Thursday, August 27, 2009

Things You Can Bathe in Other than Water – Part 1

“Treasure. Bathtub. Treasure bath. I’m going to have a treasure bath!” –Roman Emperor in History of the World Part One.


I had a similar reaction as the emperor at the thought of a crude oil bath in the village of Naftalan. Seriously, how awesome is the idea of bathing in oil in perhaps the only country where it is possible? I’ll put it out there and say it takes awesomeness to a new level.

Ok, it sounds crazy and stupid. Any medical professional not trained in the Soviet Union is probably vehemently opposed to the idea. Soviet era doctors, on the other hand, preach the oil’s psoriasis-healing properties. In those days, people came to Naftalan from all over the Soviet Union on vacations from work to recuperate and to treat skin disorders. Such was the Soviet, and now post-Soviet, obsession with sanatoriums.

And thus my fascination with the idea of an old-timey, Soviet sanatorium. It’s one of those things I would never forgive myself for if I didn’t do it. Leaving India without driving a cycle rickshaw, for example, would’ve caused similar regret.

So off we (I actually managed to convince people to come with me) went to the little village of Naftalan, a 7 hour marshrutka (mini bus) ride from Baku. It’s a quaint little place caught in a time warp; like a mining town on the wrong end of a gold rush. You could tell the town had had its glory days. A large bus station stands deserted at the edge of town. I could imagine it being a hub of multiculturalism forty years ago.

Only one Soviet sanatorium remains today. As much as I would’ve loved to go there, my friends weren’t nearly as keen. We chose instead the brand new government-run place that offered us the equivalent of an assisted living package. Meals, oil baths, a place to sleep. It was the easiest 24 hours of my life.


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