Our van is on the way south to a city called Salyan. Out my window to the left is the Caspian Sea, and oil derricks as far as the eye can see. To the right, a rocky, shrub-covered mountain range which contains ancient, pictographic carvings and paintings from thousands of years ago. Near the road, built snugly between businesses and industrial complexes, are homes that make up little villages.
I’m glad to have a moment to catch my breath, journal my thoughts, and to tell you about our first days in Baku.
Our arrival into Azerbaijan on Sunday in the middle of the night was eventful…
Speaking German, the jet pilot made an announcement, and the German-speaking passengers’ sighs indicated that there was an issue. We waited for the announcement to be repeated in English, and learned that our plane had made an unexpected landing to re-fuel in Tbilisi.
We were on the runway for two hours waiting for fuel and a new flight plan. To pass the time, we played a crossword puzzle game on Joey’s phone, tried our best to stay awake, and fought jet lag, knowing we were only a one hour flight from our destination and 27 hours into our travel day(s).
When we landed in Baku, we were so pleased to finally meet our new friend, Fargani. I’ve spoken with him on the phone, and we’ve written MANY emails back-and-forth, but it was great to put a face to the name. He’d waited for us at the airport through the entire delay and greeted us each with a huge smile and a hug.
As we stepped out into the Baku night, the cool, fresh, misty air felt good. We looked out at the city lights, eager to explore, and to begin our mission.
After 1am we were at our hotel, and so hungry, that we all immediately ordered a sandwich from room-service, which we were grateful operated 24 hours!
The next day, our interpreter, Hikmat, met us at the hotel lobby, and gave us a 5.5 mile walking tour of Baku. We explored the city center, drank hot, delicious coffee, and snacked on sweet, sweet Baklava (Azerbaijani-style, of course).
As history enthusiasts, it was beyond cool to walk through the ancient streets, to view the old, walled city and tower built many centuries ago, to see craftsmen weaving carpets, and to smell the tea, the pine, and the sea all at once. It was like a step back in time set right in the middle of a booming, modern city.
After that, we climbed thirty-three flights of stairs to get a closeup view of the Flame Towers. Three iconic buildings in the Baku skyline that stand on a hill high above much of the city.
There is a park in front of the towers that stretches toward the sea, and an eternal flame is lit like a solemn beacon at the end of a long path, as you walk among a stretch of gravesites.
Row after row, men and women, young, and old; all civilians killed during the Russian invasion here in 1990. This place is called Martyrs’ Lane, and I’m told that each year on January 20th, the anniversary, over one million people come to walk through the graveyard and to pay their respect. Hikmat was quieter, and noticeably transformed during our time here. Brutal, recent history. A wound that has not yet fully scarred.
Our days have been filled with music, education, and conversation, and our nights filled with more conversation and delicious local food like Shwarma, Doner, Kebab, Saj, and (my favorite) Dolema (seasoned, oiled grape leaves stuffed with minced and spiced lamb meat, cooked, then served with a white, yogurt-y sauce).
Our van just stopped outside of the central library in Salyan, and its time to go setup and do sound check. I’m eager to tell you more about this beautiful, fascinating country and people. More to come…