Cuttino's Georgian Life

A journal of my Peace Corps service in the Republic of Georgia, 2006-2008.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Azerbaijan, Part 1--Getting In

Last Tuesday I returned from a 6-day jaunt through Azerbaijan. First impressions: Everyone in Azerbaijan wears a suit and a mustache. There are few street dogs but lots of street cats. The streets are cleaner. There are no pigs (its Muslim country, after all). There is so much oil here that they're actually bathing in it, and yet there's still a gas shortage. I'll post the stories over the next three days...

My adventure began by attempting to get a visa. Recently, the Azeri government hiked the visa prices up to $100. I imagine it was out of reciprocity (since its absurdly expensive for their citizens to get a US visa), but the move will probably undermine all the recent attempts to build tourism. But, being a sucker and with the promise of free lodging, I trudged over to the Azerbaijan embassy, fought the crowds of Turkish laborers and Chinese merchants and started the process.

Outside the embassy, there is no line; the Georgian police guard would periodically come out of the security booth and yell at people if they were getting too pushy. A nervous looking Azeri man would come out and scan the crowd pushing against the gate. He would arbitrarily pick a few people to enter the building and lock the gate on the rest of us. This continued for about two hours until I finally managed to catch his eye. Realizing that I was a Westerner and that I was about to drop $100 (other countries pay less that fourty), I was rushed inside. A man looked over my papers and told me to return in three days. Lovely.

Following orders, I came back in three days. As I approached the embassy, it started to pour down rain, followed by wind, followed by snow (yes, snow in April). I had arrived about an hour before the gates opened to be sure that I was at the front of the line. I spent the next hour staring spitefully at the embassy, thinking "This better be the best freaking trip of my life." Of course, the whole process wasn't over...I dropped off my passport, was then sent across town to the Bank of Azerbaijan to pay for the visa, and returned at 4:00 to get finally get the visa. I wish I could say the visa was cool and colorful, but after all that effort, all I got was a boring blue stamp. A PC Volunteer who had spent six years in Russia once said that the Azeri embassy was one of the biggest bureaucratic messes he's ever seen; I'm inclined to believe him now.

Fortunately, the rest of the trip was more interesting, but more on that tomorrow...

PS--For photos of my trip to the Land of Fire, see my Flickr site.


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