21st-22nd November, 2012
Emée has decided to stay a while long in Armenia. She’s had non-stop adventures for the past two weeks and wants to write them all down before she has any more and these days become drowned in memory. Today is my last chance to see her before entering Iran.
I wait a long time to get out of Shushi. When a marshrutka bound for Yerevan stops for me, I ask how much to Goris, where my road will diverge. It’s a lot. My face falls and the driver, along with the guy in the passenger seat, begin bartering with me. They offer a cheaper price, which I still can’t afford and eventually just tell me to get in – for free.
I climb out at Goris and walk forever down the hillside the small town clings to, asking every now and then if I’m heading in the right direction. “Iran?” I ask, pointing down the way. People nod.
I stop by a woman waiting for a marshrutka and decide if it comes before I get a lift, I might just take it. I don’t need to, a guy stops soon enough and takes me down to Kapan.
A couple of lifts later and it’s getting dark. Emée knows I’m on my way and we’re having a running conversation via text message, her warning me about the enormous snowy mountain pass I’m about to cross in the dark, me asking about the possibility of a marshrutka this late at night. Emée and Artyom have been adopted by Armenian villagers who are already feeding and getting them drunk. They say there’s a marshrutka, but further enquiry reveals they mean one per day. The likelihood of it crossing the snowy mountain pass this time of night is slim, at best.
I’m dropped off at the start of the road where the mountain begins. It looks more like a dark alley behind some shops, but sure enough, the sign is here. I stand and wait. Nothing comes past for a long time, but eventually two cars speed past without stopping and a truck follows them a couple of minutes later. He stops just behind me – hallelujah! I climb in the truck. He stands up to greet me, excited – “Love!” he exclaims. My heart sinks. Oh god, he thinks I’m a prostitute. Fortunately, he speaks Turkish. I quickly explain my situation – I am a tourist, from England. I am going to stay in Meghri, close to the border, where my friends are waiting for me, but it got late and there is no marshrutka… He’s clearly disappointed, but begrudgingly starts driving.
The road is hard. It’s completely dark, covered in snow, and winds around like a curly-wurly. Fortunately, this is enough to distract the driver from any kind of residual erotic thoughts he may have been harbouring and we both sit, white-knuckled, eyes glues to the windscreen. The truck is completely empty, on it’s way back to Iran. We’re able to keep up well enough with a van that passes us, following the trail of their lights. As long as they don’t go off the road, we won’t either. The van is going relatively fast, which means so are we, and after forty minutes the road appears to have peaked. I loosen my grip on the seat and blood returns to my fingers.
Emée, Aryom and their new adoptive family come to meet me on a bridge just out of town. Emée has saved most of her beer for me. I give her a big hug.
Armenia has a real hospitality tradition and we’re being treated to it. A huge feast is spread across the table, including the dried persimmon they make themselves, a real cottage industry. Home-made wine and vodka shots fill glass after glass after glass.
I awake with a pounding head. But it’s ok, breakfast is here to save me. Breakfast: a small strong coffee, biscuits and a large glass of the home-made wine. It seems somehow fitting to drink wine for breakfast the day I enter Iran.
The two men from the family have offered to drive Emée and Artyom to their hitch-hiking spot, so I climb in the car with them. I’m feeling very unprepared and have several things to do before I’m ready to cross the border, so Artyom arranges for the men to take me into town after dropping them off.
They drive me to the internet cafe, which is closed. Now I know where it is. I thank our friends and attempt to say goodbye, feeling more than happy to hang out with a coffee and write in my diary while I wait for the internet place to open. Not a chance. On the first mention of coffee, they hustle me into a cafe and insist on paying. I don’t speak a word of Armenian and these guys don’t speak any English, so we just sit with our coffees and I prepare the package with my old diary and some postcards I’ve been meaning to send.
They bustle me to the post office. The Armenian postal system is needlessly bureaucratic and the staff nit-pick over my envelope. Each time I write the address on the packet, they tell me it’s wrong. First, I put the receiver’s address in the middle of the packet – WRONG! You should put it in the top right corner, with the senders address at the bottom left. Next I write it in the top right corner – WRONG! Now the stamp can’t go into the correct position (though it would easily fit in sideways). The staff stick it inside yet another envelope and deciding I can’t be trusted, write out the addresses for me and stick on a stamp. Finally, my packet is sent: envelope inside envelope inside envelope. I wonder at my friends in Brighton opening it like a game of pass-the-parcel.
They hustle me back to the internet. It’s open, mahshallah! I tell the men thank you so much, you’ve been so helpful, you can leave me here now, I have a lot to do… They stand, waiting. No, no, really I’m going to be ages, you should go – I’m going to be an hour! “Ok,” they say, nodding and indicating their watch, “we meet in one hour.” Oh god!
An hour later they meet me outside the internet cafe and bustle me into the car. They drive me all the way to Iranian border and leave me there, right at the gate: service over.
After I wave them off, I start to panic. I’m going to Iran! – Iran! Alone and now and without even having thought to wear appropriate clothes this morning! Shitshtshitshitshit! I call H with the last of my phone credit, explain briefly what’s been going on. “That’s brave!” he says, when I tell him about the snowy mountain pass with the truck driver who wanted love last night. But really, this feels a lot more scary than that. This wasn’t the plan at all.
I rummage through my bag fast, pull out a scarf and long-sleeved top and quickly start making myself look appropriate. I pass the dress-code alright, but I look entirely ridiculous.
I pass Armenian customs, get my visa stamped out and walk across the bridge to Iran…
Emée’s blog – http://ohmyroad.eu
Artyom’s blog – http://harebeat.com