Rollin In A Russian Lada, Areni, Armenia, August 8th, 2015
Getting out of Yerevan; easy enough.
It took some walking, and a couple of very short lifts, but we finally got onto the way.
In Yerevan, I wouldn’t say it’s the case, but like, back in Akhalkalaki, here in the countryside, all the men are staring at Emine, like horny boys. And not only staring at her, but at me as well, like I got shit on my face.
I absolutely loved my time in Yerevan, and could imagine hanging out there a while longer. We eventually found a nice host, from Iran, who took us in. His flat with very little space, he and his room-mate, they made some for us. We drank like fish, and into the night and in the morning I ended up on someone’s front yard, passed out. They thought I was dead. And so, like any time you might think someone is dead, they called an ambulance. When the ambulance came they realised I wasn’t dead, and at the same time I woke up. They were mounting me into the ambulance, and about to shoot me with some kind of needle.
‘HEY! HEY! What the hell are you guys doing, huh?!’
'Relax sir, it’s ok. Just lay back.’
'Fuck that! I ain’t layin back. I’m relaxed, I’m fine.’ And as the word fine finished, I ripped the needle out of my arm and pushed the woman back to spring out of the back door, onto a residential road and then run like Jesse Owens, or an escaped convict, all the way to our Iranian friend’s place.
'Freddi! Where have you been. I’ve been so worried. You’re ok? Oh my.’ After all that, Emine slammed her fists on my chest,
'You disappeared! I hate it when you disappear!’ She took a breath, relaxed a bit, 'at least you’re ok.’
The two of us found a nice, air conditioned dorm, a few stories up over-looking the city, before finding our Iranian host. Kantar Hostel, though tucked away, and a bit tough to find, was about eight euro each (at the time). The dorm was pretty much, empty. We had a free, buffet breakfast, and a big. flat screen to watch movies in the air conditioning. It was so pimp -and cheap. A small balcony to watch the city move at night. We couldn’t afford more than two nights, and fortunately this Iranian guy showed up and met us at the Opera House or else we’d have had to leave the city. And man, I really loved my time in Yerevan, simply wanted it to last a little longer. And boy were we both grateful for Mostafa (our Iranian mate) and Kantar for their big breakfast and air conditioning!
So like I said, after a couple short lifts, a short pause, at yet another angle of Ararat, to enjoy the distant -tragically- view of the mountain, we are on our way. A man in board shorts, and polished, white, leather sandals picks us up. He’s driving a Lada, white, like everyone else. The man doesn’t speak, he shouts; like he’s had ear phones in the past decade.
His Russian is great and a very animated character as well. We stop on the roadside for him to load up on tomatoes,
'Caucasus, you know Caucasus?’
'Well, yea, we’re here aren’t we?’
'Caucasus! Azerbaijan, Armenie! Georgia. This Caucasus!’
'Yea, ok, and?’
'Market; here market, all Caucasus, this market; cheap market; but here, no cheap market.
Basically, the roadside markets were everywhere -especially in this region, actually- but, this one was the most expensive. O.K. Cheers.
So we stop. ?
He haggles, and the fruit man gives us a coffee each. He haggles some more, then gets another bag of tomatoes. Open and shut, his trunk goes up and down, up and down…
After ages of the fruit man trying to kidnap us, we’re out -and back on the road.
Fruit market. Fruit market. Then his car starts acting up.
This car, old Communist-era Lada, is seen everywhere in Armenia, pretty much the only place left where it’s still a popular car on the road I guess. maybe in poor parts of Russia as well. It’s commonly white, with four doors; and it’s a tight squeeze with a low roof. The car is his 'dad’s’ he says.
The car is easily twenty years old -and GREAT, he says. Everything Russian is great with this guy. Funny thing though, after some time his LPG igniter doesn’t work. We can’t move, no gas. And the road doesn’t exactly run flat, or uphill currently, so we glidin’. This country, as I’ve come to see, is a maze of pavement, through nothing but massive, blond, baron mountains.
The shit is unreal! And intensely unique.
One minute five hundred metres down, next minute fifteen hundred up, then another thousand up, and back down another five hundred. And this guy’s car keeps fucking up, the whole way. He notices I’m on the nod, tired from a devouring day -heat stealing my strength (as I tried to find camping gas for hours before leaving Yerevan).
'HEY! Sing! Come on, SING!’
He keeps insisting and Emine keeps refusing, finally I try to remember, ’When the night feels my song’ by Bedouin Soundclash.
Finally, the guy lets the LPG rip, stepping on the gas pedal like he’s got a dozen needles in his knee. Fully like a bird in a boxcar, with wings torn out of our front doors, the road is going all the way down, and fast!
As the car is gliding, my teeth are nearly grinding as I notice the speed-o-metre isn’t moving, but instead throbbing beyond it’s capacity. Meanwhile this guy is pumping his LPG and going maniac, ultimate warrior, on the gas pedal, trying to get the thing going. But really, it doesn’t matter, because we’re nearly at Mach speed heading down a cement river, straight into the deepest turnpike of these canyons.
We arrive in Areni (ancient monastery site) and an endless line of peach vendors. The guy loads up his truck with bags of peaches, and the woman shares one -sliced up- with us, Emine getting soaked by the peach juice and then coaxed into buying a bottle of local wine -which isn’t too bad, despite being in a plastic, coke bottle.
Another peach vendor. And another massive bag of peaches for old mate. And a market area, with a couple shops where I can take a piss and get some water -we’ve still got a while to go, yet.
'Here, Freddi, Here!’
Emine looks over at me, 'I think you should fill the bottle with that water!’
A restaurant clerk -friend of the driver’s- offers us a coffee. I figure a little kebab would do some good, before carrying on another couple hours to Kapan. Especially considering the clerk is so nice, offering us drinks.
The man seemed to be happy enough to take us along, to Kapan, and he was headed there, so why not get a lift to the bottom of Armenia, then work our way back up? Even if the dude can’t control his vocal chords.
All the sudden we are pulled over to a woman -and I know why.
'Can I help you with something?’ She is a tour guide for some bus of foreigners.
'Do you have any questions?’
Every time someone who speaks English arrives, in similar situations, the local pulls me over to talk with them like we know each other. Like it’s life depending that I talk with her.
On top of that, they generally treat me like I’m desperate, or dire for some help.
I look around awkwardly; I look at her, at Emine, at the driver and the clerk who was meant to bring me a kebab.
'I thought I was getting a kebab -and Emine a coffee. Now there seems to be some confusion, and you?’ What is there to confuse, I’m thinking.
She’s looking real pensive and like, willing to help, but I’m thinking, 'what the hell is the problem?’
'The man thinks you might need some help,’ she says to me.
'Well, not really, just that if he is going to Kapan, we’d be happy to tag along. I kinda thought everything was figured out already. Like, I’m pretty sure we already talked about all this and he nodded and all that jazz?’
The two of them speak.
'He wants six thousand dram (twelve euro) to take you guys,’ my vision blurries and nerves shake. She continues, 'his car is old, he says, and with the extra weight it will take too much gas (never mind the ten kilo of each, peaches and tomatoes).
'Yea, ok, we’re gonna stay here.’
Despite the place being super uncomfortable, everyone staring at us, unable to find some kind of calm and now this extortionist, and it being dark, very dark. There is no way we’re paying twelve euro to carry on.
Of course, the two of them speak again, and it’s obvious what he wants. He wants money from the point he picked us up. But where other situations might have gotten even stickier, and more anxiety riddled, she’s getting tough, explaining the difference between hitch-hiking and a taxi (with my guidance, and impatience). Like he doesn’t know anyhow.
The shadiest thing in life for me, is this sneaky boxing-in technique, that is nearly robbery. You do something for someone, then after it is done, play the guilt card to get some money out. Like his old car, and his hard life.
Here’s the story. This guy sees us buy a bottle of wine (two euro) which he insisted we do. He sees me buy a kebab (from his friend who offered us coffee but we’ve not yet gotten) and then thinks,
'Ah ha! They got money for that; they got money for me!’
Twelve euro for two hours of driving, in this bloke’s car that keeps breaking down n shit. How’s that fair? And neither is expecting us to pay four euro each for the trip we’d already done.
Only a couple times did this happen in Georgia, and the cost wasn’t unrealistic either. But in Egypt this happened a lot. After a few times, I tried to negotiate prices, but it was always smiles and shoulder pats, then the extortion. Then fighting. Just exhausting really. And this wouldn’t be the last time in Armenia either.
A very poor level of communication (and you can blame it on language, but in Jordan peeps were very able to negotiate without the language being a barrier), and a representation of kindness then expectancy of cash for non-negotiation (because we’re rich tourists).
Already all the digression, abrasive noise of people, of him, and the mega heat, plus dark, intense, pervy or hateful grins and looks; now this shady bullshit. Over the limit. About to snap in fact.
It’s starting to feel real bad, like diarrhoea creeping up on a long, Indian train ride.
Lucky the girl is there to play our linebacker, and block the fucker, and even luckier we’re introduced to a peach farmer that is willing to bring us back to his property to set up our camp the night -and even bring us water in the morning!
We finally get the coffees too, with this man’s help. And my plain, dry, and overpriced kebab.