“I’m traveling this weekend for Bayram, are you going anywhere?”
“Nah, I’m staying in Baku.”
“In Turkey it seemed like everyone traveled home to see family and friends for the long weekend. Ankara witnessed a mass exodus of people and it was hard for me to get a bus ticket for Adana. Do people travel for the holiday in Azerbaijan?”
I got mixed replies at that point: some people travel, most don’t. If anything, it’s just a long weekend free from school and work. That’s dandy, I guess, but me….I wanted to travel. Get me out of Baku. I’ve been here exactly a month and I need a change of scene. Fresh air too.
So Dana (another Fulbrighter) and I made plans to go to Şəki (commonly spelled “Sheki” or “Shaki” in guidebooks and online). Our colleagues respected our decision and said this is the perfect time to go, the trees are beautiful, make sure to get halva, and to please be safe. Yes, yes, of course but the question remained: how were we going to get there? Let’s take a look at a map: (you can click on it to make it bigger)
Now, Azerbaijan is about the size of Maine or Portugal, so it’s not a huge country, but it takes a good 6 hours to drive from Baku to Şəki. The length of time is due mainly to road conditions; it’s like traveling in backwoods America. Think twisty country roads combined with the potholes of Michigan and you have a general idea. Some parts are very well developed, but the freeway system doesn’t seem to be well standardized. And that’s okay, Azerbaijan will figure it out, but it sure makes intercity transportation interesting for now!
Dana and I had planned to get to Şəki by bus. It’s the cheapest option at about 6 manat one-way (~$8 USD) and it seemed simple enough to figure out. Taxis are another option at 60 to 80 manat one-way (~$75 to $100 USD; not the worst if splitting between 3 or 4 people), but we’re impoverished enough where that’s not the most feasible option. When I mentioned my bus plans to my colleagues I was met with all sorts of grimaces and sad looks. What? So…bus travel not good here? That’s my ONLY option!!
Turns out it’s not my only option. Last Tuesday I had my first class with several English department staff. Bayram came up and I mentioned my Şəki plans; afterwards a few people talked with me and offered to help get Dana and I to Şəki. One of those offers came to fruition with the help of the wonderful and beautiful Aysel. She offered to take us herself and give a tour of Azerbaijan’s regions; instead of solely going to Şəki, we’ll hop between scenic villages and towns. It ended up being a great survey of Azerbaijan’s rougher terrain, and I’m dedicating this post and the next to that trip. There’s not a lot of information in English about the places we visited, and I want to do a thorough job. (:
Day 1: Leaving Baku, Lahıc, Ismayıllı
We ended up leaving Baku about noon on Saturday. We were an interesting travel group: two Americans, Aysel, her two children, and their cat.
Yes, their cat. “Kitty.”
Kitty is just a kitten and there was no one home to take care of her. And really, how can you leave something like this behind?
Like I said before, this was my first trip out of Baku, and I was very eager to see mountains, steppes, hills, and valleys. Close to Baku it was pretty arid and flat:
But within a few hours the landscape roughened and the earth folded upon itself before our eyes:
We stopped at a few places along the way to take pictures:
We drove to Ismayıllı (remember the map, take a look at it!) and took a sharp right off the main road and headed toward a tiny village a fair way up the mountains, called Lahıc. After stopping to eat, we climbed up, up, up….
Okay, fast fact anthropology lesson: 1) Lahıc has a population of about 850 people; 2) They specialize in a wide assortment of crafts; 3) They speak Azeri, but also a dialect derived from Farsi (which is not related to Azeri – different language families); 4) Their drainage system is also over 1,000 years old. And actually (I can’t believe I’m doing this), if you want more information, Wikipedia has a legitimate enough article which you can find here.
We hopped back in the car and drove all the way down to Ismayıllı. Aysel knew a place to get homemade wine, so we headed there – but not without encountering more animals:
It was pretty dark by the time we made it to our hotel, Qız Qalası, and I think we were all grateful to warm up with tea and sleep. The hotel is more like a complex of small houses; we had two bedrooms and two bathrooms and paid 20 manat per person (~$25 USD); plus breakfast was included. True, it’s the off season and things are cheaper, but it was a good deal. If you’re interested, I actually found a website for this hotel (although it’s not in English…), which you can get to by clicking here.
And there you have it: part 1 because I’m too long-winded and need two posts to go over 3 days of travel. Oh well!
Until next time…. (: