Day 37 (2): 1000 kilometres, 23 hours, 7 modes of transportation, 3 countries, 1 exhausted traveller
Yerevan Travel Blog› entry 52 of 260 › view all entries
May 12th, 2010 – by: Biedjee
Armenia is an interesting country. It has existed as a country on and off for the past 2000 years or so. In 200 AD it became the first Christian nation in the world, well before the Romans/Byzantines got the idea to do the same. Throughout its turbulent history the country has been part of the Persian, Russian and Ottoman empires, before the Russians and Ottomans decided to share the country between them. The western part of Armenia, including its old capital and the holy Mount Ararat, are now in present day Turkey, while the Karabakh region in the east was given to Azerbaijan during Soviet times.
Like Ireland, its biggest export product are people. There are almost twice as many Armenians living abroad as there are in Armenia, a diaspora triggered by the well-publicised genocide by the Ottomans during WWI and several other ethnic disputes that happened in the decades before.
Some famous Armenian diasporans include Cher, Andre Agassi, Charles Aznavour and rock band System of a Down. And like similar countries, the Armenian economy thrives almost solely on the money sent home by distant relatives.
The ride was relatively comfortable, but unfortunately I was hardly able to communicate with either the driver or my five fellow travellers. The car was a large Chrysler, which had been amended to run on natural gas, a cheap fuel alternative also quite popular in Holland. In Holland LPG installations are subject to stringent safety regulations and frequent inspections, but I doubt that is the case with Armenian cars, most of which have an improvised Tim the toolman Taylor LPG installation in the boot.
When we stopped for fuel shortly after crossing the border I marvelled at the rickety installation at the filling station and decided it was best not to pay too much attention to either the hissing of the fittings, the smell of gas in the car or my fellow passengers lighting one cigarette after the other.
The road into Armenia, crossing the Debed canyon, was nothing short of stunning and I was already looking forward to returning to this area later this week to visit some of the ancient monasteries that can be found here.
Some 60 kilometres before Yerevan my fellow passengers got off and the driver told me to get off as well and take travel the last bit by marshrutka. Oh no, not this again! The driver made sure I didn't have to pay the marshrutka as well though, and as it turned out the marshrutka travelled a lot faster than the taxi.
Marshrutka drivers are known for their reckless driving style and as we swerved around pot holes, speeding dangerously close past the steep drops into the canyon.
I arrived in Yerevan 2 pm local time - 23 hours after I had left Trabzon. I checked in at the Envoy hostel, which is the only genuine backpacker hostel in the whole Caucasus region. It was started by Australians (of Armenian descent, of course) and offers clean and comfortable dorms and rooms, as well as a wide array of tours. It turned out to be a great base from which to explore Armenia and although I initially had only planned on staying one or two nights here, I ended up staying four.
Yerevan is an interesting city. The centre has a circular shape, where the main thoroughfares are circles or semicircles, and the streets in between are laid out according to a grid pattern. Very original layout and almost impossible to get lost.
I immediately liked the place.
But I guess the Beirut comparison is more because of the seemingly liberal attitude in a relatively conservative country. Armenia is deeply religious, yet walking the streets you see miniskirts and high heels everywhere - it is like Ukraine without the blondes!
It was also interesting to see my old company Orange being so well-represented in Armenia.
Back in the hostel I met a British guy who had been doing almost the same trip as I am, only in opposite direction. We were able to exchange tips and experiences. I must say that after hearing about his experiences in Iran and Central Asia, I can't wait. But first there is the Caucasus to explore. So far it looks like I have managed to repel the Caucasus challenge - I have 12 days to get to Iran. Should be feasable, me thinks. The future is looking very bright (and Orange?) indeed!
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