Crossing the Border

Naxcivan Travel Blog

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The fabulous Naxcivan Bus Depot!
I woke up at 6am this morning to the sound of rain.  March Madness has begun and I needed to check the scores.  Aside from Duke losing, no major upsets.  I had to make sure that I had everything unplugged before leaving the apartment.  I used to pay a flat rate of 10 manat a month for electricity, then it became 12 manat, and then 20, and now they are regulating everyone’s use.  I am not going to take any chances while I am gone, so there will be no electricity consumption while I am away.
   
I got to the bus depot before 9am.  The Nakhchivan Bus Depot is one of those places that are best for me to describe and one of those places that would NOT be at the top of “things you must see while in Nakhchivan.”  The depot is old.  There are some seats with badly fading and peeling blue paint.
Fellow bus travelers.
  There is a small cafe that sells peruskis (spelling) but I think that I am slowly growing wearing of that particular aspect of Azerbaijani cuisine.  The place smells like a massive urinal.  It is very foul.  A friend of mine in Guilin, China told me that they rated public toilets almost like hotels, except the worst public toilets got the most stars.  I do not know if it would possible but I think the toilets at the NBD would be given six stars.  The ironic thing here is that when you use a public toilet, you are supposed to give the cleaning lady (at least I think that it is the cleaning lady) 20 kopek.  I do mind giving the cleaning lady in the “shopping malls” (nothing like US shopping malls) the change, as they are usually clean.
The Azerbaijani/Turkish border
  But you still have to pay the cleaning lady at the NBD even though it is obvious that she has not cleaned the toilets in months.

My bus took off at 9am.  Little did I know that they would first go to the airport, pick up some more passengers, wait a half hour and then return to the NBD.   At 10, we were off to the border.  The drive from Nakh-town to the Turkish border is magnificantly desolate.  The road appears to be crumbling at its edges and the white dashes on the road appear to made by someone with a paint roller as opposed to a machine.  Occasionally, there might something along the roadside that might quickly grab my attention, but usually I am looking at the mountains far off into the distance.  There are several kilometers of “no man’s land” before getting to the Turkish border.  This place seems even more stark and desolated than any other parts of Nakhchivan.  It a space of only a few kilometers, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey are all within one another.  Armenia and Azerbaijan have had a long history with Armenia instigating some of the most vicious genocide ever in recent history.  I do not need to go into details about the recent problems between Iran and the US.  I was a little nervous leaving Azerbaijan.  
   
Before getting to the border, one of the people from the travel company gather s up everyone’s passports and inspects them.  I understand enough Azerbaijani that when someone asked me if I am a teacher at the university I can answer yes.  One of the guys who was in charge of the trip, recognized me and told everyone else on the trip that I, the only American in Nakhchivan, was on the ride with them.   I was hoping to avoid being noticed, but once people knew who I was they insisted on helping me.   Checking out of Azerbaijan, all of the border patrol people were very helpful to me.  They all knew that I was a teacher at the university.  I made it through exiting very quickly.

On the other hand, the Turks are very serious about security.  I had one guy check my passport and go and talk to someone else.  I was the last person from the bus to leave from that initial check.   When we got to the next check, which was a basic visa check, there was a long line of people and only two guards checking visas.  Being the only American, people insisted that I go in front of them.  It felt awkward, but even the guard insisted that I go in front of everyone.   This basically led me returning to the bus early.  I thought that it would take an hour or two to get through the border.  Ha! Was I ever wrong.  It took over three hours.

After everyone got back on the bus, we waited to get to customs.  Most of the people on the bus were interested in me after finding out that I am an America.  I showed them my computer and my camera.  I even took a few photos of the passengers with the built-in iSight on my laptop.  I also sent music and picture files to people who had Bluetooth on their phones.  I was Mr. Popularity there for a while.  

I think that someone at the NBD counts the number of people on the bus and then they call someone ahead.  That person brings alcohol and cigarettes on board.  This is not a gift to anyone, but every one is asked to carry at least two cartons of cigarettes across the border to avoid customs fines.  I smelt my two cartons to make sure that I was not smuggling something else.  I would not want to perform my own version of the “Midnight Express.”  Then again, from my understanding, there is no reason to smuggle drugs into Turkey, because they are already there.  Anyway, the custom officer merely looked into my bags and then was done.  We bordered the bus again.  Then we stopped again and someone else checked everyone’s passport. 

We got on the road again.  I got some photos taken through the rain-drenched window of some clouds and some mountains.  Then it was time for another road stop, but this time with the Turkish military.   It was cold and rainy and everyone had to get off the bus and take all of their belongings and let the military check what they were bringing in.  Then to get back on the bus, someone else had to check our passport.  The guy checking passports was happy to see me and decided to try to practice some English with me.  After everyone goy back on the bus and we were off.  My cartons of cigarettes were returned to their rightful owners and I was waiting our first stop in Turkey.

Eastern Turkey, especially the area closest to Azerbaijan is poor.  There are box shacks made of rock and cement with ruffled tin roofs.  Most of those places are surrounded by the empty vastness of barren and muddy fields.  Passing along, there are tiny grave sights.  While there are areas that appear to contain the remains of adults, the smaller graves appear larger in number.  

An hour or so later, we make it to Igdir.  I have been traveling now for eight hours.  I am glad that I booked a flight to Istanbul on Saturday.  If I had done it for today, I would have missed it.  I get off the bus and have to search for a way to get to Kars.  It is 3pm.   I discover that there is a minibus that travels to Kars at 4pm.  I take a taxi and two of the students who recognized from the university escort me to make sure that I get there safely.  The taxi cost me 5 lira (about $3.00) and the shuttle cost 15 lira.  I finally get the time to eat a little something, even if it is junk food.     
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The fabulous Naxcivan Bus Depot!
The fabulous Naxcivan Bus Depot!
Fellow bus travelers.
Fellow bus travelers.
The Azerbaijani/Turkish border
The Azerbaijani/Turkish border
1,436 km (892 miles) traveled
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photo by: mickeyd302