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People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Joe (Canada)

It wasn't surprising to be heading back to Baku once again, as we always seem to get pinned down in every capital we visit. Whilst Baku had made a positive impression on me, Misha certainly hadn't, so we planned to make a smash and grab visit to collect our bags and get out of there as fast as possible. These plans had been thwarted though, as we had been held up in Qusar waiting for a lift to Laza and as a result we didn't get back to Baku until 16.00, which was too late to think about moving on to Ismayilli. We therefore decided to avoid the house until 18.00, at which point he would leave to work and supposedly leave the key for us, or so he said on the phone.

We sat in an internet cafe for some time and received a pleasant surprise when we got a message from a Canadian couchsurfer called Joe, who we had chatted to on the phone in Bishkek. He had just moved to Baku and was keen to meet up, which sounded like a great opportunity, as we had sadly not had the chance in Kyrgyzstan. A quick phone call was enough to organise a meeting place, which we decided would be the Golden Arches at Fountain Square.

It wasn't hard to spot Joe when we arrived, with his long hair and goatee beard and after the introductions were out of the way we made a beeline for Phoenix Bar. I can't remember the last time we were in a real bar, probably 6 months ago in Beijing, and it felt great to be back in a pub atmosphere. A large 9 ball table, football on TV and 2 for 1 beers was enough to make me feel at home.
The three of us decided to sample the local brew - Export, which came in half litre bottles and cost a bargain 1 Manat ($1.25) with the special offer. This was my scene!

We spent the next three and a half hours knocking back beers and chatting about travel, which was great. Joe was a seasoned traveller who works as a language teacher and travels at the same time. His CV was really impressive and he had covered a lot of ground over the last 15 years and he saw his life on the road and out of Canada. I enjoyed his sense of humour and his outlook on life, it's always a pleasure to meet people like this and when it came time to say goodbye both Julia and I didn't want to leave! But Joe had his first day of work to look forward to in the morning and Julia and I had to get back to Misha's before the metro and marshrutka's stopped running. We made it home at midnight and it was a relief to find the key had been left for us. The second my head touched the pillow I was out for the count.

I still felt a touch drunk when I woke up at 07.00, so rather than getting out of bed, I hit the snooze and slept for another four hours! Around noon we left the house and crossed town to catch a marshrutka to Ismayilli. There was some weird guy playing with a knife on the metro, which put me on edge a bit, but thankfully nothing came of it. Having scoffed a couple of kebabs I was feeling far better for the three and a half hour journey north west.

On board the marshrutka we met a couple of nice local guys, who lived in small villages just outside of Ismayilli. Julia got chatting with the pair of them and somehow the conversation got on to animals in the area, and low and behold these guys had bear stories too, I was in good company! One guy recounted a hilarious story of his dad fighting a bear, and another bear sneezing on him, hmmm. The story I liked most though was of a guy who was looking after some filming equipment at night which was set up in the woods. Scared of what was in the woods he supposedly climbed a pear tree and went to sleep there. Halfway through the night he woke up to find a bear in the tree with him, holding a pear out towards him. The guy sat there, frozen stiff with panic and the bear dropped the pear.  A few seconds later the bear picked another pear and offered the man it, but again he sat motionless and the bear once again dropped the pear. The third time the bear picked a pear and held it out, the man thought it would be rude not to do something, so he said “No Thanks” and the bear was so shocked it fell out of the tree and died!

Allegedly bears climb pear trees and hold the fruit up to the moon light to see if it is ripe and drop it if it isn't and thats what it had been doing. As it was dark, the bear hadn't seen the guy, so when it heard a voice, it was so startled it froze, fell from the tree and killed itself! Personally i think this is far fetched, but it made me giggle. I just hope people don't treat my bear story with the same disbelief!

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photo by: RJawad