Friday, June 30, 2006

Azerbaijan

As you may remember, we entered Azerbaijan by cargo/ferry boat over the caspian sea right to Baku. Baku is the largest city in the Cauacasus and right on the water front. As I mentioned before, the Caspian sea is absolutely loaded with oil and gas reserves and Azerbaijan is currently raking it in.
The area of Azerbaijan is so rich in the stuff that it literally oozes out of the ground in places and there have been natural gas vents burning for ages as a result of ancient accidental lighting. It's probably no surprise that it is the birthplace of all sorts of fire worshipping religions and cults like Zoroastrianism (the first monotheistic religion by the way). Imagine hiking in the mountains and seeing a random, constant wall of flame. These days the walls of flame are dying as oil drilling in the region has reduced the underground pressure needed to keep them going.
As the oil was so easily accessible, the Soviets built the first ever offshore oil rigs just outside of Baku. They were incredibly inefficient and in fact the Soviets did so much drilling and chemical processing in the area that one of the main attractions of Baku is to drive around on the nearby Abseron peninsula and see the completely devastated landscape. All the pollution and factory pipes in the area make the whole thing look like some post-apocalyptic nightmare. We didn't do the drive around (I've seen enough garbage lately) but we did see a little bit coming in by sea and also driving out of Baku. What a mess. Needless to say, with the fall of the USSR most of the factories were shut down and people started leaving the area. Driving out of Baku you could see little oil derricks in neighbourhoods and in people's backyards. Insane. When we were docking the ferry at Baku we were just floating through a mess of oil rather than water. It was amazing and disgusting. Baku was a nice enough town though. Definately a new area of the world. It's funny to keep crossing borders and seeing the change in fashions as well as the look of the people themselves. More European clothing and HUGE sunglasses. We were laughing our heads off. Our biggest challenge was dealing with the money. Azerbaijan is currently revaluing its money. New manats are worth 5000 old ones but this year is the transition year so both types are floating around. The people quote prices in old manat, the banks give you new manat, and everyone pays and gives change in a combination of both. A little confusing and everyone has to go really slow to make sure they are not getting ripped off.
We did a little day trip south of Baku to a town called Qobustan. It is known for it's rock carvings dating back to 12,000 years ago or so. It also has a rock graffitied by a roman soldier, the furthest east evidence of romans found. Apparently it was some bored spy at the time. The wierdest (and definately most fun) thing in Qobustan were the mud volcanoes. On top of a hill outside town are just random little mud volcanoes. Like geysers but not hot or strong and more like farting mud blobs than anything else. As you may recall from China and a few other places we haven't mentioned, the girls are born to be mud demons. Little holes (of the best mud ever according to them) and somehow they managed to almost immediately get themselves all muddied up.
From Baku we then went to the hill town of Seki before crossing to Georgia. Not that hilly or high really compared to other hill towns. The whole area around the northern border with Georgia actually looks like Chilliwack. Little mountains on one side opening out into a flat plain, great as farmland though not being fully used when we drove through. The best part of Seki was the hotel. A converted Caravansarai (the old caravan hotel, trade post places) so the rooms are what would have been the little shops. The stone arches and big courtyard were really nice. You'll have to see the pictures when we get them up.
Ammon

1 Comments:

At 2:38 PM , Blogger huggybigbear said...

Hey Ammon!! and all of you!
I have heard from several people who have been to the area about the amazing level of pollution involved with the push for progress. One of the guys I knew in Lethbridge said there is a lake that is huge, and is all oil, the whole thing is a valley that they let fill with oil. Anyways, I was looking at the photo's and realized why you were being left alone so much. You looked like you were from Afganistan! and the girls are so tanned now that with a burka (?sp) how couls you tell.
Thanks for taking the time to write all this, and keep us up to date. You hug your Mom for me and tell her she looks great for an old braod. LMAO

Love you guys and big hugs
Shean

 

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