Part of traveling to a new country is observing the locals. These are the most notable things I had noticed:
1. Sheeps and cows (to a lesser extent) are their livelihood. The beginning of the summer time is when the cattle owners bring their animals from the lowlands to the mountains. On the way to Khinalig and Sheki we came across many of these groups of sheeps and cows. I call it “The Great Migration of Azerbaijan”. The biggest number of sheeps was observed on the way out of Sheki.
2. Azerbaijanis love Mercedez-Benz. I saw many of them from different eras. They are the vehicles of choice even up in the Caucasus mountains. I saw one in front of a house in Cek (a village between Quba and Khinalig). I saw a shepherd parking one near the group of sheeps he was herding. They use dogs and ride on the horseback, too, but the Mercede-Benz is indispensable 😂😂😂.
3. They are very friendly and hospitable. Their motto is the best for their guests. This is one of the reasons why my Khinalig experience is so precious. Only the language barrier stopped them from engaging me fully. They are also very kind, helpful, and emphatic. Bahar, my guide and companion (we got along famously!) got me a discount for a book I bought without me knowing because 50 Manat (about USD30) fell out of my pocket. She did not have to do that. The bookseller did not have to agree! I lost the money due to my own carelessness. I appreciated their gesture though.
4. Russian language is their fallback language. I suppose it is natural given their history of being part of the USSR. The moment they realized I did not speak Azerbaijani (which is very similar to Turkish), they would speak to me in Russian. Oh, how I wished I never quit my Russian lessons!!!
5. After spending time visiting the Gulf countries and having to mind the local customs there (I have no problem with this at all – I love the abayas and the head covers!), Azerbaijan is totally relaxed! Modesty is still expected, of course. Otherwise, apart from the fact there was no pork in the country, I did not feel like I was in a Muslim country.
6. Asian tourists are still quite rare. I received a Singaporean popstar status in Gobustan when a group of ladies wanted to take a photo with me 🤣.
I had an amazing time in Azerbaijan. I totally recommend it for anyone looking for a short city getaway, amazing lamb kebabs, and fresh air.