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Published: October 11th 2014
They looked edible. Like strawberry-laced fondant, the so called candy-cane mountains go best with a bowl of smooth vanilla ice-cream and a dollop of cream. One of the most bizarre and random sites we have ever seen, we were taken back by these bizarre accidental desserts of nature.
Today was our last day in Azerbaijan and we were faced with a tough choice. Laze about in the hotel till noon and then meander in the local museum. Or get up real early and drive out to the candy cane mountains - a single sentence in the lonely planet that the majority of travelers probably wouldn't notice. They had grabbed my attention though because we had been hoping to visit a similar type of freak of nature in Turkmenistan. We decided on the latter, so after a hearty buffet breakfast, we headed out for a 1.5 hour drive north of Baku.
About an hour into the drive we came across our first candy cane mountain visible from the highway. They were a thorough disappointment. Far from candy cane colored, they looked more like vitamin-C soaked mud sorbet that had a bad case of sun-fade. Luckily we were mistaken - those
were indeed just some random wannabe candy cane mountains. We pushed on and eventually after a 20min drive through the countryside, came across our first glance of these perplexing mountains.
Set amidst greeny-grey hills, the candy cane mountains seem accidental. Like somebody made a mistake while arranging the gameboard. From certain angles they looked like fatty steaks - the pink being the flesh and the white being the streaky fat. From other angles, they looked like a swirly soft serve, and the kid inside of me had to hold back the urge to get down on my knees and have a lick.
We found a nice spot and climbed to the peak of one of the smaller hills. I wasn’t' satisfied with that though, so I decided to scramble up one of the steeper peaks. It didn't look that steep from below. However, they were incredibly difficult to hand-scale. The surface of the mountains are covered with thin straws of colorful coral-like rock so don't provide a solid footing. And I discovered that the hard way. I was half-way up one of the steeper peaks - my foot jammed between two crevices - when my foothold gave way.
I tumbled down the side of the mountain about 25m on my back. Reaching out I tried to steady my hold, but instead ended up pulling my shoulder out of its socket. I'd dislocated my shoulder previously and so I knew that feeling. As I lay dazed, I surveyed the damage. My rubber shoes soles were wrecked, ripped and shredded. I had torn a hole in my pants. And I couldn't move my shoulder - I had popped my shoulder. I was stuck. I figured I could roll down the hill and perhaps the girls could carry me to the car. Then I realized that while sliding down, the lens cap of my SLR had fallen off. I peered back and could see it wedged in a crevice 20m up.
I had two options. Ignore that lens cap, which probably cost about $5. Or risk my shoulder and try to scramble up one handed and retrieve that lens. It didn't look that hard. It was only 20m. Forget the fact I had just tumbled down while having two hands. I thought I should check my wife for her opinion. Yelling down, I asked her what her thoughts. She waved
back with a big smile, as did our two girls. They snapped a photo. I realized they couldn’t hear me. Oh well, so much for getting some rational advice. So the clever brain I had decided the smartest thing to do was attempt the clamber up - this time with a disabled shoulder and fairly bruised body.
Well, I survived. And discovered after retrieving my lens that my shoulder wasn't that badly dislocated. I felt like a big man as I clambered down to meet the family. "Did you see my tumble. Did you get it on camera?". "Oh, what tumble? We weren't really watching you. We were looking at the birds." Great, so I'd tumbled down and risked my life, and they hadn't even gotten it on camera. Then again, since they didn't get it on camera, I was free to over-exaggerate the story and nobody would ever know the better.
And that was the last thing we did in Azerbaijan. Oh, except for the fact that I almost wasn't allowed to board the plane because they thought I was a person of suspicion. Here's what happened. We live in China. After our trip, I had a
business trip in the US. So we had bought our tickets as Beijing to Azerbaijan to Iran to Azerbaijan to Beijing. I would drop the girls in Beijing, and then board a flight Beijing to Seattle. So at the check-in counter, I asked them to check my luggage all the way to Seattle. That set off alarm bells. Because they couldn't understand why I would fly to the US via Beijing. It made no sense. And worse still, I had just come from Iran. It looked like I was trying to disguise my route into the US from Iran. They questioned me for 30mins, made a few calls, talked to a few supervisors, stared at my passport many times, looked me up and down and whispered nefarious comments to each other about me. And then precisely at the 30min point, they said - okay, go ahead. No problems. I'm not sure what changed. But I definitely wasn't going to ask. We grabbed our tickets, ran to the gate, and breathed a sigh of relief as we finally sat down in the ours in the plane.
Azerbaijan had meant to be a random stop-over with terribly low expectations. But we
had an awesome three days seeing volcanoes, pre-historic cave paintings, candy cave mountains and a gorgeous city. And the oil-stained Caspian sea. What more could you want in a holiday.
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