Monday, 22 October 2012

Day 211 – Flaming water and Mud volcanos. (Azerbaijan)

Only 6km from Astara, the border town, is a roadside water spring that one of the Azeri border guards told us about once he was satisfied that we weren’t drug or arms smugglers. He pointed on our map and mimed water flowing, then using a lighter indicated that the water would explode. We weren’t exactly sure what he meant but it sounded pretty interesting so we thought we’d have a look.

By asking directions from several obliging locals, we found the spring called Yanar Bulaq. As we pulled up next to the small domed shelter there were locals coming and going filling up large water canisters from the spring. A little unsure of what we were actually supposed to do here, we sidled up to the centre of the hub and awkwardly stood around waiting for everyone to leave so we could figure out what to do. As people left though, more arrived, but eventually a kind man ushered us over and demonstrated holding a lighter to the top of the erupting spring and watching it burst into flames. Methane gas occurs naturally at an exceptionally high rate in this particular source of water and as a result the gas bubbles that emerge from the flow set alight. Lighting and re-lighting the water, between others filling up their containers, kept us occupied for quite some time. A simple but exciting natural delight that was to be outshone by what we witnessed the following day.

A few kilometres from the main road we took an unmade track that led to a ferociously muddy path on the side of a small hill. As we drove towards our destination it began spitting and after not long it was raining quite heavily. With 4WD on, we made it to the top of the hill and stopped at a large orange danger sign (we assume – the words were obviously in Azeri, but danger signs tend to look pretty similar worldwide) at the corner of a plateau. We decided to sit in the car and wait out the rain a bit, but stupidly I got out to take a photo. The mud plain that we were parked on was wet and sticky because of the rain and my shoes became caked to the point where I could barely lift my feet. Laying a plastic bag on the floor, I wiped the majority of the mud off and got back in the car. A few minutes later the rain eased off so we decided to brave the sludge, and tying plastic bags over our shoes (which in my case were already covered anyway) made our way across the plateau to the volcanos. The first 50m or so was easy enough to walk on, but then the ground became very soft and very slippery. We found ourselves amidst a moon-like scape, small volcanos – mostly a metre or two high – bubbling and erupting mud, rising out of the barren brown ground. Still heavily overcast and now approaching dusk, the charcoal gray sky and the rich brown ground made for an eerie picture. We scrambled and slid our way up and down the sides of the volcanos, doing our very best to remain on our bagged feet, which to the most part we managed. As the sky moved from charcoal to navy and our plastic bags began ripping with the weight of the mud, we made our way back to Trevor who was still waiting for us at the danger sign.

Away from the incessant towns that are built up along the main road, we wanted to find a camping spot nearby. Our usual concerns of wind, flat ground, potential firewood and most importantly onlookers, was outweighed by the possibility of rain exacerbating the already very soft ground. We found a nice spot though where we had everything but firewood and thankfully it didn’t rain overnight.

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