Our first day of proper riding in Azerbaijan started with a dash for cash as we aimed to find some Azeri Manat before breakfast: unsurprisingly a couple of large local breads! A kind Azeri in a 4×4 stopped to give us some water while Alex cycled past having not seen us, we then raced after him for the next 15km while he thought he was trying to catch us up!
The road towards Qax started off as tarmac but soon deteriorated into something similar to what we had known at David Gareja in Georgia. At 2PM in the blazing sun this was not too reassuring until we were told later that it was the worst road in Azerbaijan – so they can only get better! We bumped into two enthusiastic Australian tourers also on bicycles doing a 3 week trip around the region. The owner of a bike company, the male half of the Aussie couple gave us some very useful advice (some of which has come in handy to replace our duct tape repairs) before telling us it was a very Pom thing to do to want to climb such a crazy mountain range as the Pamirs (see our blog in Late September / October, we hope)! Unfortunately we forgot to mention The Ashes and have rued the opportunity since.
We arrived in Qax and waited to meet up with James, a contact found on the internet who had offered us to stay with him. As we sat on some steps in the town center eating bread, again, a patisserie owner must have been rather sceptical about our diet so came to give us some tomatoes and cheese as accompaniment! We then had an ice cream and met James who began to tell us about his situation: he is a Peace Corps Volunteer from New Jersey who has been based in Gax for nearly two years. He works with the locals, specializing in youth development, broadly increasing Azeri awareness of The United States and vice-versa.
After a quick shower, we walked into town accompanied by a frisbee and American football only to find our choice of sports governed by two concurrent competitions in the town centre: the local table tennis and arm wrestling competitions! Ant and I did not get through enough rounds in the arm wrestling to warrant a mention, but after a pretty fortunate draw I won three knockout matches in a row to make it into the finals of the table tennis and ultimately onto the bottom step of the podium, earning me a truly exquisite glass chalice. The pride of my result was not, however, consequential enough to prevent me from passing the 2kg mass onto James’ adopted grandmother as a thank you present!
We ate in town before heading uphill for the sunset and heading back to find the aforementioned granny offering us tea (with cherry jam in) and leftovers of stews, salads and bread. Keen to let us experience part of his cooking club, James did not find it hard to convince us to cook three trays of (Snickers) chocolate chip cookies and a large Snickers chocolate cake! Both as fuel during a game of Settlers of Catan and pre-bedtime treats, we ensured no food was left to go cold…