Armenia

Yerevan (Armenia), 08.05.2013

In 3,5 weeks of traveling today has been the first bad day, from beginning to end. It all started in the hotel in Tbilisi, where we received three bags of laundry that we had to undo, fold and pack into our bags, in the dining room since the hotel had no elevator and carrying all the stuff to the fourth floor only to carry it down again was no option. When we checked out the big surprise came: the agreed rate for two nights doubled! Our first rip off, by the sinister hotel owner, a fat guy with no manners, that started shouting at Helena in Georgian. We packed and were ready to go but the discussion kept going on. Then he wanted to charge us extra for the credit card payment. And then, miracle!, the credit card machine didn’t work and he wanted to take me in his car to some other place to pay. No way, my friend! We picked up some cash, paid and left, with 1h delay. And it was raining.

We had to organize another delivery address in Tbilisi for some shipments we need to receive. Fortunately we thought of the travel agency close to the Azeri embassy, that had helped us the day before. We drove there and they were very helpful again. Thanks also to Ben from www.packlink.es for helping us out in a tricky situation! Talking to them we discovered that the payment for the Azeri visa had to be done at a specific bank close to Freedom Square, so we drove there to pay. And another hour was lost. And finally, Helena got harassed by some gipsy kids in a “supermarket” that was far from super (no water, dubious food, unfriendly staff).
Pretty pissed we left Tbilisi, trying to find the right road for Yerevan. Since, as I mentioned already the other day, road sings are a Fata Morgana in Georgia, we missed the ring road and half an hour later got to the border. The wrong one, with Azerbaijan! So, another 30 mins of pothole country road later, we finally got to the right border, with Armenia. It was still raining.

The Georgian controls were easy, the police friendly. Then came Armenia. The policeman at the passport control seemed to come from the Soviet Union with his uniform and huge hat. After passport control we were greeted by a radar camera (We’re not sure who is supposed to exceed speed limits between border and customs…). We were sent back to the “border agency” hut, where we had to pay USD 50 for some papers for the car and USD 5 for agency fees. The place and procedure had a slightly shady touch. The Real Madrid jokes that helped in Turkey and Georgia didn’t work. But I was asked, presenting my German passport and Spanish car documents, why I had left such a great country like Germany. For a second I thought to answer sincerely. But this is not the place for an honest discussion. Here you just want to get out.

With the various papers in hand we could pass the border and enter Armenia. Only to be stopped 2m after the border where we had to buy a car insurance. Another USD 10 later we were finally on our way. It was 17:00 and reaching Yerevan should have been possible easily, being just 200 km away.

But not on Armenian roads. If roads in Georgia are bad, in Armenia they are a nightmare, potholes 20cm or deeper. And tons of them. I’d like to tell you if the countryside is beautiful or not. But I can’t, since driving here consists of constantly scanning the 10m in front of you to identify the next hole, sudden elevation or unpaved road. Roadsigns are unknown of, we got lost multiple times on what is marked as a “highway” on our map but in reality is a countryside road. Nobody speaks English, and we have no clue of Armenian or Russian.

The few things we saw made us consider turning around and driving back to Georgia. Soviet industrial complexes falling to pieces. Concrete buildings of extreme grey ugliness. Ruined towns. Dirt. As soon as the beautiful nature gets inhabited or people construct something, it gets ugly and sad. One thing is sure, these eastern countries make you dislike socialist governments big time, not to speak of what is on offer further left. The barbarity created here and leaving a lasting legacy cannot be forgiven.

DSC_0004Then we got stopped by a police patrol. “Hello” “[something in russian], machine passport, driving paper”. We handed the car papers and the intl. driving license. “[something in russian] linie [something in russian] problem”. “I don’t understand what the problem is”. I was told to follow into the police car, where another officer with a soviet hat was waiting. They had a camera in the police car and filmed our car. “[Something in Russian] linie.” “What is the problem with the line?” “Da, proooblem! [Something in russian], straf!” “I don’t understand, show me the video with my car and the linie.” They showed me recordings of them driving around, but not of our car crossing any lines on the road. Then came a moment of silence. “American?” “Spain.” Turist?” “Yes, tourist. We go to Yerevan” “OK, you go.”

A couple of learnings: don’t speak Russian, then there is no way of communicating, and that makes them helpless. Spain is a country nobody has heard of here, and it doesn’t seem to be considered rich enough to rip you off. Being stupid is very helpful. Not bending over for every police man makes life complicated for them.

These guys wanted cash from us with the excuse that we had crossed a dotted line that separates the two sides of the road. Ridiculous, given that road signs and marks are practically non existent, that everybody is constantly avoiding holes and drives slalom, that with rain you shower all the people walking on the roadside if you don’t constantly cross the (theoretical) line.

DSC_0019Anyway, it started to become dark and Yerevan was still far away, and it kept raining, and the road got no better. We skipped all places we wanted to see, since it was very late. We got flashed for speeding at 90km/h, while crazy Armenians overtook us constantly. And then we reached Yerevan finally, at 21:30. But where to go? We can’t read Armenian, and also in town there are almost no roadsigns. Patience was running out.

We finally made it to the hotel we had booked. Nice hotel, big room, clean. But the Internet doesn’t work. Half an hour negotiating with the “Internet engineer”, no result. We gave up since we were hungry. Into the car, back downtown, find food. At a major road we turned to the right, following roadside instructions. The police stopped us. Papers. “[something in russian]” “Hello, I don’t understand.” “Turist?” “Yes, tourist. Where is Teryan st.?” “OK, go. Back, lievo.”

Some döner and shawarma with Pepsi saved us from starvation. We also saw plenty of huge black SUVs, luxury stores, bling. I guess we’ll find a lot of contrasts to what we’ve seen today once we start discovering the city tomorrow. Back at the hotel the Internet is still not working, then it does, then it goes down again. Time to go to sleep. Tomorrow is another day, we’ll recharge our optimism over night.

Trip data (Day/Total)

– Km driven: 362/9.501

– Hrs driving: approx 6,5h/-

– Diesel l/100km: 8,6/9,7

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