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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Sunday, September 21, 2003 21:04:58

Central Asia 2003: 3 - Istanbul, Baku, Sheki, Georgia

Our full flight left on time from Istanbul. The problem was that the agent who booked our seats missed the exit row by one, and I was in a window seat. There was very slightly more space than in a North American airline, but not much. I didn't want to stand for the whole flight, so I stuck my legs into some of Marilynn's space to try to fit - she was stuck in the middle. When it came time to get off the plane my legs were barely functioning.

We arrived on time at 3 AM. Passport control was very slow and the line for visas was barely moving. By 5:15 AM the visas had been duly issued, our baggage collected and we on the half hour drive to the hotel - the tour company driver had waited for us. Surprisingly, the airport duty free and money exchange were open at that time.

The Grand Europe Hotel is great - efficiently run and very comfortable. We were both past tired, and even the very comfortable king size bed had trouble lulling us into sleep. When I woke up I was in pretty tough shape, so decided that a consultation with the doctor might be the best way to pass the free day we had. The quote for the hotel doctor was $10 for a room call.

The doctor, pregnant with twins, showed up promptly in uniform and surgical mask. She gave me a once over and decided tests were needed. A car was arranged and we were taken to EuroMed, a private clinic. The director, an attractive woman, took a very personal interest in us and accompanied me through the whole process, including the meeting with another doctor, the collecting of blood and sputum samples for the lab and the filling of the prescription at the pharmacy. Our driver then took us to a very pleasant private hospital, where an X-ray and written report were quickly and efficiently done.

All medical professionals I have seen here have all been women - doctors, lab techs, X-ray techs, pharmacists, supervisors, everyone. I saw one male, an orderly, in my entire medical tour. Prices are low. The consultation with the doctor was $8 - including follow up visits. The lab tests were $13.60 and the X-ray was $8. No complaints there! I was given a 3 PM appointment the next afternoon to go over the test results.

The tour next morning started at 10 AM. I was not going to go, but Sheida, the guide assured me that I'd be back in time for the appointment at the clinic. We drove along the Caspian Sea coast through oil fields that looked like Okalahoma and Texas in the 1930s, complete with forests of abandoned derricks. Eventually we turned inland to climb an escarpment, stopping at a field of "mud volcanoes". These are mini-volcanoes made from mud forced upwards by hot gas from as much as 10 km underground. They vary from 3 to 10 meters in height. I had climbed one that was noisily bubbling away, oozing mud, when our driver joined me. He bent down with his lighter and POOF - we had a substantial flame which grew and shrank with the volume of escaping gas.

The next stop was Gobustan, an area previously occupied by cave dwellers who left hundreds of petroglyphs dating from 8000 to 4000 BC. By the time we had explored this area it was approaching 3 PM, and by the time we were back in the city it was 3:45.

I left the group and took a taxi back to the hotel to pick up the X-ray, got the driver from yesterday and headed for the clinic. The doctor was busy, having expected me at 3, but I was entertained by the director with tea in her office until she was free. The test results, neatly typed and presented, plus the X-rays indicated that my problem is chronic bronchitis. Another prescription was duly presented and once again I was accompanied to the pharmacy to have it filled. When I left I had a total of 184 pills of 7 different types, a container of liquid medicine and an inhaler. The entire pharmacy cost, yesterday and today, including toothpaste and a supply of Kleenex, was $23.50.

Back at the hotel, I went to bed, getting up when Marilynn returned to have dinner. The guide had worked them hard all day, with no lunch break, until they finally mutinied after 6 PM and insisted on going back to the hotel. The next day I was feeling really tired and weak as the medicines kicked in, so I stayed in bed all day. Marilyn reported that they saw a number of interesting things, but that it was another long day with no lunch break.

Azerbaijanians say they have seen little benefit from the oil wealth. Unemployment increased 6.4% over the past year in spite of a GDP increase of 10.1%. Average income is steady at about $75 per month. The roads are in poor condition, and there seems to be a minimal investment in infrastructure.

The population of the country is 8,236,000, with 1,320,000 living in Baku.. Language is Azerbaijani. It is a Muslim country, with 70% Shia Muslim and 30% Sunni Muslim. The president is currently in a Chicago hospital for heart surgery, but is trying to pass power on to his son in elections to happen on October 15. Few feel they will be totally fair, but many observers from around the world are keeping a close eye on the process. According to the law, 25% of eligible voters must vote and a candidate must get more than 50% of the vote to win. 4,376,921 citizens are eligible to vote for the 12 candidates currently registered to run.

Friday, September 19, 2003

We checked out of the hotel and were on our way by 8:30 AM. After about four hours of driving through dry, treeless, rolling hills we stopped to look at an old graveyard, then at a restaurant to have a delicious lunch of local specialties. That was followed by another two and a half hours on the road before we arrived in the medieval, mountain city of Sheki. Accommodation was in a marvellous stone inn, which was built as an inn in the 15th century. At that time rooms were on the second floor and stables were on the first floor. Now both floors are suites with living room, bedroom and bathroom.

Once our suitcases were in the room we were mustered back to the van for a tour of the Khan's summer palace, museums and around the town. Dinner was in a private dining room - a great feed of more local food.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Most of our group were up and ready to go in the cold, rainy darkness at 7 AM as instructed by the guide; however she did not show up until 8. We headed into town for market day, but things were just getting set up. The guide had incorrectly thought it opened at 6 AM, even though it doesn't get light here until 8 AM. After a quick walk around we headed back to the hotel for breakfast and to dry out a little.

After breakfast it was a non-stop three hour run to the Georgian border in gradually improving weather. It took about an hour to get through the border formalities, during which only about four other vehicles crossed. We said goodbye to our Azerbaijani driver and guide and transferred to a van sent by a Georgian tour company.