Unfortunately, the 2013 BSES program is more than halfway over now. During this past weekend, we took two amazing field trips to other parts of Azerbaijan - one to desert-like Qobustan and to the nearby mud volcanoes, and one to the beautiful mountainous region in the northern part of Azerbaijan around Quba. Qobustan was like out of another world, with dry and dusty alien landscapes all around us. It is famous for the ancient rock carvings in the sides of the large rocks and mountains, the oldest of which apparently date back to the 12th century BC. After a long tour of these petroglyphs in the hot sun, we continued on to the mud volcanoes. They are difficult to reach because the tourist infrastructure isn't particularly developed, though this is one of Azerbaijan's main attractions. Once we finished the treacherous ride there, what a sight! The volcanoes bubbled more than they oozed and exploded, but some of them still look like those science projects we did as kids, with the clay volcanoes filled with baking soda and vinegar!
The petroglyphs in Qobustan
The following day, a group of us also continued sightseeing in Quba. After the 2.5 hour bus ride, we first stopped off at a synagogue belonging to Quba's historic Jewish community. Azerbaijan is home to one of the largest settlements of Jewish people outside Israel and also within the former USSR. The so-called 'mountain Jews' have lived in this part of the country for centuries, if not even more than a millennium. We were able to tour the synagogue and then ask questions of our tour guides, who appeared to be pillars of the community and were immensely knowledgeable. We followed this up with a long leisurely lunch of traditional Azerbaijani food, lamb kebabs. Our group then headed into the mountains, which were such a complete contrast from Qobustan's desert. They were so tall and green and beautiful, it really felt like we were in Austria or Switzerland! The landscapes were stunning.
Enjoying the view!
Part of AU's delegation to the 2013 Baku Summer Energy School, outside Quba
Back to reality now though - since it's Monday, the lectures have resumed. This week has more of a geopolitical focus than last week, which I'm really excited about. Here's hoping this week is just as good as last week, or even better!