Saturday, August 05, 2006

New Challenger

When you cross the border from Iran to Azerbaijan you feel yourself stepping through a communist time warp. The towns on both sides of the border may share the same name, but there the similarities end. The Azerbaijani Astara has every imaginable Eastern European cliche: Lada cars (which I though had died out along with the Berlin Wall), hideous floral dresses, men who think that wearing mobile phones conspicuously on their belts makes them powerful businessmen, crude, boxy concrete buildings, enough gold teeth to give Fort Knox a run for its money (as it were) and babushka headscarves. Indeed, most of rural Azerbaijan, at least that which I saw on the drive up to Baku, seems to be stuck in some sort of Soviet Groundhog Day. Baku, on the other hand, is a completely different kettle of fish. Arriving from the south you skirt the Caspian coast, with its sandy beaches and sunbathers, oil rigs and scummy water. The oil rigs and nodding donkeys stretch right to the city limits and give the outskirts a Mad Max atmosphere, but their effects are also seen inside the city where the wealth is apparent in the high concentration of German cars and chic boutiques.

Anyway, I mentioned in my last post that I was in a bit of a hurry to get to Baku. You see, many people on my trip have asked me whether I don't get lonely travelling alone. And my honest reply is that, no, I don't really, because though I may be travelling alone I am constantly meeting people. Plus, when travelling solo one is obliged to try and make contacts with the local people so you see, relatively, more of local life and customs. Though, of course, my encounters are always transient and sometimes I do feel like it would be nice to have someone to share an experience with. One such transient encounter was in southern India whilst catching the mountain train to Ooty. I saw a single girl backpacker waiting for the same train and so Sian and I spent a couple of days in Ooty together before our paths inevitably separated. We got on really well and kept in touch in the hope that our paths might cross again. Unfortunately that never happened and she had to return home to the UK. However, she has managed to find a small window in her schedule before going to uni in October and has taken a gamble on me by coming out to travel with me in the Caucasus. So, say hello to Sian who has the unenviable task of being my first long-term travelling companion since South America. Let's see if she can survive the ordeal!

1 comment:

Yann said...

Jolie barbe!