Shoot-out at the OK Corrall
6/9/10 - 15/9/10 27 °C
The Lonely Planet guide book states that travelling in Southern Azerbaijan needs either a knowledge of a local language - Azeri or Russian, or ingenuity. I knew I didn't have the first one so banked on the second, even though I felt about as ingenious as a slug. We caught a share taxi back to the big town - Lankaran, which seemed hot and full of life after sleepy Lehric. People were surprised to see us at the market/bus station area, but were very friendly. The idea was to catch a bus to the next big town up and then find a way to get to a small town which was described in the said book as being pleasant but not worth staying in. In our wisdon we decided that we knew better and wouldn't blindly follow guide books and would stay the night there and then go back to Baku the next day.
When we arrived at Masali, the next town, we were met with a barrage of "helpful"people and taxi drivers. This is a quite usual event when you arrive anywhere, so you have to try and pretend that you know where you are going and that you know the prices of everything. As I was still not feeling that well it was a bit harder than ususal. The actual travelling is quite restful when you're ill, siting on a bus and gazing at the scenery, but arriving is the difficult bit! The taxi drivers explained, nicely, that as the town was 100 kilometres away the price was $100. It was $50 km and we eventually got the price down to 10 Manats, about 7 pounds or $12. You know you're in trouble when people give prices in dollars or Euros, they become a bit more sensible when you switch to the local currency.
Once the bargaining buisiness is done here, no matter how intense it has become, everything is all friendly again. (Thats until you get to the end of the journey when, if you haven't been careful and made the price absolutely certain, there might be a disagreement on what was agreed.) Once we were off our driver was great and stopped off to show us Azerbaijan's biggest waterfall and bought us tea in the cafe there. It was great to be back in a place that realises the sense of having cafes under trees at every available opportunity, even if they are only used by men. The trip was nearly identical to the one to Lehric - beautiful woody areas, getting higher and higher until we were in sparser, scorched grassy small mountains. I realised again that the optimum time to go the Talysh Mountains would be in the spring time, when there would be wild flowers and green grass. We stopped at a small Mosque, where the driver brought us in. Unusually, there was a women chanting from the Koran and the Mosque was full of women annd children. We walked slowly around the tomb of the holy person it was dedicated to 3 times and then carried on.
Our destination was called Yardimilli ( pronounced Yardumli) and looked quite pleasant. We got dropped off at the only hotel there, which seemed quite posh and big after our previous cold water/squat toilet place. We decided to have a look around and to find somewhere to eat. At the previous town, the people there were midly surprised to see us, here they were downright amazed, though not unfriendly. While we we in the cafe, we noticed police outside talking to people. Police in a lot of countries aren't as seperate as in England, they are usually related to or went to school with just about everyone and are often seen chatting, often with their arms around people or even holding hands with them (men ofcourse). However, when it comes to it, they expect to be obeyed and respected in Azerbaijan. When we walked out we realised they had come to see us and asked for our passports. As we had left them in the hotel, there was a lot of discussion, waiting, phoning bosses, the hotel and probably just about everyone they could think of. We hoped that they would give us a lift up the steep hill to the hotel to look at them, but they must have decided that we were pretty stupid as we couldn't understand them and so harmless and couldn't be bothered to check and waived us officiously on, driving past us as we went in. I assumed that security was a bit more serious as we were right on the border with Iran.
The next day we looked around the town, which we realised hadn't actually been worth staying in.. The highlight was going to the fire station and meeting the firemen, who asked the same questions about age, money and children, but had lots of great gold teeth and were funny. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take any photos. After eating and using the 2nd worst toilet of the whole trip, the description of which I'll save for a later time, we decided to go on our way after another look around the town.
This time we passed a different policeman who did a cartoon double take when he saw us. We'd learnt from experience and had our passports with us and, even though he phoned the same people and we told him we were going that day, he was obviously very distressed. "Go today, as soon as possible" was the message,so we did. As we drove out of town we passed him and he looked about as relieved as anyone could be and he waived us on our way officiously.
We got back to Lankaran to wait for the night train to Baku and went back to an outside cafe next to the station. It was also next the police station and the army barracks. After a while we realised that there was a small crowd gathering. One man had robes and a turban and looked like an Imam (religious leader). The crowd got noisier and some police came along. The noise and police increased and it all got quite confusing. From our ringside seat we saw some riot police arrive and then they chased some people right infont of the cafe across the railway track. There were several bangs and the smell of smoke. A couple of the bangs were really loud and sharp and I realised I was hearing gun fire for the first time, though they were probably just blanks. Infront of the station was a large square and this was being driven around by police vehicles and the traffic was stopped. The rest of the people in the cafe didn't seem to know what was going on, and no-one could speak English anyway, so we didn't have a clue what was happening, but it was all very exciting. A few times we all had to get up and start to move off as the bangs and the police chasing people came so close . Eventually it all calmed down on life carried on as before. I was sorry that I hadn't taken any photos, but a tourist with a massive camera would have stuck out like a sore thumb and I didn't fancy a night in the police station. It was a fitting end to our visit to the south, which had had a bit of a feel to the Wild West to it.
When I got to Baku I asked people if it had been on TV, but no-one knew about it. Eventually I found something on the internet, saying that police had stated that "there had been no incident in Lankaran, but several people had invited themselves to the police station for discussion and to pay fines. And that the people of the town were happy about this." The ones I saw were quite happy as it had been great entertainment for us all.
We spent a few days in Baku doing the trips I mentioned in a previous blog and for me to recover. Unfortunately, although the previous illness cleared up, I then developed a tooth abcess and the previously healed knee also broke out in massive blisters. Ignoring my own advice that a doctor wouldn't be able to do anything, I went to an American GP. He couldn't do anything. But I did find some cheap Propolis tincture at a chemist and stocked up on bandages, antibiotic and painkillers.
Feeling like a total hypocondriac, with pharmaceutical goods bulging out of my bag, we set off on a bus for the north of Azerbaijan.