Written by Sebastian on August 12th, 2011. Posted in Allgemein

Martin: „Welcome“ is the first we hear from one of the Armenian border guards. Entering Armenia turns out not to be a problem, you buy a visa for $6 and again they don´t bother about a bike insurance.

The landscape in Northern Armenia is once again spectacular, as you drive on about 2000m elevation on sandy looking highlands and the road takes us right away to Yerewan. Driving through that scenery makes the both of us think that this is how Mongolia or Tibet must be like (in our imagination of course, as none of us had ever been there :-)). People are yet very friendly again, waving to us when we pass by and when we stop, there is someone with us right away asking if we need help.



We reach Yerewan (at night again, of course) and stop at the first hotel we find on the way. It looks like a casino or night club, is very modern and we feel like being in another world, after spending last night in a simple wooden hut without electricity and running water. We talk to the Iranian owner and manager of the hotel and find out that there are many Iranians either doing business or visiting Armenia enjoying everything what´s at least not legally allowed in Iran 🙂 We take a quick shower and off we go to the city centre… and are amazed.

The city centre is incredibly modern and clean, there are parks with bars, all having free Wlan, a shopping street with top brands, nice looking buildings and even though it´s 1 am, there are still many people around. All major American fast food chains but Mc Donald´s are present and there´s even an Armenian version of KFC (actually right next to it): AFC, Armenian Fried Chicken 🙂 We are astonished as we expected some run down city with communist buildings. It´s quickly decided that here we´re gonna stay for a couple of days.

Next day we get to a square that is crowded with people dancing to folk music. We find out that they do that every month to teach the people traditional dances. Here we meet Hovsep who introduces us to Armenian history and tells what not to miss. So for those of you who hadn´t paid attention in school, here´s in short what he told us:

Armenia was the first country in the world that declared Christianity as official religion and most of the Armenians´ belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church. As far as we understood this Church never changed it´s rules, so it´s still the same for the last 2000 years. The oldest church btw. dates back to 303 AD. The mountain we saw just before is 5137m Mount Ararat and holy to the Armenians´, as it is also Armenia´s national symbol. It is said, that Noah´s Arch grounded there. Belonging to Armenia in earlier times it´s nowadays on Turkish territory. Which leads us to a very sad part of Armenian history: the Genocide committed by the Turks between 1915-17 where between 600.000 and 1 million Armenians´ died and Armenia is still fighting for the recognition of this sad events by the Turks.

Yerewan is very old, but the buildings are quite new. Right after the connection to the Soviet Union in the 1920´s, old, also historical, buildings and churches were demolished and the whole city was renewed. Luckily this happened before the Russians started to build with concrete, so the buildings of this era look actually quite impressive and nice. The city centre is now being remade completely, thus it´s quite modern and nice. Off the centre you still find concrete projects and monuments that date back to the Soviet era.

After 3 days in Yerewan we pack our staff and I´m surprised as while drinking my obligatory morning coffee to make my brain work, one of the hotel staff comes and pours a bucket of water over me. WTF??!! Looking up I see there is literally a water fight going on, everyone pouring water on anyone who comes around. We find out that they celebrate the day of the water. The atmosphere is great, everyone is completey wet and after joining the water fight for some time we say goodbye to the nice staff of Cherry Hotel in Yerewan to head to the Sevan Lake… not without being shot at with water from kids standing on the side street on the way. Nice tradition 🙂

We were surprised about the high living standard in Yerewan… but no one could actually tell us where the money comes from… 🙂


Lake Sevan

Lake Sevan is located about 60km from Yerewan and the recreational area of the city. It is surrounded by a mountain range and we start driving along the lake to look for a place to sleep. There are many camping spots but they are very crowded and even though we feel very safe in Armenia, we decide to look for some more remote area in order not to worry about our bikes.

We find a very nice place with huts directly at the lake. They tell us they´re fully booked but after we tell them we only stay for one night, they give us a hut they hadn´t rented.. for a good reason 🙂 It´s actually very well equipped: there´s shower, toilet, sink, fridge and phone. But the shower , toilet and fridge don´t work and the sink and the phone lie on the floor of the living room 🙂 We feel a bit ripped off, as they are asking for $40 for the night. Nevertheless, the water in the lake is great, it´s very clean and you can see down to the ground. No need to say that 3 minutes after arrival we are already inside the lake.

Here we meet a very nice guy from Yerewan who is so happy that we take some underwater pics of him with our Panasonic Tough camera (which is really excellent btw!) that he pays our dinner before he leaves. Amazing.

In the evening we meet a pilot from Yerewan who tells us that we shouldn´t miss visiting Nagorno-Karabagh, a hard fought region in the past between Armenia and Azerbaijan that currently politically belongs to Azerbaijan but is under strong influence of Armenia. In fact they declared independence in 1991, which so far hasn´t been accepted by any UN Member State. Flexible as we are we decide to make a detour to explore this area too.


Nagorno Karabagh

We expected some dirt roads to get there but that we would drive almost 10 hours on partly quite difficult gravel dirt roads that consisted of more potholes than road was a bit surprising. The paved road turned into a dirt road shortly after we left the lake behind us and took us in elbow curves up to a 2.400m mountain pass with incredible views. Mountains as far as you can see. From there it took us first downhill until we reached the Nagorno Karabagh border. Well, call it whatever you want, in fact it was a hut with a barrier and two bored soldiers, who seem to have woken up as we arrived 🙂

After two minutes we are free to go and the road continues up and down from one valley to the next. We are absolutely alone, besides of the road the nature seems untouched and the landscape is spectacular. From time to time we see a broken tank standing around and we pass by to what seems like military barracks. Sebastian is starving and he couldn´t have been happier as after some kilometers we find a small shop where we buy some food. The people are very friendly, most of them are soldiers, and we spend some time with them. Sebastian has the chance to stay there forever, as one of the woman tries to pair him off with her daughter 🙂

Before reaching Stepakanert we stop at the beautiful Gandzasar Cathedral on top of a mountain, where we are stopped by police for the first time asking for our visa. What visa? 🙂 He doesn´t know what to do with us, we find out that we are apparently illegal in the country. After some correspondence with his boss he tells us to get a visa in Stepanakert. We head to Stepanakert which we arrive at almost midnight. Stepanakert has about 50.000 inhabitants and the city seems nothing special. We stop at the first hotel we find and after a quick shower we literally fall into our beds. This had been one of the hardest drives so far, but absolutely recommendable as the landscape is magnificent and one is mostly completely alone on the road.


First time visa problems

Next day we leave early as we want to reach the Iranian border. But we don´t get very far 🙂 At the border of Nagorno Karabagh they tell us that they will only let us pass with a visa… which we have to buy in Stepanakert. Our pleading doesn´t´t help and their discreet but unanswered offers to bribe them doesn´t leave us no choice and we have to go back. Even though the road is very nice, it means losing 4hrs. The visum is done in 5 minutes and we are wondering why the hell they don´t issue it on the border. I guess to decrease bribery.

My impression of Nagorno Karabagh is that it´s a beautiful region, mountains wherever you look but the people are very reserved and you hardly ever see anyone smile. Maybe they are marked by the wars.

We head towards the border, the road again is just incredible and we work ourselves from one mountain to the next. But as the road is also used by trucks we don´t get on too fast and decide to stay over in Kajaran, which is close to the border. Kajaran seems like a run down industrial city from the Soviet era but the hotel we find is new and nice. Next day the manager tells us not to take the normal road to the border as there is a new one no one uses which will take us through the mountains. Good choice as the road is great and the landscape once again spectacular. After some hours we reach Meghri, the border town.


Finally at the border

We drive about 10km along barbwired fences next to a river, which gives us a very strange, unsecure feeling. At the Armenian border we have to wait quite long because the lady that has to stamp our visas doesn´t show up. It has more than 40 degrees and I´m standing directly in the sun, as I thought it would only take a couple of minutes. Finally we can leave and are prepared for endless hours at the Iranian border we drive to the Iranian border line… and are surprised. You hear many stories about people spending hours getting the papers done, luggage checked etc. In fact, the border guards are incredibly friendly and also the stamping of our Carnets is done in 10 minutes. Me dying of thirst and feeling quite dizzy of standing what seemed like ages in the sun we enter Iran. Both of us are very curious, we have read a lot about the friendliness of the people and the beauty of the country. So here we go, Iran we´re coming! But thats´s another story… 🙂