TWENTY-SEVENTH MOVEMENT: ARMENIA
I woke up today, showered, dressed, packed my bags, and checked out of the hostel I was staying at in Tbilisi. I then walked down to the Ortachala Bus Station (which was much further of a walk than Google Maps led me to believe). I reached the bus station after 11:00, found the marshrutka to Yerevan, but discovered I was currently the only passenger and the vehicle would not depart until five or six other passengers came. So, I resigned myself to waiting. In the meantime, I had a sort of lunch consisting of pretzels and beer. Then, after waiting in the cold air for over two hours, I was still the only passenger for Yerevan; I was then told that the marshrutka would not depart until 17:00 now (yeah right, that’s if they have the right number of passengers); I started to wish I was going to Turkey or Iran since those designated buses looked like they were getting all the business. Since I did not want to wait until 17:00 and I wanted to see as much of the Georgian and Armenian countryside as I could in daylight, I decided to hire a taxi to take me on the six-plus hour journey to Yerevan. Now, in most countries, such a taxi ride would be astronomically high priced, but in Georgia, it can be surprisingly cheap (at least compared to the high fares I had just come from in Israel) – the entire journey would only cost me 100 lira (or fifty USD), which I considered to be a very fair price. I then talked to a man who works at the bus station and he arranged for a taxi to come and take me; unfortunately, it would be thirty minutes or so before the taxi would arrive. I then sat in the sun to warm up and waited. Finally, one of the taxi drivers called me over and I put my bags in his car and sat inside; he then had a heated argument with the man who had made the call for a taxi to come get me and I suspected this taxi driver was trying to steal his business; sadly, for me, the conversation was in Georgian and I had no idea what was being said; eventually, when I asked the taxi driver when I would be leaving for Yerevan, he started up the engine, and drove out to the city limits of Tbilisi. The taxi driver then stopped at an abandoned gas station and tried waving down some cars. Okay, so I decided to give taxi drivers in Georgia a chance and they failed me miserably; I know, I know, I should stop using taxis and just stick to trains or reliable buses; taxi drivers really are the same everywhere in this world and I have nothing nice to say about them. I sat in the taxi to see what might develop, but after five minutes I gave up; I exited the taxi and started walking back to Tbilisi, the driver tried to stop me, but I ignored him. Then, as I was walking back, the man from the bus station who had called the taxi for me came in a car with his buddy; he began to persuade me to use the taxi he called and explained that the other driver was crazy (he told me that the crazy taxi driver was trying to wave down cars with Armenian plates to take me to Yerevan and had hoped I would pay him ten lira for taking me out of Tbilisi and wasting my time); at this point I was ready to take the 20:20 train to Yerevan and get there at 07:00 the next morning, but I was also very tired and the man seemed sincere enough; so I decided to wait on the side of the highway for the taxi he had called (that had Armenian plates) to come and pick me up. The taxi arrived after about fifteen minutes and there was another man in the passenger seat (possibly the driver’s friend – they didn’t speak much English, so I had no idea); I paid the driver, loaded my bags in, and sat in the back. I thanked the man who had arranged the taxi and we then drove off to Yerevan. The views of the Georgian countryside were beautiful and I snacked on some miniature cinnamon and chocolate coated cakes and drank some lemon iced tea I had bought earlier at the bus station. After about an hour of driving (around 16:20) we reached the Armenian border; I grabbed my bags and joined the other passenger as we passed through the Georgian Passport Control; we were stamped out of the country as the taxi driver drove through the checkpoint, we then met up in the border zone and got back in to the taxi. Next, we drove through the Armenian checkpoint; we didn’t have to exit the car and we turned in all of our passports to the guard; he checked through them, studied me for some time since I now have long hair and a slimmer face, and then he stamped us all in to Armenia.
Once in Armenia, the guards briefly checked the trunk and then we stopped at the currency exchange at the border (I just used the ATM); once we had our Armenian dram, we got back in the taxi and drove south to Yerevan. We then stopped at a convenience store in a small industrial town where the driver and passenger bought a sausage, bread, cheese, orange Fanta, and vodka; after that stop, we continued on down the road, driving alongside the Debed River, through a picturesque canyon. The taxi driver then found a spot on the side of the road and parked the taxi; we got out and I then learned that the food they had bought at the convenience store was for us to have a picnic; we found a spot on the hillside and I had some bread, cheese, Fanta, and vodka (I turned down the sausage, remembering today was a Friday during Lent). After our picnic, we got back in to the vehicle and continued on to Yerevan, and the taxi driver had earned my trust. The highway then traversed across the Lesser Caucasus which still had a great deal of snow had the higher elevations; we also passed by the northern end of Sevan Lake as the night pressed on. Our next stop was a gas station and I followed the others as they exited the vehicle and made sure to stand a good distance away from the taxi (perhaps gas tank explosions are common in Armenia?); the attendant filled the gas tank in the trunk of the car and I tried to stay warm in the cold mountain air; once the tank was filled, we reentered the taxi and continued to Yerevan. The taxi driver first dropped the other passenger off and then we tried to find the hostel I planned to stay at; unfortunately for us, the address on Booking.com was wrong and the taxi driver didn’t speak English and evidently cannot read a map (otherwise he may have caught the mistake earlier since the location on the map turned out to be right); not being able to find the hostel at the address it should’ve been at, we stopped to ask some guys and they immediately saw that the map and address did not match; they then got the number for the hostel, called it, and confirmed the correct address; I thanked them and we drove off to the hostel; once there (reaching it around 22:00), I grabbed my bags, and walked to the reception desk; the taxi driver had hoped to grease ten Georgian lira out of me for his troubles, but I used the language barrier to my advantage and the hostel staff explained to him that the error was not mine; so he said goodbye and left. I then checked in to the dorm room, booked a tour for tomorrow, and then had some coffee and relaxed. The hostel is a nice set up and looks more like a three-storey mansion; there is a nice coffee machine, kitchen cabinets, and interior design; they also have a small indoor pool and sauna; I have no idea how they can afford such a place and offer such low rates for their dorm beds; perhaps during the summer (the real tourist season) they make their money . . . or maybe they have Russian mafia connections. Anyway, after a long day, I finally went to sleep some time after midnight.