‘Welcome to Armenia’ – shouted the officer with the most charming Russian accent after he stamped our passports. That moment I already felt that I was going to like this place and really, Armenia quickly seduced us. Less than an hour after entering the country we already received two huge peaches. We also met the first bicycle tourer that day – Han started his journey a year ago, he’s going in the opposite direction so we could exchange some advice about the upcoming countries.
We wanted to cycle in the forest for a while so we left the main road. A local man advised against it, but the forest path wasn’t too difficult. But the next day our planned route got muddy because of the rain so we had to return to the tarmac road. It was for the best, the main road running next to Azerbaijan has beautiful views and its traffic isn’t bad. While we were cleaning the bikes at a park children gathered around us to ‘help’. They were exhausting, but after that our situation started to improve.
First an Iranian couple asked us to join them in their spontaneous roadside picnic. While we were eating the grilled chicken they already offered us to stay a couple of days in their home in Teheran when we get there. Armenian people were also nice, we were glad that even young people dared to approach us while we stopped. Once we stopped for water at a picnic area and the family that had been eating there immediately started to offer us all sort of food so we joined them. They assured us that it was alright to camp there so instead of the last meters of the climb we pitched our tent at that perfect place with water, fireplace, firewood, benches under a roof, fences to keep the cows outside and gorgeous view (a part of this lake belongs to Armenia, the other to Azerbaijan). Moreover, when the family went home they left us fruit, pastries and drinks.
In the little park we had everything we needed so we stayed for a whole day. During the day people were coming and going. In the evening we were invited to eat sandwiches with three Armenians, the same age as us. After all this free food we seriously considered staying there for weeks, but in the end one day of rest was enough. We had only 500 more meters uphill then the terrain got easier. In the evening we found a similar communal picnic area. Again there was a kind family, they gave us some watermelon. Just to be sure I asked them if it was okay to camp there and they told me that of course. At that point we were already in love with Armenia – beautiful scenery, friendly people, lots of wells and free campings, could it be any better than that?
But at night we woke up to someone opening our tent. The guy told us that it was his territory and we must pay if we sleep there. We knew he was lying and just wanted him to leave so we acted like we were stupid. He gave up quickly, but still it was very disturbing. It’s one thing that he wants to get money out of us, but that he enters our tent is unforgivable. Armenia lost its chance for the golden medal.
The next day we went to lake Sevan through a bearable zigzag road and a 2,5 km long tunnel. The long tunnel was passable, but later we often thought about it, because it seemed like it led us to another world. A world that wants to destroy us and bicycle tourers in general.
Lake Sevan is at nearly 2000 m above sea level. It’s impossible to look away from the wonderful turquoise water and the surrounding mountains with clouds all around them. The water is rather cold, but we went for a swim. While we were rolling next to the lake we tried the famous fish from the lake that tastes like Hungarian smoked bacon and we visited Hayravank monastery. Problems started at night – first Adam had horrible diarrhea then me too. We didn’t move for two whole days after setting camp in the woods near the lake.
The virus came down on us hard, but we cycled on along the lake when we gathered enough energy. But Armenia wanted to ruin us at all costs. When we turned away from lake Sevan we arrived to a visibly poorer part of the country where many children were outside alone. We wanted to avoid them, but one of them punched our bags and two others wanted to take Adam’s sunglasses, he didn’t let them. We cycled up to the next mountain in our way where we checked out a caravanserai. Meanwhile the wind started to blow and as we were going downhill it got so strong that it was impossible to pitch our tent. We had no idea where we would sleep, there weren’t any places protected from the wind. It was already dark when two men stopped us at a car wash. We told them about our problem and they let us stay in their shack. We were so relieved that we accepted their cognac and vodka. The alcohol helped us to warm up and speak Russian fluently.
Although we set off happily and satiated, the wind rose again in the afternoon. It’s worse than hot or cold weather, hunger or tiredness, worse than anything! We can’t do anything against it, it makes pedaling way harder and when it’s this strong we can’t even put up the tent. After the night at the car wash we got braver (or just more desperate) and when it was impossible to go on we asked at a restaurant if we may spend the night there. They asked for some money but let us stay so we slept inside during the windstorm.
In the morning the wind was still blowing. Our situation only got worse with a brutal uphill in front of us. The 14 km long climb on Vorotan pass took us 4 and a half hours because of the bloody headwind. A dog walked all the way up to 2344 m with us. On the top we gave her some food and we separated. We thought that from there we only had to go down, but we were wrong. The wind was unbearable on every uphill and camping was still impossible so we went to a hotel in Sisian and stayed a day to rejuvenate ourselves.
The stupid headwind was still blowing when we continued cycling. We only had to get to Goris, but that 40 km was so much struggle. Though it felt good when an Armenian family from Teheran stopped next to us to give us some fruits and a beer. Goris is a nice town where we could find a hostel where the room was all to ourselves. In the evening we chatted with an Armenian tour guide who told us about the current situation of the country. We learnt that a few months ago the people succeeded to replace the corrupt prime minister after peaceful protests.
Our plan was to take the bus from Goris to the border. Then we saw what ‘bus’ meant. It was a van that didn’t have any space for two bicycles. More climbs with headwind were out of question so we hitchhiked. We didn’t have to wait long, a truck picked us up. We put the bicycles in the back and watched the brutal mountains that we should have crossed from the front seats. Originally the ride was to Kapan but the driver, Roman was so nice that he wanted to take us all the way to the Iranian border. We didn’t want to offend him by refusing the vodka he bought us. Half liter was more than enough, but then he bought another liter and he insisted that we drink the whole bottle. I hate vodka, I hadn’t plan on drinking during this journey, but there was no way back. It improved our mood a lot, in the evening we were singing and playing music in the old Russian Kamaz.
We fell asleep and woke up to police stopping us. I didn’t understand what was happening. They had a problem with us being drunk, but we only wanted to sleep in the truck till morning. I asked the policeman if he wanted money, but instead he wanted 20 minutes with me. No way, fucking asshole. The bikes were off the truck and they took our passports so we had to follow them. Riding the bicycle drunk in the dark ended bad, Adam fell and hurt his foot. We went to one of the men’s house and slept there, me with pepper spray in my hands.
In the morning we could leave, but by then it was over for us, we couldn’t go to Iran with a sprained ankle. We found Roman and asked him to take us to Yerevan after he comes back from Iran. We were afraid that Adam’s left ankle wouldn’t get better for weeks or months so we’d have to fly home. Later the panic let up and Adam realized that he didn’t sprain his ankle, just hit his foot real bad. Hope returned that it will heal in a week. So since we already had a ride arranged, we planned to go to the capital and rest there until it’s needed, then take a bus to Iran. But we were waiting for the truck at the agreed place in vain, it didn’t come. Or probably it came, but the driver didn’t see us.
After spending the night next to the road we re-evaluated our situation. We found a hostel close to the border so we decided on staying there, no need to go back to Yerevan. I don’t know how long it will take, but we’ll stay as long as Adam’s foot heals. We’re at an awesome place in hostel Samuel. The hosts are very helpful, the kids are nice, there are a lot of figs and kittens and we have our own room with toilet, shower and wifi. When we step out of the door we see the border and Iran’s dreary mountains. We won’t let Armenia defeat us. As soon as Adam feels alright, we will roll to the next country.