Riding the Rails of Azerbaijan
To be sure, you probably don’t ever want to be caught riding the rails of Azerbaijan. I’m going to be making my first trek by train on on Friday, though, just to test it out. I haven’t ridden a train here, yet, but I’m told that the conditions aren’t pretty. My trip scheduled to Baku this Friday is one that I will go by night train. It’s about an 8.5 hour ride, leaving at 9:30pm and arriving around 6am. Normally, by bus, I can get to Baku from Lənkəran in about five hours, 4 if we’re cookin’. By marshrutka, it’s about the same. If I was in a regular car, some people say we could do it in 3-3.5 hours. Let’s take this back to the length of time I’ll be on the train. If it takes that long for the train to get to Baku, we’re going to be lolly-gagging up those tracks. No letting up, though; slow and steady wins the race.
My pending train ride notwithstanding, travel around Azerbaijan is fairly simple. You can find your way nearly anywhere in the country by bus or marshrutka. And it’s hard to find a weekend when Peace Corps Volunteers aren’t traveling. This being such a small country, about the size of Maine, it really should come as no surprise. For the past three weekends we’ve had visitors in Lənkəran; John from Biləsuvar two weeks ago, Andrew from Cəlilabad three weeks ago, and Danielle and Lucy from Şəki, Brandon from Ağdaş, and Evan from Daşkəsən this past weekend. And that doesn’t even include the number of times Mason and Jessica have climbed down from their snow-dusted mountain peak in Lərik, about an hour from Lənkəran; or the number of times Jade has made the trek in from Boradigah, a 40-minute marshrutka ride away.
This does not mean that traveling around Azerbaijan is easy. Simple, maybe, but not easy. It takes a lot of time to get anywhere. Going to Baku from here is at least half a day of travel time, and anywhere beyond that requires a full-day of travel time budgeted. I’m fairly certain that if road conditions were betters, we could get to Baku in two and a half or maybe three hours. In general, Marshrutkas are slow, buses slower, and trains the slowest. And you never know when your driver might decide that he wants to pull over and look at something for sale, or talk to his buddy, or take you to his favorite roadside çayxana. It’s just sort of accepted that the driver will stop where he wants on the road, for as long as he wants.
So I’m looking forward to my train ride. I can’t help but think that they deliberately slowed this train schedule so that they could actually have a “night train” to Baku. Brilliant, guys.