Apparently we should wait until we got to Azerbaijan to try and get the visas. We were certain to get them in Baku apparently. I wasn’t convinced, but there was nothing we could do about it. We would just have to wait and see.
7 Born to Ride The following morning we were up at six-thirty. It was 29 April - we had left Wicklow eighteen days ago. It felt like a lot longer. We said our reluctant goodbyes to Cenk - he had been great fun and his idea for the dolmus had been inspired. Meanwhile Hari the Austrian had gone ahead with the Ural yesterday and was waiting for us on the Georgian side. We arrived at the border at eight-forty only to find it already backed up with trucks waiting to cross. The officials ushered us away. They couldn’t deal with us yet, they said: we had to come back later. ‘No way,’ Russ muttered. ‘We’ve had experience of these kinds of crossings before: we’ll stand our ground and wait.’ We stayed where we were, sitting in a queue of cars that didn’t move for hours. Finally things began to happen and we made it through around midday. There was a mass of vehicles all bunched up and when they started to move there was no order, no queue, drivers just piled in from all over. At the checkpoint we waited our turn with everyone else but were barged out of the way by five women who ignored the queue completely and pushed their way to the front. The officials seemed to know them and they were dealt with first: I assumed they must cross every day. At last we were through and into Batumi where the Ural was being unloaded. I couldn’t wait to get going. I was really enjoying travelling on all the different forms of transport, but when you get right down to it, motorbikes are where it’s at. Russ was talking to Nick; a local guy we’d arranged to guide us through Georgia. It seemed like a good idea, given that the country was so unknown to us, and that we didn’t speak a word of Georgian. ‘Nick’s just been telling me that a spy plane was shot down,’ Russ said. ‘Part of Georgia is disputed territory. Apparently the plane was keeping tabs on the Russians and they shot it down. It’s tense, I had a feeling it might be. We’ll have to be careful.’ ‘Riots,’ Mungo muttered from behind the camera. ‘Everywhere we go there are riots.’ It was 450 km to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and we had hoped to make it in one day. But with the border crossing and an hour lost in time-change it was already one p.m. Originally we had planned to ride all the way to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, but poring over the maps and train times now, we realised this would never work if we wanted to get our visas for Iran in time. We decided to ride as far as Tbilisi then take an overnight train to Baku and camp out at the Iranian Embassy. As long as we made Tbilisi by four-thirty tomorrow we could jump on the five-fifteen and all would be well. With Russ already in the sidecar I got on the bike and fiddled around, getting a feel for everything. It started first time which is always a good sign, and Hari told us it was more than reliable. The gearing was one down and three up and the brakes seemed pretty sound. I’d driven a Royal Enfield with a sidecar for half a day but that was the limit of my experience - cornering, especially the right-hand bends, could be interesting to say the least. Also, the Ural’s sidecar was on my right whereas the Enfield’s had been on the left, so everything I’d learned was now the other way round. ‘I’ve never done this,’ Russ said. The rain was coming down and he had pulled the tarp up to his chin. ‘I suppose the trick is to trust the guy who’s driving.’ He looked up with a mock-nervous smile. ‘You’ll be fine, Malkin. We’re back in my territory. I was born to ride, remember?’ With my case strapped on the rack and Russ’s bag in the little boot, we headed out of town past blocks of pink flats that reminded me of Russia. It looked run