Usually if a strange man starts doing throat slitting gestures towards you it would be time to run. We couldn’t run, we were on the steepest and toughest road we have cycled on this trip. It’s also difficult to run when you have 50 KG of bike+luggage with you. Some sections of this road had a steepness of around 30%. If that means nothing to you then basically it means you are going to have a bloody hard time getting anywhere quickly on a bike or running away from a guy doing throat slitting gestures.
We were just taking a water break before continuing up the mountain when a car pulled up and four guys got out and approached us. The conversation started quite normally, meaning that we had no idea what they were saying and they had no idea what we were saying. We have a small world map on top of our handle bar bags that show the route we have taken so far. It is really useful to help explain what we are doing in situations where it is difficult to communicate, like now. It was after we had done this that the throat slitting gestures started. As I said, usually this would be the time to look for the emergency exits, the throat slitting was even followed by stabbing motions (to his own neck) and some gurgling noises. Instead of running Frouke and I looked at each other with a kind of, “what’s this guy going on about”, look. The throat slitting and neck stabbing mime was repeated a few time along with the addition of pointing to the top of the mountain. His companions were all laughing and smiling in a friendly way, so either they were very friendly psychopaths, or they were just trying to tell us something we didn’t quite understand. The throat slitter guy then made a phone call and handed me the phone, everything would become clear.. kind of.
The guy on the other end of the phone spoke decent English and explained that we were being invited for an “Eid al-Adha” celebration or if you want the English, more scary sounding name, “The Feast of the Sacrifice”. Basically we were being invited to a big meal with the family. We confirmed that we were not the ones being sacrificed and accepted the invitation. The celebration would be happening somewhere on the top of the mountain so we continued to cycle and arranged to meet the guys there.
After another 1.5 hours of grueling cycling we finally reached the rendezvous point. A couple of the guys met us by the road and they pointed to some tents even further up the mountain that we had to trek to. We were already pretty shattered by now so only the thought of some Azerbaijani hospitality kept us going. At the top of the mountain was a tiny settlement of about 4 or 5 tents which were inhabited by the family of the guys we met. All the uncles, aunties, mothers, fathers and grandmother were all extremely welcoming. We were taken into one of the tents where, very quickly, a huge spread was placed on the floor and everyone started getting stuck in.There was tea, beer, vodka, cheese, bread, eggs, vodka, chicken and last but not least vodka. About every 5 minutes my glass was filled with vodka and I was expected to down it. I could see that not all people were downing their vodka so I also adopted this tactic but this didn’t seem to work so well with the throat-slitter and eventual I would have to drain my glass. Each time I did there was lots of laughing but I think that rather than laughing at me they were just happy that I was joining in. That’s what I told myself anyway. It was around about now that the throat slitting and gurgling noises started again. All the vodka was making me second guess our safety again.
The Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy is, if you didn’t know, a fictional book that serves as “the standard repository for all knowledge and wisdom” for many members of the universe. It has the words “DON’T PANIC!” in large friendly letters on the cover. In general this is good advice especially when you find yourself in odd situations, like the one we were in now. There is of course a real world tool similar to the Hitchhiker’s guide, it just has less jokes. According to Wikipedia “Eid al-Adha, also called the “Festival of the Sacrifice”, is the second of two Islamic holidays celebrated worldwide each year (the other being Eid al-Fitr), and considered the holier of the two. It honours the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God’s command. But, before Abraham could sacrifice his son, God provided a lamb to sacrifice instead.” To commemorate this intervention the family we were with were going to sacrifice a goat and they wanted us to watch the ceremony. That’s what all the throat slitting was about.
I won’t go into much detail, but actually there is not too much to say. The goat was killed quickly while everyone stood and watched. Next the goat was butchered quite efficiently and I was asked to help out, mainly by helping to hold stuff. It’s not something I minded doing especially if i was going to participate in eating the goat. It was quite fascinating to be part of this whole process especially in this middle of nowhere, mountain top setting and especially when we mostly had no idea what was going on. The rest of the evening went by in a quick blur filled with eating (goat of course), laughter and even more vodka. Once again we were experiencing amazing hospitality from a warm and friendly family. It was a wonderful evening. We spent the night in one of the tents and were given huge, heavy blankets to keep us warm. I would have liked to conclude the story by saying we had a wonderful nights sleep but I was woken at about 4am by Elbar (throat-slitter). He couldn’t sleep and wanted me to join him in eating some bread and cheese. Reluctantly I got up and sat with him. Then I saw he was still drinking Vodka and he was pouring a second glass… He was quite insistent but this time I really had to decline. I don’t think I want to add drinking vodka for breakfast onto the list of new experiences that we have had on this trip.
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