some photos were taken (really, you see that it’s annoying?), and asking where we came from and went to (it keeps being funny to observe faces when people realize we are riding from the Netherlands to New Zealand) they figured out we’d be sleeping in our tent. The only girl of the company took me apart, and again without words, made clear that she didn’t find it safe to stay here. We could go with her to spend the night at the place where she, her parents and her kid lived. After some considerations we decided to go with her. Or better said, wait for her and her friends to come back, stuff her between me and my luggage. Honestly, that is quite a task and pretty uncomfortable I can tell, but it was a fun ride. It’s lovely though to let other people experience some of the power of my monster. We arrived at her house, which would merely be called a shed in the Netherlands. After some tea we were taken for a ride in daddy’s beautiful Lada, taken to the local park, and at some markets we were obliged to let them buy us the food we wanted. We had an amazing late night dinner with the whole family. Selma, the girl who picked us up from our camping spot, even gave me a proper “shower”: that boiled water pouring system works way better when you’re with two. We got to sleep in their beds, while they were on mattresses spread through the two rooms of their house. Even without words she was able to tell me the father of her boy didn’t survive a car accident two years back. And I believe she understood how strong I thought she was. We were received so incredibly warmly, I don’t even know how to describe it. I think I merely have to take it all in, learn from it as much as I can, and give it back to the world whenever I get the chance.

That next morning was the day I started writing this blog. By now, we are a few days further. We’re in a hotel in Bilasuvar, 20km off the border to Iran. Though a hideaway isn’t exactly what this is, even the hotel owner founds his way to our room five times last night, I felt like I needed some time to breath before entering yet another world. Before I have to cover up my hair, my arms, my butt, my legs, even when the thermostat hits over 40 degrees. Can’t wait. Before entering a world in which women and men are treated so differently, yet where everything seems to be possible behind closed doors. I’m super excited and a little nervous. I remember me entering a completely different world for the first time, a stopover of a day in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, on the way to my first big journey to Australia, nearly ten years back. Young and coy as we were, we were overwhelmed by all the chaos and gigantic amounts of people wanting things for and from us. It was exciting but quite scary at the same time. Mainly I was very happy this was only for a day, and we would leave again to more westernized parts of the world. And now so many years later I feel that same knot in my belly again. Though I’ve seen quite a bit of the world by now, got kind of used to different cultures. This feels different, new, and I hope I’m ready.

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