HaghpatJuly 19, 2017 in Armenia
Lada Gaga really proved her worth today. We started simply enough, with a plan to head to Akhaltsikhe in Georgia via Haghpat and Sanahin Monastries, a big day, but on paper, doable. Two things stood in our way, one Hannah decided that today would be a good day to get food poisoning, and two we trusted maps.me over the sage advice of our guest house owner who warned us explicitly that their were two ways to go and the first was closed, which I interpreted as difficult. Both he and I were correct, it was very difficult as we got our first real taste of Armenian roads in all their, no maintenance since the glory days of the Soviet Union state, but after battling through for hour upon hour, we discovered that the road was indeed blocked, almost within sight of our destination. We had one and a half options, either go back over two hours to the main road and go around, or head up the only other potential track, nothing but a goat track heading up the sheer cliff face to the west, which appeared on the map to reconnect to the road we should have been on from the start.
We took option 1.5, which took us on our first, but not last, real adventure of the day. We climbed through switch back after switch back on tiny little overgrown tracks until we eventually emerged on the top of the cliff where we descended into a verdant valley with no human life other than the occasional person with a scyth making hay and the occasional cow separated from its main herd. All the while the Lada kept crawling on seemingly in its element and making more and more sense by the passing km. By the time we crossed that valley and climbed the other side on similarly precarious roads we emerged in a small village where Hannah demanded sweet relief from the constant jolting and we stopped for a well earned break out the front of the only store in town, while I enjoyed an ice cream and Hannah tried to hold some water down. Eventually we headed on and found the main road which we joined and found ourselves at Sanahin and Haghpat a few too many hours behind schedule, but safe.
Sanahin and Haghpat were good, but Hannah, being sick, didn't feel up to walk around the and I, being tired and pressed for time, felt rushed and underwhelmed after the morning we had had and a serious case of JABM (Just another bloody monastery). So after a quick walk through both I rejoined Hannah for a meal by the river (well meal for me and collapse with her head in her hands for Hannah), before heading off once again to try and get back on track. This also did not go to plan..
Not having internet connection, meant we were relying on maps.me for navigation. Now maps.me is a revelation and is truely remarkable. However, there is an issue which we have now discovered. Whereas, google maps plots the most sensible course, maps.me plots the most direct course. This wouldn't be such an issue in regions of the world with reasonable of even basic road networks. However, we are not in those regions. A minor road in this part of the world, isn't even a road, it's a rarely used seasonal track leading between two points on the map, without regard to what is in between. So once again we found ourselves on a 4wding adventure through the alpine regions of northern Armenia. Over the course of the afternoon, we traversed mud, gravel that was once asphalt, gravel that was once volcanoes, grassy meadows and knee deep water through the most isolated alpine summer pastures being grazed by cow and sheep flocks and Shepards on horseback, isolated and, truely medieval, villages, abandoned soviet military stations and the most spectacular scenery. I was constantly conflicted between concern for where we were and what we were doing and wonder and awe at where we were and what we were doing.
Eventually at sunset we found ourselves at a remote border crossing to Georgia where we became the major attraction and celebrities as the border guards tried to determine what to do with two Australian's in a Lada. Based on the focus and amusement I can only assume we were the first Australian's to have been seen for some time and certainly the first in a Lada, evidenced by the fact that, once they eventually found a guard that spoke English, all she could do was exclaim that the Lada was worth less than what we had paid to rent it for two weeks, but after much mirth and reassurance that, yes we did indeed, have Kangaroos we were allowed on our way to find that the road from the border was little better than what we had left. So after slogging it on for another 30-40 km, I eventually called it quits after driving almost non stop for 10 hours on the most challenging road I have ever experienced at a town that I can no longer remember the name of, but where we found a hotel, a meal and, most welcome, cold beer.Read more