Mason has been working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Lerik for the past year. His task is to set up a sustainable, eco-tourism initiative that will eventually be owned and run by local people. So far, he has recruited families to provide home-stay accommodation, organised horse and walking tours and local guides to show people around.
Lerik is a rural community, surrounded by verdant pasture where sheep, horses and cows graze contentedly. Above the town, the rugged Talysh mountains soar, surrounding the community like a natural fortress. As you get higher, the mountains become bare and dry, covered with snow during the winter months. Below, forests of oak and beech stretch off into the distance.
As we set off from Mason’s apartment, he pointed out “Lenin Peak”, that local people think looks like the profile of the first Communist ruler of Azerbaijan.
No one walks for pleasure here and there aren’t any tourist yet, so we had the forest to ourselves. It looks like New Hampshire or Vermont but the tree types are the same ones you would find in England indeed, it really could have been a forest in the Lake District of Cumbria. There was even mistletoe in the trees and cyclamen at our feet.
The sun shone and the leaves rustled under our feet. At one point, the track we were following gave out all together and we had to slide on our backsides down the very steep slope.
There were some signs that woodmen came into the forest on occasion to harvest a tree or two but on the whole, the forest was as nature intended it.
A mountain stream trickled past and in the distance, a curl of wood smoke drifted into the azure blue sky. After a couple of hours, descending through the trees, Mason pointed out one of the tiny tea shops that are dotted along the single road into the mountains. We headed for it and were rewarded with a hot cup of black tea. Heaven!
If you would like to hike in the Talysh mountains or stay with a local family in Lerik, contact Mason Wiley through CBT Azerbaijan: http://cbtazerbaijan.com/blog/