Karabakh-Armenian frontier, 11.05.2013
We didn’t publish this post earlier since we feared problems with Azerbaijan (we didn’t have our visas yet and police is rogue, they do what they want). The country is in a difficult situation with Armenia and even more so with Karabakh.
From Goris we took off in the morning to see Tatev, a monastery nearby. We went there with the Wings of Tatev, a spectacular cableway over 2 valleys that drops you off pretty much in front of the site and leads you over the ruins of a monk university. The fortified monastery is great, both in terms of beauty (although the church itself is minimalistic in decoration) as in size, there are several buildings in the complex for non religious use that make your fantasy fly! How many movies did we remember while walking though the different rooms, looking out of windows and down from terraces on a beautiful valley with a river and waterfall. In a place like this you suddenly stand in the middle of history, you can touch it.
Back in the car, we started a detour through a place that LP describes as “a country recognised by nobody”. The main reason to see it was curiosity about exactly this feeling. How does a place look like that went through 5 years of civil war until 1994, then existed in complete isolation and is cut off from the world, except from the support it receives from Armenia (that must be limited due to the very limited resources of this country). Well, actually it feels quite – strange. One one side it is completely normal. We drove trough mountains, the few roadsigns are the same, the road from Goris to Stepanakert is actually a bit better then in Armenia. If it wasn’t for a small office and a barrier you wouldn’t even notice the frontier to Armenia. The border police registers you and tells you to see the Foreign Ministry in Stepanakert, the capital 60 km further inland. The road leads through more mountains, some tank memorials, and suddenly you’re in the capital. A very small city, but even though we managed to get lost (also here, almost no roadsigns). Friendly police showed us the way to the Visa office, that was officially closed on Saturday. But we got ours in 10 minutes without too many issues.
Hungry, we went to what LP describes as the best restaurant in town, the “Moskwa”. A spooky place, being the only guests in an elegant restaurant of a micro-capital with obvious limits in choice, the TV blasting out pop music at full volume. A lonely doorman opened the door, a young waiter served us, several other staff passed by from time to time. But it took us 1,5h to eat a steak and a salad. Actually, a micro-steak of approx 5 x 3 cm. But very tasty, as the rest of the food also. We then left quickly, since we wanted to exit Karabakh on the same day and it was already 16:00.
Out of the city we drove towards Agdam, a ghost city destroyed by the war. We had asked at the Foreign Ministry if we could go there but got a very firm “NO!” as a reply. On the road there were police every km. We could only drive by and see the place from afar. No house with a roof, a field full of ruins we saw. Between the road and the town were several tank wrecks and what seemed to be trenches. We drove north, parallel to the cease fire line with Azerbaijan, for almost 1h (video here). Ruins are everywhere. And they are cleaned from every usable material. No doors, windows, roofs, cables, pipes, grids.
After a while the road got worse and worse, until it converted into a mud track. We had to slow down to 20-30km/h, and it became darker and darker as we drove westwards, back to Armenia. The nature is beautiful, untouched mostly, apart from 2 factories, a dam and some villages. We passed a deep gorge (on the pic below check the rocks vs the car!) and drove along a river for a long time. We passed 2 more tank memorials, at one there was a tombstone for a dead soldier, that died only 28 years old. We asked ourselves, what this man had died for, and could get to no other answer than that the land looks like it does now, and not like we will find out once we see Azerbaijan. If we get our visas in Tbilisi! We really hope so.
At 20:00 we passed the border to Armenia. “Border” is wildly exaggerated, there was a barrier, a house, and 3 guys smoking in front of it, one with a badge on his jacket (we assume he was the border authority), and they just winked us through. We could have saved the 6000 AMD for the visa and spent them on food with the locals. Although, we had seen no possibility for this expense on the road. Right after the border the mud track goes up into the mountain. We had no clue how long it would have taken to get to Lake Sevan, but it was already too dark to move on. We turned around, drove back to the border and asked the 3 guys if we could camp somewhere. The “Ohne Wörter Buch” (a book full of images of useful things you need on the road when you can’t speak the local language) we got from our friend Timo some years ago was of great use, thanks mate! The guys were very friendly, led us to a meadow down the road, close to the river, and assured us there was no shooting, no danger, no robberies. We also cleared the camping site with a local woman that offered us konak, that we had to decline since every minute the light got less. She explained us that we were camping in front of a school and was shocked to hear we wanted to sleep outside, since it was cold. Finally, in 20 mins our tent was ready, we got water from the river, and food was on it’s way. Together with our last bottle of wine that we brought from Madrid, a Plavac from Peljesac (Croatia) that we had brought 5-6 years ago, we dined in the dark, with the occasional lightning promising a rainy night. And indeed, as we had just packed everything into the car and gotten ready for sleeping the rain came down, and big time. Our tent did a great job, not 1 drop of water got through, and it is a cheap tent. We both woke up several times at night, wondering if the tent would resist or if we would be washed into the river.
Trip data (Day/Total)
– Km driven: 295/10.212
– Hrs driving: approx 9,5h/-
– Diesel l/100km: 8,4/9,6