Whilst I sit, beer in hand, waiting to find out if we can obtain our Kazakhstan visa (more about that later) I thought I would give you a quick update on Armenia.
We crossed the border into Armenia on May 12th. After 13 wonderful, for some of us hazy, days in Georgia we had eaten all of the cheesy bread we could muster and consumed more wine than is ever sensible. Itching to tick another country off the list Armenia was a welcome change.
Pernille and Mary caused a stir at the border when they had to give the border guards an impromptu geography lesson and explain to them exactly where Denmark and Ireland were. Ireland “the one next to England” was easy enough. Denmark proved more difficult but eventually Pernille managed to explain that it was part of the EU and she did not require a visa.
After the delay we were on our way to the first night of bush camping just outside of the capital, Yerevan, ready for a short drive into the capital in the morning.
We arrived at the bush camp late and in the rain – soggy and cold does not make for happy campers. After we had established that the kidney beans had been adequately soaked and cooked and were not, in fact, going to poison us all we settled down for a delicious Mexican meal that cheered us all up.
On the short journey to Yerevan in the morning we pass through wide open plains with snow capped mountains in the distance. As we drive through poverty stricken villages, sustained only by subsistence farming, I begin to appreciate how lucky I am to be here. After the hand to mouth standard of living we witness over the hour long drive the capital comes as quite a shock. With villages falling down around it Yerevan is an urban oasis. It feels much like any other affluent European city and even boasts a branch of Topshop and New Look (both of which are way beyond our budgets these days). Once we’ve dropped our things at the hostel the seven of us who need our Kazakhstan visas jump straight in a taxi and head to the embassy only to find disappointment. The one man responsible for processing the visas has failed to turn up to work, I don’t blame him, I hate Monday’s too! We resolve to come back the next day in the hope that he will be there.
After an evening of amazing Armenian food (the dishes are as plentiful as they were in Georgia and they just keep coming) and equally amazing dancing in the western bar we rise early and head back to the embassy where, after a 2 hour wait, we are finally able to submit our request for a visa. With all of our fingers and toes crossed that it will be processed by Friday we head off in search of lunch and something culturally significant to do.
Having heard that the genocide museum is a harrowing but worthwhile place to visit a few of us grab a taxi and make our way there. Very few countries actually recognise the genocide in Armenia which is possibly why I had not heard of it before my visit, however the museum was as informative as it was agonising. Over 20 years the Ottoman empire set about a campaign to exterminate the Armenian race. Fit and able young men where killed outright whereas the women, children, elderly and infirm were forced to march into the Syrian desert where they starved to death. These horrifying events wiped out 80% of the Armenian population and have been acknowledged as one of the first modern genocides.
The next day, as a group, we leave Yerevan for another bush camp stopping at the Khor Virap monastery on the way. This beautiful monastery over looks Mount Ararat in Turkey which is supposedly the mythical landing place of Noah’s ark.
The following morning the Kazakhstan visa group, now dubbed the Democratic Republic of Odyssey, make the decision to stay with the truck until lunch time when we will head back to Yerevan, hopefully to return in two days with visas in hand. After another stop at yet another spectacular monastery we pull over on the outskirts of the city, grab our things, bundle into a couple of taxis and leave the truck and people we now call home, behind.
Two restless days of doing nothing later, is where this blog should have ended and in fact where it began. However mid way through writing we got a call to say we needed to head straight to the bank to pay for the visas. You might image that after all this waiting we would be prepared. Unfortunately not. We spent a few minutes running around like headless chickens trying to save unfinished blogs and gather our things. Three taxi rides, four banks and much shouting / panicking later we found a bank that wasn’t quite open but was prepared to allow us in to deposit the cash. From here it was another mad dash across the city to the embassy to pick up the visas we were assured were now ours. We arrive to be told that the consulate was not available… More panic, confusion and shouting ensues but eventually the consulate appears and ushers us inside. A further two hours later, now 7pm, we leave the embassy having obtained five British and one Irish visa, unfortunately the Dane will have to reapply in Uzbekistan.
Our tale of woe does not end there, alas. We now had to make an eight hour journey across two countries to meet up with our fellow truckers. Fortunately our taxis were waiting outside the embassy, we squeezed in and began the long dreaded journey home. A lack of seat belts (sorry mum) certainly spiced up the evening with none of us quite daring to fall asleep. Thankfully we made it safely across the border and back into Georgia in one piece. We arrived in Tbilisi at 1am and immediately started trying to hail a further two taxis to take us to the bush camp, 2 hours away!!
Eventually our local guide Zaza managed to find a seven seat taxi willing to take all eight of us (sorry mum). We squeezed in once more and whizzed away into the night. We arrived at camp around 3.30am, tired, grumpy, sore and very very hungry. We are greeted by a very chirpy Louise and Simon who lead us the 2 kilometer walk down the dirt track to camp. After a very long day we are all probably less appreciative than we should but visa in hand it has (hopefully) been worth it.