Azerbaijan

 

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The language of Azerbaijan is very similar to Turkish and the numbers are almost identical.-
Instead of Schnapps shops, there are heaps of tea rooms and „kafesi“’s, which unfortunately don’t actually have any coffee on the shelves.
 
Around 96% of the population are Muslim, and in obeyance with their religion, do not drink alcohol.
Beyond the city of Balakan, a few kilometers from the border,a friendly farmer let us pitch our tent on a field which had just been grazed by a flock of sheep.Although the farmer and his family offered us a room to sleep in, we opted for our tent. About 500 meters away from the farmhouse was a crystal clear creek which sprung from the mountains of the Caucasus, and here we found our „natural-shower“.It was a beautiful spot, but unfortunately also a favourite haunt for hordes of mosquitoes as we later realised as we began to itch!
When we came back from our outdoor bath, a table had been set for us.Luckily we were at least able to repay our hosts with coffee and cookies which we’d brought, because they would not accept any money from us at all
 
Next morning, we didn’t get much further than about 7 kilometers before theTraffic police stopped us. However, they were so happy to meet us that we couldn’t possibly turn down the Ç ay they offered. At the police station we ended up laughing along with those shrewd fellows till we had tears in our eyes One of the men even wanted to give a woman to Kurt as a gift,a 55 year old lady called Sonya, who had four, shiny gold teeth, a popular beauty trend in Azerbaijan. At any rate, we had to decline the present because our baggage was already quite heavy enough
 
In Seki, we visited the visited the Khan’s Palace, built in 1762 and decorated with many paintings and elaborate designs.Up until 1999 there was a silk factory in this city employing 7000 workers, which flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries as an important transit and marketing center on the silk road.
 
The road to Ismayilli was very bumpy so we decided to take the bus to the mountain village of Lahic.Actually the road surface was so bad, that we’d had to let air out of our tyres a few times just to make the passage more comfortable to ride.
Our arrival in this pretty village was rather a disappointment, beginning with the bus-driver triying to rip us off, and then no sooner did we enter the only guest house in the village, but the proprietor attempted the same. After a few arguements, we left to put up our tent on a field.
The Village Headman, showed us a Public Bath in 320 year old „Hammam“, a type of Turkish bath where the different clans used to bathe.
Back in the village we were amazed at the hand-hammered copper artisan work, and the multicoloured kniitted fabrics produced there. There was even a tourist information office where we discovered that Lahic was being supported by the Swiss Development Help organisation, and probably the road over the Caucasus that runs to North-east Azerbaijan and Russia had also been financed by them.
We spent a day relaxing, wandered up to the waterfall, and then later cooked up a cosy dinner outside the tent.
 
The next morning we rode off in the direction of Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, and the metropolis of the Caucasus. The road was very hilly, and at one point we found ourselves grinding up a 15% incline, no asphalt, no wind and 40°C in the shade, pulse pounding , right on the limit. It was too steep to push the bikes, so we had to just battle on regardless.
 
The closer we got to Baku, the more barren and dusty was the landscape and all that we could see in front of us were loads of dry grass bushes where of course no animals grazed and only swarms of enormous grasshoppers were jumping all over the road.
The abandoned, copper, aluminium and chemical factories on the Abseron Peninsula, relics of the Soviet era, were clearly visible from quite a distance away and as a result of the inadequate disposal of toxic waste they produced, the air and the Caspian sea are now very polluted.
In 2003, Azerbaijan closed a deal with the western oilgiants to cease production in these factories, in exchange for 7.4 billion dollars US.
 
As we approached Baku, we noticed that instead of old Russian Ladas driving around, there were now lots of late-model Jeeps and Mercedes on the road,an indication of the wealth here in this country made possible by the reserves of oil and natural gas, but one only needs to glance over at the totally polluted beaches of the Caspian sea to ask oneself; is it really worth it?
 
A worthwhile place to see is the old town of Baku which was built during the middle ages in the time of the Shirvan Shah Dynasty.It’s located inside the walls of the palace and gives one a good idea of how the people lived in those days.
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