Not wanting to be outdone by the two adventurous GIRLS* I was classmates with while studying in Europe circa 2005, for my final project I chose to travel to Azerbaijan and write about environmental/oil issues in the Caspian Sea. I was able to justify the project because Europe was (and still is) attempting to get access to the massive reserves of fossil fuel found in this part of the world. It literally seeps out of the ground here, and early peoples could just scoop the stuff out of collection ponds.
These are the Caucasus Mountains because lets face it, when will any of us get to clamor all over them?
Unfortunately, the “really great” shoes I’d bought in Denmark to hike around in turned out to be useless crap, and actually injured my foot enough that by the third day I was limping around. I changed shoes but the damage was done; I couldn’t bomb out to Naptha on the minivan stuffed with 25 people that pose as buses in this country and take an inky -and probably carcinogenic- oil bath, I couldn’t climb up to some of the most sacred Zoroastrian shrines, and I most certainly couldn’t meet up with the Peace Corp volunteer I’d met over the Internets and hang out with him across the border in northern Iran.
Main gov’t building in Baku. Built by the Soviets
Which totally blew, so instead I mostly spent time drinking beer at the hotel with Iranian and Turkish traders that insisted on trying to communicate to me in Farsi, hunting out the best Russian vodka and shwarma, and generally limping towards (and onto) the crazy minivans that zoomed across the roads in search of adventure. But only if it involved minimal walking.
Atagha’s shrine, located in Shuvalan, just north of Baku
One such trip—after taking the wrong minivan twice—took me to Atagha’s shrine. Literally, “flesh-man,” or “meat-lord”, the place is dedicated to a man that lived in the early 1900s without bones, or apparent lack thereof. He had healing powers and people would travel from miles around to cure ills. Azerbaijan has a curious mix of Islamic and Zoroastrian superstition, it’s quite fascinating if you dig into the nuance. After washing my hands and face and removing my shoes, I went inside this mosque, took up a spot in the corner and tried to look pious. Nobody seemed to care. It was stark inside, but blanketed in woven carpet.
Also went to this Zoroastrian temple. One of my favorite religions because they worship fire
I met up with some English-speaking students who were willing to take me to the market and translate while I talked with caviar dealers. They hadn’t heard about the international ban on Caspian caviar and had plenty on hand. So, over tea, crackers and sublime fish eggs we tried to communicate about the issue but apparently, the black market is so vibrant it doesn’t affect them.
Note the bullet holes. A succession battle I believe
Detail of palace mosque
Ubiquitous taxis. Cheap. Two dollars anywhere in the city
Typical Old Town Baku, Azerbaijan
I also explored most of Baku while on this trip and absorbed every minute of it, including the small bribe I paid to an airport official that emptied my wallet. I particularly enjoyed finding an American 20 dollar bill on the floor of the airport while waiting for my flight. Seemed like a nice way to even the score.
*Kristin and Megan; two inseparable, intrepid and kinda cute globetrotters.