The Lada Legend: Our First Great Voyage – Part 1
One-hundred kilometres is one thing. Yes, it was a good test for the Colonel. Yes, we were able to propel ourselves around a peninsula for the better part of a day. But we were always close to Baku—close enough that if there was a problem, we could easily make our way back home. A comforting feeling when you’re driving a 30 year old car.
What we really needed was a trip to the part of Azerbaijan affectionately known as “the regions”. For those that haven’t set foot in this country, “the regions” is simply a euphemism for any part of the country that isn’t Baku. In my opinion, Ladas and Zhigulis were made for the regions. You never feel as comfortable in one as you do when you’re going 40 km/h on a narrow road that winds its way up a hill. The wide boulevards of Baku packed with SUVs, luxury cars, and maniacal drivers just don’t compare.
We left Baku on a beautiful Saturday morning on our way south. Our first destination was a town called Agsu (whitewater) for lunch on the hill overlooking the town. After that, it was up in the air. We would just go wherever the road took us.
Driving on Azerbaijani highways is like a 100m sprint involving really slow people and really fast people all running in one lane. Suicide passing is the name of the game. Opportunities to pass the convoy of slow trucks are few and far between, so the people in a rush take unfathomable chances at 100km/h. At least in India, where the roads are even crazier, the cars are only going 50km/h. Now imagine yourself in a thirty-year-old Lada. Not a lot of acceleration in the old Colonel.
At one point it started to pour with rain. This was a shock considering that it was sunny some 30 minutes before in Baku. The state of our windshield wipers was always in question and we weren’t really sure what driving in the rain would be like. For reference, the coverage of Lada windshield wipers is minimal at best. Thankfully, there was still plenty of contact between the wiper blades and the windshield.
Lunch was as expected. The inclement weather went away and the sun came up. We were left with a beautiful view of the city. Shamaxi would be our next stop. It meant continuing up a partially washed out and windy road to the top of a mountain. This would really test the Colonel’s mettle.