BL #57: Ride In a Busted Old Lada

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Asia » Azerbaijan
August 28th 2014
Published: September 30th 2017
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Geo: 41.2019, 47.1756

Perhaps the World's most ridiculed car and the butt of countless jokes, and an enduring symbol of Soviet times - the equally loved and despised Lada! It's a funny car, because there are so many jokes about its notorious lack of reliability and poor design, yet there are so many of these still in operation, that you wonder how true those stereotypes are. Everywhere you look, there's a Lada performing a dangerous pass into oncoming traffic, deftly maneuvering around cars, trucks, and horse-drawn carts, seemingly running better than their advanced age suggests they should.

Looking at the typical Lada found in these parts, the average age appears to be about 20 years, with some of them even pushing 30. Even if they were in constant need of repair, the fact that they can still run at all after so many years suggests that these cars aren't as bad as they are made out to be. In fact, the Lada I rode in today ran very well, despite the fact that its odometer read well over 250,000 kilometers, and given the high-propensity for a horrific car accident in these parts, I was grateful to be bombing around in a car that
Nelson at 6:30 AMNelson at 6:30 AMNelson at 6:30 AM

cold nights but warming up nicely during the day to about + 18 C
is structurally more robust than the typical tank you'd find in the Canadian army.

No trip to a former Soviet republic would be complete without a ride in one of these supposed rust buckets, and being a passenger in one for the first time was a good introduction to Azerbaijan. In fact, today it was a bit of a necessity, given the long and painful journey to Sheki from Telavi, which normally involves a taxi to the Telavi bus station, a marshrutka to Lagodekhi, a taxi to the border, crossing the border on foot, a taxi to Belekan, a marshrutka to Zaqatala, and finally another marshrutka to Sheki. Traveling around the Caucasus isn't very easy, is it?

So when the opportunity came up to take a taxi all the way to Zaqatala and shave 30 minutes off of a nearly seven hour travel day, I was all over it! Sadly, the 30-minute ride in a Lada was actually the most luxurious form of transportation all day, even though the ride far surpassed the White Knuckle Ride we had on the way to Belgrade. While there didn't seem to be any speed limit posted anywhere, it appeared that the average motorist
Free HouseFree HouseFree House

the House is free but you pay for the Land
was doing about 50 kph, while we were doing at least 100 kph, weaving in and out of traffic, and slamming on the brakes when necessary.

All this atrocious driving over the past month has desensitized me, as I've learned to simply look at the passing scenery, or just close my eyes when the driving gets extra hairy. There's no point stressing about the high probability of dying in a horrific car accident with a horse-drawn cart, with the last images I'll see in my life being that of an explosion of horse manure and glass, and the sight of a horse's hoof coming straight at my face. Thankfully, the driver's eclectic music collection served to distract me from our impending doom - knowing that I'm Canadian, he blasted a traditional Azeri song.

Imaging bombing down an Azeri road at twice the speed of traffic, windows fully rolled down and getting blasted by the wind in a sensation that can only be described as being in a wind tunnel. But not just any old wind tunnel, but one where they are using 38 C air mixed with diesel exhaust fumes, and throwing the odd bit of sand and dirt at your face,
Karavansaray ...Karavansaray ...Karavansaray ...

... a traditional inn, typically found on trade routes. This one is now a popular hotel in Sheki.
all while rocking you back and forth and bouncing you up and down. To take this unforgettable experience to an even higher level of awesomeness, they crank up the stereo to 95 decibels and play - Macklemore's Thrift Shop??!!?? Where the hell am I???!!?

Our play list ran through an assortment of bad hip-hop, dance, and Top 40 tracks before we finally got to what I think was an Azeri song, when I immediately wished he would go back to the bad songs he had previously been playing! The Azeri song went on for a good seven minutes, and went something like this:

Sheki Sheki Bah Bah
Sheki Sheki Bah Bah
Bah Bah Sheki Sheki
Bah Bah Sheki Sheki

That was essentially the entire song, constantly repeated for the entire seven minutes, with the only breaks in the chorus being a brief period where a female singer jumped in ... and repeated the exact same chorus ... sigh ...

From conversations with other travelers heading in the opposite direction to me, from Azerbaijan to Georgia and Armenia, Azerbaijan sounds a bit bizarre, a weird mix of the Middle East and the former Soviet Union inside a bubbling cauldron of oil, and sprinkled with oodles of cash.
Unusual Strawberry CultivationUnusual Strawberry CultivationUnusual Strawberry Cultivation

at least you do not have to bend down to pluck the Strawberry when they are ripe.... but I have no Idea why they actually go true the trouble to have the beds elevated..
From what I've read, I don't think I'll be a huge fan of Azerbaijan, but one thing is for certain after today's ride in a Lada - Azerbaijan will most definitely be an unforgettable place!

Additional photos below
Photos: 41, Displayed: 25


Traditional Tea House ...Traditional Tea House ...
Traditional Tea House ...

... also found inside of the karavansaray. So far, Azerbaijan is far more expensive than Georgia or Armenia - a traditional tea set is served here, at the cost of almost $30 CAD. It does include assorted candies, jams, sweets, snacks, rose water, and flower water, but isn't good value for the solo traveler - the set isn't as expensive when split amongst three or four people.
heading towards Westportheading towards Westport
heading towards Westport

along the river towards Westport
Freebie ...Freebie ...
Freebie ...

... once I walked in, the owner offered me a seat and a cup of tea, on the house. In Azerbaijan, they don't usually mix sugar directly into the tea - instead, they put a sugar cube or one of these colourful candies between their front teeth, so that the hot tea dissolves it as they drink.
swing-bridge swing-bridge

going across the swing-bridge to the long abandoned Gold mine...
hundreds of yearshundreds of years
hundreds of years

nature polished River-rocks..
Khan's Palace ...Khan's Palace ...
Khan's Palace ...

... there are very few tourist sights in Sheki, but the Khan's Palace is definitely the most impressive.

7.8 is very strong...

River-sand shaker contraption.
new Project for Keithnew Project for Keith
new Project for Keith

since Keith is into Tractors here is a nice Project!
Splurge ...Splurge ...
Splurge ...

... at the Sheki Saray Hotel. Azerbaijan is much pricer than Georgia and Armenia, and there aren't any good budget options available online. Being the last week of the trip, it's time to splurge!
winding its way..winding its way..
winding its way..

the river windings its way towards Westport
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