Pink Bricks and Soviet Relics
Yerevan, 6-17th November, 2012
Hitchhiking as a group of three wasn’t working out so well in the Caucasus, so Alfie volunteered to lag behind and meet us in Yerevan. At any rate, he will arrive before us. The detour on the way out of Tbilisi, involving the Georgian entrepreneur and Armenian taxi driver, plonks us back on the road, not far from where we started. “This detour was just so we’d be here at exactly the right time for the perfect lift to come along”, I tell Emée as we extend our thumbs to the highway.
A Turkish truck. The driver sees us and waves his hands in a “whathefuck?!” kind of gesture. “Ermenistaaan!” I yell at the open window. He grinds to a halt in front of us.
Crossing the border into Armenia isn’t so straightforward in a Turkish truck. Emée and I pay for our visas at the border, taking note of the ‘bribery hotline’ poster by the cashier’s window. But before we can leave, our driver Cemal needs to have his paperwork inspected. This takes a little longer than forever. Every time he goes back to the office, he’s told, “A little longer, come back in an hour.” He’s asked for random amounts of money at various intervals. After waiting several hours, during which he cooks us dinner and buys us coffee, they even have the cheek to charge him money for the ‘parking fee’.
Cemal lives in Cappadocia, where he used to own a pension. He tells us how in 1991 when the Gulf war broke out, tourism finished in Turkey and his pension closed. Now he’s a truck driver. I think he’s one of my favourites.
Armenia is an endless slow black road by the time we’ve crossed the border. We follow the lights of the other trucks as they disappear round corners. Cemal has never been to Armenia before either. “How do you know these trucks are going the right way?” I ask two or three times. He laughs, gestures around us – “All trucks go to Yerevan. There is nothing else.”
It’s dark and late and I’ve noticed Cemal squinting and blinking at the road for a long time before he announces he has to stop for the night. Emée and I spend the night in the truck with him; us squished onto the top bunk together, Cemal on the bottom bunk.
Now in the daylight, we can see Armenia. What an intriguing mix of Soviet relics and small ramshackle villages, tumbling down mountains. Autumn is more advanced here, trees more naked. Yellows, greens and browns run over mountains, which could be made of sand but for occasional powder-dusted peaks where winter creeps along. The decay in nature seems somehow to mirror the architecture. Almost every car is a Lada. We ride on towards Yerevan, past vast Lake Sevan, more villages, more Ladas.
Yerevan is different from what we’ve seen of the rest of Armenia. She looks like a shiny new European city with her large, neat, pink stone buildings. Cars stop at traffic lights. Coffee shops abound.
Emée, Alfie and I all found separate hosts. I’m staying with Reza, King of Couchsurfing in Armenia. He’s an Iranian guy who runs a bar in the centre and enjoys getting drunk. I get the feeling he likes to be controversial. “I’m a bastard,” he tells me one night in his homegrown-sounding American accent, “but it gets me girls!”
One night I’m in Reza’s bar, waiting for him to close up. I’ve been chatting with one of Reza’s friends. A friend of hers turns up just as we’re about to leave. “Hey”, he says, sitting down beside me. We start chatting. This guy finishes work at 12:30am every night. It’s hard to have a social life with those kind of hours and he complains about this as we walk back down the road as a group. “Let’s go and have another drink”, I tell him. So we do. We talk and we talk and we talk and I feel as though my brain is awakening from a long sleep. All these topics I didn’t discuss for so long – philosophy and politics, dreams and the Occult.
Hrach is an Armenian jazz guitarist from Aleppo, Syria. Before long we’re spending all our time together, and I have a new reason to return to Yerevan sooner than I thought.
Emée’s own adventures can be seen here: http://ici-ailleurs.eu/yerevan-armenia/