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.
Before hitting the road to Yerevan I went to the post office and then via Goris in direction to Yerevan.
I arrived at 7pm and stay with Alexander, a former classmate whom I met in Iran. He was living in Yerevan with his wife and daughter.
Later that evening we went to the centre where the play of fountains is accompanied with colours and classical music.
Day 8, July 15th, Wed, Yerevan II, Hatis
Alex recommended many things to do around Yerevan. But since he was busy I contacted R. whom I got to know on Couchsurfing. With her I went to Hatis mountain, taking the bus and hitchhiking then. Unfortunately the people didn’t know the area very well, so our hike took really long, but was super nice.
Day 9, July 16th, Thu, Yerevan III, Aknasar
The next day R., Arpik (Alex’ wife), Arvani (their daughter), Alex and me hiked to Aknasar mountain. We started at noon which was the reason why we didn’t make it to the summit. We passed a camp of Yazidis, who invited us for coffee and very delicious bread and cheese. As we continued an aggressive bull nearly attacked us.
On the way back we went to the Yazidis again to buy some of their delicious cheese.
It was nearly dark when we reached our start position and hitchhiked a truck with straw – but only for 500m to a farmer where we were invited for coffee again. R. taught me that is important for men in Armenia to shake each others hands when one is entering the room – apart from knowing each other or not.
In the end one family member took us to Abovyan and from there we went by taxi back to Yerevan.
Day 10, July 17th, Fri, Yerevan IV
I strolled through Yerevan, going to parks, the Genocide memorial and other sights. I met an American hitchhiker who was going to Georgia and helped her find the right way.
On Thursday L. drove with me to a place that was a holiday resort for KGB employees in the past – holidays for spies. Nowadays it’s a ghost town so I was very excited.
When we came back we drove through a part of Sukhumi where damages of the war were still clearly visible and I couldn’t believe that people live tehre.
The next day we went to a small reserve and passed a cage with a bear that was super small (maybe 4m² only) and the bear look really sad. In addition I bought a bottle of nice mulberry chacha for family and friends.
Since L. wanted to get on the Ministry building we went there in the late afternoon again.
After dinner I enjoy a nice bath in Black Sea for the last time on this journey.
Day 32-34, August 8th-10th, Sat-Mon, Abkhasia-Kutaisi-Kiev-Warsaw-Berlin
Because I flew on August 9th from Kutaisi via Kiev to Warsaw and then hitchhiked to Berlin, I said good-bye to L. and hit the road back to Georgia. At the border my visa was stamped on its backside and the police officer in Georgia just registered me again – no hassle at all. Then slowly slowly I went to cozy Kutaisi airport. My flight was heading to Warsaw but I had an 8 hour layover in Kiev so of course I went into town.
From Warsaw hitchhiking went pretty bad. I arrived at 3.30pm at the airport and at home at 6am next day – but at least with fresh rolls.
I said good-bye to the nice family and bought food for two nights. I noticed by accident that my Couchsurfing host from 2012 in Saint Petersburg was living in Sukhumi now. But she would return to Sukhumi on Monday. That’s why I decided to relax for two days and therefore to buy a water 5kg mater melon, delicious breads, a beer and cheese.
After the visit of a little church I went to a nearby river and pitched my tent at a place a teenager showed me. There was some kind of natural swimming pool, so it was perfect.
I put my beer and one half of the melon in the water, but unfortunately it was a mistake. Because the second day the teenagers came back and destroyed them…
Day 27-29, August 3rd-5th,Mon-Wed, Sukhumi, Novi Afon
It was quite funny to see L. after such a long time again. She quit her job in S. Petersburg and is teaching English and German via Skype and giving dancing lessons in Sukhumi now.
On Monday she drove me to Novy Afon where I took a look at the monastries and walked around. In the evening we went swimming in great Black Sea.
On Tuesday we drove to the Qeen-Tamar-Bridge outside of Sukhumi and walked around there. The environment was like a little rainforest. In the afternoon I checked out the former building of the Council of Ministers. It is the most distinctive building of the town near the Freedom square. Many entrances are blocked but it was possible to access it via the elevator shaft.
I left Stepanakert to go northbound and from there back to Armenia. Before that I wanted to see Agdam, a town that is officially a military area because it has been completely destroyed in the war and not accessible. I caught a ride with a soldier who was working there and who took me for some money.
Agdam is not comparable to Chernobyl or Pripyat. In the latter buildings are still standing, it’s a ghost town. Whereas in Agdam is destroyed; having some walls standing at the utmost. But the mosque ist still intact. 30,000 people used to live in this town, now it’s only home (a very simple and bad home) to some soldiers and merchants with their animals.
When I arrived in Martakert I didn’t find anyone who would take me further, so I had to walk again. When I passed a fallen electricity pole and a body of an old tank, I decided to pitch my tent there. Some time later a young family passed by and returned trying to convince me to stay with them. It was super nice of them, but I wanted to sleep in my tent.
Day 6, July 13th, Mon, Martakert – Stepanakert
The next day I was taken by a truck and stood on the bed. Since it was a dirt road, the ride was bumpy as hell and I was dropped off in the middle of the forest. While I was walking I noticed many strange insects that somehow flew around without control over their wings. An old couple gave me a ride to to the next town, Heyval. I hoped to be able to buy post cards there, but it turned out the nearest post office was in Stepanakert. So I went back, because it was an important matter for me (though none of them has arrived as of March 2k16). I got a ride with 4 guys of whom one had a machine pistol lying around which was quite bizarre.
In Stepanakert I camped next to a cemetery nearby the WWII monument and the post office was closed due to a national holiday, but open previous day.
In the evening one guy came by who was talking a lot and kind of offered me to stay in his house, but he was strange, so I denied. Later two police men showed up but didn’t care that I would sleep there.
This day I was going to the second breakaway Caucasus Republicx after Nagorno-Karabakh: Abkhazia. Abkhazia is a bit more famous than Artsakh, but only because of war. And its history is quite similar: After the downfall of Soviet Union Abkhazian people and Ossetian people wanted their independence from Georgia, who didn’t want to accept. So from 1992 to 1993 there was a war and most Georgians were expulsed from Abkhazia and in 1994 it declared its independence. In August 2008 war between South Ossetia and Georgia broke out again, Abkhazia played a strategic role and was recognized by Russia after the war. That led to an increasing tourism industry and the currency became Ruble.
I was told that Georgian citizens are not allowed to enter Abkhazia. Though people who I met were angry or sad and often envious that I could go. Because the mountains are near Black Sea and therefore it’s really a nice destination for people who like to stay in hotels or travellers like me.
First I had to go to Zugdidi, where some Germans that I met on the camping ground were going. From there I walked more or less to the border.
You have to show your passport at a Georgian checkpoint although Akhazia is officially still part of Georgia. To enter Abkhazia you need to have a visa that you can apply for online at the MFA and you’ll receive an entrance permit. It took 9 days until I received it.
After the checking of your passport you have to go on foot (or you can take a horse-drawn carriage, but it’s slower) through a demilitarized zone and over a brige over Inguri to Abkhazia. There your passport and the entrance permit is checked and you’re in.
But hitchhiking wasn’t easy although on hitchwiki was written that it was super easy. In fact I made the worst experience. On the one hand I always had to wait a long time and if cars stopped they wanted money and were rude, when it was mentioned that hitchhiking is not about money.
Especially the south of Abkhazia is not sparsely populated and buildings are in a kind of bad state; you can see many destroyed houses at the roadside. I pitched my tent at a river where a drunk ex-police officer who was drunk drove me to. He lurched all the time on the opposite lane but traffic policemen just greeted him friendly when he passed…
Day 24, July 31st, Fri, Lake Ritsa
That day I went to Lake Ritsa that is not only popular for its nice location but also for Stalin’s dacha (Russian summer house).
But before I had to go to Sukhumi, the capital of the Republic of Abkhazia. There I had to change my entrance permission to the visa. Initially I applied for a one month visa, but I could get a 10-day visa, too which was cheaper. This visa is not stuck into the passport.
From Sukhumi a crazy driver from Dagestan (Russian region, Muslim characterized); his driving style was insane like of most Akhazians. He drove fast, at least 100km/h no matter if inside town or not. Then in front of us, a car was overtaken. But the overtaker drove to slow for my driver so he overtook the car that was overtaking the other car. In the end three car were driving next to each other on this two lane road and of course on the opposite lane cars were approaching as well – it was crazy.
On the way to lake Ritsa I then had my worst hitchhiking experience when a typical fat-muscular driver wanted a blow-job in return for a ride. Fortunately some time later a nice Russian family from 4200km far Surgut near Khanty-Mansiysk took me with them. We visited the summer residence of Stalin together and in the evening we went to Pitsunda for dinner and pitching our tents at the beach.
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.
In the morning I tried to get to Svaneti that had been recommended to me by 90% of the people I met. But they also said it was impossible to hitchhike there. But I mean honestly it doesn’t mean anything, since none of them tried – and who would believe it? It worked of course…partly. Till Lentechi it went ok. I met two cool Polish hitchhikers who went in the same direction. They had smaller backpacks so they were walking. But I was more in the mood to sit under a tree and read until a car would pass. Cars from the other direction came from time to time and the after some hours a jeep in my direction as well. A Russian girl and her boyfriend from Oman were sitting inside and some 30 minutes later we the two Polish fellows. Since people cruise through the mountains in Oman as well, it was an awesome ride. The road was even less a road then the one to Shatili and the landscape – just amazing once again. After sunset we arrived in Ushguli, the Russian and her bf went to some hotel and of course the Polish and me pitched our tent on a mountain and ate a small dinner in their tent, because it was quite cold outside.
Day 22, July 29th, Wed, Ushguli-Mestia
I got up early to watch the sunrise, but it was too early the sun didn’t hurry. But by the time I shot about a hundred photos.
Then we were waiting for the Russian and the Omani because initially we wanted to go with them especially because I forgot my map in their car. But they didn’t show up and I didn’t see the car in the village. Other cars weren’t going as well so we decided to go by taxi. But we didn’t pay the normal price, but a third. We went to Mestia to a dirty cheap camping ground, enjoyed a fresh shower, ate together and played cards. It was a nice change to the daily travel.
I didn’t know the reason why I wanted to go to Shatili or how I got to know that special village. But it was fantastic and I haven’t seen something like this before. Georgia can be a really magical country. The street from Chargali to Shatili is more or less just a dirt road that curls over the 2676m high Datvisjvari Pass. I was super lucky to hitch a ride by a truck that even went further to deliver wood. Till the pass we had the Kazbeg in our backs, surrounded by dark clouds. After the pass the rainy clouds caught us and we were surrounded my hundreds of sheep crossing the road for several times, Due to the rain the road because from dirty to very dirty and a bit slippery and the truck was wide whereas the road was narrow. At some points there were slopes to a river on one side and on the other side sharp rubble from above. One time I had to pilot the truck through the rubble – in sandals that I was wearing cleverly.
At some point we bended and there was Shatili. Ich didn’t know how it would look like and was speechless. On the photos that I posted one can imagine a bit. It was raining and I tried to get onto the mountain apartments in sandals. After some minutes a man whose name I forgot shouted at me I should come to his place. He was coach of a box club that is meeting once a year there for some kind of camp. There was no running water, well actually there nothing – just a space on the floor under a roof, but it was enough for me, I was very happy. We drank wine and beer and ate bread with cheese.
Day 20, July 27th, Mon, Shatili-Tskaltubo
In the morning the weather was better. While the boxers were sleeping and strolled through the village, enjoyed the beautiful landscape and then started to go to Svaneti. I thought that it would take long time, to get out of Shatili, but only after like 30 minutes I got a ride to Tbilisi and from there I went to Kutaisi. In one town I could finally get some money as well after having spent four whole days without any money. Two times I caught rides with drunk people, of whom the last ones missed the exit to Kutaisi permanently which made me quite angry. In the end a grandfather with his granddaughter, who is going to Germany for school, took me to Tskaltubo where I slept in the yard of an abandoned school camp building.