A Trip through Azerbaijan and Baku
We arrive in Azerbaijan by boat. The port of cargo ships is 80 kilometers from the city of Baku, an artificial oasis in the middle of the desert and on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The only question they asked us while we were migrating was whether we had gone or thought of going to Armenia.
Night fell when we arrived in the city of Baku. It was cold and drizzled a little. We arrived in the city in a truck carrying watermelons. The truck toured much of the old walled city of the twelfth century. Finally, after making several turns through the nooks and crannies of its streets, it left us in the lodging house of the historic center.
Once lodged and without knowing well where we were, we went out to see the surroundings around the historical center. Everything we saw made us suspect that there was a lot to see by the amount of interesting monuments even though they were vaguely illuminated. It gave us the feeling of a mysterious city.
We hardly saw people walking down the street and the premises remained closed. It was difficult to recognize where we were. Was it a city in Europe? Were we still in Asia? This was a bit strange because it was only 8 but then we realized that being Friday in a Muslim country probably the locals were in their homes.
The bazaars had disappeared and in their place were the most ostentatious shops of Gucci, Prada and Luis Vuitton. Traffic lights, parking spaces and squares were neat and new. Everything was orderly. The only problem was crossing the street. The city is not designed for pedestrians. In Baku everyone moves by car. It would seem that walking is for the poor. Most are very rich and they are dying to show that.
The architecture disengaged us. We counted more than twenty skyscrapers that climbed among the old European constructions. We tried to ask about the architecture, but we could not. We did not have time. We saw a man sitting on a bench. He wore a military jacket and the occasional communist pin. The temptation was strong.
We wanted to sit next to him, get information, create a link. But this is a trip of superimposed bits. We are left with only the image of the old communist waiting for his friend, also old and also Soviet, to play backgammon and drink tea with lemon. In the background is the emblematic building of Baku with the three flames.
Hopefully they never stop flaming. If that happens it means that Azerbaijan ran out of gas and without oil. Everything would fall apart! We walk along the waterfront and through the old city with souvenir shops. The contrast is resounding. The old and the modern coexist. Undoubtedly, the city suffers from a certain cultural schizophrenia. I was struck by not seeing poor people, and nobody asks for money.
That night we met an Ukrainian who came here to earn money, basically. According to him, this is a great place to live. He likes modern buildings, lights, technology, silver, development, good living. For me, the city is infinitely boring. We asked him about his Soviet years. For us it is surprising that at some point Ukraine and Azerbaijan were the same country and shared the flag.
He dodges the question. Everything is better now, and his iphone starts to ring. The conversation is interrupted, perhaps forever. We wander from one end to the other. As it was already late and there was nothing open we went to rest to visit her as she deserved the next day.
After a breakfast of sheep's cheese, tomato, bread, cucumber, tea, jam and orange juice, we set out on a cobbled street. It led us to the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, an ancient complex of the 15th century. It is part of the list of World Heritage Sites along with the Maiden Tower and recently both have been restored. The palace is located in the upper part of the city.
The complex is divided into four zones with the Divan Khan, an octagonal assembly area where the court of the Shirvanshah Lhalilullah met. In a second building we can see the palace rooms where a small museum of folklore of the country is located.
In a third building is the beautiful mosque of the Palace and the Mausoleum of the Dervish, Seyid Yahya Bakuvi who was a royal scholar in the court of Shirvanshah Khalilullah. Further down and through some oriental doors we see the baths of the Palace already in ruins but with a special charm for its location. From here we can see part of the buildings of the city.
In a separate courtyard we find some stones cut and numbered in an orderly manner that once belonged to the Sabayil Qala, a castle located on an island but that was submerged in its day and was near the peninsula of Bayil in Baku.
We descend the streets of the old city until we reach Qiz Qalasi. The term in Azeri means impenetrable fortress but is popularly known as the Maiden Tower. It dates from the 12th century and is the national symbol. It is a circular stone tower. Legend has it that a father fell in love with his daughter. Unable to disobey her father she asked him to build the tower from where she could see the whole territory before getting married. When it was built, she climbed to the highest part and threw herself into the void.
We buy cold meat and we eat some sandwiches near the river. The Azeris look at us incredulously. We are a show! But we do not look at them. Our trip does not result in seeing or observing. The day runs fast. We have to leave the country. We have to go near the border with Iran. Actually, we want to go to Armenia but the border is closed. Iran is the detour and the excuse. We left the city by finger.
The urban landscape is lost and we return to the same point of the beginning to the great desert with reserves of gas and oil. We go in an old Kamaz truck model of the 70s. It goes at 30 kilometers per hour and transports bricks. The guy speaks Russian and with that we communicate. He is a former red soldier. He studied in Russia and was at the front in the years of the war with Armenia, a war that still persists.
He warns us not to go to Armenia. We have to go only 150 kilometers with him but it took more than ten hours. We stop for tea and stop for lunch. Also, every fifty kilometers we have to brake so that the engine cooled down a bit. But it's not a problem. We enjoy his company. The best was lunch in an old post next to the route.
We eat watermelon, tomatoes, cheeses, olives, goat meat and yogurt. It is the Caucasus that we imagined, but without wine. At night we reached the border with Iran. It was closed. We had to wait till 9 o'clock in the morning the next day. In the Astara square there is a tea house. We ask if we can put the tent there.
The owner told us yes and he invited us to a glass of vodka. With the help of Google Translator he tells us that better not, that instead of the tent we should go to sleep at his home. We say yes. And we go to the house of a complete stranger who does not even speak Russian (as if we were familiar with the Russian language). His wife, his children and his brothers await us there.
We are the first tourists who they see and the questions are immediate. We eat ice cream, tea, fruits and more ice cream. We take pictures and they give us their room to sleep. We insist on sleeping in the living room but there is no way. The next day they would leave us at the border. On the other side awaits the Islamic Republic of Iran.
But we are still in Azerbaijan although we do not understand anything, absolutely nothing. The lightness of a trip through such a heavy country was an advantage. We did not learn anything but, at the same time, everything was new and amazing.