Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Advantages of being off the map
Zagatala is not off the map, of course. It’s right by the border that Azerbaijan shares with Georgia. But it certainly not on the main route followed by tourists. In my opinion, this has more advantages than disadvantages.
Yes, it may be impossible to find a postcard in the town. (I haven’t looked – but I’m told that the mosque used to sell old Soviet cards.) Only two bank machines serve the town- and their operation at any time is far from a certainty. At this point, only three hotels serve the town – as far as I can tell. I’m not counting the grand hotel that is scheduled to open after the president visits next week, or something that may or may not be a motel down by the bus station.
But the advantage to its remote location is that you can feel more of a sense of discovery when exploring the place. Yesterday, I went up with Ivan and Emin into the woods, to an ancient Albanian fort of some sort that Ivan showed me last week. Ivan, 16, loves the woods and loves to share his knowledge of the woods. He showed us the bones that he has found inside the fort. And we found an apple tree that produces star-shaped fruit. It is these simple but satisfying discoveries that aren’t so likely when the whole area has been commercialized by a successful tourism industry.
Later, we visited an ancient Albanian church located in a nut grove. No plaque marks the spot. The site is mainly protected by a nearly impenetrable tangle of thorny vines. To see the church itself takes an act of imagination, because most of the structure has collapsed. But the six-foot thick walls remain. And underneath, surely there are archeological riches. At the moment, however, the site is excavated only by wild animals.
Above is a shot of the tower, Ivan holding the star apple, and the back of the covered church.