September 8: Lahic, Azerbaijan
7:00. Breakfast at Rustam’s guesthouse consists of semolina, silver dollar pancakes, a large cheese omelet, fresh bread, cherry preserve, local honey and more. Everything is fresh and local. Forget the 100 km rule – almost everything served in Lahic is grown or produced in Lahic.
8:00. We weren’t able to drive Xara (the Dragoman truck) through the town’s narrow streets so we start the day with a 1 km walk to the edge of town. It’s all downhill but after the horseback riding even downhill walking is rough on the knees.
8:15. We’re off to the ancient city of Sheki. It’s only about 140 km but with some treacherous mountain roads, possible rock slides, and countless flocks of sheep being herded down the road, it could be noon before we get there.
9:22. The first of several photo stops is a metal suspension bridge. I normally dive into these things but this one appears to be shiny and new and completely safe. I’m saving my suspension bridge photo op for Vietnam or Cambodia where dodgy old bridges made of rotting vines and small pieces of discarded wood are a dime a dozen.
9:41. Speeding ticket? No. Just a friendly spot check – and no cigarettes or bottles of gin changed hands. The cops in Azerbaijan aren’t as hard up as the ones we met in Turkmenistan.
12:00. We check into the Sheki Karavansary Hotel. It’s not ‘Silk Road’ ancient but it’s certainly not new. Our guide believes it dates from the 18th century. Indoor plumbing appears to be a fairly recent addition. The city itself dates from the late Bronze Age with evidence of large stone structures as early as the 7th century B.C.
15:00. I doubt this is going to catch on in North America but in Azerbaijan, as in Mongolia and much of Central Asia, even straight men generally hold hands, lock arms or do the arm over-the-shoulder thing when they go walking.
21:20. I’m back at the Karavansary after a long up-and-down walk, lunch and light dinner on the town, a few “chats” with friendly locals. Very few people speak English so I didn’t learn a lot. At the hotel I have an online chat with a new friend from the ship, Aleksandr in Azerbaijan. He’s the only one to have moved into his dorm a week before school starts and it sounds like he’s lonely. That’s not a feeling I ever experienced in hostel dorms and to be honest, I’m looking forward to getting back to hostel life.