Ash's Azer Adventure

Hello everyone! The following is my blog about my 27 month trip to Azerbaijan working with the Peace Corps. I am a part of the 4th group sent to Azerbaijan and am in the Community Economic Development (CED) Program working with local companies to help them operate better in the world. Hopefully I’ll have some fun stories and cool pictures from traveling around Asia Minor and Eastern Europe. This blog is in no way related to the Peace Corps or their opinions. I hope you all enjoy…

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Hello 2007!!!

Well, I just got back from my first official PC vacation to Georgia. We get 2 days of vacation that accrue each month while in the PC-so a total of 48 days in 2 years. You can’t take any vacation your first 3 months or your last 3 months. December 14th was my 3 month anniversary of official service (training doesn’t count), so I had 12 days of vacation already burning a hole in my pocket. About 10 of us (Ben, Carlo, Ram, Magda, Kasey, Rachel, Charlie, Terah, Jenny, Bethany) decided to go to T’blisi, Georgia for NYE and to go skiing. Some of the people also went to Gori to see Stalin’s old house and museum. Sadly I couldn’t make it, but I heard it was incredible.

Rachel and I took a night train out from Baku-my first train ride in AZ. It wasn’t that bad, but it was insanely hot in the cabins. Even though it was in the 30’s outside I was sweating in shorts and a t-shirt. We heard the train stops for 2-3 hours at the border to check passports and all of that jazz, so we got out at a town close to the border, took a mini-bus to the border, walked across, and then got another mini-bus to T’blisi. Well after going through 5 Azeri side check points, we get to the Georgia side and it was closed at 10:30 am. They said it would be two hours before it opened and I was not happy. Thankfully they decided to open it up after only 30-45 minutes (there were at least 40-50 people waiting in the 40 degree weather outside to cross). The entire trip door to door for me was probably about 20 hours to go a few hundred miles-transportation at its finest!!!

I stayed in T'blisi for three nights and had a blast. T'blisi is a really beautiful city with rivers that flow through it and it is set in a ton of hills and has the feel of an old European city. One thing we didn’t count on in our planning of the trip was that the entire country basically shuts down for 2-3 days for the New Year Holiday. Thankfully we had a place to stay reserved beforeI stayed in T’blisi for three nights and had a blast. T’blisi is a really beautiful city with rivers heading out there. We stayed in a “guest house” with a little Georgian lady that had a house set up into her area with bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room, then 2 other parts of the “house” that had bathrooms and 3-4 bedrooms each filled with twin beds. It worked out really well because it was only $15/night, she cooked us breakfast 2 mornings, she loved us, and we could all stay at the same place. The PC Volunteers in Georgia stay there when they come into T’blisi for a weekend to play. They had a VCR and tons of movies, so that was also nice. We were blessed with “Mr. T’s Be Somebody” motivational tape and my life has been changed forever-seriously, he’s amazing. Sadly all of the good Georgian restaurants were closed, so the only Georgian food I got was from street venders-still pretty good stuff.

NYE started off with McDonald’s for dinner due to the lack of open restaurants and then Carlo and Kasey went to work on my hair. My goal is to have one main haircut while I’m here and NYE 2007 was the perfect time. The pictures will show the progression of my hair (we actually cut a “Samurai” style in Baku before we got on the train) to the final Mohawk for the night on the town. It was FREAKING AWESOME! They used a combination of egg whites, a little hair gel, and some hair spray to get it rock solid and ready to play. We went out to an Irish Pub for NYE from 9-11:30ish, then went down to the main city square for the countdown. They had music, dancers, a hot air balloon, tons of lights, thousands of people that all seemed to be shooting some sort of fire work. Mostly M-60 type deals and 3 foot Roman Candles. It was pure chaos! They never got the hot air balloon off the ground and I’m pretty sure they realized that people may blast their Roman Candles at it and burn it down if it tries to take off-I think they made the right call. We tried to get into a few other bars after mid-night, but they were all charging huge cover charges and stuff, so we went back to the Irish Pub and danced with the band until 5ish. Then everyone decided to call it a night, but Ben and I decided that we weren’t ready to go home, so we walked across the street to another place that had music. Well Ben is about 6’4” 230ish and I had a huge Mohawk and we walk into this little bar that has music going, but everyone was calmly sitting at their tables enjoying a quiet night. Needless to say everyone just stared at the two freaks that just walked in. We sat at the only available table which was next to the dance area and DJ. It was way too calm for us after a fun night of dancing and fireworks. Well after about 10 minutes a girl gets up and starts dancing solo. I decided I was bored so I got up to dance with her. No more than 23 seconds later, the entire bar is on the dance floor going crazy. It was hilarious!!! We stayed there till about 7ish and then decided it was time to head home to crash. It was by far one of my most fun NYE experiences ever!

The next day we walked all over the city because the ski mountain was closed (we also didn’t plan on that). I’ll have pictures of the city in a week or two-we used other peoples’ cameras and they didn’t bring their computer chords to share their pictures. There are amazing old churches, a castle, the old town, buildings and statues everywhere. We had a low key night to prepare for a full day of skiing the next day….or so we thought….

We got up early, but being a big group, it took us forever to get out of the house. We got a mini-bus to the mountain, got there around 11ish, by the time we got all of our second hand equipment rented and on the mountain it was noon. There wasn’t much snow, but there were lots of rocks and dirt. The mountain is small with only three lifts that go up in a straight line to the top and there aren’t runs, you just go down the mountain in any direction you want. It was beautiful, just not the best skiing ever. We are really spoiled in America. We had to catch a bus home at 3, so I got in about 5 runs (one of the lifts kept breaking and they were slow as mud when they were running). Have sounded negative about everything, I was skiing in Georgia on January 2, 2007, so it was FANTASTIC!!! It was my first international skiing experience so I loved it!

The next day we toured the town some more. We hit the big bazaar that wasn’t so big since everyone was still on vacation. Thankfully one very important place was open-The Donut Stop!!!! They actually had real donuts. I had a huge glass of milk, a twist and a maple bar. I would have eaten there for hours if I didn’t think I would have gotten sick. In hindsight, eating myself sick may have been worth it.

Rachel, Magda and I took the night train all the way from T’blisi to Baku that night. We left at 6pm, went 1 mile, and stopped for 2 hours, went an hour to the border and stopped for another 1.5 hours before we finally got going. We had a Georgian guy in our cabin that we couldn’t communicate with at all. So the three of us chatted on the bottom bunks while he sat with us bored I’m sure. We got bored about 2 hours into it and decided to open a bottle of our Georgian wine. The guy started waiving his finger no at us so I got worried. Well he proceeded to pull out a bottle of homemade white wine and four cups for us to share. We drank that and then he pulled out a bottle of homemade red wine and pictures of him making these wines so we drank that. Then he pulled out apples, bread, and meat cutlets. Next thing we know there are 3 Georgians, 2 Azeris and a Russian guy (with homemade vodka that was really bad) in our cabin all laughing an joking around until 2am. The train ride went from potentially horrible to a completely random fun time. We got to Baku in the morning, showered off in a friend’s hotel room and then headed home. It was a really fun, but quick trip.

Other business:

We Are The Champions My Friend!!! That’s right, from 12,000 miles away Tom and I won our Fantasy Football League! Words can’t explain how happy I am. I added up the points from the last weekend 5 times before I finally accepted the fact that we won. Good stuff galore!!!

Well everything I have read says the OU/Boise State game was one of the best games ever, so that’s cool. I think OU would have needed to win in order for that to be true, but I may be a little biased. I can’t wait to get my copy of the game sent to me so I can at least watch all of the insanity (and apparent out coaching of OU) that took place.

This week was a holiday week in AZ, so no work for most people. I will start back Monday and am trying to get motivated for the New Year. 2007 will be my only full year in AZ, so this is the beginning of the long middle stretch of my service. I’ve been gone a lot for the past couple of weeks with Georgia and training, so I need to get my butt in gear and back in it. I’ve felt myself kinda hit the 1st six month/winter rut all of the previous volunteers said they hit, so I’m really going to focus on getting out of that ASAP and getting projects and my job going. A group of about 10 of us are going to a village next weekend to play with disabled kids for an afternoon so that should be a lot of fun.

I hope everyone in the US of A had a great Holiday and I wish you all the best in 2007!!!


At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Sounds like you had an amazing time... Love the mohawk. Way to bring sexy back. -Darci

At 10:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice, but they went to gori, not bern , which is in switzerland.

but what - no pictures of the post-mohawk? bald is beautiful, baby!

- wulf


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