Exploring the Distant Terrain of Azerbaijan - Trailer

Sep 14, 2017
by zam  
Views: 4,685    Faves: 9    Comments: 2



“You are going to Azerbaijan for mountain biking? Are you crazy?” This is what many friends wondered before our departure. Everybody behaved like an over attentive parent who needed to make sure that their children chose their destination reasonably, which obviously was something we did not. While most of the people walk effortlessly down paved roads, Zam project is about discovering places where mountain biking has, as of yet, been completely unknown or introduced only recently.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


When mentioning Azerbaijan, people usually recollect the country’s affiliation to the former Soviet Union, its oil industry, or the fact the area is surrounded by the Caspian Sea. This is what most of us are generally able to name, which is the shame because we were soon about to find out how great it is to be in Azerbaijan.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


Each of our journey’s itinerary is based on intense online research. There are many tools that come in handy, such as Google Earth and Google Maps with its street view instrument. We always try to find as many potential places as possible to make our experience easier for when we finally get to the biking spot. However, surprises and unplanned encounters are always part of the game. 


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


For the sixth time in a row, the crew consisted of rider Richard Gasperotti, photographer Adam Marsal, cameraman Marty Smolik and trip producer Luke Jusko. We got a huge American van (Ford Econoline) nicknamed “the Great Gas Guzzler” for its consumption, to explore the area that has not been thoroughly mapped in terms of mountain biking. Red Bull supported athlete Michal Maroši was scheduled to join us in the country later in the journey. 


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


In spite of serious planning, we left Prague without comprehensive knowledge about where we were going and what were we going to do there, even though it was clear that there was a 4,000km journey ahead of us to reach the country's capital city, Baku. 


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


After Mongolia, New Mexico, and Taiwan, we were heading to the country which is, at least by the most geographers, considered as part of Asia, while some others believe it’s still in Europe. In Azerbaijan, cycling as a hobby was discovered a short time ago, after a huge and modern bicycle assembly line was ceremonially opened to produce bikes of a local brand. It looks like there are new opportunities coming to the country with great cycling potential. 


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


In order to save as much time as possible, we travelled through Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Georgia with breaks only for grabbing some food and refueling. This way we made it to the Azerbaijan’s border in only three days. The following morning we woke up to catch sight of the wonderful mountainous scenery undulating far on the north. The sun shone high over the clouds, the tall grass rustled, cows and goats grazed on the meadows and birds of prey circling in the sky. “Guys, just wait to see the real mountains,” an older man standing at the bus stop promised us. Boy, was he right. 


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


As soon as the clouds dissolved, giant peaks emerged, rising from the mist as frost giants from the lake. They were covered with snow and looked too much like an illusion to be true. The view lasted just for a few seconds and then the clouds swallowed the mountains once again but we knew this was the place we were looking for.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


There are two larger ski resorts in Azerbaijan. The first is Qabala – a private holiday centre with a new four-seat chair lift and a cable car. From the top station, local bikers built a trail running through a dense forest with occasional stops from where you can observe the surrounding peaks.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


The other resort is Shahdag, owned by the Ministry of Culture, which plans to add mountain biking to the list of available activities. Although the main season is winter when the resort is massively visited by Russian tourists, the management is opened to new challenges and they are considering building their own bike park in the near future to lure visitors during the summer months.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


The resort, equipped with both a hotel base and a rich network of cable cars, has all the essentials to becoming a sought-after biking destination among both foreign tourists and locals, many of whom have begun to be much more interested in cycling after their beloved president showed up in front of cameras with his mountain bike.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


Loading hay bales to the off-road truck as we could closely observe in the Shahdag region. The varied climate of Azerbaijan allows cultivation of a wide variety of crops, ranging from peaches to almonds and from rice to cotton. In the early 2000s, agricultural production directly employed about one-third of the labour force and providing a livelihood to about half the country's population.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


Azerbaijan is a beautiful country with amazingly diverse landscapes where the Caspian Sea beaches meet rocky deserts, hilly steppes, and sky-scraping mountains. The dusty desert areas turned out to be very demanding and it took a time to make bikes ready for every day's ride.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


The road from Gilazi to Xizi is flanked by the "Candy Cane" mountains, eroded shale formations with multiple colours provide stunning photo opportunities. The Candy Cane Mountains were originally dubbed so by travel writer Mark Elliott in his guidebook 'Azerbaijan with Excursions to Georgia'. The mountains' colours are produced by groundwater that has altered the oxidation state of the iron compounds in the earth. Gaspi had a rare opportunity to race with the wild horses at the bottom of a valley.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


While moving through the dry grass in arid rocky areas around Xizi (pronounce like Khizi), we were warned to be aware of poisonous snakes which are reported to proliferate all around the area in April and May, precisely during the period when we were walking around in our shorts. During the hot days, we spotted dozens of dead snakes on the road, having been run-over by passing cars. Apart from the dangerous reptiles, there were numerous populations of poisonous spiders and scorpions living in the region. It’s said that in the vicinity of Baku, the ominous black widow often lurks about and trust me, you hope she doesn’t find her way home with you in your backpack. 


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


For a couple of days, our crew was joined by the Red Bull athlete Michal Marosi.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon

Even here, Marosi proved to be one of the most inspiring riders of the mountain biking history as you can see on the picture shot near to Baku in the sun set light. Both Michal and Gaspi competed four times in the most difficult MTB freeriding event, Red Bull Rampage, held in Utah where you can find similar kind of terrain.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


Although Azerbaijan is predominantly a Muslim country, beer is easy to buy everywhere including petrol stations. We were moved by the citizen's hospitality and kindness. The best place to meet with the local riders is Velo Café in Qurban Abbasov 35/21 street which is easy to find close to the Flag Square. In a cozy pub owned by a great guy Dmitriy Galabiev, you can always afford an ice-cold draft beer.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


We spent two days riding with Parviz Ilyasov, Orkhan Mammedov and Emrah Ibrahimov who turned out to be exceptionally skilled riders who showed us some their secret spots.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


Many years ago, both Gaspi and Michal were sharing a membership in a Czech downhill team named The Czech Blood. They’ve actually known each other since the childhood competing in BMX and later on the mountain bikes. Gaspi was featured in Michal’s movie Marosana Never Die couple year ago and now, Michal will have his part in Gaspi’s documentary, zam 6.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


In spite of projections of time spent at the romantic beach, the Caspian Sea doesn’t look like a place where you want to stay over holidays. The world's first offshore wells and machine-drilled wells were made in Bibi-Heybat Bay, near Baku. In 1873, exploration and development of oil began in some of the largest fields known to exist in the world at that time. By the beginning of the 20th century, Baku was the centre of the international oil industry.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


Some environmentalists say pollution caused by the oil drilling has already greatly harmed the ecology of the Caspian Sea. Nonetheless, Gaspi enjoyed the fact that the word Caspian is derived from the name of the Caspi, an ancient people who lived to the southwest of the sea in Transcaucasia.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


If you close your eyes, yellow is the colour you recollect from visiting Azerbaijan. However, the sunny and dry climate has its darker side. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of UN, erosion damages mountain and foothill lands seriously: 42 percent of the country has been affected by erosion to a certain extent, including 48.6 percent of cultivated land and 20 percent of forests.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


The downtown of Baku in the background is a place where ancient and modern buildings blend into the brilliant architectural synthesis which acts as a silent witness to Formula-1 Grand Prix races around the city, beginning this year.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


The modern Baku is in a vast contradiction to what you can experience in the remote mountainous area of Caucasus, where people live in houses made of cobblestones similar to the way inhabitants used to live several hundred years ago.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


Khinalug is the highest, most remote and isolated village in Azerbaijan and among the highest in the Caucasus. It is located just north of Quba in the middle of the Greater Caucasus mountains that divide Russia and the South Caucasus. The weather changes dramatically during summer and winter. The village has a population of about 2,000 people.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


We’d bet it was the first time when the local boys have an opportunity to see someone riding a full suspension bike in Khinalug. In the village, the houses, made of cobblestone and stretching up the hill, resemble multi-storied buildings. In his recollection of Memories on the Village of Khinalug, Azerbaijani writer Rasul Rza used to compare these houses with a whole range of eagle's nests. Currently, the village has 380 houses. The roof of each house serves as a small courtyard for another one built at a higher level. These houses were built densely together because the hills are very steep.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


Khinalug is among the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world, with a history spanning over 5,000 years. Because of its high altitude and remoteness, Khinalug managed to survive and withstand many invasions. The people of Khinalug are related to the Shahdagh ethnic group. They are mostly brown-haired, with brown or blue eyes, not very tall, and rather corpulent. Gaspi is greeting three local boys while pedalling up to the top of the village.


zam a journey of one freerider - zam6 Azerbaijan foto Adam Marsal Canon


After two weeks of travel, we travelled over 12,000 kilometres in one van, spent ten days on a bike, made unexpected new friends and, among many other activities, we emptied five bottles of Jägermeister and three packs of Red Bull. We also got in touch with the local government, which makes us hope that mountain biking will be met with all the available support and develop into one of the most popular sports in the country. Big thanks to everyone who has helped us in fulfilling our dream!


Words and Photos: Adam Marsal
Full video coming soon.

Zam team: Richard Gasperotti / Martin Smolik / Adam Marsal / Lukas Jusko
Featuring: Michal Marosi and local riders of Azerbaijan

www.zamjourney.com

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41 Comments

  • + 27
 İ`m from Azerbaijan , mountain biking here is not popular at all , although that there is a lot of places to ride .
So if any one some day will plane to visit azerbaijan for riding just contact me , I will show you great places .
Here you cant find bikeparks only natural trails and free ride available .

Some videos from Baku and Shahdag destricts

www.youtube.com/watch?v=oo_OxgisMFM

www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqYKwNkzR0I
  • + 1
 cool trails. you just need to build some big jumps
  • + 11
 I always have a mixed feeling about such trips... on the one hand: a superb adventure which is unforgetable with excellent photos and a cool video...which will in two days disappear in the ocean of internet media...
On the other hand, there the view of westerners as spoiled children who exploit regions for their own pleasure and fun. How does a farmer feel knowing that the kits these guys are wearing costs more than his yearly income...or he's busting his ass to feed his family and maintain his home before winters comes and along comes some yahoo just riding a bike... something about this doesn't feel right...
  • + 8
 Good point. Nevertheless, a farmer can one day list his room with best view on Airbedandbreakfast.com.
  • + 6
 Exactly...................we our selves..............when we go ridding in rural areas................we try not to wear shining bright colored out fits..........

Try not to lagh and show our selves having the ultimate fun..................in sight of the locals....................

Alhtough although we are Iranian s our selves........................and we are from the same culture......................

We try not to offend the locals.............with our presence.....................with our grins......................with our glares................


its very important..................


We try to make contact and communicate with them instead................some times we talk to them about their problems.......................we feel ourselves more accepted by them when they fell we are listening to them.....................

it absolutely.................isnt right to just enter an area which is belonged to the locals.........................which them have lived there for generations.....................and they feel it their land.................. and then start to bomb on the terrain showing off our pleasure & joy being disrespectful for their feeling.......................
  • + 5
 And by the way i think mountain biking is not just a sport................. its a tool to communicate with others through it............................communicate with nature.............with earth its self..........................with the other people.................... And the most important.....................communicate with yourself...............its not a good idea to use it as a distraction............from other cultures and people..............
  • + 16
 You guys are typical presumptuous first-worlders. Did it ever occur to you that many of these people are happy living the simple, clean lifestyles that they live? Or maybe that they pride themselves on their hospitality also? Maybe all you need to do is show a little respect and courtesy, goes a pretty long way. Get over yourselves.
  • + 11
 @cky78 Each time when we traveling to outside of baku city (capital of Azerbaijan) , at the each descents we end up on some small rural vilages where lot of childrens meet us ,and we are for them as entertainment in everyday life, they are not interested in bike or gear value at all they always asks same thing "are you coming from that mountains on the bike ???"with surprised faces.

By the way ,a colorful outfit with dirty faces makes us look like clowns from circus, not rich people.
  • + 5
 probably the thing that disturbs people the most is the inequality between the locals and the westerners with our $5000 bikes. Of course that inequality exists all the time, it's just you don't often get such an obvious contrast because we each tend to stick to our little worlds. IMO, these trips are important if for no other reason than they educate us westeners about a country we're often quite ignorant of. As long as it's done respectfully. I'm glad the authors included some blurb with info about the area, I didn't know much about Azerbaijan. Now I want to visit.
  • + 2
 @aydinak: Thumbs up.....
  • + 2
 @aydinak: Hey! No, that's cool. I had just never heard other side like nprace had eluded to. Given that there was a "local" in the thread I took the opportunity to ask. Wasn't meaning to throw mud around. Just curious what these people thought of us riding around in their country. No biggy
  • + 1
 @SlodownU: Read saber-mtb's response. There is some value in nprace's post. I thought I would ask saber-mtb, being somewhat local, what his thoughts were....read his response.
  • + 1
 @cky78: I read his response, and he isn't exactly a local either. He is about as local as you would be visiting an Inuit village in the Canadian arctic.
  • + 2
 I have the exact same reaction when I see these. It is cool to see the local kids get a kick out of it, but overall it seems slightly uncomfortable to me. I have been to Mongolia and some third world locations for extended periods, when you see $6k bike zoom past a $300 dollar house and a school with 6 texts, it is a little weird. Even the loud colors scream, look at me... Not judging either side, just my reaction for better or worse.
  • + 1
 @SlodownU:

Well your right...................the differece between someone living in iranian large cities specially the capital Tehran and those in the far Rurals is big.....................not huge..............but big.............as these days well every one in iran has the opportunity to the basic life standards every one even in the furthest rural areas ha electricity / gas pipe line / Tap water supply / and a basic income.............mayebe yes maybe 10 % or so of the whole 80 M population live in severe poverty......and maybe some 20-30 % other have some degree of poverty ..............but 90 % are not hungry.........are not struggling for life ..................

and in Azerbaican also i think its the same................as here..................its not sunsaharan Africa.........after all Azerbaican is part of Europe............
  • + 3
 @SlodownU: I would still have a better working knowledge of that environment (Canadian tundra) than someone from say The Congo though. Which was my point. Somewhat local....Probably knows the culture more than me...Someone on the other side of the world. I thought I would use the opportunity to learn something.
  • + 3
 @cky78: Thumps up......
  • + 2
 @saber-mtb: Thanks for the interesting insight.
  • + 1
 @SlodownU: nailedit. haha!

awesome article! exploration at its finest, nice work.
  • + 1
 @SlodownU: Did you intend for your statement to comes across as disrespectful, discourteous, and know it all? You make a good point about respect and courtesy going a long way...
  • + 1
 @nprace: Oh boo f*cking hoo. Your bike was built by materials obtained by mining. Your house was built from materials obtained from logging. Your car was built by materials from mining and burns fossil fuels obtained from drilling. So f*cking what? I bet you don't feel bad on a daily basis about those things. The only way to escape it is to sell your possessions, abandon society, and live in a cave far far away from the realities of the world. If you're not going to do that, then stfu and stop whining.
  • + 5
 Never ever understood that "mask on a light helmet" thing. A mask is heavy, hot and useless compared to a good pair of sunglasses.
Could somebody explain me the thing ?
  • + 2
 I meant goggles of course
  • + 3
 @RoadRunner13: Googles help to keep light helmets in place.
  • + 5
 @RoadRunner13:

I think they use it to seem cool................on the photo shoots.................

By the way im near there.........................im from Iran............

Some of the Scenery were so familiar to me...............The Caspian shore.......................the Dense Forests............they are called the Hyrcan Forests...............among some of the oldests forests living on earth..............
  • + 1
 @jkalis: But aren't they supposed to stay in place by themselves ? Modern helmets are so advanced and comfortable, I still don't get that goggle trend (which look absolutely ugly on a light helmet imo)
  • + 1
 @saber-mtb: Hi! Super cool that you're actually living near the place in the article. It seems so distant and such an adventure to get to and enjoy; for us in the Western world. I have a question for you though, if I may. What do you think of @nprace comment? I feel like it holds value. Could you please comment on it from an actual local's point of view?
  • + 3
 Because going full ENDURBRO is the only way to live.
  • + 1
 Goggles are for Downhill speeds, which are attainable on trail rides...keeps the eyes from watering. Not needed at slower speeds.
  • + 2
 So how much down time or wasted time do these guys have on these trips? They go in without knowing what or where they will ride so I am curious how much time is wasted just driving around with no idea. If you are on a sponsored trip for photo shoots I guess it doesn't matter, but for us normal folks I figure we would want to ride the whole time and not just do short sessions in villages or on beaches just to get a good pic. Thoughts?
  • + 2
 Gaspi rides some cool terrain. Be sure to check out his adventure to Mongolia if you haven't see it already www.youtube.com/watch?v=aF-IwISYmF4
  • + 4
 Cool video. Who does the music?
  • + 2
 THAT is a cool article. Thanks for sharing. Cool pics, vid, love that is somewhere never seen before. I wanna go there. I can imagine an EWS round there someday.
  • + 3
 What is the name of the music?
  • + 3
 Good compilation of videos, expert write-up. Welcome to Azerbaijan!
  • + 2
 The world should be one bike park.
  • + 2
 Awesome shots and feel guys! so excited to see whole Edit!!
  • + 1
 Freeriding endurolly is not cool.
  • + 1
 MTB not popular there!? You look thirsty. Have a RedBull...
  • + 1
 beautiful land. so much dirt yet to surf.

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