[Armenia 🇦🇲 Georgia🇬🇪 Turkey🇹🇷, D+ 199 – 8,214 km. 15-27 September]
Let’s rewind! Political absurdity and the closure of the borders between Armenia and Turkey push us to go back up through Georgia and Turkey by bike to continue!
After a last Armenian pass and incredible (though very arid) landscapes, we are back in Georgia for only one night. On the road we meet a lot of smiling and nice people, we seriously start to wonder if we are in the right country. We then realize that many Armenians live here: everything is explained! Precisely, after this long day, we find a guesthouse run by a hilarious Armenian. A simple but well thought place where we feel very comfortable. Cherry on the bike: he accepts that we pay with the Armenian banknotes still in our pockets. The next morning, the manager is with a friend. When we ask him if he is Armenian too, he answers us laughing “of course he is Armenian, don’t you see his nose?” We already miss Armenia!
We then take the road to the Turkish border by bike, which is only about fifty kilometres away. We decide to trust our GPS to take a shortcut which avoids the main road (which we imagine dense). We are alone on the road, surrounded by the immensity of these arid mountainous landscapes. Some inhabitants look at us, surprised – this famous look, which should alert us, but no!
Then, bang!, a few kilometres later, things start to go wrong. The asphalt gradually disappears until we can hardly distinguish the road from the fields of stones! Miracle, a car. The guy stops and makes us understand that we should not continue, the road is really bad and way too steep. He then points to a direction “Asphalt”. In the distance: nothing. Hilly and rocky fields as far as the eye can see. But hey, we trust him more than our GPS. So here we are through drought, rocks and hills for several kilometres. We admire raptors of an impressive size on each small “summit”. Then, after pushing, pedalling, pushing, pedalling: we finally find a “real” road! To celebrate, we treat ourselves to a comforting snack. A van stops at our level, two men inside. An Armenian and a Turk, they explain to us that they are friends: that makes even more heart-warming when we know the political relationship between the two countries! 💙
Back in Turkey.
After passing about twenty kilometres of stopped trucks, we cross the border in only few minutes. Once on the other side, we find a beautiful deserted 4-lane, with “our” splendid and so familiar hard shoulder! The joy of the reunion is short-lived: a pass awaits us, in full sun. GG is lagging behind today, so a family in a Ford Tourneo-Connect takes pity, stops and insists on loading the bike in the boot. It’s very tempting, but GG declines, and valiantly continues the last 500m of his ascent at the strength of his calves – with some regrets. But this time, it was worth it! A sign awaits us at the top, as if to congratulate us and FINALLY acknowledge that we’ve just had one hell of a climb (and it’s FINALLY over)! ⛰️
Çildir. A magnificent descent rewards all our efforts until we reach the town of Çildir. The opportunity to change money and to eat! Tired, we spend the night in this village before setting off for 97km, our -almost- record! We ride along the incredible turquoise blue lake of Çildir for 30 kilometres, alone in the world.
Arpaçay. We branch off in the village to find food (yes, it’s repeated quite often!). As usual, we do not pass unnoticed with our strange load! Without even having had the time to enter any shop, we are warmly invited to share a tea with the mayor of the village and a dozen other people. They suggest we stay, but seeing how far we have to go we decide to continue. After having managed to buy some bread and a piece of cheese, we escape. We only stop when we are sure we can eat without interruption/invitation: in the middle of the heat, on the hard shoulder: perfect!
Karma catches up with us: this time it’s a big white dog, hungry, that comes barking out of nowhere. We get back on the road and so does he. He starts a frantic race to follow us as we attack a 10% descent!
Kars. After several exhausting days, we stop for 3 days in Kars. This is the opportunity to repair our crutches whose bolts have broken inside the frame. With the few tools in our panniers, we feel like idiots! But it’s rarely a problem: we find a bike repairer who does it in a few minutes, not without offering us a çay and asking for our number.
We decide to anticipate and buy our bus tickets for Van a bit in advance. We go to the bus company, the opportunity to specify that we travel with our steeds, and that we take some space! The person confirms us that there will be no problem for the bikes and that we have to be in front of the agency at 8 am. On the day, we are in front of the agency. A shuttle bus arrives, the guy gets off and looks at our bikes with a cautious look. At that moment, we understand that it’s not going to fit! Plan B is on: he loads our panniers in the vehicle to lighten us and we follow him with our pedals! We feel like we are following our own luggage. We have a lot of fun with this little 5 km morning chase: we don’t need much! 🙂 As expected, the bus driver is a bit annoyed when he sees what he will have to put in the hold. After a few words, we finally cheer him up, and above all: make him accept to take the bikes! 🥳
Koçhkoy. With the wind in our faces, we pedal on the hard shoulder until we arrive at a small campsite facing Lake Van. A soldier welcomes us and invites us to pitch the tent next to a family’s pitch – the only campers. Just a few minutes after setting up everything, we go back home to take a break. We quickly feel the wind picking up. We laugh about it, we even make a “we’ve seen much worse” video. As if we had provoked it, the wind becomes stronger and stronger, in fits and starts to stop. We smile while gobbling sunflower seeds. The calm is short-lived and the wind is back with a worrying increase in intensity. A tornado! From the inside, we try to support the poles and hold the tarpaulin as much as possible to prevent it from breaking! But the tent folds, with us, the canvas flies away, we feel sucked in (and terrified). It is rather impressive, and clearly, at this moment, we are not laughing anymore! Then the wind suddenly calms down. It rains. Then it blows again, in waves (less intense). Anai goes out to weight down the tent with bricks while GG puts the stuff away from the water. Two soldiers come in, armed with cinder blocks and good will. As the struggle against the wind and adrenaline continues (because the whole thing is still a bit fragile and wobbly), one of them uses his translator to communicate with Anai, without much success, her attention is elsewhere: our house is still on the verge of blowing away! Then she finally reads: “Let’s have dinner!” What a sense of priorities! 🙂
The weather finally calms down, our tent now has more bricks than a solid house. The soldiers invite us into their rest hut. We share a meal, under two AK47s that stand on the wall.
- Excessive to guard our tent, isn’t it? Well, our stuff is safe.
We then understand that this is an equine brigade, the stable is just opposite. The commander takes us there and proudly presents us his horses that he pampers with love! We then spend the evening drinking litres of çay – to Anai’s great delight… – watching the “news of violence”. A TV news programme that lists all the most violent events from all over the world. Probably one of the most unhealthy TV shows we have ever seen; all this in a warm and friendly atmosphere: a destabilizing mix!
Agzikara. After a few days of rest and practical adjustments, we set off again in the direction of a magnificent lake: the perfect bivouac spot except for one detail: the wind and absolutely nothing to shelter under! A little shaken by the last blows, we push further.
We stop at the first (and last) supermarket in the area. Whereas we enjoy a fresh drink, the salesmen bring us (silently) hot water and soluble cappuccinos, on the carpark: luxurious!
We set off again with a full belly, wondering how we could find a place cut off from the wind: on the horizon the mountains are bare and trees and houses are rare. After a good 20 km, the universe has heard us again! On our left, a small green grove: exactly what we needed! We enter the path that leads to the heart of this protective vegetation. We see a rucksack and the remains of a fire to make tea – probably the belongings of a shepherd. We set up camp a little further on, hidden by the trees. We are invisible from the road, it’s already been two hours, we haven’t met anyone! Suddenly, gling, 1 sheep, then 2 – 3 – 10 come towards us. The shepherd comes to see us and wonders about our presence here. We don’t understand, and the translator doesn’t help us : his formulations are too complex and in French, it doesn’t make sense. We understand that according to him it is too dangerous to stay here. We ask him why – because except for the sheep, there is nobody! He explains that it is dangerous because we are women! He suggests that we go 200 metres further down the “path”, to be even better hidden. We don’t really see the difference, but we comply. We may find him a bit strange at the time, but he is just benevolent!
Very fresh awakening. Last night, the temperature went down to 5°. With numb legs, we consult the weather forecast: they announce 0° at 2200 m. Mission for our last bivouac in Turkey: find a plaid on the road!
After a day of cycling, with the wind in our face, in the aridity of the hilly landscapes (again), the mountains become slightly sharper, steeper too and subtly greener: we are about to change country. Our mission successfully accomplished (strangely easily), we set up the tent in a ruined building whose last walls still standing shelter us from the wind.
At the gates of Iran, the night will be short, full of questions and apprehension for this border crossing so dreaded by travellers.
In our case, wrongly so. From the very first meters we are enveloped in benevolence, generosity and kindness. And it continues!