It was time to leave Yerevan and to go to Georgia. First I went by bus to Aparan. There it was raining for the first time during that journey. Initially I wanted to get to Georgia, but it got later and later although hitchhiking did not go that bad.
So since R. told me she was living in a village near the Georgian border and would be happy if I came by, I changed my plan to crush there.
At here place the whole family was together. Her mum had a East German pen pal during Soviet Union. So I translated some of the letters since strangely the German girl didn’t write in Russian. For the next day everyone prepared a special breakfast: A soup with the feet of a cow and Vodka respetively Chacha (a 70% super delicious alcohol).
So I will tell of the next morning: Maybe for breakfast it sounds a bit nasty to eat cow feet soup and drink strong alcohol. But hell, it was delicious! Bread was served as well and one of the family’s friend showed me his chacha distillery. Chacha is a made of fruits (often mulberry) with a high percentage of alcohol (between 50% and 70%) and as I said before it is really delicious. It was a great experience, thanks to R.
I went to Geghard to a famous monastery that is partly built into stone. Then I went back to Garni where there’s a thousand year old temple. Beneath runs a river that was also flowing next to the monastery. I followed it and wanted to get to its water mouth, but I failed. At least on the way I took a refreshing bath and could enjoy the landscape. Shortly before the water mouth I had to stop and get to the nearest road because it was starting to get dark and I somehow made a way myself. So I climbed up on the plateau and went to the road that was not that busy. But I was lucky because after only 45 minutes a car stopped – six people were already sitting inside, but hey, we weren’t in Germany so no problem.
Day 12, July 19th, Sun, Yerevan VI, Sevan Lake
In the morning we got up quite early because we were about to go to Sevan Lake by train. When we arrived, friends from Alex already built some kind of stone stove with mushrooms roasting.
Later we set up a tent over this stove and the natural sauna. Inside we pour water mixed with herbs on the stones to create a quick heat. After 10 minutes it was the womens turn and we jumped into the clear lake. It was such a great experience!
Day 13-14, July 20th-21st, Mon-Tue, Yerewan VII-VIII, Echmihadzin, old castle
I went to Echmihadzin, the religious centre of the Armenian Church. Naturally I peaked into some of them. The next day Arpik, Alex and me went to the old castle of Yerevan.
Day 3, July 10th, Fri, Tsav-Stepanakert (Karabakh, Nagorno-Karabakh)
Before I continued, I went swimming and then I had to wait again until a car was going to Kapan. The car the Miro organized for me turned out to be a taxi. But since I played silly and pretended not to understand Russian and the driver couldn’t say the number in English, plus Miro said, it would be free, I was just dropped of in the centre of Kapan.
From there to Goris I was taken in a new Mercedes and was told by the driver, that officers employed by the government can only have a kind of ok life with taking bribes.
In Goris I had to wait quite a time again and somehow the feeling, that some people wouldn’t understand my “Stepanakert” sign by 100%, although it was completely correct. Anyway with three further rides I arrived in Stepanakert, the capital of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh. The problem of travelling to Karabakh is when letting them stick the visa in your passport you are denied entry to Azerbaijan – lifelong. Even writing such a post may provoke ending up on their blacklist. It was the first of two of these notorious breakaway Caucasus Republic that I would visit. After the fall of Soviet Union, Karabakh (having had autonomy inside Azerbaijan SSR) with its Armenian majority declared its independence in September 1991. Of course Azerbaijan didn’t recognize it and since May 1994 war broke out. Since that date a more or less stable ceasefire.
Crossing the border is no problem: You give your passport to the registration and get a sheet of paper with the address of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where one had to buy the visa the next of following day (3000 Dram, ~6 EUR).
In Stepanakert I met with U., took my stuff to a hotel and strolled with U., her sister and cousin a bit through the centre. It was very busy, it seemed the whole city was there. People were gathering on all the squares around the Presidential Palace – a nice atmosphere.
Day 4, July 11th, Sat, Shushi (Susa)
The next day U. and her sister went with me to Shushi, that is famous for its many beautiful churches. Then we walked to a nice mountains meadow for a picnic.
Back in Stepanakert I walked a bit through the town, bought my visa. In the evening I was not feeling so good and tried all night getting into a better shape.
Day 1, July 8th, Wed, Tehran – Julfa (Iranian-Azerbaijan border, Nakhchivan)
Initially I wanted to start my journey some days earlier. But since July 7th is a national holiday in Iran, no trains were running.
However I was happy being able to finally start. At 5.20pm the trains left and I shared the 6-berth compartment with only one other passenger. His name was Jafar and unfortunately he was too proud of staying with a German guy and acted like a king.
Day 2, July 9th, Thu, Julfa – Tsav (Armenia)
After having arrived in Julfa, I went on foot to the edge of the town. While walking I was stopped by police. But from other encounters I learned that it’s best to pretend not to speak Farsi, but only English. But these two weren’t capable of speaking English, so it was just “Hello” then silence and then “Good-bye”.
At first I hesitated to hitchhike. Maybe because I knew what kind of question would wait: about the super open European life-style and how easy it apparently is for every man to seduce women…
Under the burning sun I was walking for a bit, but I couldn’t continue like that the 60km to the border and after some minutes of trying, I got a lift to Nordooz, the border between Armenia and Iran.
There I met one of the notorious people that go by bike from Europe to China. We chatted for an hour or so, but I really wanted to leave Iran.
This border is controlled by Russian soldiers on the Armenian side. And I’ve never seen anyone checking my passport so long – not even in Russia. During its examination I talked with a young soldier from near Vladivostok.
From the border town of Agarak there are two roads northbound to Kapan and the main one was passing Kajaran. Obviously I didn’t chose that one. Therefore I had to walk most of the distance to the next village which was called Shvanidzor.
Hence I was given the possibility to check out the border region: There were many abandoned buildings and industrial sites from the Soviet times.
I wanted to spent the night in Shvanidzor, since for a long time there were no cars going further. But right after I refilled my water, I caught a drive. The road curled through the mountains and the air was so refreshingly fresh; what a great pleasure after three months of smog in Tehran.
Having arrived in Tsav I was forced to stay the night at Miro and his family and to eat dinner with them. And in addition the mother even made a footbath for me, which was really nice.