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Thursday, October 20, 2011 | Halfway stage!

Regular readers of the blog will be unsurprised to learn that today was yet another early start. Our goal today is Baku, the halfway point of our expedition, and the place where I hand over the reins to my colleagues. Naturally we are running on a very tight schedule ...

The first thing I notice immediately is the heavy police presence. A foreign vehicle, with its bright livery, must present a tempting target and sure enough, the inevitable happens. I’m hauled out of the van, allegedly because I failed to observe some traffic sign or other. Of course there was no such sign. The traffic control is situated on the road, conveniently next to the police station. The officer politely asks me to accompany him to a building with tinted windows from which you can see out but not in. I’ve read and heard a great deal about corruption in these parts and now I find myself enmeshed in it. That will be $500, they tell me matter of factly. I try to explain to them that I am a journalist,

on my way to interview two of the brightest stars in the Azerbaijani firmament, Ell & Nikki. They stare blankly at me, until one of them has the wit to get hold of an interpreter on the telephone, to whom I explain the situation. Finally, they generously agree to reduce my fine to €100. Good, isn’t it, I think to myself, that they have such flexible currency arrangements? As a thank you, I receive four sweets. Weird.

A few more traffic controls go by and whilst I am going through the city of Ganca, a loudspeaker from a police car orders me to pull over. What, I wonder, have I done this time? Apparently I am now accused of overtaking another vehicle illegally at a cross roads. What is going on here exactly? It’s like being in a bad film! More comedy hand-waving, sign language and gesticulating, and this time it’s going to cost me €166. However, I adopt a more robust stance: I stand firm and refuse to pay. A rapid telephone call, and then the police tell me to get back in the cab and follow the patrol car. They guide me in the right direction through the town to get me back on the road to Baku. They make me stop once more. Further discussions. More arm waving and gesticulating until finally, they settle for $30 and two pieces of Lindt chocolate. I console myself with the thought that it is a reasonable gratuity for their help in getting me back on the right road. Of my “traffic violation” nothing more is heard. It takes me a while to get my head round all this but eventually I just drive on. A third traffic control looms up a few kilometres further on but – wonder of wonders – they wave me straight through.

The journey is long and tedious. The countryside is pretty grim and it only changes just before Baku, when in the distance the Caspian Sea comes into view. It is a brilliant turquoise colour.

About an hour later, I reach the halfway stage of the Go to Brau Beviale expedition: Baku.

The city is big and beautiful, with many imposing buildings. I drive past them in amazement on my way to the airport to pick up my colleague who will be taking over from me, to drive the vehicle in the direction of southern Turkey. It is dark. It has taken me the whole day to reach this point and it is already 7pm when I arrive at the airport car park. To celebrate the change-over a pleasant meal is called for overlooking the roofs of Baku. We retire to the “kitchenette” for something to eat and drink, check emails, and discuss the adventures of the Editourmobil. The thought slowly dawns on me: I’ve done it, despite the rotten roads, temperamental weather, spats with customs officers, comic dealings with corrupt policemen, I’ve actually made it. I am finally in Baku!

Now there is only a minor duty remaining: the interview tomorrow with Ell & Nikki.