Today was one of organised activity, a rare thing on our trip. Our host had organised a minibus to take Ant, Nick and me, along with his children Garay, Mika and Iskander, and their friends Nazimi and Rasim, on a trip to Qobustan. Qobustan, which lies in a desert to the south of Baku, is a wilderness of rocky ridges and outcrops, long crags and long extinct volcanos. It is also home to a collection of petroglyphs (or rock carvings) spanning the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages, proof of consistent scribbling from the inhabitants of Qobustan, and of the timeless appeal of drawing farmyard animals. We traipsed round the museum, and then went for a scramble in the rocks to see the carvings for ourselves, keeping an eye out for gurzas, poisonous snakes that like to hide in the bushes.
With the education box ticked, we headed to a mud volcano, one of the few still active in the area. Our little minibus struggled up the side of the hill and out onto the plateau, rolling to a stop in front of a small crown of volcanos. The volcanos were at most a few metres high, cool pools of bubbling mud surrounded by swirls of cracked earth. Ant, Nick and I scrambled up the largest of the volcanos, pushing further and further into the mud, fingers then hands then arms. Our experiment with different types of muddy gloopiness ended with a wash in the least viscous of the craters, more a mud pool. Suddenly the side of the crater collapsed beneath Ant’s feet, and he found himself up to his waist in mud. His right flip flop is still in Qobustan (luckily his passport, phone and wallet survived with a light coating of volcanic mud).
A rather dismayed minibus driver then took us for a hose down at the nearest petrol station, before taking us back to Baku, where we met again with our host, who took us for a delicious meal of plov and dolma, and a mysterious local lemonade made from a fruit which seemed to be untranslatable. We headed back to the palace and hit the deck.