With only one day trip out of Baku under our belt, we were antsy to head out of the big city and start seeing the rest of Azerbaijan. We arrived in the country by overnight train. So, even though we've technically traveled the width of it, we didn't really get a good look at anything. I know Merlin just extolled the virtues of our new carless existence - but we never said we wouldn't rent a car now and then.
A highway stretches down along the coast of the Caspian Sea from Baku to Astara and into Iran. It was mostly flat, though the scenery did vary some. We were excited to get up into the Lesser Caucasus of the Talysh Region. There are basically two mountains roads in the region that are deemed "readily passable by car." So, obviously, we took them both to the towns they led to: Lerik and Yardmili. The drops down to the hillside below were sometimes staggering and always beautiful. Along the drive from Lankaran to Lerik, there were a number shuttered resorts and riverside rental huts. Signs promised shashlyk and fresh bread. Grills and tandirs sat on the roadside. I imagine that, in summertime, the route must feel like a long, fragrant cloud.
We may have seen more sheep than people for a good deal of our time driving through the Talysh region. Young boys, who were just tall enough to see into our windshield, herded groups of sheep with flimsy sticks. Now and then, a man would gallantly ride past us on a horse. Sometimes, a donkey would pass by with a heavy load on its back. But the sheep, those masters at hanging out diagonally, were definitely most abundant. They spotted the scenery and clogged the road.
Lerik itself felt unremarkable - but that's sometimes the point. It was simply a town that was reachable, so we reached it. Legend has it that, in 1990, a local shepherd donated his flock to refugees and President Heydar Aliyev wanted to honor the man with a visit. He was told that the road to Lerik was simply too bad for his car. So, he repaved it. I guess, in a way, every foreigner who makes a trip to Lerik simply because they can is really paying tribute to that nameless shepherd.
The town of Yardmili was more picturesque and slower paced. We should have stayed longer,. There were so many things to do: visit a carpet weaving factory, see the Shalala waterfall, gaze over Tangi Canyon from a recommended tea spot. Sometimes beautiful weather and a sleepy town have a way lulling you right into contentment.
That night, we slept on the road between Yardmili and Masalli at a bizarre hotel - the only we could find. The gold-toothed manager wore a full suit and there were at least ten people on staff - about five times as many workers as customers. There was an artificial pond, gazebos and talk of peacocks on the premises (though we never saw any). The epitome of life on the road.