Into Armenia

Akhaltsikhe, Georgia –> Yerevan, Armenia

As much as I enjoyed meeting and cycling with Zbyna and Lucy, we had slightly different plans–they were waiting in Akhaltsikhe to meet friends (they were bringing spare cycle parts), and I was anxious to cycle to Armenia since I have limited time to get to Baku. And so, we parted ways in Akhaltsikhe after some errands and a funny encounter with a drunk guy who offered us cha-cha (homemade wine).

To Armenian border
To Armenian border
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Panda says: hobbits were in Georgia!
Panda says: hobbits were in Georgia!
Georgia baker
Georgia baker

From Akhaltsikhe I rode about 20km, camped by the river, and the next morning I was off early hoping to get close to the Armenian border by the end of the day. In the afternoon, I stopped for supplies at the town of Akhalkalaki. First stop, ice cream at a small shop where (I think) the lady offered coffee and a shower (in need of more Russian…). I declined since it was too hot for coffee and I wanted to keep moving. Second stop, market for rice and locally made chocolate covered peanuts! The shop manager spoke a little English, and he asked me where I was going. When I told him Yerevan, then Georgia again and then Azerbaijan, he frowned. I found out then that he was actually from Armenia (‘this is Armenian part of Georgia’, he says, ‘many Armenians live here’), and I just made the mistake of mentioning Azerbaijan. Oops…Since the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict is such a sensitive topic at the moment, its really not a good topic of conversation. I quickly left and stopped again at the next fruit stand which was also run by an Armenian family — this really is the Armenian part of Georgia! Finally I left town and camped in a nice grove of trees 10 km before the border.

railway car bridge
railway car bridge
awesome castle
awesome castle
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To Armenia! Why Armenia? Why not Armenia?! For one, new countries are always exciting. For two, since several of my friends are Armenian-American, I wanted to understand more of Armenia’s history and culture, and its long-standing conflict with its neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan.

armenia!
armenia!

The border took a little longer than expected, since the ATM didnt work and I had a little run around trying to change money. But otherwise it was smooth: the visa was for 21 days and cost $7. At every border it always funny to see the perplexed faces on the officers when they see my US passport. Its as if they’re asking ‘Are you REALLY from America?’

I cycled to Yerevan for two days alone, enjoying the solitude and chance to reflect. Since my Russian is still lacking, I did not really speak with locals, and so I became more of an observer in Armenia. I was told that ARmenia is quite a poor country. Because the borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed, and the border with Iran is so remote and mountainous, almost everything into Armenia must come through Georgia, and Georgia isnt particularly rich either, yet. I could see Armenias poverty as I was riding along. There is not much farmland or development, villages are small and spread out, and most of the scenery was a lot of rocks and lacking trees.  Also, you cant find internet anywhere and there were a whole lot of potholes.

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camping at old soviet bunkhouse
camping at old soviet bunkhouse
car mechanic
car mechanic

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After 200 km of undeveloped landscape, it was quite  a surprise to enter Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia. It was like a different world–modern, developed, the roads are good, and there were actual painted lanes on the roads (not since Turkey)!

entering yerevan
entering yerevan

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Couchsurfing again didnt work out in Yerevan, so I rode into the city, wondering where I would sleep for the night, when…cyclists! Two cyclists again. They were two Iranian guys (Mehdi and Mahyar) who were cycling for 2 weeks from Tabriz, Iran to Batumi, Georgia. We agreed to ride together to Tbilisi, Georgia.

meeting Mahyar and Mehdi in Yerevan
meeting Mahyar and Mehdi in Yerevan

From here on was quite the experience with Mehdi and Mahyar for several days. They hardly spoke English, but they were fun guys. It was quite incredible that we were able to communicate and share many laughs despite the language barrier. Sometimes Mahyar would yell in Farsi (Persian) and I would yell back in Cantonese.

After meeting in the streets of Yerevan, Mehdi, Mahyar, and I biked around Yerevan for a bit, then hung out at a local park where I stopped to fix my brakes and we met several exchange students. Two of the students were from Hong Kong, and they were pleasantly surprised to find out I was also a Hong Konger. Mehdi and Mahyar met some other Iranians, and the other Iranians invited us to the disco that night. We said we would join them when we were finished.

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My brakes seemed to be acting funny since the crazy dirt road to Akhaltsikhe. The brake pads were also severely worn, and I didnt have enough spare ones. Mehdi and I worked on my brakes for awhile, but it still didnt seem quite right. Just then, several Armenian guys biked past, and offered to help. I told them I wanted to change my brake cable and change the brake pads. They made a few phone calls to the local bike shop, and to my luck, they said they would keep the bike shop open for me at 10pm!

Brake pads caput

Brake pads caput

At the bike shop, the mechanic was an old Armenian guy who seemed a bit drunk, but we had a lot of good laughs and he liked being called “Master”. Finally by 11pm, my brakes were fixed and I got all the spare parts I needed. The bike shop was so nice they didnt charge me for the repair (welcome to Armenia! they said.) We were too tired for the disco by then, so we just found camp on a side street and called it a night.

Yerevan Bike mechanic 'master' and others

Yerevan Bike mechanic ‘master’ and others

bike shop at 11pm
bike shop at 11pm
Yerevan city camping

Yerevan city camping

 

2 Thoughts on “Into Armenia

  1. Peach on June 4, 2013 at 5:05 pm said:

    I was just thinking of you, my dear Minwah, as I so frequently do, when BAM, new post! It’s great to see the return of the “i”, a letter that is so absent from Turkish keyboards. Love the railway car bridge and camping in the Soviet bunkhouse. And I get to comment before the spammers. Weeeeeee.

    Keep on truckin’, little panda.

  2. I cleaned out all the spam and add some spam blocking tools. Let me know if there are any more problems.

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