Sales consultant Natalie has recently returned from our two week Across the Caucasus group tour. Below Natalie talks about a whirlwind 36 hours in Baku exploring the best of Azerbaijan’s vibrant, elegant and diverse capital, followed by a journey into the Greater Caucasus Mountains.
In a short space of time in Baku our passionate guide teaches us about the country’s turbulent past, its warm Azeri culture and its optimism for the future. We explore everything from the eternal flame memorial, the old walled city and its Maiden Tower (a great place for panoramic views) and the stone-age petroglyphs at the UNESCO site of Qobustan to the beautiful pedestrianised tree-lined streets, the Heydar Aliyev Centre designed by famous architect Zaha Hadid and the Olympic stadium which hosted the 2015 European games. This fascinating city manages to hold on to its past and its influential Soviet architecture whilst also providing new landmarks to drive it towards the future it desires.
The next whirlwind adventure is to travel up into the Greater Caucasus Mountains, to a family owned guesthouse in Lahic village, where we have dinner with a local family to look forward to. With quite a distance to cover, the group prepared themselves for a day of driving ahead – but in true Wild Frontiers style we end up enjoying the journey just as much as the destination. This particular journey provides us with natural fire mountains, rejuvenating mud volcanoes, an array of fruit leathers from the roadside and, of course, some breathtaking views and yet another delicious and plentiful lunch.
The real highlight however comes in the afternoon, with a spontaneous shout of "bridge – photo – stop" at the back of the minibus and, with a sudden halt, we all pile out onto the dramatic mountain lined roadside. The half sarcastic, half daring question "What have we stopped for, are we going to cross that bridge?" is immediately followed by a challenging "Yes, why not?" by our leader Dario. The group snaps up the challenge and after a mini photo shoot of us crossing the bridge, we return to the roadside where a small crowd is gathering. By now a number of locals have also pulled over and before we know it we are inexplicably enjoying a performance by a local man and his saz. Although we cannot understand his words, the sorrow in his face tells the story and we learn afterwards that he sings of his home in Nagorno-Karabakh that he misses dearly.
As the impromptu moment comes to an end and we clamber back on to the minibus, I hear "and that is why you travel, for wonderful experiences like that" and a chorus of agreement and smiling nods come from the rest of the group.