Across Continents

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Imaginary friends

Soviet era hotel. At least that’s what the guidebook said. And that’d be the euphemism that explained the brackish water out of the taps. I’d reached the rural Azerbaijani town of Zaqatala, thirty or so miles over the border from Georgia. Staff were friendly enough and the room clean. Price was reasonable, although for a country that appeared noticeable poorer than the one I’d just left, value for money was a bit questionable. Sighnakhi and eastern Georgia were already beginning to seem a world away.

Greenery

Earlier, once over the border, I’d made for the town of Balakan. The scenery along the way had been much greener than I’d expected. Heading into the centre, the signs, the billboards, the shop fronts, all had a strong Turkish feel. Hardly surprising, as Azeri and Turkish are both Turkic languages, originating centuries earlier from Mongolia.

I’d stopped briefly in Balakan for some lucky-dip – first trip to the cash point in a new country – hesitant to see if my bank’s automated anti-fraud measures would block the withdrawal. But no, success! In just a few moments I’d drawn a small crowd. One man spoke good English. Where had I come from? What did I think of his country? I’d just arrived, I explained. Was I travelling alone? Not exactly, I’d often meet up with some fellow touring cyclists – had they come past yet I asked? New country, new cultural norms to pick up. Until then, safety in numbers. Even if they are imaginary.

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