Surprising Encounters after 7000 km of Bicycle Touring

Surprising Encounters after 7000 km of Bicycle Touring

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Where are you coming from? From Germany! From Germany by bicycle?! Yes! Oh my god! Yeah, we’ve been on the road for 5.5 months. How far can that bicycle go? Come again? He is asking, how fast are you that you came this far? Oh the speed… We are very slow! How many hours did it take you from Germany? FIve and a half months. What? Five and a half months.

Oh my God! It is these kinds of interactions that regularly remind us that doing some bicycle tours back to back has amounted to something that catches many people people by surprise and might even change their perception about what's possible. By now we've cycled about 6,500 kms on our journey from Germany to the East and around the world. This part of our journey is very special to us.

It's early August, and we've reached Armenia. A small, landlock and mountaneous  country in the southern Caucasus, wedged in between Turkey in the West Georgia in the North, Azerbaijan in the East and Iran in the South. I was born here and soon we will be in Yerevan, the  city I grew up in and where my family lives.  We've been looking forward to getting there, but it suddenly feels a bit strange. For most of the time each pedal stroke took us a little further away from familiar people and places, ever since Georgia it's been the opposite.

Anyhow for now let us discover what surprises the coming Days on the Road hold for us. Good Morning from “Arevatsag” canyon. “Arev” means “sun” like the name of my wife and “Arevatsag” is “sunrise”. We’ve just decided to go to Vanadzor.

It’s not very far with 33-ish km, but with some climbing over a gravel road up here involved. Which is, I think, pretty steep. That will keep us busy. From Vanadzor it’s not very far to get to Yerevan. Maybe 150 kms left. Also you might have noticed our neighbours nibbling away the fresh, lush green grass… I’m getting hungry… Barbeque? *in Armenian* I’m kidding of course.

I’ve never slaughtered a pig for breakfast, yet. But, in my defence, while Armenia is generally best known for tons of beautiful churches, world class brandy, sweet apricots and juicy pomegranates, they absolutely mastered the skill of preparing BBQ, or "Khorovats" in Armenian. They particularly excel in grilling pork, maybe in an effort to stick it to their neighbours...who knows. Oh, God! Anyhow...

To get back to the M6 highway we need to climb out of the "Arevatsag" canyon first. Like in many former Soviet Union countries, many minor roads in Armenia have a poor surface quality and are unpaved a lot of the time. This sometimes makes for a tiring and bumpy ride, or whatever this is. But of course they have the great benefit of being literally traffic free, with beautiful views all around and plenty of good options for wild camping. Currently we are cycling through the heart of the Lori province. It is located in the North of Armenia and has a more humid climate than most of the country.

Therefore it is a lot greener here, even now in the hottest time of the year. Among Armenians Lori is also known for beautiful monasteries and its warm, unpretentious, albeit somewhat unsophisticated inhabitants, leading a simple lifestyle. Let’s go! We were in the “Ghachaghan” valley in the morning. We stopped there yesterday.

It’s our valley, not from “Ghachaghan”. Those hooligans wrote their name. Isn’t it the “Arevatsag” village? What? “Arevatsag” Yeah, it’s written “Arevatsag”, but it’s not theirs. Hm… When you go to the bridge… only the upper road is theirs.

Everything that's down the road, the lake is ours. I see... They are swindlers.. Yeah, well…It's all Armenia. Yes, yes, Armenia…but that’s ours.

Have you visited the valley of Dzoraghbyur? Where? The church. There are several churches here… The one down there? Yes we saw that one. We have churches here as well… Oh, we get tired, the roads are very difficult to cycle… Apparently there is a bitter dispute over the name of the canyon.

Coming from the other side, Arev spoke the unthinkable. Somehow adorable how genuinely upset they seem, but in a way also humanity in a nutshell. We decided to have our lunch here, as it’s super quiet, there are no cars, no traffic. It’s just us and some butterflies here. We’ll eat the pasta Mathias made yesterday.

Not the best pasta Mathias has ever cooked… The worst… “The worst pasta” he says… But this is what we have for today until we get to Vanadzor and hopefully get some nice dinner. Hello! Hello! Is this someone we know? No, I don’t think so… Oh, it’s Binni… Mathias and Arev? Yes…Hi! Nice to meet you! This is very funny! Have you two been in contact? Yes! I thought we would be quicker, but we’re not… So we’ve been in contact for a couple of weeks, because I saw that he was riding in the same direction. We used to be ahead of him, I think… and now we see him on the road… It’s really by chance! We didn’t know… I just knew he was going to Yerevan and not really which way… Meeting other cyclists is so common in most of Europe that it’s rarely worth mentioning. However, in this part of the world a fully loaded touring bicycle is a fairly unique sight.

It’s been a nice coincidence to meet Binni, whom we only know from Social Media. As we go in the same direction we quickly decide to continue as a group. Woaaaah! Hello, hello! Hi! How are you? Hi! What a nice family! They are travelling with their kids through Armenia with a bicycle. A couple of years back they were in Kyrgyzstan also with the kids and bicycles. The kids are very very interested.

They asked a lot of questions about the country… Yeah, that’s really great! Unfortunately they are going the other way, but this random dog decides to keep us company instead. I’m quite worried that a car might hit her… …but it seems like she’s ahead of the game. Now, if you ever happen to take the M8 road between Vanadzor and Dilijan, there is an odd village by the name Fioletovo. You might notice that the houses look a bit different compared to the average Armenian village. The far more obvious distinction is that blond hair and blue eyes are extremely uncommon features not only in Armenia but the wider region. In the 1840s the village was settled by Spiritual Christians relocated from Russia.

The Molokans, Russian for "dairy-eater", evolved from Eastern Orthodoxy. Their traditions, especially dairy consumption during Christian fasts, did not conform to those of the Russian Orthodox Church, and they were regarded as heretics. One government policy was to deport them away from the centre of Russia, into the Caucasus and other peripheral parts of the Empire. Don’t be surprised if they seem pretty shy, because they are. While Molokans were kind of tolerated under Catherine the Great, they were subject to harsh rules intended to curb community growth.

Prohibited from winning converts, they adopted endogamy, the cultural practice of only mating within a specific group, rejecting anyone from outside as unsuitable for marriage or other close personal relationships. One way to get some interaction is to buy some of their excellent pickled vegetables. We ended up camping in the city park, which is usually not allowed, but we asked the city park manager and he said “well, you’ve come a long way, it’s ok!” Today will be a tough day up the mountains behind that building.

We’ll have about 1000 m of climbing… So we are wrapping up here. Dilijan is an important spa town and resort in the mountains of the National Park that goes by the same name. Now in early August when temperatures in Yerevan sometimes reach 40°C and above it is peak season here, as everyone who can afford it leaves the capital city, seeking more moderate temperatures.

Very tasty! *in Armenian Really tasty corn. 600 drams. 1,5 €. Hm, that’s expensive, but it’ll give me the energy for the mountain. Thank you! Why aren’t you eating?! Hm? Why aren’t you eating corn? No, no..

What “no, no…”. First eat, then say “no, no…” Come on, come on, have one… Come on… You’ll regret it! Come on, I’m telling you! No, no! Haha… what a character! We did quite some climbing. There is a pretty long tunnel coming up and the road has a lot of traffic. So, as there is a pass road, we’re going to take that one. Binni is a little bit quicker than us, so he is waiting at the crossroads. So 300 m more of climbing to go and then it’s downwards to lake Sevan.

This is perfect! And it’s time for a break too… Do you want to make some bbq? That would be great! Travelling Armenia you will notice countless similar picnic huts, which is because we use every chance we get to prepare some BBQ. My favourite are grilled veggies, but usually there is a lot of meat involved too. This particular hut is very new and like the fountain apparently built in the memory of a young man, who died in the Second Karabakh War of 2020. After a cooling refreshment and a hearty lunch in the shade, we set off again to take on the last 200 metres of ascent to the pass at 2225 metres above sea level.

We did it! We did it! Which village have we reached, guys? Semyonovka! Hey, bro! Hello! Doing well? Yes, and how are you? Fine, bro. Where are you coming from, bro? That was my Armenian. You can tell me… What? Where are we coming from? It’s really funny. I speak like ten Armenian words, but I can pronounce them very well. So if I start a conversation, they think I can speak Armenian… which I totally can’t, unfortunately. I have to learn it. They are asking “why are you so tall?" It’s the genes, genes! The first glimpse of massive Lake Sevan.

It’s the biggest body of water in the whole Caucasus region, and one of the largest freshwater high-altitude lakes in Eurasia. It is considered Armenia's national jewel covering nearly 1/6th of the country's surface area. It is of great importance for irrigation, fishing and recreation.

During summer one can take the train from Yerevan, to get to the lake and in the past I spent many brilliant days on its shores. There it is, Lake Sevan, we’re almost there! It’s a daytrip from Yerevan with a bicycle, an hour with a car. It feels a little bit like coming home. Let’s go do some shopping for dinner.

Arev said, let’s cook something without meat. Which is great, because we never cook with meat. Let’s see what we have here and then figure it out. They have a lot of beer, we need beer, right?! We bought a lot of vegetables, beer… We have some tomatoes, cucumbers, and peaches… Now we are looking for a nice access to the beach. I’ve seen something on google maps that looks promising.

Let’s hope there is no gate, so we can access the beach without any issue. We found it! This is the way. This is basically a place where you rent one of these pavilions to make barbecues at the lake. The woman working here asked her boss and we are allowed to stay here for free, which is great, we have a nice view. We’re now putting up the tents and we’ll start cooking after putting on some clothes, as it’s pretty chilly here.

Although it doesn’t really look like it, Lake Sevan is sitting at 1900 metres. Therefore temperatures drop significantly once the sun has set. After spending a peaceful night and a lovely morning at the beach we say goodbye to Binni, who continues on the east side of the lake and towards Iran. We’re always a bit sad when our ways part again.

However… We are not alone after all. We ran into Sarah and Thomas from Belgium or rather they ran into us. Now what are the chances, really? In less than 24 hours we’ve been cycling with Binni, met a whole cycling family, another Frenchman going solo and now these two! Excited, we decide to share the remaining day and continue a bit south on the western side of the lake. With Yerevan and an interruption of our journey getting closer we very much appreciate spending time with those who will not come to a grinding halt soon. We found ourselves a place where we can have some grilled fish. We’ll definitely find a good place for our tent somewhere there.

So we are pretty happy here. They are cooling a bottle of wine for us right now and will grill fish for us. Look there are more cyclists over there.

Very busy here! We found a nice spot to camp and I was searching for Mathias and now I found him. The biggest threat to cyclists in Armenia are probably Armenians force feeding you delicious BBQ and very potent liquor. Hi! Hello! Mathias… I was searching for you… This is Armenia! We then spend a lovely evening as a group of 7, sharing bike touring stories and our plans for the near future. Now our ways kind of part.

Luis, Jana and Clement will go straight to Iran basically, so they will head in this direction. Sara and Thomas will come to our place in Yerevan maybe two days after us. And Arev and I will go home today… So that’s a strange feeling… To avoid the traffic of the highway we take the old road to Yerevan, which is more scenic and with 70 kms a little longer. The town of Sevan has clearly seen better times, as most of the Soviet era industries did not make it after the fall of the Union. What an unexpectedly cheerful last couple of days it has been.

Meeting so many fellow bicycle travellers helped us a lot to come to terms with the upcoming break. There are some factors why we’ve met so many touring cyclists going essentially more or less the same way from Georgia’s capital Tbilisi through Armenia and further south into Iran. Generally it is the time of the year when many cyclists that started in early spring in Europe will reach the region and need to find a way to get further east. It is about here where things start to get more complicated and we could make a whole episode just about that.

Many people on a great journey would choose to get to Kazakhstan from Georgia via Azerbaijan and the Baku - Aktau ferry over the Caspian Sea. It is a much easier and faster route to Central Asia, skipping mountainous Armenia, as well as Iran and Turkmenistan, two countries that come with a whole range of issues. However, already since 2020 Azerbaijan has kept its land borders shut, officially stating the Covid pandemic as a reason and extending the closure by public announcement every few months. This did not make much of a difference for us as Azerbaijan denies entry to people of Armenian descent in any case.

As of March 2024 Azerbaijan's land border crossings remain closed for everyone. From here to our home is just a 20km downhill. 600m down…well, it means 6 degrees more. We’re having close to 40 degrees, so it’s 40 degrees in the coming days in Yerevan. That means its above 25 degrees at night. I don’t like that.

But yeah…we’re there. We’ll have a shower every day. This road is nuts. It’s so bumpy…

One can really feel the heat, going down from the higher plateau. 6 degrees more, you can literally feel it while going down. There it is, Yerevan! We already know that a handful of people we met on the road will come visit us in the coming weeks, and we hope to give back some of the hospitality we received on our way so far.

The last day on the road for the coming months. To be honest, we would love to keep pedalling. It is a sensible choice though, as we can work on content without spending a ton of money for accommodation. Less than 1 km left. Our plan is to stay all of autumn at my dad's place, finally start editing all these videos and to continue through the wild South of Armenia and into Iran at the beginning of winter.

This is the shopping area, where we usually buy groceries. Busy…as always. By the way, we will publish the next episode as soon as this one reaches 342 likes. Help us reach this goal and you’ll get to see the next episode a lot faster than it took us in reality. So press the button and join us again, when we're back on the road after many unexpected turns, cycle up to new heights and explore long forgotten places 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.

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2024-03-13 15:59

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