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Monday, July 04, 2005


Caribbean Of the Caucasus

Since it's 4th of July weeken and extremely hot and humid, what choice did we have but to pack up the Neva and head to the beach with the Frisbee team?

The Neva is a fantastic vehicle in many regards. It's possible to overlook the leaky gas cap and its speed limit of 50 MPH, but either the heat is permanently on or the seats are directly over the engine block, because it's freakin' hot. While this was a distinct benefit in the winter, it pretty much guarantees that no one wants to ride to the beach with you in the summer.

Upon arrival at the sandy Buzovdna beach, about a hour's drive from Baku, our friend Samandat climbed out, wiped the sweat from his brow and took a look around at the modest facilities. The national bird of Azerbaijan (plasticus bagus) fluttered from the bushes and flapped around on piles of garbage. Potbellied Azeri men in their underwear tottered around behind a soccer ball. Tattered umbrellas stuck out of the sand at oblique angles.

"It's the Caribbean of the Caucasus," he declared.

This is actually one of the best beaches on the Absheron Peninsula, mostly because it is sandy (rather than golden shelled) and pretty clean, meaning that there are no globs of oil on the shore and someone picks up some of the garbage. For a shirvan ($2), you can stake out a palapa made of straw for shade and some molded plastic chairs from which to watch the scene. Someone will also deliver the traditional beach beverage (hot tea) and shoo away invading cows and sheep.

Aside from the cow herders, one of the biggest attractions of these private beaches is the entertainment. Two guys sat in a metal kiosk and played the same CD, from 10:00am until we left at 6:00pm, at decibel levels that exceeded the capabilities of their cheap speakers. I can say with certainty that there is no stronger argument in favor of American cultural hegemony than the Euro-craze "Crazy Frog." We were treated to the best of Russian Rap, the latest Bollywood love ballads and Islamic pop, which is identical in theme, style and artistic value to Christian pop (simply substitute "Mohammed" for "Jesus").

By the end of the day, the Frisbee team pelted the metal kiosk with small apples whenever the first five notes of "Axel F" clattered out of the tinny speakers.

Since it was 4th of July weekend, we set up our red, shoe-box size metal barbecue in the sand and grilled up some chicken and beef 'dogs (none of that dirty meat). Fortunately, there are no archaic "no drinking on the beach" laws in Azerbaijan.

Sluggish from sun, beer and bad pop music, we wrapped up the day with a debate over whether the Absheron Peninsula could legitimately claim the tourist slogan "Caribbean of the Caucasus," when Turkmenistan's side might be more deserving of the title, given that it is arguably cleaner and less crowded.

Since you can't get to Turkmenistan, or the real Caribbean, in a Neva, we'll just have to be satisfied with our little slice of paradise on the Absheron Peninsula.

*This story would be greatly enhanced with photos, but we still don't have a digital camera.

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