I was nearly delirious from a combination of lack of sleep and airplane cocktails by the time I landed in Baku. Four flights and over 24 hours of travel had predictably taken its toll on my constitution, but as I stepped onto the tarmac, feeling the cool breeze of the Caspian Sea blowing across my face, a sense of contentment swept over me. To set foot in a new country, a part of the world not yet known to me, is an exhilarating feeling, a feeling I have become addicted to.
After clearing immigration and collecting my backpack, I found myself in the back of a classic London-style taxi, zooming toward the bright lights of central Baku. Maseratis and Jaguars weaved through traffic with reckless abandon as my cab sped along the highway. As we approached the city limits I saw before me the dazzling lights of a city that, at first glance, resembled the Las Vegas strip. On one side of the car was the ominous black water of the Caspian Sea, on the other towering classically styled mansions and hotels whose facades were all perfectly illuminated by countless lights. Above it all loomed three striking skyscrapers amazingly lit with an LED display of flames licking their exteriors.
For those of you who don’t know much about Baku and perhaps imagine it to be another obscure post-Soviet backwater, I can assure you it is not. I have spent the last three days exploring this amazing city and it certainly rivals any of the great cities of the world. Replete with grand boulevards, exquisite fountains and a sweeping boardwalk along the Caspian, this city is a gem that, unfortunately, few westerners can point out on map, and even fewer have visited.
My experience of Baku, the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, has been enhanced by my friend Tamrika Khvtisiashvili who usually resides in Salt Lake City but of late has spent the last four summers here in Baku working on her PHD. A native of the Republic of Georgia, she is well-traveled and speaks several languages fluently. She has proved to be a perfect host, tour guide and friend during my stay here. Tomorrow we are heading to a remote mountain village in the high Caucasus called Xinaliq. Tamrika has been studying their obscure language as part of her PHD and has many contacts there. I’ve heard we may even get to see a traditional wedding during our visit. From Xinaliq I’ll be heading overland to Georgia via the Silk Road towns of Lahic and Sheki. More tales from the road may be in the offing if I can find the time and dependable internet.