Blacked out in Baku: How I lost my mind in Azerbaijan

Tim Lally is lucky to emerge unscathed after ignoring the advice of a self-appointed father figure


My Swiss dad

Lately, it feels all my stories should open with the line “Hi, my name’s Tim and I’m an alcoholic…” and be read to a group of boozehounds at an AA meeting.

As mentally tiring as it may be to relive my embarrassing rap sheet of intoxicated boners, I feel that setting them on paper provides therapeutic relief. So, for today’s counselling session, I’d like to talk about a whopper of a blackout in the capital of Azerbaijan.

I had just three nights to spend in Baku before flying across the Caspian to Turkmenistan — not long enough to get to know a country, but enough time to explore a city.

I cannot stress how fortunate and thankful I am to have escaped this situation without getting my ass kicked or ending up in jail.

It was late when I arrived in Baku from Tbilisi in Georgia, and I was so exhausted I just passed out.

The next morning, I had no plans beyond a shower and breakfast. However, I met a German girl named Lisa and we went to explore the city.

We saw the sights, enjoyed some people-watching on the shore of the Caspian and even found time to help an old lady carry a bundle of groceries up to her house on a hill. She spoke no English but invited us in anyway. She talked at us in Russian for a solid 15 minutes, with many mentions of “spasiba” or “thanks”.

Eventually, we went back to the hostel and met a Swiss German guy, a French kid and a Japanese dude who were sharing the dorm with us. We decided to go out for dinner and drinks.

The French kid, aged just 22, was a squatter who spent his time wandering the streets with a tape recorder capturing ambient noises to use for an art project. The Japanese guy, aged 30, was on a brief stopover before flying to Iran the next day. He didn’t speak much English and spent most of the evening giggling.

The Swiss German dude, aged 34, was working doing botanical research for an NGO somewhere in the Azerbaijan wilderness. Being the oldest among us, he assumed he was the leader of the pack, which was strange considering we’d met only a few hours beforehand.

The Turkish tab

Following a so-so kebab and a couple of beers, we left the restaurant and went to a bar with strobe lights gleaming down on a dance floor occupied by just one lonely-looking girl.

It seemed like an alright place — perhaps it got busier as the night went on — but the ear-splitting music made it impossible to hold a conversation with people who all had strong “foreign” accents.

So, after another couple of drinks we moved on. On the way out, I noticed a dude at the bar was wearing the same Red Hot Chilli Peppers shirt as I was. It turned out he was from Turkey and had spent time in America. He really wanted to chat and ordered our whole group a round of shots before we left.

Insanity in Azerbaijan. Courtesy of Tim lally and The Young Pioneer: An Adventure Travel Magazine.
Stage 1

Soon, we arrived at a place called Garage Pub 73, which was packed to capacity and had a live band.

We inched our way in, got some drinks and sidled into a few chairs at a half-occupied table, hoping to soon take it over as our own. We discovered that the other two guys at the table were also Turkish and they too bought us drinks. They refused to accept our offer of returning the favor and fed us shot after shot and beer after beer. It was a sweet deal.

As is the norm once I become worse for wear, I went scavenging the dance floor for poontang. After dancing with a very attractive Russian broad, who was no doubt a pay-as-you-pound professional, I returned to our table to guzzle the remainder of my beer. While I was there, the Swiss German guy told me they were ready to leave.

“What, dude?” I asked. “It’s only midnight. Why?”

“Because our group is drunk and it is time to go,” he said. “And I am taking you with me.”

“Nah, man. You go if you want. I’m just getting started.”

“No, Tim, I am the oldest here. I am like your father. You are drunk and dancing with prostitutes. It is time for bed.”

Insanity in Azerbaijan. Courtesy of Tim lally and The Young Pioneer: An Adventure Travel Magazine.
Stage 2

Now, I hate being told what to do by anybody, especially someone I’ve just met. Even if I did feel like going home, I would’ve stayed out just to contradict him.

With that, I ordered another shot and beer on the Turkish tab. About ten minutes later when the group decided to go, I stepped out with them to say goodbye.

The Swiss ‘dad’ then demanded I return to the hostel with them. “You are leaving this bar and coming back with us right now!”

“Oh yeah?” I spat back. “And what if I don’t? Am I grounded for two weeks? You gonna spank me?”

“What is so important about staying out at this bar with these people?” he replied. “You want to get more drunk? Dance with more prostitutes? Will that make you happy?”

“No, it’s not gonna make me happy. Nothing’s gonna make me happy. I just wanna get wasted and don’t need you — some stranger — giving me shit about it.”

He walked into me with his chest out and started yelling in my face. “I don’t care! I am the oldest! I am responsible for our group! You are coming back to the hostel with us right now!”

This is when Lisa decided to step in and put a stop to the nonsense. “Look,” she said, “I understand, you want to stay out. That is okay. That is fine. Go for it.”

She turned back to the Swiss dad. “Let him go, he is a grown man. He is not your child — you may be the oldest but you are responsible for no one but yourself.”

“He needs to come back with us!” He stamped his foot in anger. “The group will not be split up!”

Never had I seen a dude so frustrated at being denied a power trip and I’d had quite enough of it. “Yeahhhhhh, well, I’m heading back in the bar. G’nite.”

The Pied Piper summoned me

When I walked back in, the majority of the people still remained but the bar seemed boring and lifeless. I no longer wanted to dance with hookers and, for some reason, was quite distraught by the argument with my Swiss father. Deep down, I knew he was right. Nothing beneficial could come from me staying at that bar, but I felt the need to stick around and finish myself off anyway.

Insanity in Azerbaijan. Courtesy of Tim lally and The Young Pioneer: An Adventure Travel Magazine.
Stage 3

After milking the Turkish tab for one more beer, I sat next to a girl who’d been at a table by her lonesome. As it turns out, she didn’t even drink and had just been hanging out there because her mom was one of the bartenders. While we chatted, I bummed cigarettes like a rat from anyone I could and learned of this girl’s dreams to study in the US. After about an hour the bar came to a close. I took her email address, said goodbye and went on my merry way.

Had I called it a night there, it would’ve been a solid end to the evening. However, the Pied Piper summoned me once again and I heeded his call. I was in one of those moods where ‘too drunk’ just wasn’t drunk enough and I wouldn’t stop at anything short of total annihilation. I began wandering aimlessly in the hope of encountering another venue for self-destruction.

Eventually, I came across a subterranean drinking den with a bar at the front and a dance floor at the back. I downed a few beers and headed to the dance floor to rub my genitals all over whomsoever I could. As soon as that plan failed, I sat down at a booth occupied by some beautiful well-dressed women, who I assumed were Russian models.

Their English was quite poor so I don’t know exactly what they were saying, but judging by the disgusted looks on their faces and the manner in which they were frantically shooing me away, I could tell they were asking me to help them drink their expensive looking bottle of ice-cold vodka. Since I’m such a nice guy, I decided to lend a helping hand to these damsels in distress.

All jokes aside, not a minute after I’d sat down, one of them went to find the bouncer. When I saw him heading purposefully in my direction, I picked up the frosty bottle and chugged as much of their vodka as I could. Then, while being dragged out of their booth, I grabbed a pack of cigarettes off the table and jammed it in my pocket before being thrown out the door.

Once back on the streets, I pulled out the smokes I’d grabbed and saw they were those long and skinny Capri brand cigarettes. It was a bit disappointing, but I was determined to augment my buzz with some nicotine — even if it did make me look like a big girly-man.

Since I didn’t have a lighter, I kept up with the wandering until I found a cabbie enjoying a fag of his own. I gestured that I needed his lighter. He hooked it up and laughed at me as I stood there smoking the most effeminate cigarette you could possibly imagine.

I then employed all the Russian I knew to get me back to the booze. “Morjna pivo! Morjna vodka!” I said, which is something like, “I would like beer! I would like vodka!”

He flicked his cigarette and, with a nod of his head, invited me to climb in the back of his cab. My limited Russian did the trick and the cabbie delivered. He let me off at the entrance of another sketchy subterranean nightclub and I paid him…

I remained on auto-pilot

This, unfortunately, is where the vodka that I chugged at the last club kicked in and I lose all memory of the following ten hours.

Amazingly, I remained on auto-pilot until about two the next afternoon when I regained awareness and found myself in a large, old, dark and dingy gymnasium that was filled with ping pong and air hockey tables. It was a pretty random place to find myself in, but since I’ve come out of blackouts in stranger and more dangerous situations, I decided to roll with it.

Even though I had now regained the ability to record memories, I still didn’t have any grip on reality. I was disoriented and confused — I didn’t even know what country I was in for a while.

Insanity in Azerbaijan. Courtesy of Tim lally and The Young Pioneer: An Adventure Travel Magazine.
Stage 4

Once I’d figured this detail out, I remembered that it was the day I was due to fly to Turkmenistan. I reasoned that I had been on the way to the airport and my driver had stopped for a rest at the ping pong hall. This made perfect sense to me.

I then began to panic because I couldn’t find this cab driver, or my luggage. “Where are my bags!? Oh my God, what happened to all my shit!?” I ranted out loud and paced back and forth in an alley amid a full-blown hallucinogenic panic attack. “We gotta get back on the road! I’m gonna miss my flight!”

Now, with a sober mind, I wish I could get into the head of my severely fucked-up self. I want to gain some insight as to how I — a normally rational being — can be so transformed by the poison I continually and wilfully put into my system. It’s scary, and it drives me nuts knowing how nuts I can be.

In all the time I’ve spent wasted, this moment in Baku was only the second time in which I’ve resorted to violence to solve an imagined problem. The only other time was about a few years ago with my cousin Jack at his new apartment in Chicago.

Along with his room mate Andy, we were drinking whiskey in the living room. We were talking about god-knows-what when I suddenly got the impression that the two of them were planning to strip me naked, tie me up and torture me. To avert this horrifying outcome, I reasoned that I needed to stand up, throw my cousin out of his chair and start kicking him in the face. So, I did just that.

Ashamedly, the lines between fact and fiction in Baku appeared just as blurred…

My reality was shattered

As I continued to freak out about the flight, the absent cab driver and the missing luggage, I found myself outside the open back door of an empty shop. Inside two Azerbaijani dudes were taping drywall. Logic told me they had my bags.

“Hey,” I shouted as I walked in, “where the FUCK are my bags!? I know you got ‘em.” I inched closer, not

ever taking my eyes off the captors of my possessions. “Don’t even try to play me like you don’t.”

One of the guys said something in Azerbaijani and they both laughed and got back to work. This angered me.

Insanity in Azerbaijan. Courtesy of Tim lally and The Young Pioneer: An Adventure Travel Magazine.
Stage 5

“Hey, you stupid motherfucker,” I shouted as I shoved their step ladder to the ground, “I asked you a god damn question! Where the fuck are you hiding my bags?”

They then realised they were dealing with a psycho, and decided that ignoring me wouldn’t work. “No! You go!” one guy yelled and they began ushering me out. “No bag! Go! You go now!”

“Ahhhhhhhh!” I roared in frustration as I rushed back out the door. They didn’t follow me.

Once outside, I began peering into their work van, certain that’s where my bags were hidden. After attempting to open the doors, which were all locked, I looked around for something to smash the window with. I found a brick, and stood by the passenger window ready to bust it open. I then decided not to pull the trigger but remained sure my stuff was still in the ride.

I threw the brick to the ground in rage. I just knew those guys had hijacked my stuff on the way to the airport. It didn’t occur to me that I never went to sleep and hadn’t been back to the hostel since going out for dinner the night before. Accordingly, I felt compelled to settle the matter.

Now, these were big dudes, and I cannot stress how fortunate and thankful I am to have escaped this situation without getting my ass kicked or ending up in jail. I stormed back in, kicking whatever tools were in the way, shoved one of the guys against the wall and tried to steal the car keys off his belt loop.

“Gimme your keys, motherfucker! Give ‘em to me! I know you got my bag in that truck! I fuckin’ know it”

Without a word spoken, the other guy pulled me away as the dude I attacked ran out the front door and returned with a policeman, who must’ve been nearby.

After the carpenter had angrily explained the situation to the cop, the officer of the law turned his attention to me.

“What are you doing here?” he asked in surprisingly clear English.

“I was on the way to the airport and these men stole my backpack! It’s in their truck! It’s in there! I know they got it!”

So, all four of us marched to the van, the dude unlocked it. My stuff was nowhere to be found. “Wh-where’d you hide it!?”

“I tell you,” the guy pointed at me with an open, upward-facing palm, “no bag! You crazy!” My reality was shattered.

“Where is your hotel?” the cop asked. I pulled out a business card I had in my wallet and showed him. “Okay,” he was so cool about the whole thing. “You get in a taxi right now, you go to your hotel and you sleep.”

Once back at the hostel, the worried owner and Lisa immediately ran up to assist me as I staggered in. My disappointed Swiss dad was there with an ‘I-told-you-so’, ‘father-knows-best’ look on his face.

“You no come back last night,” the owner asked, “what happened?”

“I got robbed,” I whimpered as they helped me up the stairs. “Someone stole my bags and now I’m gonna miss my flight!”

As we walked into the dorm room, the owner flipped on the light revealing both my backpack and my daypack exactly where I’d left them 20 hours before. And after checking my itinerary, I discovered my flight wasn’t for another six hours, enough time for a sleep.