About a beautiful view, a mean swindle, a really creepy sleeping place and an apparently never-ending uphill with a peak.
Thursday, 12th of July 2012
By bike from Yerevan to Iran part one. I thought it would never happen. Everywhere we read about it. They said it was visible from nearly all parts of Armenia. After nearly two weeks of travelling the country we finally saw it: the Mount Ararat, the highest mountain of Turkey and a very important place for the Armenians. There it was, the snowy peak, just on our side. It was so close and it looked impressive. We had it on our right side during the flat way south. Yes, you read that right – the flat way. The 60 kilometers from Yerevan south were the first and only flat ones. Unfortunately the wind blew a little from the front, but we did not care too much.
Making money with tourists
We stopped at an auto gas station to fill our empty water bottles. When a man invited us for a tea we happily accepted his offer. After some hours on the saddle we could really need a break. We had our tea and the man disappeared. In the end the waitress wanted to charge us 1000 Dram for two cups of tea. We felt that that was unfair and in no time she indulged. 500 would be alright. I have no idea what the normal price would be, I don’t expect more than 200 or 300 Drams, but we ended up paying 350 – all our coins.
Unfortunately we did not get any water there, so we hoped for the next petrol station. We were not lucky. There was none. When the night came we were already on the way to our first mountain pass after Yerevan – the Thukhmanuk pass. There were watermelon stands all over and thirsty as I was I wanted to buy them all. But how should we transport an entire watermelon? Roberto had already had a broken spoke and all our baggage was packed above the back wheel. Just when I decided that I would get one anyway on the next stand there was no more coming. Isn’t it always like this? The late bus arrives just when you decided to walk, the rain stops when you finally stopped, opened your bags and started looking for your rain jacket and the last watermelon stand is somewhere behind you when you decided to buy one.
A really weird sleeping place
The area around us was dry, stony and full of shrubbery. I did not feel too good about camping in the high grass because of all the dead snakes that we have seen on the way and because of the scorpions that live between the rocks. Just in time we saw an abandoned house in the wasteland. Great! We got off the track towards the house and entered. There were some empty food bins on the floor and a fireplace with ashes. Even a kind of table was constructed. Then Roberto discovered the door to another room.
There was a bed on the sheer cement. Next to the bed Roberto discovered an old jacket and a pair of shoes, as if somebody has just gone to bed, just – there was nobody in it.
It was a bit spooky indeed, but we both decided to ignore that feeling and wait until the tenant comes back. I cleaned my rusty chain that had suffered in the rainy week in Joseph’s garden and Roberto prepared dinner. It was getting darker and darker and after sunset we decided to get our camping mats and sleeping bags inside the bedroom, though the other room was full of gravel. Still I was worried. How may the bed’s owner react if he comes back to his place in the middle of the night and sees some bicycles in his entrance hall and a sleeping couple lying on his floor?
We were lucky – nobody came to disturb us. That was definitely one of the weirdest sleeping places we have ever picked.
The next morning started hard – uphill. We had to climb up 1000 meters of altitude and I was completely out of training after a week of laptop-work in Yerevan. After five kilometers my neck started aching. This problem has been following me for months now and I got used to it. After another five kilometers my right knee creaked and after another five I suffered from cramps in the thighs, thirst and very bad humor. Actually Roberto suffered more of the last one because he was the one to listen to all my complains. Finally I found a place with shadow, parked the bike and sat down on the floor like a little kid. I was grumpy with myself and my poor condition. After nearly 10 months on the road I had been expecting more from myself. Roberto tried to cheer me up but in my sulkiness I decided that it was absolutely impossible for me to climb all the way up.
Iranian breakfast in Armenia
Roberto finally made me understand that the longer we sit and wait the sooner the midday sun would come and burn us. Still grouchy I packed my bike. I was just walking it back to the street when a group of Iranian truckers stopped just next to us. They invited us for bread with honey and tea. This was exactly what I needed to be in a good mood again, food and company. If I am within nice people and listen to their laughter – how could I remain grumpy?
If the truckers had had space for our bikes I would have loaded them immediately. In the end I think it was a good thing that they had no space, otherwise we would have missed a lot of beautiful spots, good people and senses of achievement.
So we kept cycling and sweating in the midday sun. Katibi, one of the drivers, was my hero of the day. He had spontaneously invited us to visit him in Tabriz and gave me 1 ½ Liters of water. We climbed straight up and for the first kilometers I kept my great mood. Then the road got steeper and steeper. I kept complaining and made more and more breaks to avoid cramps on the serpentine road. In Turkey there was always a sign on top of the pass to celebrate the amount of meters climbed up and to be sure that from now on the road went downhill. Not so in Armenia. We could just guess.
As all passes in this world this one was not endless either (even though it felt for a while as if it was). Oh how I enjoyed the way down! Sure, there were still some hills to climb, but nothing serious compared to what we had just managed.
My mood was wonderful, I kept smiling and singing and all the bad-temperedness from the morning was like blown away. I was still hungry for watermelon but instead we stopped with a nice woman and bought half a kilo of apricots at her stand. Fruit is pretty cheap in summer and apart we got some apples and a few extra apricots as a gift. I was very happy to fill my water bottles at the public tap.
We cycled through Areni, the wine village into the canyon of the Arpa river. Left and right we spotted the most beautiful places to pitch our tent, but we did not want to miss the afternoon for cycling, because it was a bit easier to cope with the sun than at noon. So we went on till Yeghegnadzor, where we met two French cyclists. They were doing a two-week Armenian tour and looked pretty sporty. I secretly looked down to my own legs and spotted more fat than muscles.
Well, the next mountain pass was not far – time for more training. We said goodbye and finally bought some food. There has not been a single shop to buy bread for a day and we were happy to buy bread, cookies, vegetables and some breaded meatballs. Boy was I hungry after all that exercise.
So we wanted to go on cycling but as we have learned on the way: in the rock-strewn mountains it can be very hard to find a spot that is invisible at night, has not too high grass (snakes) not to many stones (sleeping quality, scorpions and tent’s ground sheet) and has a floor soft enough to put the tent pegs. To avoid another night in a weird abandoned house we camped in the outskirts of the town behind a nice mechanic’s house.