What Adventures Await You In 2015?
Tell Me, what do you get when you combine Caddyshack, Jurassic Park, and Lawrence of Arabia with Dr. Zhivago?
(Hint: I didn’t know either… until I went to Azerbaijan!)
Baku soon revealed her secrets…
During the 10 years that I lived in Azerbaijan, each week was a new discovery. History dating back a thousand years was something I had never encountered in my 40 years in the United States.
Mud volcanoes were things I expected to find in Jurassic Park. Erupting natural gas fire hazards on the Pink Loch golf course (and I use that term veerrry loosely) were worthy of Bill Murray in a Caddyshack sequel- minus the flowers, however…
I’ve seen the new golf facility in Quba (Azerbaijan highlands) on a nationally (globally?) televised golf tournament and can’t believe the difference. Where once I wandered those hills gathering apples, now the greenskeepers gather Titleist golf balls. Stunning transformation.
I remember the early days looking more like the dunes of Lawrence of Arabia- maybe not so much sand as sandstone, but still that same tan stretching unbroken as far as I could see once we got out of town past the oil jackets along the seashore.
Driving down the main seaside boulevard in the heart of Baku one morning, I will never forget seeing a man in an old suit along with a babushka down on all fours (hands and knees) literally clipping the first lawn grass in town with scissors. Now there are lawns everywhere, with streets of trees replanted, ringed by flowers. Very Euro.
The adventures in Azerbaijan have changed a bit… ok, a lot!
Sure, I miss the innocent charm of meeting people unspoiled by tourist dollars and oil fund billionaires. I doubt I’d get smacked on the backside for not wearing a dress in the old city- nowadays the old babushkas would probably welcome my trousers over the thigh high micro mini skirts sported by many of the young girls seen today.
This doesn’t mean there are no interesting places left– fortunately, far from it!
Outside Baku the countryside is still full of unspoiled towns with interesting stories like Sheki, with its Sheki Khan Palace. You can see the “Palace” highlighted in the clip below at around the :20-:24 second mark in this short but well done video, starting with the colored glass mosaic windows (a fascinating story on their own) to the outside facade seen just before shots of the local foods.
They’ve come a long way in being able to share the treasures in a way that entices visitors. This was the Azerbaijan I experienced … (And, doesn’t everyone rent a flying carpet at the airport? It’s the only way to fly!)
Thinking back on the chaotic confusing Baku I met when I first arrived, I found this invitation from the Ministry of Tourism remarkably normal. Like a big cat finally growing into its out-sized paws:
“Azerbaijan`s plethora of attractions could keep you busy for days.
Even if you have only an hour or two between meetings, Baku has a whole series of inspirational places to snap the perfect photograph. Medieval alleyways and caravanserais beckon.
Alluring cafes, exotic tea caverns, suave restaurants, great jazz clubs, carpet peddlers, fine museums, cutting edge galleries and sweet little curio shops are all a short stroll away.
If you have a little longer, there’s a hop-on, hop-off city bus tour. Or a series of intriguing excursions to mud volcanoes, petroglyphs, castles, archaeology sites and even a still-burning fire temple.
See two or three of those in an afternoon.
If you’ve got all day you could see them all.
Or head off into rural Azerbaijan and discover just how beautiful the countryside can be – deserts and mountains, canyons and beaches, forests and ski resorts – any accessible in under four hours.”
When I first saw the petroglyphs in Gobustan it was an all day event. Thor Heyerdahl hiked these same paths to glimpse these carvings. Getting to the countryside took half a day on roads that left you breathless. Yes, a lot has changed. But new adventures await, in Azerbaijan and in the Caucasus region as a whole.
I was trying to think of places here in America that have changed in this same way- being discovered then losing the soul of the place to commercial interests and realized, that’s what we do. Commerce, rather than appreciation of adventure, seem to drive us these days.
I’m not sure what we can do about it, except try to plan our adventures and not be “that” guy or gal.
If you visit historic places, please don’t steal the signs- or you may have a different kind of adventure! I don’t think they have self-catering holidays in the Azerbaijani jails!
Just take photos… and share them with us, of course.