The great escape - from a frikking BEAR!
Xinaliq Travel Blog› entry 434 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Bayran (Azerbaijan)
Our trip to the Caucusus Mountains in north eastern Azerbaijan would prove to be a memorable trip for a number of reasons. Firstly there was the warm hospitality of the people, who are unique within the country and have their own dialect called Ketsh. Secondly there were the views, quite simply breathtaking, with snow capped mountains encompassing the tiny stone village of Xinaliq, which is home to a hardy 1000 people. And lastly there was the fact that i think a bear nearly ate me - seriously! Anyway, I'll get to this in due course and you can be the judge.
The town of Quba was to be our staging post for the trip, located 170kms North of Baku and 50kms East of Xinaliq.
Our driver wore a funny black hat, had a long crooked nose, a pot belly and had a constant smile on his face.
Around 2 hours after leaving Quba we arrived into Xinaliq.
Bayran had agreed to host us for the night for 7.50 Manat ($9.40) each, which included all of our meals. His house was located in the basin of the valley right next to the river and this is where we headed. His back garden was filled with animals including sheep, cows, chickens, cats and a duck and offered some of the most sensational views that you could wish for.
Sat on some pillows in the kitchen / living room we sipped some tea and Julia warmed herself by the wood burning stove.
Our original plan for Xinaliq was to do a 10-12 hour hike to the neighbouring village of Laza, but every local that we had spoken to had mentioned the dangers of doing it alone and the expense of taking a guide. At this time of year it would be perilous to be caught in fog and get lost, as temperatures plummeted in the night time and there were plenty of hungry wolves that would account for you if the weather didn't. Therefore we decided to spend the following day wandering around the village and maybe taking a short hike up one of the valleys.
Having eaten a light breakfast of bread and tea, we left the house to find it was a glorious day with not a cloud in the sky. The small kittens sat against the wall basking in the early morning sun, whilst the duck had its head stuck into a jar of water, guzzling from it to Bayran's wifes annoyance. Following a dirt trail up from their house we came to the village in a few minutes and walked up the steep little paths amongst the houses. The locals were very friendly and all stopped to say hello. Women wore colourful garb and one child pushed his snotty nosed younger brother around in a wheelbarrow, which was presumably the villages answer to a pram!
Having spent an hour or two in the village my adventurous side got the better of me, as it so often does.
The higher I climbed the colder it became and after some time I reached an altitude where the snow didn't melt. I'd barely eaten all day, I only had half a litre of water left and my feet were becoming wet in the snow, but this was an adventure, so I just couldn't turn back. As I approached the base of what I would later discover was Qizil Qaya (3726m), one of the regions most imposing mountains, I came across something that got my heart beating with excitement and fear - a footprint - or more accurately a paw print. Now I'm no expert in paw prints, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to work out what it was. The print was larger than my hand and it was clearly made by a paw. I was in the mountains, which really only left one contender to make such a mark - a bear.
By now the terrain was a mixture of boulders and snow, which seemed to go up and down continuously, meaning that it was taking forever to cover what appeared like only a small distance. Maybe 150 metres from the start of the ascent up Qizil Qaya I heard what I presumed was a rockfall, but I'd seen and heard these before, just a few displaced rocks tumbling down the mountain.
Turning 180 degrees I ran back up the slope which I had just come down, tripping, falling, banging my legs, but the adrenalin carried me up and over that section of rocks. I had no idea what to do, so just hid behind the biggest rock I could find. Here I sat questioning my sanity, it's not a bear you clown, just get up and take a look. I couldn't, I was paralyzed with fear. A minute or so passed, when I heard crunching in the snow and heavy breathing, but now whatever it was had maneuvered around in front of me.
More than half an hour passed before I plucked up the courage to finally stand up and try to look around and assess my situation. I knew the direction that the 'animal' had come from and where it had been.
It took close to three hours to get down off the mountain, as I tried to stay in hollows and out of sight, even though this added quite a lot to the distance I had to cover. When I finally made it back to Xinaliq a young guy approached me to ask if i needed accommodation, so I took the opportunity to use my limited Russian skills. I pointed to the mountain and said 'Medved est?' which roughly means 'Bears, have?'. His reply was 'est, est' - 'have, have'.
When I found Julia in the village, she was having none of it, “Bears, pfff, there aren't any bears” was her reply. I recounted the story to her but she still wasn't convinced. I tried to reason with her, if there was no bear, then why did I come back down and not get to the top of the mountain? She knows my personality that I wouldn't just give up and come back. We headed home to collect our things and see if we could find anyone heading back to Quba, but it seemed unlikely as it was 16.30. Luckily a man that was on his way to collect two cows in a nearby village, and was then taking them to Quba, stopped to pick us up.
I still wasn't happy that Julia didn't believe me, so I took my camera out and showed the driver my picture. He wasn't sure what the print was, but said there were bears in the region. This partly backed up my story, but it still wasn't hard evidence. When we stopped to pick the cows up, the driver said he had a friend that would know what the print was, so we took the photo to show him. “Medved” was the reply, “Chorny Medved” - Black Bear. I confess I didn't see it, but piecing together what I heard and saw, I honestly believe that I came within a whisker of being eaten. I think I'll be giving up on trekking for the foreseeable future after this escapade and my underwear will require a very hot wash.