Wednesday, April 6, 2016

To Gobustan We Go!

Posing among the mud volcanoes at Gobustan National Park.

I was off to a great start this morning mainly because I had an wesome night's rest last night.  I woke up feeling well rested and ready to go! My foot felt 100% better. I think the cast kept my ankle straight through the night so there was no chance of further injuring it as I moved around in my sleep.

Pat doing her morning routine.  Checking her email.

Pat and I had breakfast upstairs at 8a and then waited back in the room for Rafael to arrive.

View of Shirvanshah Palace and Flame Towers from the upstairs dining room.

View of the Caspian Sea from the upstairs dining room.

The friendly and very hospitable Russian woman who makes our breakfast every morning.

We had agreed to meet him in the lobby. Shortly after 9a, the phone in our room rang. It was the receptionist informing us that Rafael was here.

Pat and I headed downstairs and walked with Rafael to the car. Waiting there for us was a woman that Rafael had asked us yesterday whether or not if was okay for her to join us today. She's his friend and apparently, had never been to Gobustan, our destination for the day. We told Rafael that we had no issue with her joining us.

As we got into the car, she introduced herself as Fanya (sp?). Today's destination was Gobustan which is a preserve that is known for its petroglyphs and mud volcanoes.  I was very much looking forward to seeing both today

We left Baku, heading south. The drive to Gobustan took about an hour from Baku.

Oil drills are EVERYWHERE here.  In some way, they destroy the view of the beautiful blue waters of the Caspian Sea.

Our ride took us on a road that ran alongside the Caspian Sea which we could, unfortunately, only catch glimpses of when there are no oil drills blocking the view.  The color of the water is a beautiful turquoise green.


Along the way, it was our first time seeing the landscape outside of the city. Nature wise, it's very arid and rocky. 

Aside from the trees and bushes that had obviously been planted by some human being, I did not see any natural forest here. Otherwise, there was no greenery. There were no fields either....at least not of the agricultural variety. Here the fields are oil fields. There are pumps everywhere! Where there is oil, there are ships to carry oil away. We passed by several shipyards as well as large warehouse type buildings with the names of foreign oil companies emblazoned on the front facades. Rafael also pointed out the housing communities were oil workers live and play. Yes, Azerbaijan is all about oil!

Where there is oil, there is also electricity.  No shortage of power lines in this country!



Our first stop of the day was at the Gobustan Museum aka the Petroglyph Museum which is located inside Gobustan National Park. The Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Rafael parked the car and got our entry tickets.

Not too many visitors here!



Inside the museum, an English speaking docent took Pat, Fanya and I on a tour of the exhibits on the first floor. The exhibits cover several rooms and the docent took her time to explain things to us.

Standing in the entry hall.


The small screens provide information on specific locations around the world where petroglyphs have been found.

Everything that was on display was very well described on the posted signs which were presented in both Azeri and English. There were also several interactive multimedia displays that helped to illustrate specific themes. All in all, the part of the collection that I saw was small but I thought it was all very well presented.


Pottery discovered in Gobustan.

After we finished walking through the exhibits on the first floor, Pat and Fanya continued with a tour in the basement while I sat and waited for them in the entry hall.

The entry hall is circular in shape.  The wall was decorated with petroglyph designs.

Off the entry hall, archways lead to exhibits and offices.

I found a way to turn Pat's walking stick into a prop for my left leg to rest on.  If nothing else, I am resourceful :-)

There, I struck up a brief conversation with a young man who was also one of the English speaking docents. He, like many Azeris I have crossed paths with in the past few days, was curious about where I am from. I don't think I have seen another Asian face the entire time I've been in this country. I truly stand out. When asked where I am from, I have been replying *Malaysia*. Everyone who has received that answer seems to know where the country is. My response is also usually followed by, *....but I live in the United States*. I have found Azeris to be pretty reserved when you first meet them but once the ice is broken, they are ever so friendly.

I think this is the larger of the two boulders that petroglyphs have been discovered on.

After the museum, Rafael drove us to the section of the park where several petroglyphs can be seen in situ in large boulders scattered around the small area of one of the mountains in the park.  It really was a rocky landscape here.




With spring rains comes nice green grass and beautiful wildflowers.  According to Rafael, the landscape is pretty much *brownscape* the rest of the year.  Another reason why this is a great time of year to be visiting the Caucasus!


Although the sign indicated that the path was wheelchair accessible, it was a bit of a challenge to walk on at first even with Pat's cane stabilizing my every step because the walkway was slightly uneven and I could feel every bump through my cast.


On the topic of the wheelchair, I have to say that I have been impressed with the fact that Azerbaijan has recognized the need to make sites accessible to the handicapped. That's more than I can say for many countries I've been to - developed or developing!


The first part of the path was relatively flat and I was able to keep up with the other three.


It's spring here and the wild flowers are in bloom. They were like little dots of color peeking out from between blades of grass.


Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum)

We paused to see the first of several petroglyphs.



After that, the path got a little steep with steps so I left the other 3 behind and took an alternative route. While my busted ankle has not stopped me from participating in seeing things, it has limited what I can see. I resigned myself to the fact that, on this trip, I will have to settle for seeing what I can, not all that I want, and that will have to be okay.


Some of the petroglyphs were easy to make out, others not so much so.  Some had been carved on rock walls and others on rocks lying on the ground.





The best ones I saw was this one.  It was hard to spot the group of designs at first because it was high up and there was no sign indicating they were there.

See the petroglyph?  Look on the upper left hand corner of the photo.

But even from a distance, you can clearly make out that they are designs of human beings.


People dancing.

Modern day petroglyphs :-)

From the path, I stopped to take in a view of the Caspian Sea.




Fanya, Pat and Rafael checking out the view from atop some boulders.  I took in the same view from another vantage point.

I ended back up at the parking lot well before the other three. I found sitting spot on a rock and enjoyed the beautiful sunny weather while I waited for the other three. It is indeed a picture perfect spring day - warm when you're in the sun and despite being pretty much seaside, not a drop of humidity. I'm loving being outdoors today.

I'm basking in the sun!

After the petroglyphs, Rafael took us off roading. From the main, well paved road, we hit a completely unpaved road.


Several times, I swear the undercarriage of the car hit the ground. We were in ye old ordinary sedan and not a 4x4 so I was worried we would break an axle or even worse, the drive train.


But thankfully, Rafael is a very careful driver, avoiding the large ruts as best he could. Our drive ended up on a plateau, overlooking the Caspian Sea.


As I got out of the car, I stepped foot on ground that was so parched dry, it was cracked!  Such a different soil than what we had just left behind at the petroglyphs where the ground was moist enough so that grass was growing and wildflowers blooming.


Scattered about were conical shaped mounds of dirt. These were the mud volcanoes that I had been eager to see.




As we approached a small cluster of the volcanoes, I could hear gurgling sounds. As I approached one of the cones of dirt, I could see a small pool of liquid mud.

Mud is constantly flowing out of the volcanoes.




Fanya dipping her fingers into the mud which is cool to the touch.



Every again, the mud would bubble up. It was quite an interesting sight! I had somehow expected the smell of sulphur like when you're near a hot spring but there was none. Later on Pat told me that she had put her fingers into one of the pools and the mud felt cool....not hot as you might expect.

A close up view of the pool of mud atop the cone of the volcano.

Watch a Gobustan mud volcano do its thing.


I walked about to check out several of the volcanoes. Even the smallest of small impressions in the ground were bubbling up dirt!

It looked like a pot of hot chocolate boiling on the stove.


All in all, the mud volcanoes were a really cool sight!

There were patches of mud which I had to avoid walking on. 


Before getting back into the car, I shot a video to remember this visit by.


Next, it was back to Baku to visit a couple more places before Rafael would drop us off back at the hotel.   We had to off road our way back to the main road and then from there, Rafael zoomed his way back towards the center of town.

Yeah... the cows are walking on flat ground.  We're the ones that are not quite straight :-)

Onward we go!