Sunday, July 08, 2007

Endless cups of tea and remote mountain villages

From Baku, I went north in a totally packed marshrutka (Soviet style minivan) to a town called Sumqayit. This place actually is the third largest city in Azerbaijan and it is famous for its abandoned factories and industrial wastelands. The two reasons that made me decide going here were to see this industrial horror site and secondly to be out of Baku, because I intended to hitchhike further north. The mean problem actually was, that the marshrutka driver brought me to the seafront, which was very far away from the former industrial area and also quite far from the mean road. The positive thing was, that I stranded at a nice beach with a beautifull view over the Caspian sea. I went into a beachhouse, were I drunk some tea and talked with the friendly owner. After a while, that man started to bring food and more tea and when I left he didn't accept any money from me. Really an amazing experience.
After I finished all my chatting and tea drinking, I moved on to the northern part of town with a small bus. I walked towards the mean road and luckily it appeared that the industrial site I was looking for, was right next to the road were I intended to hitchhike. So I visited the former industrial area of Sumqayit. It seriously was much more terrible than I expected, the industrial area is like a sea of rust and could be a perfect setting for a horrormovie. Everything is completely abandoned and there is chemical waste all over the place. This former petrochemical industry is now an ecological disaster, which caused many deformed and retarted Azeri victims.
After a short walk around this site and some waiting time, I managed to get a ride north. Althought I planned to hitchhike to a town named Quba, the man wasn't going any further than a place called Deveci. As it was a bit late already, I stayed in Deveci. I found a very cheap hotel (3 manat), but it was very run down and one of the most dodgy and shitty placed I've stayed in. The town itself is quite a shithole as well. The atmosphere is pretty grim and haunting and all the persons I bought something from tried to rip me off. Also it was very strange that I only saw men walking the streets, I haven't seen any women that whole evening.
The next day I went to Quba by marshrutka and on the way, I saw a Azeri funeral. In Quba, I stayed in a small hotel with a very friendly owner, who kept on talking about KGB stuff. In the afternoon, I walked a bit throught the friendly town, which has a relaxing and quiet atmosphere. The Russian cottagehouses reminded me of Karakol (Kyrgyzstan) and after I walked a bit, I sat in a nice park for a while, where I met some really nice guys. These people are my age and, while enjoyed various cups of tea, we discussed politics and cultural differences. Allthought there were some language barriers (my Russian is certainly not good enough), I got to know much more about Azeri culture and lifestyle. They told me about the political problems of Azerbaijan (corruption, crazy politicians, lack of democracy, etc.) and strongly advised me not to go to Armenia, as it is the evil country in their opinion. This is because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which got both countries into war in most of the 1990's.
At about six o'clock one of their friends came with a car and we drove out of town towards the mountains. He really drove like a maniac, I am not often afraid in cars, but he really got my andrenaline pumping. On the way we stopped somewhere and one of the guys showed me his gun. And after some talking and shooting, we returned to Quba for some more cups of tea. That evening I met a lot of their friends, including a guy who said he is multiple weight lifting champion of the former Soviet Union (allthought many man are saying they are weightlifting champion).
The next morning, I arranged transport by UAZ-jeep to a remote mountain village named Xinaliq. After waiting a bit for the jeep to fill up, we left towards the Caucasian mountains. The ride was very nice and we stopped in a shepperds camp to drop one of the passengers. The scenery along the way was very pretty and the village of Xinaliq is even more amazing. It is very remote and build on top of a mountain, from where I had a spectacular 360 degree panorama overlooking the impressive Caucasus. The way of living in Xinaliq is quite primitive due to the isolation of the village and therefore completely different than the lifestyle of hectic Baku.
After walking a bit trought the village, I was invited for tea and lunch together with my driver in someones home. As soon as we finished our meal, we picked up some people and drove back to Quba, where I spended some time talking to the owner of my hotel again.
The next day I hitchhiked back to Baku. I first walked for 3 kilometres out of town and had some delay as I was invited for tea again. When my tea cups were empty, I continued hitchhiking and soon I got a ride from an old man with an old Volga directly to Baku. We stopped for tea on the way and as his car wasn't able to drive faster then 50km/hour, I arrived in Baku quite late. Unfortunately, the man didn't understand the concept of hitchhiking and he demanded money for his service. After explaining him that hitchhiking is supposed to be free, I ended up paying him. That evening in Baku I went to 1000Camels hostel again, where I met some other travellers and exchanged stories.