Saturday, October 17, 2009

Travelogue: Hospitality Hostages, Part 1

We are definitely Lonely Planet travelers.  Not only do these handy books fit our travel budget, they now have downloaded-able chapters that fit our three trunks a piece lifestyle.  So, when the Azerbaijan chapter of the Lonely Planet Caucasus guide recommended Sheki, Azerbaijan as a "must see," we decided we must see it!

Our trip to Sheki began better than planned.  Our taxi driver not only drove us to the airport, he escorted us into the MASSIVE bus station to help us find our bus.  We would have been hopelessly lost in a sea of cyrillic signs and long, empty corridors if it hadn't been for his help, and he didn't even overcharge us.  Without any English, we were able to gather from him that he suggested a mashtruka over a bus.  A mashtruka is a big van crammed full of people.  They are usually faster than buses, however a bus is on a schedule and a mashtruka leaves when full.  We were told to get in the back of the van, the most undesirable seats.  I mimed car sickness to the driver and he let us move up.

At about 9:30 we were on the road, bumping along the very unpaved way outside of Baku.  According to our LP guide, a mashtruka trip to Sheki should take around 7 hours.  At this rate we'd be there by 4:30.  Our first little hiccup was around 10:00 when the van pulled over and one of the three guys in front hopped out and started pouring water on the engine.  At 10:30 the van was pointing back towards Baku and was no longer moving.  Oh, and Azerbaijan has a striking resemblance to Eastern Washington or Western Texas or, well, Kabul as soon as you get out of Baku.

From Hospitality Hostages

So here we are in the middle of the desert, no one speaks a lick of English, we don't speak a lick of Azeri, and we have no idea what Plan B would be.  After about an hour of looking at a bunch of men staring at a very overheated engine, Joey and I made a pact that if nothing had happened by 12:00 we would cross the street and stick our thumbs in the air.  The Hawk has been lobbying for an IPhone since the things came out.  This moment is his strongest argument to date: In order to look at our PDF pages from Lonely Planet to see what towns were in route to Sheki, he had to pull our MacBook Pro out of our luggage, wait for it to turn on and load, and write the names of the towns on his hand.  Yes, I get it, an IPhone fits in the palm of your hand negating the need to copy down names of cities extracted from your laptop in the middle of nowhere in Azerbaijan.  It might have been useful to see what LP said about hitchhiking in Azerbaijan too, because after an hour and half of this:

From Hospitality Hostages

We crossed the street and stuck our thumbs up in the air.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

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