Bike touring Armenia's South to get through a rough time

Bike touring Armenia's South to get through a rough time

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Good morning from Lake Sevan where we spent our last night. It was freezing but the sun is coming out, so it’s nice. Which is great, because we want to get to Meghri, which is about 300 kms down south in Armenia, at the border with Iran. It’s fair to say that it’s going to be mountainous.

If we’re lucky we can spend the night where the trade caravans rested in the days of the silk road in the caravanserai "Orbeliani". Let’s hope we can make it there… Yeah, okay, so let’s go! Join us again on our Amazing World Bike Tour! After cycling about 7000 kms all the way from Germany, we now explore the rough South of Armenia, where we hop back on the saddle to get over our winter blues after an unexpectedly long break. We will explore beautiful landscapes, meet wonderful people, and even visit an ancient cave town.

Also it is winter and this is a very, very mountainous country. This morning we could not use our stove, because… yeah I don't know. I had to change some parts that deteriorated because gasoline is so aggressive. Then I did some more maintenance and it still did not work. So I assume maybe it's not enough gasoline inside the fuel tank, I don't know.

So the next thing we try is refuelling so that hopefully later today we can use our stove because it will be very cold so something warm would be great to have. But don’t fill it completely. *Armenian* Up to here? That is typical for Armenia. The two gentlemen obviously did not let us pay for fuel. Iran! I think this is where we need to go.

Iran in 50 metres? I don’t think so… That was a little bit more than 50. Yeah, but no. Maybe there's a stream missing or 250 miles or something. Okay, we need some breakfast.

We try to find some bakery or something in Matuni and also do some shopping, because up there on the mountains there will be nothing. And then we have to do some climbing. Hello! Do you know where we can find pastries, coffee? Over there you find pastries. Near the pharmacy there is a shop. Goodbye! Oh yeah, pizza.

I want pizza. Oh, and a sandwich. And then, pierogi with potato or meat. So it's basically a dough filled, in this case, with meat and then deep-fried. Very greasy, and also very rich.

Exactly what we need to get up the mountain. Very simple but tasty. Are you wondering how I got so chubby again? Well, that happens when I try to eat my frustration away.

Since the last episode 7 months have gone by in reality. A lot has happened, some unfortunate things too, and so this episode is also about things not working out as intended. For context we’ll do a quick recap while you can admire the beautiful Vardenis mountain range. We reached Armenia with the plan to stay with my family, finally start editing all these videos and to continue our journey through Iran and beyond 3 months later. That clearly did not work out! At first we struggled settling into the stationary lifestyle.

For a couple weeks hosting plenty of other travellers, some of which we had met on the road before, was a welcome distraction for us. When we started working, our laptop died. This is bad news in Armenia, and it took weeks to get a decent and affordable replacement. On a more positive note, we were invited to a morning show on Armenian TV, which was an exciting and refreshing experience. Then suddenly it was war, again! Since the fall of the Soviet Union Armenians and Azeris have been fighting over the disputed Karabakh region, but this was different.

Azerbaijan shelled, bombarded and invaded undisputed parts of Armenia. Two almost sleepless weeks later, hundreds had been killed, thousands displaced. Around that time we also started to get news about protests in Iran over the death of Jina Mahsa Amini.

Unable to work on the videos, and generally unsure about how to proceed with our journey, we instead helped Arev’s cousin. He lives in the countryside and just 3 kms from the border with Azerbaijan, and so we harvested potatoes, still under the echo of machine-gun fire. With dozens of filled 50 kg sacks standing on the field he would joke, “At least everything is tidy if they come now”. It looks so peaceful now that it is hard to imagine what happened barely 30 kms from here a couple of months ago. Hello! Hello! We are at 2200 metres right now! Beautiful here…very beautiful! I’m glad that it’s not frozen. Directly from the mountains.

Cold? Cold but tasty! Really good! There are 5 mountain passes between Sevan and Meghri at the Iranian border, with this one being only the second highest. Seeing everything covered in snow and ice we begin to realise that we will need quite some luck with the weather to make it. We had to go though. After months of working on videos and freelance jobs day in and day out we could not stay inside any longer. We also struggled about how to continue with our journey regarding Iran. Despite the protests it was and still is possible to enter the country, but according to our contacts, most people would be afraid to even talk to foreigners.

No surprise given the regime and its minions had started killing countless protesters, jailing them by the thousands. Reluctantly we eventually came to the conclusion that it was not a good time to go to Iran. With Russia waging this brutal war in Ukraine we don’t want to cycle through it either.

As native Armenian, Arev could not enter Azerbaijan, even if its land borders were open. With the overland routes and the Caspian Sea blocked it seems like taking a plane to Kazakhstan might be our only remaining way to Central Asia, but first… We are fighting our way up to Selim Pass. We are at almost 2400 metres altitude.

One can feel that the air starts to get thinner. Right now I don’t want to imagine how 4000 metres feel like. But it looks absolutely stunning. Look at this!

So, we’ve just made it over Selim Pass. We are at 2400 metres altitude and there is the caravanserai we were thinking of spending the night in. Now we’ll see if we can manage that. Because if not, then we will have to go downhill for 1500 metres to the next town Yeghegnadzor. It might be difficult to get our bicycles here, because the snow is smelting and I really...

I really don’t want to get wet feet. It might be possible here, but…. Oh my God! Shit! Oh my God! No! It’s not gonna work! Shit! Oh shit! Now I have wet feet! Dang it! Yeah, it’s very unfortunate, but my socks are wet now and there is no other way to get there. That would obviously have been epic to camp here, wake up with this view and sunset here. But it’s not possible.

We still can try to find a nice spot here on the way down. We’ll see. Oh no, wet socks! Unfortunately this prevents us from sleeping in this 14th century Silk Road caravanserai. We can’t camp outside at this altitude as temperatures might plummet well below -10°C tonight.

As we don't know whether the conditions inside the caravanserai are even viable, we don't want to risk getting all wet and very cold feet. We are exhausted, it is already late afternoon, and we hurry to get our tent up at a lower altitude. If there is one thing that you don’t want... Now we are going to fix this and try to figure out what we can do.

Maybe we can even continue like this. Well, MacGyver once said, there is nothing you can’t fix. Mathias was very frustrated with the tent. And now I think he is gonna get a second nervous breakdown today. I literally did all the maintenance one can do on this MSR Stove. It will be the next MSR equipment that fails us.

Our tentpole… it was probably our mistake. Let’s see… Seems like we started bending the tent poles before they were properly joined together. Luckily the MacGyver fix using duct tape and cable ties works well enough.

At almost 2000 metres it was a very cold night again, so we’re looking forward to descending into the Yeghegis Valley. Soon after we get invited to a hot coffee! I thought you took a flight to Yerevan and only cycled from there. No. We’ve cycled from Germany.

Who is your sponsor? We worked and saved some money. Oh my god! Have you counted how many kilometres it is to Korea? Until now we’ve cycled 7000 kms. And another 7 you’ll go. No, I think maybe 10. Nah, not 10! You can also invite us for some coffee! If you’re interested we can also make some episodes about our filming and editing process, finances, equipment, you name it.

In very short though: creating this kind of content is hard work and costs a lot of money. So if you can help, please check out and send us as much coffee as you can afford. This will obviously get you our eternal gratitude, and will enable us to continue and share this journey with you a little longer! Unfortunately our very peaceful, quiet time will come to an end, as we enter the main road that goes from Yerevan to Iran. There is just one road that goes through all of the country. Those two gentlemen just gave us a package….

We got some food. They waited for us... Very nice! This road is really busy, because it’s the only road to Iran. Every other truck is from Iran actually. Being landlocked and with the borders of Turkey and Azerbaijan remaining closed, trade with and through Iran is absolutely essential for Armenia. We just filled up with water. We did almost 50 kms today, but the sun is going down soon and the weather forecast says that there will be rain in the morning.

We are trying to find a place for the tent with a roof. Let’s see how that goes. Mathias, what about this place… That looks interesting…like an abandoned rest stop or something. I think this was a restaurant. Let's check it out! Arev found something great! Oh, they even have toilettes. Maybe they are open.

Nice! Well… maybe not! The spot here is great. We're close to the road but we hope there won’t be many cars during the night. Now Mathias is trying to cook some water. Mathias what are you making? Tea…or hot chocolate? Or tea?! We're both tired from the day before. Our muscles and fitness have deteriorated greatly over the past few months, but we are glad to have found a proper roof over our heads and settle in. This valley is narrow and steep, so now in the beginning of March the sun sets early.

Time for dinner… This is “khaviar”. It has nothing to do with caviar. It’s a mash of eggplant, tomato, peppers, onion, garlic. Very very tasty! We could buy this jar for about 1000 drams? No, 600 dram.

So it’s like 1,5€. It's cheap and very delicious. So, we’ll have it with some bread and some sausage and some spicy pepper and some “panir” - Armenian cheese. We could not sleep until 1 o’clock in the morning, because trucks were going down the road really loud all the time.

Then at 2 o’clock in the morning an Iranian truck stopped right there with the engine running. After half an hour i got up, made him understand that we cannot sleep. Then it started raining. Obviously we chose the roof that’s not functioning properly and now everything is wet anyways.

It’s raining properly. The road is soaked, so it’s not good. After waiting for an hour in the hope the rain would stop, we eventually start riding anyway. Not great at just 8°C.

This is the lower part of the valley and the M2 highway will now start to climb up to Vorotan pass at 2344 metres and we are a bit worried, but suddenly,... Come, give me your stuff. Ok! Mathi, will this work? I hope so! Where is he from? Thank you very much! Mathias, where are you from? I’m Mathias, I’m German. Ah, German! But your mom… My mom is Korean. His mom is Korean, his dad is German.

As long as you get on well… Arthur just stopped seeing us going up the hill. We had a 20km 1000 metres of climb ahead of us. I wasn’t sure if we could make it in our condition, because I feel a little sick. Also it’s going to rain in the next five days.

Well, now we are on our way. Let’s hope our bikes in the back of the lorry make it alright. These are the bells of Syunik. Oh, this is the gate to the Syunik region. Vorotan Pass is the gate to Syunik, the southernmost province of Armenia.

We would have loved to pass this iconic monument representing the dance of the mountains under our own power. Realistically though, at this day cycling up here would have been a bad idea. We’re so lucky that Arthur picked us up on the road. Also he said there are many wolves in this region, and sometimes they kill people. After another hour drive in the warm cab of his heavy lorry we reach Arthur’s hometown Goris.

His dad then shows us his childhood home, where the family used to produce linseed oil using this ox powered mill. He also says that the natural stone of the walls is held together by a mortar consisting of lime, egg white and egg yolk?! Here is the stove, where they roasted the seeds. They yoked an ox or a buffalo and it turned the millstone. With something like a shovel made out of wood, we call it “ti”... we threw the seeds under the stone and it grinded and squeezed it thoroughly.

These logs are a threaded. They would turn that stone with their hands, so the log would go up. Then, they would put the lumps of grinded seeds down there. The log is 12m long.

After they would let go of the stone. Through gravity it automatically squeezed out the oil. Everything is handcrafted. Pierogi with potatoes. Well actually this is not a pierogi, but a piroshki, a common fast food in Armenia and most of the former Soviet Union. Here you can also see the traditional preparation of Lavash, a very thin flatbread.

While we do a variety of breads in the country, we really can’t have too much lavash. We like it so much that we even have several dishes where lavash is a key component. It is also customary for the mother of the groom to feed the newly wed couple lavash and honey as a wish of good fortune, fertility and sweetness for the couple. And just to be sure we also dry it, so that we can store more of it, should these ladies need a break.

The next day we visit Old Khndzoresk, just 15 kms east of Goris. Nowadays livestock walk in and out of rooms carved into the cliffside, grazing among the ancient rock cave homes of this multi-level village built into the soft volcanic rocks. Archaeological evidence suggests habitation goes back over a thousand years, ending only recently, in the 1950s. In the early 1900s, Old Khndzoresk was the largest village in eastern Armenia, with roughly 8,300 residents in 1,800 homes.

Each of these cave dwellings might have housed between 12 and 25 people, some remarkably preserved with the original furnishings intact. They were all stacked upon one another; one house’s roof was the yard of the one above. Therefore the inhabitants used a complex system of tunnels, ropes and ladders to reach all parts of their community. The village also had seven schools, four churches, three dyeworks, several leather workshops and dozens other shops.

In 1958, the residents moved out with the exact reason being under dispute: Some say the residents were forced by Soviet leaders, who deemed the caves uncivilised. A fate that has befallen many other cave settlements throughout the world. This abandoned cave settlement is just one example of the wonderful discoveries you can make in your own homeland. I’d heard about it, but never imagined it to be so impressive. We feel a lot better already and can’t wait to see what’s ahead of us.

It’s time to continue our way south, to Meghri and the border with Iran. So, join us next time, when we do just that, cycling up and down stunning mountain passes, visiting long forgotten relics of the Soviet times, and even find an adorable companion along the way. Hey, we Arev and Mathias, a couple of independent amateur filmmakers on an unsupported journey around our planet.

In late 2021 we sold our belongings and set out to explore, grow and show the world as we see it, in the hope to inspire some people along the way. If you like what we do, it would be great if you could help us out. Editing this type of unscripted and spontaneous documentaries takes a huge amount of time and effort, which is why roughly 50% of our rapidly shrinking budget goes into this channel. On average we receive about 30 Euros from Youtube ads per month, which helps, but is only a fraction of what we actually spend on creating a single episode. We can’t continue this much longer, and well, maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we just suck at this and that’s fair enough, but if you think otherwise and want to give us more time, here is what you can do: This is crucial for small creators like us.

Subscribe if you haven’t already, activate all notifications, watch each episode to the very end, and of course like, comment and share them. This will make our content visible to more people and therefore it might become sustainable at some point. In the meantime you can also join our amazing contributors on Through BuyMeACoffee you can support our content creation by topping up our budget. We have several additional terabytes of material and we can tell you with confidence, the best is yet to come! Anyhow, thanks for watching! Until next time, and may the wind be in your back!

2024-03-21 19:47

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