Xal Xal, Oguz, Sheki on a Four Day Adventure!
4 days off and we're looking to get out of town, into the country, and see some green! Online we find a guesthouse in a tiny village in the country - hooray for booking.com. The plan is to take the bus to a nearby town and then somehow navigate our way to the guesthouse. That completely falls apart as we wander the chaotic bus station (it is a national holiday) with no one speaking English. A couple of well-meaning people take pity on us and try to help, but with little success. Then, an angel appears - well really just one of the local teachers from the school who intervenes and helps us get oriented. We have tickets to the nearby town and have found where the bus is supposed to be. The next hurdle is that apparently the medium size bus has broken down and there are small mini-vans where people are pushing and shoving to get a seat into a van built for 12 which now holds at least 20. (This is because of the out-of-the-way place to which we are going - there are regular large nice busses going to other locations.) None of us likes the idea of riding for 4-5 hours in one of these minivans, so the next option people have told us is to hire a car. We wander over to where drivers are waiting to catch tourists - we converse with a driver who seems to know exactly where we want to go, the car looks reasonable, and the price is OK for us (split 4 ways it's less than $25 each for the 4 hour journey.)
We try our limited Azerbaijani speaking and think that he is saying that his father lives near the village where we want to go, and then something about a brother... (of course we could be totally wrong and he's saying something completely different, but we like to think we know what he's talking about!) About an hour into the journey, he pulls over and trades drivers with his brother driving our car and he taking his brother's car. Whatever works for them, will be OK with us. We travel a couple of hours through dry terrain with small hills, until finally we start to get up in the mountains and see forests and greenery. There is thick fog in the mountains, but the driver is cautious (not like some who zoom past us) and eventually we arrive right at the guest house.
It's a simple guest house with clean rooms in a beautiful setting - a mountain view outside the window, not much but cows, chickens, and forest. Just what we're looking for as a change from the hustle and bustle of Baku.
The food is simple and good - barbecue meat, vegetables, cheese, bread, soup. We're in no hurry so the long service time is fine - the cards come out and we dive into Crazy Eights. A young Azerbaijani couple who speak excellent English are at the table next to us and we strike up a conversation and they join us for a dinner of great cultural conversations. He, a worker for British Petroleum and she a student in the UK are the new breed of Azerbaijani youth.
The next day we walk, and walk, and walk - it's lovely to be with like-minded companions who enjoy walking. We soak in the local atmosphere of farms, cows, goats, chickens, horses and gets lots of odd looks from people - who are these strange people who want to walk??
It's a lovely couple of days as we explore the surroundings including a nearby town, and then one day a larger town which is a tourist destination.
We will remember... card games, conversation, walking, Jeanette's coffee which turned out to be diluted hot chocolate, lots of tea, local bus, games in the car, being silly, meeting Jean, Tom and Emily in Sheki, shopping in Sheki, good friends...