I continued along the busy main road for about 15km before coming to my turnoff, which marked the start of a dirt road adventure that didn’t last too long. I got as far as the village of Paladli before my riding day ended. I initially stopped in Paladli to get some water. When I tried to buy some from a tiny shop, the shop owner refused to sell me any, instead grabbing my empty 5L bottle and disappearing. He came back a minute later with it full of fresh water, for which he didn’t want any money. I was about to continue my way out of the village when I found myself being invited to a wedding.
It was about 11am when I passed a guy in his seventies who pointed down the road ahead of me before throwing his arms out horizontally and twisting his hands in a kind of dance. Having seen a couple of cars go past in the morning decorated with ribbons, I guessed then that there was a wedding ahead. I very quickly got the impression that this guy was invited me to attend. He led me down the road and into the property where the event was being held. He found a spot out of the way where I could park my bike, and I suggested that I better put some pants on (bike shorts and a Muslim wedding not being the best combination). I threw on some pants and a clean(ish) t-shirt before being welcomed into the main covered area, which was decked out with a stage at one end and tables and chairs lining the sides. The tables themselves were decked out with plates of salad, fruit and bread, all covered in cling wrap. I walked in just as a group were sitting down at the table nearest the stage. I was invited to join them and realised I was being treated extra specially, as none of the other tables were being occupied yet. The fruit and salad platters were soon joined by round after round of barbequed meat, including chicken, lamb, beef and kebab. The vodka bottles got opened and I was soon clinking glasses repeatedly with new friends.
Until this point not a single word of English had been spoken. Then a guy leaned over from the other side of the table and said, ‘How are you?’ He was a musician in the band that was here to entertain everyone and I eventually learned that they are a famous Azerbaijani band that plays traditional music. He was soon joined by all the people that I’d eaten with. It was then that I realised they weren’t family, they were the musicians and singers that had come to entertain. They were eating first so they could perform while the guests ate. Their plates were cleared away and the table was reset anew. I stayed put as the seats around me filled with a new group of guys. Again, I got to feast on incredible food and be plied with alcohol. And the music and singing began.
It was at this point that a second person who spoke English made their acquaintance: a 13-year old kid named Rafiq. He became my close ally for the rest of the day, acting as translator and chaperone. It wasn’t long before the dancing started, and a shorter time again before I was pulled into the mix and found myself learning the basic steps of traditional Azerbaijani dancing. The rest of the day passed haphazardly. For a while I enjoyed being in the thick of the celebration, eating, dancing and drinking. As well as Rafiq, a few really nice men took me under their wing, so I never felt uncomfortable or out of place. In a way I was cut off from the bar when one guy became concerned about the number of vodka shots people were feeding me. Another guy looking out for me didn’t mind and we started sharing some sneaky ones.
After a while Rafiq dragged me out of the party zone for a break. It was nice to have a bit of a breather. We picked some pomegranates from a nearby grove and ate these in a quiet part of the garden. After another stint in the party, Rafiq invited me to go to ‘the lake’ for a swim. At first I declined, not really feeling like going for a swim in the middle of a wedding, but he insisted. As we were leaving a bit of drama erupted as two middle-aged men started having fisticuffs. We were gone before I saw what eventuated. The lake turned out to be a shallow river crossing with not enough water to go for a proper swim. We cooled our feet and mucked about a bit with the few kids that joined us.
By the time we returned to the wedding, things were quiet and the main party area was empty. I joined Rafiq and a few friends for some tea in a nearby area. Up until this point I’d been quite curious about why it was only men enjoying the party, but when we had tea I saw that there was a whole other area dedicated to girls. So the girls were having their own party at the same time. By this time it was around 5.30pm and with everyone having apparently left, I assumed the wedding was over. Being tired from riding and then the wedding activities, I began thinking about bed. I should have known I was getting way ahead of myself. It turned out people were just having an afternoon break and by 7pm the party was in full swing again. This time the girls and guys were together. The girls sat at the back of the main area while the guys occupied the front. As the band continued to sing and play, it became time for the dancers among the male guests to show off their moves. The simple steps that I learned earlier morphed into impressive manoeuvres. Each song increased in speed until only the very best among the dancers were able to keep up with proper steps.
I was happy to sit back and watch, but after too many invites to refuse, I got on the floor for one song, figuring it would stop people telling me to go up there. Soon the dancefloor cleared and formal wedding proceedings ensued. Four chairs were set up in front of a table that was decorated extravagantly with flowers, champagne and eventually a giant cake. Then came the groom’s entrance. As he walked in, a whole bunch of fireworks lining the red satin sheet on which he walked were lit, sending sparks flying. He sat down with three groomsmen and surveyed the room. The next step of the wedding saw round after round of guests paying him their well wishes, slipping some money into his front pocket and laying a red sash over his shoulder. There was some more dancing and then the cake was cut and distributed. And of course this was followed by even more dancing. The night ended around 11.30pm, twelve hours after I’d arrived. One of the nice men who had looked after me through the day (and his family, wife, son, three daughters) led me to his house. I thought we would crash right away, but we had some more food (tomato, flat bread, cheese, and chai) before bed. For once I appreciated the fact that we didn’t understand each other’s language, as I didn’t really want to stay up talking. When the food was gone, I brushed my teeth and went to the toilet, then stretched out onto a woven mat that had been laid out for me on the floor.
|Accommodation||Home of a lovely family|
|Distance ridden today||30.08km|
|Average cycling speed||10.5kph|
|Total distance ridden||23,272km|