Despite the cardboard window of my hotel room at the decrepid will-fall-down-at-any-moment hotel, I did get a good sleep, and managed also to dry out my tent after yesterday’s muddy fiasco.
I had just gotten money out of the ATM and was about to leave on my bike when a suit stolled up and began asking all the usual questions about where I was going and….I’m sorry? Do I have a camera? Um, yes, I’m a tourist…
Turns out that this guy is a detective from the Oil Police, a governmental security agency protecting government interests in the oil industry here in Azerbaijan. These guys are very serious about their role.
A Lada Niva 4X4 pulls up and four guys in black jackets step out. One of them walks briskly over to where the Suit and I am, salutes the Suit, and proceeds to tell me in English that I was observed taking photographs of a BP facility yesterday, and that the photo must be deleted.
As I flicked through the photos, I inadvertently show the ones I took of the BP Sangachal Terminal near Baku.
“You will need to delete that photo, Sir.”
I go into defensive mode, and counter that there must be hundreds of tourists that go past the terminal in a bus, click off a photo, and the secret police never know about it. Why come down on me?
“This is a security issue, Sir. You have no right to take photos of such facilities. You do understand, we need to be vigilant. It is a terrorism issue.”
I explain that they need to lighten up and make case by case decisions in matters like this. I mean, do I look like a terrorist? Do terrorists go cycling around for 5 months and 5,000km, on a bicycle that attracts attention, and take photos where everyone can see?
“We’re going to need to see the rest of the photos, Sir.”
“That one also must go” he said, indicating the photo above.
“Are you serious? Look at this photo. It could be anywhere! Are you serious?!” The other ones I could kind of understand, but this one?
“Look, Sir, if you do not delete the photos, it will cause problems for us.”
“OK then, lets just get a bigger picture of things here. What if I refuse to delete the photos. Like, what are the implications for me? Will I be arrested? What?” I really was quite attached to these photos.
“Maybe” is all he could come up with.
“Right,” I proposed, “how about you take a record of the photos I have taken, take my details, and in a way register the photos I have taken?”
“My superiors are on their way, I will ask to see if that is possible.”
And there you have it. Photos registered, every page in my passport photocopied, and I was on my way. I got my beloved photos (except the one of the pumping station), and everyone was happy.
This little setback cost me most of the morning, so it was a short day to just past Goranboy Town, where I pitched the tent and had me a campfire.
Not without taking another picture of government property, of course.