Sunday, 24 May 2015

ARMENIA - ARMENIA

Monday, March 16th 2015

We entered Armenia under a fine rain. The Custom Officer, after examining for a while our passports (I have lots of stamps from my previous trips in Central America) pointed at our bikes : I have a last question, just for my own curiosity please. WHY do you NEED to do THIS? (By "this", he meant to live miserably, no home, no comfort, no income, so exposed to all kinds of risks ....)
We bursted to laugh, that was such a lovely question.
At last, after hearing our short explanation, he said " there is a quote from "Rambo III": God must love crazy people, he makes so many of them"!!!! Haha such a lovely quote too. I started to like Rambo (j/k)




A dog came, Alessio as usual, played with him. And as usual, we had big trouble to get rid of him. It was not that we didn't like him: he was so cute, but it was simply not possible. And he could be in danger strolling along our bikes on the road. In any case, at some point, we have to separate and it would be better for him to stay in his daily environment. Alessio tried to give him food to slow him down but he was so quick. He tried to bring him back to the border, ask someone to keep him for 2 minutes but twice he broke the lace. The third time, a soldier had to stand between him and our way, almost blindfolded him and talked to him while we got away. We heard him barking, fighting with the soldier for a moment. Poor thing!!!!

It kept raining for the whole day, the road was uphill, with a river below. The bank was also stiff and narrow, impossible to find a place to set the tent. Finally, around 5PM, we found a spot: a kind of balcony where people could have a tea in summer time. It was a bit windy but the place was dry, flat: perfect!

We started to unpack and to set the tent when two cute little girls, a set of twin, arrived with a joyful "hello". Maria and Merry were 12, from a big family of 6 children. After a while, we noticed that the girls didn't like us to stay there,  trying to tell us that there would be strong wind lots of wild dogs....We just laughed " We are used to all that. Anyway, we have no choice!". At one point, we saw that one girl was missing: she went home without saying goodbye. Less then 5 mn later, she appeared, with a big teapot " Our Mom prepared it for you. And our Dad said you could stay in our home. Please, come, we love guests!!!". They jumped out of their feet when after some hesitation, we said yes. We spent a lovely evening playing Uno with them. The two girls were so sweet, always attentive to what they could help, caring and smart. They were like our first ray of sunlight in Armenia! Thank you sweeties to make our first day so memorable!



The next day would be remembered as one of the hardest days of our trip. The road went up and up non stop and the weather was bad for most of the day. We got completely wet from the rain and snow and from sweating too. We were exhausted but the roads, no mercy, continued higher and higher. 


When I thought I could not go on anymore, when I hoped it would be the last pass before going down, I looked up and saw the road, so high in the mountain in front of me, and knew that there wouldn't be relief nor rest before I would reach it.

And there was no time to complain, the only thing to do was to keep the breathing rhythm and to pedal: each move inexorably would get me closer to the top and at the end, I would win! The compensation for all the efforts was those beautiful sceneries, luxury green, totally under the white snow or dry vegetation, depending on the valley where we were. It was stunning so see how things could change from one valley to another. 
We ended the day after almost 8h of riding, 78km and 1500m of difference of height. That was a day!!! The owner of the empty house where we asked to stay in, not only allowed us but hurried himself to repair the broken window, to check the electricity and didn't leave before being sure that we were all alright. We were so lucky because it snowed again that night.



We arrived to Yerevan at noon to realize that Tim and Karina had just left in the morning, we were sad to have missed them just for some hours. We missed them even more when we arrived to the same hostel and took their very same beds in the dormitory for the night.
Following their advice, we went to "Caucasus tavern" not far, to have a good Armenian meal for not too expensive.




In Yerevan, once again, we experienced the Armenian generosity. As my cycling trousers and Alessio's shoes rain covers got more or less torn, we wanted them to be repaired. The price first announced was around 24 euros, decent but simply too much for our budget. So we decided to simply repair my trousers, which was cheap, only 6 euros and which was really a priority. But then, 2minutes later, the two ladies from the shop went knocking on our door "you are visiting our country and we feel very bad to not help you. Give us your shoes covers, we will do it for free"!!! We were stunned!!! And we were even more amazed when we saw the final work: purely and simply perfect!

During our stay, we never ceased to be surprised by Armenian generosity and hospitality. Shop keepers gave us coffee, biscuits, ironworkers spent 30mn repairing our bikes and didn't want to hear a word about money, people invited us home "it's so cold outside" when we simply asked for some water...The evening spent near Sevan lake with Vlad, Nana, his lovely wife, Sophia, his sweet mom and Aleq, his cute 8 month old boy, would stay in our mind for ever as one of our best memories of Armenia.





I promised myself to continue my Russian class just to be able to be in touch with them. Before our stay, we knew very little things about this little country and we congratulated ourselves everyday of choosing this route. 

We planned to stay in Yerevan for two nights but then, circumstances made us stay for much longer! While walking on the North Avenue - the most modern area of Yerevan, we bumped into two Argentinian hitch-hikers, Andres and Romina, selling postcards on the streets.



We learnt that they also knew the three Latvian cyclists that we crossed already in Tbilisi and Michael, that we crossed in Greece. The world is really small :-). We felt so good with them that we decided to extend our stay. By chance, Narek, a photo-journalist dropped by and without hesitation said "of course you can stay at my place".
Which we did and we had wonderful time.



Yerevan has something in the air that makes you love the city. We liked so much wandering around, Republic square, North Avenue, Vernissage, Cascade...






Sunday, March 22rd

We had another memorable day cycling to Garni with a dozen of Armenians, members of Velo Club in Yerevan. We started the day joyfully, the road was VERY uphill, it was hard to follow other mountain bikes with our heavy horses of steel but we were light-hearted and the weather was so nice. The Stones Symphony was just simply breath-taking and mind-blowing, we never saw such a wonderful creation of nature (even though we have apparently something similar in France too).






It was too late to go to Geghard as planned, so we started cycling around 3PM. We first longed the valley, so beautiful. But after that, a very stiff road to a very high pass was waiting for us. Most of us, except Alessio, couldn't cycle up to the top and had to push the bikes, which I did for the last 200m. But it was just the appetizer!!!! When we got to the big road, it started raining hard then snowing like crazy. It wouldn't have been a big problem if we had brought our warm clothes/rain coat with us. You see, we were out for a fun day, we only brought very few things with us. It was getting dark and darker, cold and colder, the snow made the road uphill difficult and downhill dangerous. We were frozen to the bones but had no other options than to pedal, quick enough to warm ourselves up, slow enough to be safe from the dark, slippery road and crazy cars... Fortunately enough, Alessio brought a down jacket for me, when I thought of this guy in short and thin jacket, I suffered for him....
The last part of the trip back, when we got to the city, was ensured by public transportation: we just waved at a passing tram, the driver must have had so pity of our miserable look....

The other members arrived, one after another, about 20mn later. In fact, they made an extra stop for vodka on the way. Next time, we should bear it in mind :-) 

I very often mentioned the uphill roads in this post. Well, in Armenia, it's difficult to have a flat road. So, it was, once again, on slopes of 9% and more, and with opposite wind for more challenge, that we went to visit Sevan lake - this "piece of sky fallen on earth among the mountains" (Marxim Gorky). The view was worth the efforts.


Seven lake is among the biggest freshwater lakes in altitude and sheltered (roots of) one of the oldest monasteries in Armenia. 



Being the first Christian nation in the world, Armenia has lots of churches, monasteries everywhere. So we couldn't help but went to Echmiadzin - the religious center of Armenia. We were fortunate enough to visit it at the first day of the Holy Week before Easter.



 Then headed to Khor Virap, an another important monastery, up in a hill with view to Ararat on clear days



Armenian may never get over their lost of Ararat. This mountain is their symbol, their love, their pride but also their grief as now it stands on Turkish land. The first thing I ever knew about Armenia is the genocide during the WWI of which preparations for the 100th anniversary were organized during our stay. Everywhere was this "Forget me not" violet flower and this slogan "I remember and I demand"- as the Turkish government never recognized the genocide committed against Armenians.


We put one "Forget me not" on one of my bags, to show our solidarity to this long time suffered people. 

We often forget that Armenia is still at war. With Azerbaijan. We realized it when Narek, our host in Yerevan, told us how often soldiers die, on both side, how his brother lost his sleeps and got depression when he was sent to some very exposed area during the military service. We felt it when a young 19 years olds congratulated us because we wouldn't go to Azerbaijan (a matter of time and visa): they just killed my friend yesterday. I hate them. We tried to tell him that Armenians soldiers kill Azeris soldiers too and that war was more a political matter and Azeris must be as nice as Armenians.... But we also understand that when war and lost touched one that close, it would be difficult to be impartial.

Let's change topic for something more fun: in Yerevan, we assisted a friendly football match between ex-team of URSS and the rest of the world". It was a great occasion to watch our childhood football stars, from Dasaev to Papin to Gattuso and Materazzi - that French never forgive (j/k). For 500 AMD (1€) per person , it was worth every cent of it :-)





We had great time in Armenia and really felt in love with this country. Instead of the 10 days planned, we stayed for more than 3 weeks and enjoyed every moment of it. Even the mountains always reserved some exhausting challenges for our legs and minds.






Monday, April 6th, our last day in Armenia. We cycled for almost 70km with more than 1500m of difference in height, "tamed" the 2535m Meghri pass










set our tent in a unused railway tunnel at 2 km from the border.



Here we enjoyed some vices for the last time before long: a big dinner with grilled pork and vodka!!!!!


Goodbye Armenia! Iran, here we come!!!



Stay tuned for new adventures and discoveries!!!

2 comments:

  1. Stunning nature scenes - the world is beautiful ! I so love the lake with snow mountain as background. Seem like people elsewhere are so eager to see foreigners than Parisian tourists saturated city.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow! Grandma' s stuffing it looks so yummy and mouth watering. The remake of grandma's stuffing looks easy and simple to make. Thank you for your post.

    ReplyDelete