One of the best aspects of traveling is meeting local people. Often, I use the Couchsurfing community to meet up with locals, but also hanging out at cafes or meeting friends of friends are good opportunities. But sometimes it happens when you don’t plan on meeting locals, like the time when I went on a train ride in Azerbaijan, heading for the border with Georgia.
I took a few overnight trains before, but had only little interaction with the other passengers. During my stay in Azerbaijan I already noticed the hospitality of the people and their exceptional interest in me as a foreigner. They went out of their way to make me feel welcome.
While boarding the train in Baku I got noticed immediately as a foreigner. It took only a moment before a fellow passenger approached me and started a conversation. She happened to stay in the compartment next to mine, so I made my first friend for the train ride.
We chatted on the platform while waiting for the train to depart. Suddenly, there was a camera from the Azerbaijani TV channel ANS in front of me. Although they didn’t speak any English, they wanted to interview me. Ehh…ok! More people gathered around me and the camera, watching what was happening. Since the TV crew didn’t speak English, I just had to tell something about my travel and my expectations on the train ride. No questions were asked. The “interview” just contained a monologue of no more than 30 seconds. I was told my interview was broadcasted on TV. Unfortunately I never managed to get a link to watch my performance.
I turned into a celebrity on the train because of my TV interview. It seemed like everyone wanted to spend some time and share some drinks or snacks with me. A guy who claimed to work for customs invited me to drink tea with him in his compartment. Not too bad to have a friend who works at customs, when you’ll have to pass customs only a few hours later.
When the train stopped for a short break, the fellow passengers went out to get some drinks and snacks for the rest of the journey. 2 guys who where bargaining in English got my attention. I started a conversation and they told me they were actually Azeri, but negotiated in English so that they could get a better price.
The train departed again and they invited me to come over to their compartment for some drinks. I told them I may come later, so when I still hadn’t come over half an hour later, they decided to try to pick me up from my own compartment. I didn’t feel like drinking alcohol though and since I was having fun with other fellow passengers, I decided to stay with them.
It was a train ride like you usually only read about on internet, but then when you go by yourself, it turns out “disappointing”. This train ride certainly wasn’t disappointing. Many people offered me some drinks or snacks and when I refused, they asked me a few more times. They showed hospitality like had never experienced before, just like all the other people I met in Azerbaijan. They all excelled in hospitality. Their hospitality seems to make them happy, a way of happiness that’s unknown to most of us greedy westerns.