If it wasn’t for a series of events that brought us further from our planned destination Sheki, we wouldn’t have ended up in Zaqatala in the northern tip of Azerbaijan. After we spent the evening exploring the lovely town with ancient brick houses, meeting a rare foreign hippie with braided hair sitting on a bench next to a ruined church in the central park packed with families, we took a local bus on the next morning and started our hiking adventure.
Figure 1: the local bus brought us to car village
Zaqatala is renowned for its production of hazelnuts. Once we got off at Car (pronounced at “Char) Village, we were immediately surrounded by the gigantic hazelnut trees which provided a comfortable shade from the late summer sun. The delicious nuts were wrapped in huge green hairy balls and hung on the branches like Christmas ornaments. We walked past the clay houses in the quiet village and soon entered into a dense hazelnut forest.
Figure 2: the hazelnut forest
Figure 3: some of the hazelnut trees looked burnt
Figure 4: heavy and bent branches
Figure 5: thriving on manual support
Toni and I had absolute confidence in our ability to navigate across the labyrinth like trail even though it couldn’t be found on our GPS. In fact, we didn’t even carry any food in our backpack, and we had less than one liter of water because we thought we could finish our hike in less than half of the day. However, as we ascended one steep slope followed by yet another steeper slope, the forest only became more and more dense. We stopped now and then to check our elevation on the GPS, but the reading from the barometer hardly changed. Sometimes we saw an empty vodka bottle and would comfort ourselves with the humanly traces, but the next moment we had to beat down the prickly bushes with our hiking sticks to continue walking.
Figure 7: Toni looking stressed
It wasn’t until both of us were on the fringe of giving up, that we found the tree line abruptly disappearing, eventually revealing the vast grassland above and the thick forest beneath our eyes.
Figure 8: the magical moment when we came out of the tree line
Figure 9: the steep hill