As usual the taxi to the bus station costs more than the long distance bus. There is a new bus station in Baku so luckily buses for all destinations leave from the same place, much less confusion for the non-Azeri speaking foreigner. The taxi drops me off outside so I enter the building at the ground floor and navigate my way through the aisles of shops to find the stairs to the second floor where the buses are situated. There are numerous doors leading to a few buses in each section, no sense of order so I just try the first one and am in luck. There is a minibus for Qusar and it's almost full. I get the last of the fixed seats, I always hate those flip down seats as they are not well secured and have awkward poles along the back rest leading to very uncomfortable journeys. Amazingly I have decent leg room, a first for minibus travel across the world! Three men join the bus so we are on our way in no time, a minibus will never leave until it is full, it needs every seat to be making 4AZN. This minibus is also different in
that almost everyone is going to the final destination, so we don't stop continuously dropping people off and picking people up in the middle of nowhere. The guide book says it's a 4.5hr journey, and I am prone to sleepiness on transport so am a nodding dog within minutes. I almost fall onto the women either side of me, could have been embarrassing. Luckily I wake up before that happens, and even better the journey is only 2 hours long. Elkan, my contact from CBT is there to meet me within 5 minutes and he introduces me to Halid Azizov, my host for the stay. He has a very old 4WD and takes me to his village in the hills, Laza. It's about an hour's drive from Qusar, starting on a tarmac road, then changing to a gravel and mud path up to the building site of a new ski resort. The buildings are in varying stages of progress and a new road is being built to the resort, the ski lift is complete though... This will be a spectacular resort once finished, destined to open next year according to Halid. After the resort and the slippery mud path, the
road deteriorates further, from there to Laza there is only a rocky path and a sheer cliff edge to the valley below, now I see why a 4WD is necessary. I hate these kinds of roads at the best of times, but even less so in a clapped out old car with a driver who insists on staying close to the cliff edge rather than the safe edge. The views are amazing though, rolling hills, green slopes and waterfalls. We reach Halid's house and I meet his wife who greats me with a kiss and his son and daughter. Halid and his son speak a little English, his wife brings me tea and lunch. A great feast of fried potatoes and eggs, cucumber, veg and the best tomatoes I've ever tasted. Less watery than ours, more meaty and a much brighter red. The bread in quite flat with pitted marks over the top, traditional Lezgin bread. This is the Lezgin area, there are about 80,000 Lezgin people who speak their own language rather than Azeri or Russian. The Azizov house is simple with few rooms, the main room has a sofa and dining table and a few extra chairs and
of course the all important TV with satellite channels. There are two bedrooms for tourists, simple rooms with either a bed or mattresses for the floor. The wife and kids spend most of the time in the kitchen, then there is one more room where the family seems to sleep and a room with a sink and washing machine. The toilet is down the garden in a small shed, it is a squatter toilet with bucket of water for flushing. The climate is much cooler in the mountains and it's even chilly in the house with the radiator on. I wanted to hike in the area, but Elkin doesn't arrive until 3pm so there isn't much time, instead I go for a short 2 hour walk with the son. Up a few of the hills nearby to see the views and waterfalls. It is difficult to hike in the area these days anyway as there are armed guards stopping people. A couple of Dutch tourists are staying in the same homestay and they were stopped on two routes earlier in the day. You used to be able to hike to the next village, Xinaliq, but it's not possible anymore.
are brought more tea all afternoon, which is lovely but leads to more walks in the cold to the outside toilet. Here they brew a strong pot of tea, but make a cup by putting one third tea from the pot with two thirds boiling water. Very tasty though. Also the wife has made two huge pastries with layers and hazelnuts in the centre, delicious! We are continuously fed, dinner is a veggie layered pancake type meal, tasting very much like a cornish pasty. The father eats with us, but there is far too much food for even all four of us. He also gives us each a shot of vodka, we sip ours, he downs his. He explains that he's already drunk two bottles of vodka that day as his friend's daughter is engaged, he doesn't seem that drunk though.
The next day we journey back the same treacherous route, with a hungover driver. Luckily the buses to Baku leave frequently and Elkhan is there to make sure we get on our way easily.
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