From Desert to Orchards

2009/08/03: Shamaxi 126 km
The first 80 km from Baku crosses stark brown desert (technically steppe) and, though not quite as hot as Uzbekistan, it’s still scorching. We left Baku at 6:00 a.m., dozed in the cafe where we ate lunch, and arrived at dark to a near-derelict soviet-era hotel in Shamaxi. The manager was pleasant enough, and provided a bucket of cold water with a dipper for showering in the bathroom with crumbling tile and no running water.

2009/08/04: Ismayilli 57 km
We had begun to enter grassland and even forest as we neared Shamaxi. This greener landscape continued as we moved on to Ismayilli. There were steep hills and a pass, and it was hot and humid. A car stopped to flag us down as we climbed one hill. An English teacher wanted to talk to us, to welcome us to her country, and to ask us how we liked Azerbaijan.

We were in an area of fruit and nut production. The road was dotted with fruit stands, and colourful jars of pickles were for sale. We were given delicious pears several times. We stopped early in Ismayilli, and found an internet cafe.

2009/08/05: Nut Orchard Camp 88 km
We had leaned our loaded bikes against each other as we stopped for drinks at a small shop. A boy of about thirteen came along and grabbed the handlebars of my bike, starting to pull it insistently away from Chris’s and nearly causing both to crash. He indicated he would take a quick spin around the parking lot, and he assumed we would agree. We’ve let locals ride our bikes – locals with whom we’ve established a relationship, and usually we unload the bikes and hold them carefully as they set off. This assumption and attempted quick grab for a spin was new, and I resisted. The bike was too big for him, and he’d never ridden a bike loaded with 20 kg of gear or used drop handlebars. He would very likely crash within the first few feet or mash my gears, and even a small risk of bike damage is an enormous risk to us. The boy seemed unwilling to take nyet for an answer, so we moved along.

This assumption that my bike is a toy to be shared by all local boys became apparent again later. And why do they go for my bike, not Chris’s? The kinder side of me would explain it as coming from a culture of generosity in which they would never turn down a request by me for a favour. The harsher side of me would say these requests stem from a male sense of entitlement which is even greater here than it was in Central Asia. We can only speculate as to where the women and girls are and what they might be doing. They certainly aren’t in the chaikanas; if they were, they’d be assumed to be of loose morality. They aren’t even out on the streets much. Who knows?

We had lunch and a nap in a hazelnut orchard. Moving on, we were hailed from a cafe by two French cyclists, Bruno and Isabelle, who were travelling the other way as part of a proposed ten year odyssey. We stopped to chat, and I ordered adin piva – one beer, meaning one for Chris. Four beers were brought; they’d assumed I meant one each. We compared notes on respective routes, but the attention of well-lubricated locals made our communication difficult. We don’t like to seem standoffish to locals, but when a drunk starts to fondly pat my curly grey hair it gets a bit much.

Meeting Bruno and Isabelle meant we wouldn’t get to Sheki that evening. We camped in another nut tree orchard. We had already been shown and tasted this type of nuts, but I don’t know what they’re called in English. Not hazelnuts. Not almonds. Not walnuts. Are these hickory nuts, perchance? Botanists and other experts please comment. (Whoops Quram {see next post} tells us they are walnuts. I guess we have not seen them as un-ripe and in the husk like this before)

Does anybody know what this purple prickle is?
(We are told it is sea holly)

2009/08/06: Sheki 45 km
We arrived before midday in Sheki, a pretty medieval town. A hotel in a converted caravanserai had no room for us, so we worked our way towards a B&B we’d been given a card for. After an afternoon nap, we met Mitchell, a Canadian who also holds Swiss citizenship and lives in Basel. We went to the internet cafe and then for a pleasant dinner with him. We decided to take an off-bike day in Sheki, which has sightseeing interest and is about half way between Baku and Tbilisi. We are also watching the news so that we don’t inadvertently pedal into a war zone. Today is the anniversary of Russia bombing South Ossetia in northern Georgia.


5 responses to “From Desert to Orchards

  1. Was it not Georgia that bombed their breakaway district and the Russia protected it?

  2. Looks like hickory. No ideas on the purple peril except don't sit in a patch. Are the stems pentagonal in cross-section?

  3. the picture of the purple prickly is a sea holly

  4. purple prickly thing looks like sea holly. I used to
    have some in my garden but it has disappeared!

  5. Love the preserves photo. Reminds me of my mum. Are those bananas? (Can only imagine the lovely sticky syrup)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.