Getting from A to B, the Armenian way.
A farewell photo with my very helpful Armenian friend Tigran
.It is always much harder to get out of a big city than a small town. Yerevan, Armenian’s capital, must be one of the hardest cities to escape. I wanted to travel by bus, as I prefer to travel like a local. I said goodbye to my Armenian friend in Yerevan and took the ‘sardine express’, a neighbourhood microbus crammed with people to the rafters.
The ‘sardine express’.
Then switched to the stark but spacious metro to one of the many bus stations to find a bus that could take me to Goris, a small town in the south of Armenia, my destination for the day. But… there was no bus, nor at another station I tried, despite information provided by a guidebook and locals. I had the choice between a four-hour wait in the city with my bags or a shared, most likely unregistered taxi, which leaves once full. A shared taxi I choose. It is 11.38. So far there were two passengers and it seemed the driver is hunting for more.
The word ‘taxi’ does not equate luxury. It’s a station wagon with little leg space, a cracked windscreen, and a steering wheel on the wrong side. But is has Armenian carpets as seat covers and a crucifix dangling from the rear view mirror, so I hope we will fly like a magic carpet and be protected by divine forces. It will be interesting to see when I get to Goris.
Crusifix dangling from the rear-view mirror.
It is early May. Nature is awakening and the snows have almost gone, but so have many parts of the road surface. Once you leave Armenia’s capital Yerevan, the road turns to custard. Holes, bumps, and more bumps, sometimes so bad that drivers move to the other side of the road to avoid them. That is not the only thing they need to avoid. Herds of sheep use this highway too.
A herd of sheep on the highway.
12:23 Taxi is full and we are on our way. And when I say “full”, I mean full!. It was a wise decision to leave my suitcase in Yerevan and travel with one medium and one small daypack, which are easier to stow. This is not suitcase territory. My driver is the fastest on the road, overtaking every car in front of him at the most impossible locations or moments, like when he is on his mobile phone. I try not to look, as siting in the back there is nothing I can do but hope that he knows what he is doing. Sometimes he overtakes with only seconds to spare… The suspension is struggling and so is my body. Siting in the third row, right above the rear wheels I feel every bump reverberating through my spine, despite the Armenian carpets covering the seats.
Armenian carpets as seat covers.
The landscape is just stunning. Reminding me of Outback of Australia. It’s arid, rocky wild. Moody overcast weather adds to the feeling of otherworldlyness. The heavily tinted windows act as a gloomy brown filter. Oh I wished I could get out whenever I wanted to photograph this amazing landscape.
The tinted windows give the landscape a gloomy look.
After about two hours the car needed petrol and the passengers were allowed to get out. I climbed from my third row seat through the door of the second row. To my relief I discovered that my legs were still able to stretch and that the blood was still flowing.
Toilet sign in Armenian and Russian.
I recognised the Russian word for toilet and dashed. Not that I ever learned the word or the Russian alphabet but when the need is high, the brain learns fast. It was a squatting toilet. My knees were grateful that I did not need to squat. I was hungry too. I had barely grabbed a savoury pastry before we were rushed back into the taxi. Wrong petrol station, the right one was about a mile down the road. Yay, we get to get out again!
The petrol station.
Still hungry and little choice on offer, I bought an elongated donut filled with potato. It was so greasy and gross that I could not finish it. Why is roadside food the world over so poor in quality and disgusting? Armenian food can be so delicious! With the petrol tank filled, it is back inside for another two hours off the pothole slalom and overtaking derby.
A greasy potato-filled doughnut.
Chansons by Charles Aznavour, a famous French-Armenian singer tried to sooth the senses, as if a four-hour crammed and cramped taxi ride on a bumpy road with a mad driver is the most romantic thing one can do. The once popular Greek singer Demis Roussos has a go as well. I am pleasantly surprised that my grumpy driver is playing such an international repertoire of music. I am daydreaming of decompressing my body in a bath at my Goris hotel. Yeah right! Or as my Dutch grandmother would have said: “Oh Ja?” This is Armenia!
We just crossed a pass of 2320m with a sign saying “Silk Road”. THE Silk Road, the one I have been dreaming off travelling on my entire life, but whenever I had the opportunity there was a war somewhere making it impossible. Unfortunately I could not take a selfie with the sign to prove that I was there. We remain at high altitude for a while. It must be cold outside as snow is only a little higher up the slopes. People have set up tiny stalls along the way, trying to sell a few potatoes, or fruits. There is not a town insight, so I wonder where they have come from and why they have chosen such Godforsaken spots.
16:38 Goris, some five hours after I got in the taxi. I checked into my hotel for the night. It is poring with rain, but I don’t care, I am desperate for a good long walk and a wholesome meal.
Activity Resource for Aged Care Staff:
Questions to ask your residents and searches to undertake to foster further interest:
- Where is Armenia?
- Which countries share borders with Armenia?
- What does the Armenian and Russian alphabets look like?
- Who has heard of Charles Aznavour, a world famous French-Armenian singer?
- Can you name any of his songs? (find some on Youtube).
- Who has heard of the greek Demis Roussos (popular in 60’s-70’s?).
- Do you know any of his songs? (check out Youtube)
- Who had protective objects in their car like a crusifix or saint or similar.
- How much do you think a four-hour shared taxi ride would cost in Armenia? (6000 AMD)
- How much is 6000 Dram (AMD) in your currency?