“When your visa is confirmed you will get an email, go to the bank and pay for it in US Dollars before coming back to the embassy with your receipt” a simple task, you would think, but nothing out here is ever simple.
I cycled down to the international Bank of Azerbaijan and tried to extract some Yankee Bucks from the ATM outside, of course, that would have been too easy. Inside the woman on the front desk pointed me to a counter. The woman behind that counter pointed me to the counter adjacent to hers, she, in turn, pointed me to a counter on the other side of the bank. There I asked how much it would be in US dollars, I was told to ask for the conversion at the Currency Exchange Desk, at the desk clearly marked as the Currency Exchange Desk, I was directed to the adjacent counter. There I was told to wait a minute. He could sense my impatience and assured me it would only be a minute and that he was wating for the day's conversion rate. Ten minutes later I asked how long it would be and was told “Forty minutes”. I went outside and fished my emergency stash of USD out of my bike frame. Back inside I was directed back to the desk I started at, who then directed me to the desk the other side of the bank where my payment was finally procesed. In Azeri Manat.
There was no queue for the Uzbek embassy when I arrived to collect my visa, so I walked straight in and and began my transaction with the quaint consul. He painstakingly deliberated over the paperwork walking slowly back and forth from the counter to his desk. I verified my entry dates and he carefully affixed the sticker to my passport, stamped and signed it. As I watched him work with such extreme diligence I thought to myself “This is a man that has never made a mistake in his life”. Having completed the process he handed me the passport of a random Russian applicant that was laying on the desk. I pointed out the error, he smiled, and handed me MY passport. I will never know if it was a joke or not.
With official consent to enter Uzbekistan I was all set to get the hell out of Azerbaijan, so I immediatley called the ferry ticket office and was told that a boat would leave that night, and that I should come soon to buy a ticket. GREAT, things were falling into place nicely at last! Just the small matter of deportation to attend to, so I pedalled back to the State Migration office.
Having explained my flagrant disregard for their regisration requirements, I was kindly offered the opportunity to either pay a £200 fine OR be deported from azerbaijan, with re-entry prohibited for 3 years and 48 hours to leave the country. The lady at the desk was very upset about my prospects and tried her best to flog the dead horse of registration one last time before telling me I needed to pay a fine or be deported; “I can't pay the fine” Said I. “Then you will be deported” she replied “Ok” I said. “You WANT deportation?!” “Not really, but I REALLY don't want to pay that fine”. When I spoke to the immigration office, the man was very understanding and helpful. He even reduced my “sentence” to a ONE year ban and 72hours to get out. I had told him I would be leaving by boat, but then remembered I might not make the boat so checked that I could use the same paperwork to leave via the airport he told me “Of course, by boat, by plane, you can walk or ride a camel... It doesn't matter, just GET OUT!”. It was all quite light hearted though, I got the impression he;s deported a few foreigners who fell foul of their registration requirements. He even told me to come back nearer the time I wanted to leave, so we could process the paperwork and give me ample time to escape further punishment.
Jumping back on my bike, I headed back to my host's house to load up. I called the ferry ticket hotline again and was told “too late now. Call again tomorrow.”. Ah well, two outta three ain't bad. After what I saw as a productive day, I poured a beer and relaxed with my hosts for another pleasant evening of conversation. After a few hours the phone rang... It was the Vikka from the port, bonus. “get here fast, boat goes tonight”. So I loaded up and rode down there as fast as I could. Not fast enough. I had managed to miss the same boat twice in one day. I returned to my hosts house and deicded I wanted out, I bit the bullet and booked a flight.
I had been looking forward to crossing the Caspian Sea on the notorious cargo ships, but with all the stress Azerbaijan had given me and the growing impatience of being stuck in one place for so long, the decision was easy. The next morning I found a bike shop with a big enough box, bought some more duct/duck tape, cable ties and a “Chinese BAG” and dismantled my bicycle enough to satisfy the baggage handlers at Baku Heydar Aliyev International Airport. I flagged down a cab who agreed to take me to the airport for 50 Manat, over double what I'd been advised, but I took it. As we started moving he handed me a piece of paper saying 150, “What's this?” “Manat” “Fuck that mate, pull over”. We passed the piece of paper back and forth as he drove, each time he wrote a number that was far too high and each time I wrote 40. Eventually he agreed on 50 again. Then stopped the cab about 500metres short of departures. So I gave him 40. Finally it was time to escape from Baku.