Saturday, April 27, 2013

And Back Through Armenia



18 to 25 April, 2013 – Goris, Yeghegnadzor, Yerevan, Gyumri – (Armenia)

On our way back to Yerevan, we spent some time visiting a few of the sights of southern Armenia. As well as the fantastic monasteries and scenery, we had some great hitching experiences and couchsurfing encounters.

Near Goris, we had to hide for 15 minutes in a rocky dip, waiting for a pair of fairly vicious looking and sounding sheepdogs to lose interest in waiting for us. They were on the path we had to take back down a mountain, and had come from some distance away when they spotted us across the fields. In the meantime, we had managed to find a spot screened to them by the rocks, and we just waited there, holding our breath, while they barked and looked around, until eventually they disappeared from sight. Quickly and quietly we returned to the path and went past the spot, keeping quiet, and staying low. They had, thankfully, moved on to a point where they could no longer see the path or us.

An interesting gesture Armenians make is to make a stabbing motion to their necks with an index finger. I am not sure if it means to go drinking, or just indicates vodka, but if a stranger does it while talking to you, they are inviting you for a drink. Luckily we had been told this by some people we met in Goris, or we would not have known what was meant. The next day, their neighbour made the gesture while delivering a Coke bottle full of vodka when we answered the door. And a few days later, when hitching near Noravank monastery, a guy in a car made the gesture when he invited us for a lift.

Pinnacle Rock Formations Near Goris
Pinnacle Rock Formations Near Goris

Tatev Monastery
Tatev Monastery

Tatev Monastery
Tatev Monastery
The monastery of Tatev sits so perfectly and picturesquely on the cliff tops. This angle is from the cable car.


Noravank Monastery
Noravank Monastery
In contrast to Tatev and its cliff top location, Noravank sits in a canyon. The 8 kilometre walk to Noravank is a beautiful and easy approach.


Canyon Cliffs, Noravank
Canyon Cliffs, Noravank
Looking across from Noravank Monastery.


Graves
Graves
Graves in the floor of the ante-chamber of Surp Karapet, one of the churches at Noravank monastery.


Eternal Flame at the Armenian Genocide Memorial
Eternal Flame at the Armenian Genocide Memorial

Yanni Concert
Yanni Concert
We got tickets an hour or so before the show. It was a fantastic concert.


Yanni
Yanni

Khor Virap Monastery
Khor Virap Monastery
The monastery of Khor Virap with Mount Ararat behind it.


Modern Access To An Ancient Prison
Modern Access To An Ancient Prison
These stairs lead seven metres down to the bottom of a well. Over 1700 years ago, this is where St Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 12 years. He was banished here by the pagan King Trdat III because of his Christian faith. After the king was miraculously healed, he converted, and Armenia became the first Christian nation.


Jo and Lilit Among the Throngs
Jo and Lilit Among the Throngs
April 24 is Genocide Memorial Day, when the people of Armenia remember the 1.5 million of their country-folk who were killed in the early 20th century. Hundreds of thousands come to the genocide memorial to lay flowers, pay respects, and remember those who died. Since we were still in Yerevan, we thought it appropriate to join the crowd. It was very nice to be accompanied by a local, Lilit, who we met through couchsurfing.


The Flowers Begin to Pile Up
The Flowers Begin to Pile Up
Genocide Memorial Day in Armenia, April 24, and it was still early (around 10:30) and already the flowers were piled incredibly high around the eternal flame of the Genocide Memorial. On the outside were large floral tributes presented by international organisations and representatives of foreign powers, but the real beauty was the overwhelming impact of a few flowers by every visitor. Mid morning, and it was already quite a task to manage the piles. By the end of the day, I am sure there is almost a wall created by the mounds of flowers, which would number towards a million, at a guess.


Earthquake Damage
Earthquake Damage
It is now 25 years since a devastating earthquake killed 50,000 people, displaced many times more, and ruined the city of Gyumri and neighbouring towns and villages. The population is growing, but oh so slowly. And still, in some areas of the cities, many buildings lie in disrepair. Some are shells, with walls and ceilings that somehow have managed to hang on all these years, despite their precarious angles. The building pictured was ruined and collapsed at both ends, exposing the dwellings there. You can see the elaborate wall decorations, perhaps from dining or sitting rooms. Yet the centre part of the building is still used and lived in. The doorways from these exposed rooms are boarded up, yet the next rooms are occupied, lights and furniture indicating the spaces which are inhabited. The other end told a similar story.


A Country That Isn't



15 to 18 April, 2013 – Stepanakert, Agdam – (Nagorno-Karabakh)

You may struggle to find Nagorno-Karabakh on many maps. Officially, it does not really exist. My understanding is, and this may be not quite correct, Nagorno-Karabakh is a region that was majority inhabited by people of Armenian descent (and a significant majority, somewhere over 90% at the start of the 20th century, and still over 75% in the 1980s). During the time of the Soviet Union, the region was included as part of Azerbaijan. In the late 80's, the Armenians there sought independence from Azerbaijan, which turned in to war. Armenia supported them, and by 1994 a ceasefire was called and a tentative ceasefire line exists. To this day, Nagorno-Karabakh still remains largely unrecognised as a sovereign entity, and for most maps and international recognition it is part of Azerbaijan. For practical reasons, it needs to be seen as part of Armenia, as this is the only point of access for foreigners, they speak Armenian, use Armenian currency, and rely on the support of the Armenian military, government, and people. But they seek to be viewed as an independent and sovereign nation, using the names Nagorno-Karabakh, or just Karabakh, or even Artsakh at times.

So, visiting the area was interesting, with some areas quite enigmatic. We mainly stayed in the region that is marked out as Nagorno-Karabkh, but we did venture across to some other areas claimed by Azerbaijan, not part of Nagorno-Karabakh, but still under control of the Armenian military and on the Armenian side of the cease-fire line. I interpret this as a sort of dead zone, or buffer, not ultimately part of Karabakh's claim, not quite a no-man's land, and all in limbo until a final solution can be ratified regarding the status of the entire zone.

Gandzasar Monastery
Gandzasar Monastery
Writing from centuries past adorns the interior walls of the main church in the Gandzasar monastery near Vank in Nagorno-Karabakh.


Gandzasar Monastery
Gandzasar Monastery
Over time, crosses have been etched in to the exterior walls. Gandzasar monastery, Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh.


A Poppy Grows
A Poppy Grows
Coming in to Agdam, a ruined and abandoned city, we found poppies growing by the roadside. Agdam, or Akna, is not really in Nagorno-Karabakh, but in Azerbaijan territory occupied by the Armenian military. Not quite no-man's land, but a dead zone for all intents and purposes, until the entire Karabakh question is resolved.


The Mosque In Agdam
The Mosque In Agdam
Abandoned and in disrepair, the mosque near the centre of Agdam is one of the few buildings to retain its form and whose original function is discernible. It is still possible to access the roof and to climb the minarets. The street was a main road, but is slowly giving in to the encroachment of trees and shrubs.


Looking To Town Centre
Looking To Town Centre
From the roof of the abandoned mosque in Agdam, looking towards some of the remains of the buildings that were once part of the centre of town.


Abandoned and Plundered
Abandoned and Plundered
Another photo taken from the roof of the mosque in Agdam. The remains of the low rise housing, mainly one and two storey buildings, are slowly being engulfed by the trees. Every building has been picked through many times, firstly for anything resalable including bathroom and kitchen fittings, and secondly for anything recyclable, particularly scrap metals and building materials. Amongst all the things left behind are occasional stoves and refrigerators, as well as the shells of cars and trucks.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Absorbing the Sanctity from 1700 Years of Christian Worship



9 to 15 April, 2013 – Alaverdi, Yerevan – (Armenia)

Borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia are not open, meaning we had to travel via Georgia to continue our trip. A few hours in Tbilisi and then continuing with a grumpy taxi driver who did not appear to be happy with anyone or anything.

As soon as we crossed the border, the taxi driver wanted to refuel. Of course, this is not uncommon, where drivers will put in fuel in the cheaper country. However, here they use a lot of methane for vehicles. Due to the volatility of the gas, you are not allowed to stay in the vehicle while it refuels, and they provide little waiting rooms while the process happens. Additionally, each car is separated from the others by solid concrete walls. You actually get a bit nervous during the whole process, and worst of all, the car stinks for quite a while afterwards!

Although the locations listed above imply this week was about Alaverdi and Yerevan, it was actually a lot more about the sights near those places. In the Debed Gorge, there are many ancient churches and monasteries, of which we visited a handful. Principally Haghpat, Sanahin, Ordzun, and Akhtala. Likewise, although we had some great dining and drinking in Yerevan, we focussed on day trips to Echmiadzin, Zvartnos, Geghard, and Garni.

Hamazasp, Haghpat
Hamazasp, Haghpat
The acoustics in this wonderful space were amazing. Although the oldest parts of the monastery date from the 10th century, Hamazasp was built around 1257.


Carved Cross
Carved Cross
A cross carved centuries ago in one of the magnificent pillars of Hamazasp at Haghpat Monastery.


Haghpat
Haghpat
Haghpat Monastery, with the bell tower in the foreground, and a sense of its beautiful location in the background.


Our Little Find
Our Little Find
We decided to walk between Haghpat and Sanahin, and thought we would find the way quite easily. We did make it, but are not too sure if we went the most direct way possible. We only got directions once, and they were quite vague, and we don't feel like we followed them, but in hindsight, there did not appear to be a better alternative. Anyway, so maybe we were lost, and maybe we weren't, but on the way we encountered this fantastic little church amongst ruins. It sat on a rocky outcrop just below the plateau that Sanahin sits on. There were cliffs below, cliffs opposite, and cliffs along the sides of the plateau. The little sanctuary was tidy and had a few candle stubs, and was therefore visited by worshippers on occasion. However, we still felt like it was our little discovery because of the remote setting, difficult approach, and the ruins around it.


Sanahin Monastery
Sanahin Monastery
We got here much later in the day than we had planned. The fading light, though, seemed to add to the atmosphere of such a place.


Inside the Church of Akhtala
Inside the Church of Akhtala
Some of the beautiful, unrestored frescoes at Akhtala. These frescoes are 800 years old, and are in high concentration in this church. Later, the priest found us waiting by the roadside. Waiting for a bus he said was not coming any more. So he drove us down the next few kilometres to the main highway so we could pick up passing transport there.


Candles
Candles
Inside the 17th century church called Zoravar in Yerevan.


The Spear That Pierced Christ's Side
The Spear That Pierced Christ's Side
It is claimed that this is the head of the spear that was used by a soldier to pierce the side of Jesus Christ while he was on the cross to check if he was dead. It is easy to be sceptical about whether it is the genuine article, just as easy as it is to blindly believe it is what they say. Personally, I see no reason to doubt it, considering the item has been kept by the Armenian church for over 1700 years, and therefore it was collected relatively soon after the event. That said, for us it is not important whether it is genuine or not, it still acts as a reminder of the event. As long as the object itself is not venerated and it is treated more as a historic item than a particularly holy one, then I see it as an illustration of the type of spear that would have been used. And perhaps, just perhaps, it really is the one.


Ruins With Mount Ararat
Ruins With Mount Ararat
Mount Ararat emerges from the clouds behind the 7th century ruins of Surp Grigor Lusavorich at Zvartnots, near Yerevan.


13th Century Carving
13th Century Carving
Khatchkers were grave markers for many centuries in this part of the world. From simple crosses to ornate scenes and fabulous patterns, occasionally with writing but not commonly so. This detail on a khatchker at Geghard Monastery particularly stood out.


Geghard Monastery
Geghard Monastery

Amazingly, I thought the differences between the Armenian and Georgian churches would be too subtle for us to notice, as casual visitors. However, despite the definite similarities, they do feel different. Not in any way that I can clearly describe. Certainly nothing that makes one feel more holy or sacred than another. Just different. When there are services under way, things are more distinct. In Georgia, there was the three part harmony chanting of men, and the focus of the service was on the priests, with very little movement inside. In Armenia, a choir sang and a soloist sang, and people moved around a lot, lighting candles. The priests seemed to minister to small groups of worshippers at a time, rather than being a focus of all those assembled. Usually, of course, the places we visited had no such activities in progress. Some are ruins, or are not operational. And even those churches and monasteries which are active, we visit them at all hours. But still, taking the time to sit and absorb, the sacredness of them is easy to encounter and a pleasure to experience.

Of course, we are experiencing more of Armenia than just these holy places. That walk mentioned above, between Haghpat and Sanahin, was interrupted by another display of hospitality. A guy and his friends were picnicking and barbecuing for his 24th birthday. We were waved in, fed, given some drinks, and entertained as they sang Armenian songs. It took us quite some time to extract ourselves from the crowd, and this was the reason we arrived so late at the Sanahin monastery.

A Sculpture Made From Old Tyres
A Sculpture Made From Old Tyres
This lion sculpture is made from all sorts of old rubber tyres. Tractor, car, and bicycle tyres could all be identified. Part of the Cafesjian collection displayed outside the Cascade Gallery at Yerevan.


Drinking Armenian Cognac
Drinking Armenian Cognac
Armenia is justly proud of its brandies and cognacs.


Yerevan Tulips
Yerevan Tulips
Spring is coming. Yerevan is full of flowers, but particularly tulips. So many garden beds with tulips in every imaginable colour.


Garni Temple
Garni Temple
Rebuilt temple from the 1st century.


… and the Pool is Freaking Awesome!
… and the Pool is Freaking Awesome!

At restaurants and cafes around the world, we have generally found that the language barrier is lowest when we want to pay. Just making a little writing gesture in the air is enough for all waiters to realise that you want to take care of the account. Until now. At one establishment in Yerevan, I made the gesture, and the waiter came over with a pen and some paper. He was terribly embarrassed upon realising what we were really after, and the bill was soon brought over – by another waiter.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ugly Functionality is Eclipsed by Beautiful Nature; Polluted Waters are Eclipsed by Earth that Breathes Fire; Watchful Paranoia is Eclipsed by Unreserved Hospitality



26 March to 9 April, 2013 – Baku, Qusarçay Laza, Naxçivan, Qobustan, Abşeron Peninsula, Quba, Xinaliq, Şǝki - (Azerbaijan)

Azerbaijan is a land of amazing contrasts. We have seen some eye-sore oilfields with hundreds of oil derricks pumping. Then in the days following we were blown away by the amazing scenery found when hiking in the Caucasus Mountains. We have stood next to waters where the oil slicks glisten on the surface and the waste of construction rusts in piles, and then nearby we viewed natural gas vents that breathe through rock and have burnt for decades. We have watched over our shoulders in areas where the officers of the MNS, (Ministry of National Security, formerly the KGB), have either subtly and even blatantly checked up on us. But our enduring memories of Azerbaijan will be the hospitality shown to us repeatedly and unreservedly by strangers and chance encounters.

Before telling the stories, I should relay the “social faux pas” that Jo and I repeatedly did. I happened to encounter a web page about Azeri etiquette that described how the locals do not smile. Well, not to strangers. “They are warm but reserve smiling for friends and family.” OK, we had worked out they were not sour, but it explained the general straight faces. The site continued with “If you smile in public, particularly if you smile at someone you have not been introduced to, they may think you are mentally handicapped.” Hmmm, Jo and I do tend to smile at people... Oops!

We took the train from Tbilisi, Georgia, to Baku, capital of Azerbaijan.

Baku Couchsurfing Feast
Baku Couchsurfing Feast
Our Baku host from couchsurfing, Çavid, and his mum. On our first night, they put on an amazing feast of traditional Azeri dishes. In fact, every meal we had was fantastic, but the food really kept coming this first night.


Baku's Flame Towers
Baku's Flame Towers
Three towers, shaped like flames. And at night, the lights on them make pictures, rotating through Azeri flags fluttering, flames flickering, and patriotic flag bearers waving their flags. They are not projected, but lights on the building generate the images. Up close, though, you can not see the lights at all, and it looks like standard reflective building glass.


The Eternal Flame and the Flame Towers
The Eternal Flame and the Flame Towers
View through the war memorial, Baku.


Baku Town Walls
Baku Town Walls
A section of the walls surrounding the old town of Baku, with the flame towers visible in the background.


Baku Town Walls Panorama
Baku Town Walls Panorama
Looking to Baku old town, from the İçari Şahǝr metro station.


We were a little concerned about the possible weather, and would not have headed up in to the mountains for a few more days at least, but a couchsurfing connection with a German and Azeri couple who were heading up led to us being in Laza earlier. While visibility was not great and light drizzle came our way more than once, it did not stop us from having a great time as a group, clambering up to snow-lined waterfalls, taking in mountain air, and talking all sorts of stuff, both deep and meaningful as well as light-hearted.

Five Couchsurfers in the Fog
Five Couchsurfers in the Fog
Arriving at Laza (Qusarçay Laza) in the fog. We got dropped a few kilometres away, and walked the rest of the way. That afternoon, we never got to see more than a few dozen metres. Us, Çavid, Andrej, and Vusala. All connected because of couchsurfing.


Cosy Bungalow in Laza
Cosy Bungalow in Laza
The five of us bunked down on the floor of this bungalow, fire roaring, super thick walls, and loads of covers. It truly was a cosy night considering the sub-zero temperatures outside.


The Washing Got Snowed On
The Washing Got Snowed On
Waking up in Laza, it was obviously cold overnight. Visibility had improved, though. We did not know that rocky formation was there when we went to sleep the night before. Between you and me, though, I would not have put the washing out given the prevailing weather, and I would have assumed locals would be better at picking that than I.


Frozen Spider Web
Frozen Spider Web
Condensation on the web has frozen during the night. The web strings across the rusting frame of a wrecked and abandoned car.


On our way back to Quba, we had our first KGB encounter. I know they are not called the KGB any more, but even the locals still refer to them as such. Not too subtly, he drove past our little group as we walked, stopping by the road a few hundred metres ahead. And then he was talking on his phone as we walked past. This was repeated three times. And minutes after he drove off, a pair of uniformed police stopped us, just to be polite and make light conversation. Strangely coincidental.

Curiosity, more than anything else, led us to booking flights to go and visit Naxçivan. An exclave of Azerbaijan, isolated by a segment of Armenia. This is troublesome for Naxçivan as Armenia and Azerbaijan do not really get on. As far as many are concerned, they still are effectively at war. This is because that segment of Armenia used to be Azerbaijan until the Soviet Union redefined areas. Also, because of the actual war in the 1990's over the Nagorno Karabakh region, which finished with a cease-fire but no real conclusion or result and the territory has been occupied by Armenian forces ever since. So, the only practical way they are connected to the rest of the country is by air. They could overland, in theory, through Iran, but things are not always easy for that route, either.

We deemed 9:00 a.m. not too bad a time for a flight to Naxçivan, determining that 8:00 would be an ideal check-in time to aim for. Get up at 6:00, be on our way by 6:30, that should allow us enough time with public transport. Coming out of the metro for our connecting bus at about 7:00 was when an alarming fact became apparent. All the clocks we could see were saying 8:00, and we discovered daylight saving (summer time) had begun. We had lost an hour! And we were still a long way from the airport. As we flew down the road in a taxi, I tried not to think about the clause I had read on the tickets saying “check-in closes 40 minutes prior to flight time”. At 8:25, we ran up to the counter, received our boarding passes, and two minutes later stood on a shuttle bus from the terminal to the parked aircraft.

Arriving in Naxçivan we found an extraordinarily neat and orderly city, with wide and clean avenues and tidy parks, all with a strange emptiness. This exuded a feeling that something is not quite right, but the sort of thing you cannot put your finger on. For the two days we were there, we often had the feeling of being watched. We know, for instance, that sometimes we were being checked up on. A KGB agent politely asked us some questions as we hopped in to a taxi, and noted them down, including the taxi details. I know that not all those solo men looking suspicious in the parks on mobile phones were following us, but we are certain that at least one or two were.

For sure, though, the visit to Naxçivan was interesting, and thankfully not just because of the paranoia.

Möminǝ Xatun
Möminǝ Xatun
The iconic tower of Naxçivan, viewed through the beautiful stained windows of a nearby palace museum.


Ancient Grave Marker
Ancient Grave Marker
Rams appear to have often been used in this region as grave markers. Most have suffered terribly due to centuries of weathering, but this one, in great condition, retains very clear carvings.


Noah's Grave
Noah's Grave
Only in the last few years have some local archaeologists discovered a grave at this site. They claim to have ascertained that it is the final resting place of Noah. The monument is new, but we were disappointed to find that there was nothing to see inside. Single visitors will be pleased to know that you do not have to be in pairs to go inside...


View From Our Naxçivan Hotel
View From Our Naxçivan Hotel
Looking southeast, past the airport, to İlandağ, some 30 km away. The snow capped mountains in the distance are the Lesser Caucasus Mountains.


There Was No Dial Tone
There Was No Dial Tone
I was not expecting a dial tone, but locals thought it humorous that I picked up the hand piece and listened. I assume that rotary dial telephones are defunct in most places in 2013.


Çay
Çay
Azerbaijan's national drink. I cannot believe how many glasses we consume every day. I have not taken to the local method of drinking, by placing either a sugar cube or hard confectionery in one's mouth and drinking the tea through that.


Shoe Repair
Shoe Repair
Jo's boots were in a state. But we knew expert attention was required when the both soles came loose and began flapping when she walked. This man was just the expert required, and we hope they will now last the rest of the trip. On the other hand, we consider it a miracle every time that mine make it through another day.


How do you find a pocket knife you thought you had lost? Check in for a flight! Let the x-ray machine find it. Sure, you get the red face and have to tackle a “please explain” look from a security person with whom you share no common language. But you do find your pocket knife.

I don't know if or how this has anything to do with the situation in Naxçivan, but the flights, both ways, had many children and babies. At least one or two for every set of three seats. Children sat on adult laps or shared seats, as on buses, and babies were held everywhere. For the duration of the whole flight, there was a symphony of crying and wailing. Another thing, and while we have seen this many times before, but not to the same extent, people all through the plane talked on mobile phones and texted, during taxiing, take-off, and landing. And award for keenness to get ready for disembarkation goes to the man who got out of his seat and took his bags from the overhead locker, while the plane was still slowing down on the runway!

Back in Azerbaijan proper, (yes, amazingly, we did make it back in one piece), we spent a couple of days visiting some very interesting places close to Baku.

Scaling the Rocky Hills at Qobustan
Scaling the Rocky Hills at Qobustan
Çavid and me.


Petroglyphs – Qobustan
Petroglyphs – Qobustan

Jo and Çavid Survey the Expanse Below
Jo and Çavid Survey the Expanse Below
Yes, we were starting to look for a way back down!


Checking How Good the Mud is for One's Skin
Checking How Good the Mud is for One's Skin
Çavid and Jo did not hold back with the mud bubbling out of the little volcano-like mound. Note the bubble about to pop behind Çavid.


Mud Emulating Lava
Mud Emulating Lava
Excess mud bubbles out of the “volcanoes” and runs like lava flows down the mounds.


Close Observation
Close Observation
Jo and Çavid entertained by a bubbling pool of mud.


The Earth Breathes Fire
The Earth Breathes Fire
Yanar Dağ, Fire Mountain. In the 1950's, a farmer's discarded cigarette caused the gas seeping out of the ground to ignite. It has been ablaze ever since.


Oil Derricks
Oil Derricks
A not uncommon sight in these parts, especially on the Abşeron Peninsula. Dozens of oil derricks, nicknamed nodding donkeys, pumping “black gold”.


We thought we might consider moving on from Azerbaijan at about this time, but improved weather forecasts encouraged us to revisit the mountains. We are so glad we did. And the great time we had there lifted us from the sobering visit we made en-route.

Massacre Victims
Massacre Victims
The remains of hundreds of people massacred in 1918. Bones, skulls, and teeth; all that remains of the bodies of people slaughtered and buried in two trenches and two wells near the town of Quba. The remains were uncovered relatively recently when building works were begun in the area. This location, however, represents only a small sample of the horror, with figures quoting over 16,000 civilians from over 120 villages massacred in the Quba region.


Testimony to Brutality
Testimony to Brutality
Investigations revealed that the victims of this massacre died predominantly due to blunt force impact. The bodies were then bulldozed into the ground.


On the Way to Xinaliq
On the Way to Xinaliq
We took transport from Quba to Xinaliq. We did not even ask the driver to stop for photos – he knew the right spot to let us have some time to take in the beauty and attempt to capture it. No hope, really. Photos never do justice for places like this.


Looking Down to Xinaliq
Looking Down to Xinaliq
On the afternoon we arrived, we hiked up from Xinaliq to take it all in.


Hiking From Xinaliq
Hiking From Xinaliq
To leave Xinaliq, we just set out down the road to Quba. We passed through the best of the scenery, including expansive views to the mountains, and some pretty gorges with striking rock faces. When we got sick of walking, after 20km or so, we hitched a ride with a Russian couple, back to Quba.


It is Only for Sheep, Yeah-eah
It is Only for Sheep, Yeah-eah
A farmer waved us over as we walked down the road, close to the village of Çek. While we talked with him (well, gestured and pointed, as we had very few words common between us), his sheep just stood behind him, waiting for his next move.


Hospitality in Çek
Hospitality in Çek
To continue the story, that farmer I mentioned in the last picture, he lived in that house behind the sheep. His gestures indicated that he wanted us to join him for tea. And he did say one of those few words that we understood, çay. The family all came in, and the tea flowed, with the usual array of sweets, followed by home-made bread, home-churned butter, home-made cheese, and eggs (I assume from their own chickens). We tried to communicate about a number of things, both ways, some of it being understood, and other things ending in laughter at the realisation that the story was lost. They taught us a few words of their language, as Azeri is not what they speak in this area. We tried, but none of it stuck. Well, it wouldn't be useful anywhere else, in any case. After an hour and a bit, we continued on our way, and they came out, kissed us, and waved goodbye.


Looking Over to Çek
Looking Over to Çek
After a couple of kilometres, the road winds past Çek on the other side of the valley. Our friendly farmers live in the house a little to the right of the village there, with the red roof.


Besides the hospitality mentioned so far, I think I should mention some of the other stand-out incidents; Hopping in a shared taxi, and the other passenger paying for our fares; A group of teenage boys at a cafe who introduced themselves and then paid for our tea; When we were hiking, a passing car stopped and the family gave us fresh bread to enjoy while we continued on our way.

Last stop for Azerbaijan, on the way back to Georgia, with perfect timing for my birthday, was Şǝki.

Skyping Family on my Birthday
Skyping Family on my Birthday
In Şǝki, we took a room in the Karavansaray Hotel, a 250+ year old caravansarai. A perfect place in a pleasant town to have my birthday.