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The Christians of pothole land
d_Armenia-Karabakh

The Christians of pothole land

2018. március 26.

I don’t think anyone could have discovered Georgia more properly. Maybe somewhat differently but not better for sure. So after over 24 days, I decided it’s time to move on to Armenia.

img_2900_1.jpgThe coast of the Sevan lake

Armenia was the first officially Christian country, that means I’ll have more mountainside churches to battle. Templed out! I can’t say I have an ambivalent relationship with religion. I think it’s net bullshit. If someone has a belief, I can understand it. But to have philosophical discussions about God in 2017 within any religious frames, is just total nonsense.

pray.jpgHe is not ridiculous, but still...

Double or nothing

I was kinda shitting my pants on the border, because I’ve heard, that the border patrol there doesn’t hesitate to make your life difficult, and I wanted to start using my second passport with the Iranian and Pakistani visas.

img_2880.jpgThis is not the border, but it might as well be

I was handing my passport to the agent with shaky hands but a broad, determined smile on my face. And he immediately started browsing it through looking for my Georgian exit stamp. He asked me if I have a second passport, I told him yes, I showed it, and he said okay. I got my stamp, and I was in!  

First thing I noticed that the asphalt was no longer. Finally my Heidenau K60 tires get a proper meaning to their existence! Riding your bike in the mountains is great, but on dirt road and rubble is much better!

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Armenia is legitimately tiny. A lot smaller than Georgia, about ⅓ the size of Hungary, so I thought I will need about 7-8 days to discover it all.

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I planned to stop in Dilijan first, and I checked the Haghpat and the Haghartsin monasteries since they were on my way. The churches themselves weren’t particularly exciting, but boy, that landscape is worth all the prayers! I was literally screaming from pleasure standing on my bike! My liturgy wasn’t that holy, but my way of expressing my belief in riding was 100% more legit and honest than any of those black-robed priests’.

In Dilijan I had a huge dinner in a restaurant called Kchuch, then first thing in the morning, I got myself a sim card to ease my internet addiction. Then I headed towards Yerevan.

Dilijan is just about a 100 km away from Yerevan, and since that would mean pretty much half the country, I decided to take a detour and ride around lake Sevan. This added 300 km to my trip, and I can’t say I enjoyed every moment of it. I kinda felt like Viktor Orbán on his mini train with a stupid grin on his face, except I was totally out of my mind shouting FUUUUUCK! FFFFUUUUUCK! The first one was for the landscape, the second for the temperature. This lake is on 1700 m altitude. It’s cold there.

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These weren’t even potholes anymore, rather holes with a few road fragments here and there. Mountains on my left, the lake on my right, and the peak of Ararat in the distance behind the lake. The GPS took me into the literal nothing, and I was just about to shit my pants being lost, when I got to the main road, and I made my way into Yerevan among the autumn yellow trees.

The whole experience was cathartic. Even the post soviet depression was rather romantic than miserable. You can see 30-40 years old trucks on roadworks everywhere. And roadworks are literally everywhere - just like in Georgia. Roadworks and churches on mountains.

img_2884.jpgSoviet truck show

Who is an ‘80s kid like me probably shares my view, but I simply can’t feel excitement about these terrible communist relics. I always understood the enthusiasm for this romantic depression coming from Westerners, and now I was actually feeling it myself for my own biggest surprise.

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Radio Yerevan

I don’t know how you are with this, but since I was a little boy I’ve been intrigued to travel and see places that had those weird names that you’d come across. Yerevan wasn’t only a fixation from my elementary school years. In secondary we listened to a lot of Nina Hagen. And though I think African Reggae is her best hit, Radio Yerevan is also in the top ones. So when I was 16 I was daydreaming about listening to Radio Yerevan in Yerevan, and a mere 24 years later, that just happened. Maybe I’m on the B side yet, but my first thing was to check in at the hostel, and I haven’t even removed my jacket, I was already listening to it! And I was shouting loudly “turn on the machine this is radio Yerevan” - but only in my head. I’m too old and discreet to go all in.

 nationalism on low self-esteem

Thing is, nations in Eastern Europe, we hate each other. But here in the Caucasus, people hate each other way more than around the Carpathian basin. Azeri people rise and lay with the solid belief that all Armenians should be murdered. And to be honest, we Hungarians haven’t made the situation any easier with the whole Ramil Səfərov story.

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The Turks almost succeeded, in 1915 they killed about 1,5 Armenians. The next door neighbour Srebrenica genocide with below 10 000 dead seems like a footnote compared to this.

So here there is Caucasian Three instead of Visegrád Four, and Azerbaijan is wealthy due to its oil, Georgia is cool, we could almost call it European place, and it’s sitting right next to The strategically important Black Sea. Probably that’s why Putyin is also interested in getting a piece of it. Armenia on the other hand only got mountains and all those churches, along with the most miserable nationalism, that feeds on an unbelievably low self esteem.

img_2981.jpgPoor old Yerevan got properly fucked up in the ‘30s when they tried to modernise the city. It must have looked very nice before.

I talked to a local dude, who told me, that if you’d take any international competition, and Azerbaijan or Georgia would come on the 28th spot, but Armenia on the 27th, they would consider that a huge national success. It says something about the level of miserability of this country that their most famous person is Kim Kardashian. And they are super proud of that!

We are all the same under the ground

So Yerevan doesn’t have a lot to offer, but you can for example check out the world’s oldest leather shoes - YAY! . This country of 3 million souls reached the level in the ‘80s that Yerevan got 1 million of them. They were still part of the Soviet Union then, so they got a metro from Moscow - as they were supposed to according to the soviet rules.

img_3018.jpgThe vibes are a little more Moscow-esque than in Budapest, but somehow without all the fancyness

I went to laugh on it, but unfortunately, we also got our metro from Moscow back in the days. So the one in Yerevan is essentially the same, just a little poorer. Same smells, same sounds, same materials. Wish I could say it was like back in my childhood only, but the metro 3 in Budapest still feels exactly the same.

I still spent 4 days in Yerevan and the area. I went to check out the Garni church (boring), and the partly carved out Geghard Monastery, which looks mindblowingly cool. Then I headed towards Goris.

The road between Goris and Yerevan is a little over 200 km, and I wanted to take a detour to check out the Vardenyac Caravanserai, which was one of the important stops along the Silk Road. But somehow, the elements had something else in mind for me for that day. First the fender on the back wheel fell off, that took the automatic chain oiling system with it, then I fell, and I could almost not get up.

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The wind was blowing hard all day, it was cold, and it was even raining for the last 60 km. Sometimes I had to cross mountain passes on 2500 m altitude in total fog, so I gave up on the Caravanserai. When I arrived in Goris, I was one gigantic icicle, and I only wanted a dinner and a hot bath.

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There is nothing to see in Goris, but you can do some enduro around the mountains. So I went and managed to find some Caravanserai ruins, that was also part of the Silk Road, and the Tatev Monastery, where you can either get by a lift, or by doing a 10km detour on mountains roads.

I chose the latter one, and I really started to feel how i can drift with the motorbike on gravel in the turns. It was going quite well uphill, but not so well downhill. So I chose life instead of being cool and rode to Khndzoresk, Armenia’s Cappadocia. It almost looks exactly like the Turkish version, just a lot smaller. So this was a great, productive day. And I was done with Goris and the surroundings. But since I’ve got a lot of time, the day after I went to see the Armenian-Azeri conflict zone.

Undeclared war

Nagorno-Karabakh is an autonomous area, that fought an undeclared war against Azeribaijan, and where the conflicts still last today. Sometimes there are some shootings. Surprisingly what I’ve found in Stepanakert, in the capital of Karabakh wasn’t total adversity, but I thought it was actually a nice, liveable small city. I can’t say the same about the next city, Shushi.

I had a smooth crossing on the border, but I had to go to the Foreign Affairs Office in Stepanakert, where I got my visa.This was important for me, to be able to show many stamps once I get to Iran. And anyways, there are not many things better than a passport full of funny visas and ugly stamps.

I had a really good time in Armenia, but tomorrow I’ll have to head to Iran, and that’s another story. But I’m sure it’s gonna be really cool when I’ll tell people “when I was riding my motorbike from Nagorno-Karabakh to Iran…” - I only feel sorry for my dear parents, who assist me along the way through the phone and on Facebook.

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