Qax and Ilisu
A very memorable trip starts again with a bus load of expats and a bus load of local staff headed out, this time for an overnight trip. The first destination is Ilisu. Back in the 18th century, Ilisu was the capital of a sultanate for a very brief period. Today, it is a village of around one thousand people sitting in a valley in northwestern Azerbaijan, with a few remnants of its earlier days: the Summaqala Tower, Ulu Mosque and one remaining bastion of its historic fortress. We overnight in a village where the local staff dance and party until late at night - boy do Azerbaijanis love to dance! The next day the expats are loaded into very old Russian 4x4 jeep-like vehicles for a wild ride up the side of a mountain to the highest point of Azerbaijan right on the Russian border in the Caucasus Mountains. Here there is an abandoned village which is now only staffed by Azerbaijani troups guarding the border. It is a beautiful, Spring day with wild flowers blooming and the magnificient mountains revealing all their splendor. With the Spring run-off the streams are quite swollen and this trip takes us across the stream multiple times as the rutted, dirt road winds up the mountain. The driver in the first car is reluctant to cross the stream, not sure if he can make it, but the driver of our car (the second in line of three) insists with gestures and disgusted expressions that it is fine and to go ahead... A wild ride takes us across the stream and we continue our journey (the other stream crossings were not as wide and deep as the first one.) It's a lovely old village at the top of the mountain and it must have been very isolated when people lived there as the dirt road would have been impassable for much of the year. On the journey down, our car breaks down and the men work at it, pulling tools and spare parts from the cars and eventually they get it going again, we cross the difficult stream and head back down the mountain. On the bus trip back to Baku we stop by one of the road-side markets with their fresh vegetables and fruit, all so colorful and flavorful! A trip to be remembered!