Georgia: step one, Tbilisi

I took a van from Yeravan with destination to Tbilisi capital of Georgia and also to my friend’s house, Elene. I met her back in India and since I was passing by Iran, this was the perfect chance to see her again!

The journey was longer than expected, however I never had an easier border. It took literally less than 10 minutes and no money at all. It could not have been easier. Once I got to Elene’s house, I was quickly offered all kind of spoiled treatments. She went beyond offering me all kind of stuff and letting me rest until she was getting back to work and finishing off to meet up later at city centre and show me around. She introduced me to the local food and took me around and we had the chance to catch up with all things that had been going on since the last time we saw each other, so many months ago.

The next day I was left on my own to explore the city but I preferred to sleep and take it easy and I didn’t get up to much. Armenia had been to intense and now I needed a break. But I still had time to have a stroll around and visit the main Cathedral in the city, that happened to be huge and took me longer than expected. Therefore, after that, all I did was to meet Elene for more Georgian food and sights to a different part of the city.

For my next day, it was about time to employ my time actively and I went to explore the heights of the city and hike up a bit through the botanical gardens, including a fortress and a church on top of other hill that turned out to be closed but allowed me to ring a bell outside it without hesitation, as there was nobody around. I got to cover less than expected as I improvised all the time and visited places that were on my way but not in the initial rough itinerary I had in mind. So, by the time Elene finished work, I met her to get more delicious food and we went for a drink afterwards.

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Some church I visited on the way

The days have been busy and I had been trying to catch up with my sleep, while getting things ready for my next steps in my journey, visiting the city and hanging out with Elene. Everything was almost sorted and it was time to get truly active and get to see stuff out of the city. So, for my first stop, I would try Mtskheta, which was close by. Unfortunately, the weather had suffered a dramatic change and from the glorious 40 degrees we were having we changed to grey skies and colder temperatures. But I was decided and actually I wanted to hike around.

So, I went to the marshutka station to get one to my destination and after a while asking around and avoiding the taxi offers, I ended up in one where I met two Portuguese girls. They were really nice and I started to chat and tell them half of the story of my life in my usual voice tone. The marshutka was full with local people that started staring at me. It didn’t bother me at all, nothing new. But I was not getting the signals until someone made a shh noise and then one of my new friends told me they were asking me to shut up. Upssss.

I kept my mouth shut for the sake of peace in the marshutka and once there, I was ready to hike. The weather was not so good and these girls were in a rush, so they accepted a taxi offer. Considering I was with two more people, I bargained their taxi and joined to have a comfortable ride to the top and check a beautiful monastery.

We got back to our taxi and on the way back, the man decided to make a stop to get a plastic bottles filled with wine and offer us some. He was keeping a bottle of wine in his boot! I guess for emergency purposes, like this case! Once at the main town, we checked the main cathedral over there and got something to eat. I was having fun with them and I was especially delighted by the fact they thought I was 21 years old. I was thinking of going hiking somewhere else around the area by myself when it started raining. So it was clear that I had to make my way back home.

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Taxi driver getting wine for eveyone!

There, Elene’s dad was already home and he offered me some wine he make himself and we also had lunch together. I had all the evening for myself to relax, which was nice and Elene came back from work later on. That night, her mum came back from Batumi, where she had been on holidays with her friends. She immediately took control of the kitchen and ensured everyone was having good food. She was gas, even though her English was limited there was nothing that was stopping her from chatting away. A really fun woman. She served dinner in a simple way (I was backpacker and I didn’t need anything fancy. She got it right) and then even made cake for the occasion. Unfortunately, the cake was burnt a little bit. Then, she offered me some Georgian sweet that she had left from some other occasion and when I had a look to it I could see a worm inside saying hello to me. I laughed, she laughed and everybody laugh when they saw it. It was no dessert day.

 

I had planned my own stuff for next day and I was very excited with the idea of arriving to Vardzia, even though I had been advised how far it was. The plan initially had been to get there from Kutaisi or to make my way to Kutaisi from there, spending one night around. But the plans had been continuously changing, especially due to the weather conditions and I decided on a day trip to this wonderful thing I was so interested in seeing. So I had to wake up really really ealy to make sure I could take a marshutka early enough, as early as possible. The first surprise came in early as well. There was no direct marshutka to Vardzia until 10am. That was more than 2 hours I would have to wait and also, too late! But I managed to find a different way to do things and I got a marshutka leaving in a few minutes that would drop me in a town in between where I could take another one to my destination. So I got to Akhaktsikhe after a few hours and also after waiting for some time, I got to Vardzia. The driver probably read my intentions and adviced me, in body language, that the last van leaving Vardzia would be at 3pm and that meant that I would have to make it back in one hour and 15 minutes if I wanted to take it. That was so short!!! So I went to the ticket office, got my ticket and run all the way uphill to gain some time to check the awesome place I had before my eyes: A complex of caves excavated in a mountain looking at the river. Also, a monastery and some tunnels around that seemed to be connecting places. And I had to do it under the rain because it just started raining right when I arrived to the first caves. There was no time for being under cover.

After my rushed visit, I managed to get back to the marshutka and then I was driven back to the nearby town where I linked vans previously. I was hungry and sick of seating in these funny minivans and their crazy driving, so I decided to ignore all people that was looking for people going to Kutaisi, Batumi and Tbili and got on my way to look for food and also to some nearby castle that was in this town. And that was a mistake, because when I came back 30 minutes later, I found the marshutka station completely empty. And I started panicking and getting worried about how I would be able to get back to Tbilisi. I talked to a few people around and the same guy that had given me the wrong time for the last marshutka that morning, put me in a van going to some other town which name was completely unknown to me. He ensured me that I would be able to get something going to Tbilisi over there and it was my only chance and the only way to get closer to Tbilisi, so I gladly accepted and thought that the closer I could get, the easier it would be to hitchike if needed to be.

After a couple of hours we arrived to the agreed town and the very driver took care to transfer me to another marshutka that actually took me to Tbilisi. Happy days! Really late and tired as ever after so many hours of transport I got back to Elene’s place to enjoy dinner with them and relax.

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Vardzia, it was worth all the marshutkas and all the trouble

On Saturday, Elene was off and we had changed our plans several times (maybe around 5 times) due to weather conditions. I didn’t want to get stressed and also I wanted her to enjoy her weekend, so we didn’t set up any alarm and went with the flow. Once we woke up, had breakfast and got ready for the day, we made our way to a different station than the one I had been using the previous days and, as a marshutka was not available by that time, we took a shared taxi to the region of Kakheti. From the main town, a marshutka would take us to some incredible church and once back, another martshutka would take us to a winery. It was a bit off the route and we had to walk and also hitchhike but soon enough we were there to find an interesting wedding going on.

The dresses, the manners, everything was extremely interesting and also, funny. It wasn’t a typical Georgian weeding. Element used her Russian skills to ask them and we found out that they were Georgian although from a village quite close to Azerbaijan and that’s why everything was like that. We joked about taking selfies with the people and with the just married couple, pure Indian style and she asked me to take a pic with them but I felt too embarrassed to do that….until we had someone asking us to take a picture with the couple to which we couldn’t refuse.

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We got a pic with the bride and the groom. People around them insisted on it and we couldn’t resist, obviously!

After that we went into the winery to get a tour and taste some wine. I got super excited with the blankets we were provided for the cold of the cellar and then, felt like am alcoholic because I was the only one drinking. Once more.

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My favourite part is when we were given blankets to visit the cellars

For the way back, we had it a bit difficult and he had to hitchhike or find a taxi somewhere. We went with the first and obvious choice and we stopped a lovely duo of men that seemed super nice. They were indeed and I had to laugh a lot as well when they asked me about Spaon, about how rich Spain is and especially when they asked me to change to the good religion, the orthodox, because Catholics were allowing gay marriage…

They dropped us past the village where they were going and next to a church and there, after having a look to the church and renovating our karma, that has been bad probably because we had been making fun of old times in India and all the marriage proposals we got, we kept our way. We got to stop a couple in a fancy Mercedes. They hesitated about taking us or not, but they finally did. They happened to be an engaged couple in search of a place for their ceremony. And although they were going to Tbilisi after checking the last church exactly in the town where we were heading, Elene gathered that they were quite embarrassed by the situation because they were not married yet but together (very religious couple in a very religious country) and we decided to look for a place to get dinner in the town and get back to Tbilisi on our own. We took a shared taxi with the usual crazy driver and there was her mum home, waiting for us. We all were very disappointed that we couldn’t get on a tour to some cool canyon because it had been raining so much in that area that it was flooded. So, for the next day, we had our plan changed again!

Next day we didn’t wake up really early either. But Elene and I made it to Kazbegi, a mountainous region in the North of Georgia. We hiked a mountain up to get to a beautiful church, snake encounter included in the hike. It was really and although very cloudy, the clouds allow me to distinguish some snow tops in very high majestic mountains. We had a really fun day and I stayed in the village for the night while Elene went back to Tbilisi to work the following day. I spent the evening under a duvet, seeking refuge from the cold.

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At the top of the monastery and mountains after the hike

Next day I should have woken up earlier. But it was my last day on my own and some extra time in bed doesn’t hurt anybody.  I had planned a huge hike up the mountains until a glacier I knew I wouldn’t be getting to. I woke up late, I had a time constraint by the last marshutka going to Tbilisi and also I had been in poor shape. I did make it to the viewpoint and it was rewarding. I had 10 minutes of semi-decent views before it was totally cloudy and there was no way to see anything. Just when most people arrived to the spot. So I spent some time chatting away with people and then decided to make my way back just to ensure me I had enough time to catch the last ride. And just when I finished hike and I was filling my empty bottle of water, I saw Jeroen, Belgium guy I was hanging out with in Armenia, sitting down and having food and drink with a friend of his. I knew he was going to be around but I never expected to meet him over there. So, I went therrx, said hello, shared a glass of wine with them while we were catching up on Armenian gossip and said goodbye again!

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On the way to the glacier and past the monastery of the previous day

I spent a fantastic day hiking, in the nature and alone with some physical a activity to entertain me and my head. Just exactly was I was in need. I went back to Tbilisi bargaining a shared taxi like a pro and getting it for the same price than a marshukta and the taxi driver kindly left me in my area instead of the station because “I was no tourist”. There, I enjoyed the last night in company of this lovely and fun family that hosted me and treated me like a queen and I said goodbye to them sadly. Who knows where I am seeing them again, but nothing would make me happier than a visit to Europe where I can pay off the favour.

In the mean time, I keep going with me journey, taking direction to the beach and expecting to enjoy a bit of the coast in a weather that seems to be improving, as I got my face completely burnt in the hike. Just when I thought I was over getting my skin burnt.

So, next morning, really really early, I am taking a marshukta once more to get to the coast where I am meeting some special person I have met travelling as well. It seems that it is all about old encounters now!

 

Armenia, no problem!

After 26 hours of bus from Tehran and a dramatic change in the landscape and everyone’s behaviour, I got to Yerevan. I walked to my hostel because I needed to stretch my legs and realised that I had arrived to a very European city. Architecture, organisation around, light nice traffic, people’s style, people in terraces enjoying coffee or beer… It was such a beautiful change! Bliss!

In my hostel, very good atmosphere was waiting for me and I instantly started getting on very well with the people around, specially these two Filipino girls. They invited me to join them next day in a tour and I was delighted.
I felt I still needed to walk a bit more and breath some air that wasn’t inside a vehicle, so I went to explore the city and the first I did was to get in a shop and go shopping some clothes I needed. Finally sizes and style I could use! After feeling great in a fitting room with music around and getting back to the consumist me, I explored the city, visited a beautiful church and hiked my way up to some memorial at the top of the city to get nice views.
After that, I was tired enough to get back, relax and get some food. I even got to the groceries and got vegetables and cook. That was all I needed, to eat healthily after the weird lunches I had been dealing with in Iran due to Ramadan.
I went to sleep, completely exhausted from the day and the bus journey and with the hopes of getting up next morning to go on the tour with these lovely people in my room that I just met.
But things never go to plan. At 4.30 am I was woken up by a lot of noise and hassle around. Everyone was up and there was a guy, Iranian one with French nationality, that had had his laptop stolen apparently and everyone was trying to figure out what had happened. All I could gather was that he had arrived really late at night, gone to sleep and woke up to find out his only bag was gone with his laptop, credit cards and all stuff but his passport.
Even the receptionist was trying to help to see what happened and people was around trying to figure how the bag had been taken through the barred window and how that had been possible.
I was extremely tired and seeing that nothing had to do with me, I put on my sleeping kit (eye mask and earplugs) and got back to sleep after a while of madness.
The thing went on the whole night. The guy insisted in calling the police and at 7am I was woken up again because the police was there taking finger prints and pictures and they wanted to talk to us. Me included. I couldn’t believe it. People started laughing at the situation and after a while the only Armenian guy staying in the hostel got to ask where the bag could possibly be to what I answered very ironically ‘here’ pointing at my nose. He made an appropriate comment on the bag and my boobs and kept going on jokes on how we were all suspects and we were in need of a lawyer and if there was any lawyer between us. He asked each of us separately what was our profession and when I said architect he said how hot that was and I almost punch him because I was getting extremely annoyed by the situation.
People kept joking and then I felt I had enough I got to say a few serious words about the situation because we were going to be taken to the police station and would have to make a statement and I felt incredibly unsettled about everything.
I was in a foreign country where I had no idea how things were working, the police was not speaking English so I was unsure about what they were saying, I had never being making a statement in a Police station. After hearing a few ‘no problem, no problem’ and ‘only two minutes’ I was fed up and didn’t want to sign any kind of document or talk with the police about anything. So I decided to call my insurance so they could put me through a lawyer. The lawyer was sleeping in Spanish time, obviously, but she attended me and explained me how things should be, although she was quite startled when I heard about my situation and that I was in a police station because of this. People were going crazy and the manager of the phone insisted on me hanging up the phone countless times. That night I would find out that everyone thought I was calling to the embassy probably that’s why but I suppose I went so crazy that they ha reasons to think so.
At the police station we were left in the middle of a hallway, with people passing at all times looking at us quite surprised and I felt that the situation couldn’t get more ridiculous. We never were offered anything and the only thing we knew is that we were waiting for a translator.
The translator arrived and the first thing was to talk to the French/Persian guy that had his stuff stolen. Then, two hours and a half after our arrival to the police station, we were individually interviewed and we had to sign out the statement. I found ridiculous that nobody ever took my passport number or anything. So I was almost okay with signing stuff and get the fuck out. I was in the first car leaving the police station. I think the owner of the hostel was quite happy to have me talking to the police in the first batch. I couldn’t believe that people even missed work because of this stupid thing.
Back at the hostel we could all agree that we were in need of resting and the afternoon passed quietly. I was quite sad that after leaving behind so many bad experiences in Iran, all this was happening to me in my first night in Armenia. Fortunately, people started planning out something for the evening and invited me to join up and that really saved the day. We took a taxi to check out some old stuff around Yerevan and had a great time exploring and taking lots of silly pictures.
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Zvartnots and Mount Ararat at the back

Back to the hostel all that could be left to do was to get all of us together to go for dinner. We were bonding. Finally, once more back to the hostel, the owner was waiting for us with a cake to apologise. It had been a long day and after that we all went to sleep. We had more stuff going on next day!
I had planned some hiking with Georgi from Georgia during our stay in the police station, unaware that the Armenian guy had rescheduled the tour for next day. So I cancelled that, as Georgi was very flexible and went with the others to explore the alphabet monument with the Armenian letters and a fort between others. We had a great time jumping from place to place, taking pictures and stupid videos that would be put together after. It was a fun day and after lunch we got back to chill a bit and then decided to go out for a beer. Or two. After all the sh*t I had been into lately I needed that very much. And dancing. And being out in general, I had missed that. It had been too long since the last time.
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Amberd Fortress at the back

The night was super fun, everyone taking pics and messing around in our recently created whatsapp group and teasing each other. The thing didn’t go so well at the end of the night when one of the lads got too drunk and sick and everything got very messy. We all stuck together and came back together and had more fun in the whatsapp group even though we were already in our beds, in silence.
Myself, Jeroen the Belgian dude and Georgi had planned to visit Khor Virap and apparently, not far from there, there was Georgi’s favourite place in Armenia: Novarank. The plan was to wake up and see how we could get there. To wake up took us longer than expected and to move from the hostel even longer. We left a lot of stuff in the hostel, checked out and took a few things with us to spend from one to a few days outside.
Once we got to the bus station, we waited for the next and last bus to only find out that it was broken. Anyways, we had fun while waiting and found more about Georgi’s life, hearing stories about mafia, revenge, killings, prison and war. He even had been shot! We were shocked by all the stuff we were hearing that was, at the same time, so natural to him. Then, we shared an inexpensive taxi to Khor Virap and explored the place. It was already late in the evening and the skies were threatening us with thunders and bolts. But after a chat with a couple of hitchhikers coming from somewhere else to camp there, we decided to keep going and try to reach at least the next town, quite close to our destination.
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On the road with Giorgi and Jeroen, ready to hitchhike!

We went to the road and started walking while trying to get a lift to the main road. That part was easy. Once in the main road, we only had to get a ride in the right direction. We got a total of 3 different rides, with a break for dinner in between. It wasn’t difficult. And having Georgi made things easier because he could speak Russian with everybody. Thanks to that, our last car, the crappy one that barely could take the uphill roads and stopped working twice, took us to a new guest house the drivers were making. There, we were given homemade wine and we toasted to Armenia. The drivers were drinking cognac shots instead and when Jeroen asked about the cognac, they immediately took shot glasses to give us some, despite I refused to have a shot. After that, you could foresee the disaster and I ended up spilling wine all over the place included my T-shirt. The drivers were super nice although Jeroen and me couldn’t be part of the conversation and they showed us all the rooms before they dropped us at our final destination: Noravank
After hiking in the road in the darkness, we had to hike through the lands and mountains surrounding the monastery to find a place to open the tent. We went next to a cliff and I feared for someone falling down remembering my past experience in Indonesia, because it was dark and fairly dangerous. Georgi had no problem with that. Then, when we found a good spot and he started getting things out of his backpack, Jeroen and me were freaking out because of the snake noises you could hear all over the place. I screamed when he steeped on a huge thing that according to me was a huge spider and according to Georgi was a scorpion. It was getting intense I was very relieved when we were able to enter the tent. There, we enjoyed a fantastic beer and went to sleep.
We woke up early in the morning as Georgi had to go back to Yerevan for some unexpected work and when he asked the Russian guy we had seen last night at the parking of Noravank to see if he was going to go to Yerevan, we happened to find out that he was going to the same area and place that Jeroen and me were going to. So we jumped in his car and led Georgi hitchhiking on his way back to meet him again next day and then go together to Sevan lake.
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The views when we woke up

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This is where we set up the tent. It is some place to sleep!

The Russian guy, Dymitri, couldn’t speak much English but he had exactly out same route. That was great for us! So we made our way south to Tatev, with several stops on the way to take pictures to the landscape and eat lunch. I found myself in the same road the bus from Tehran took me through Armenia. I would take this road once more to go back north Armenia.
We visited Tatev with him, taking the longest cable ride in the world and enjoying beautiful views. Georgi had given us some tips to take the cable one way and get back trekking but it was too late in the day for a 17km trek and Dymitri was going to Goris to find a spot to sleep there, so we would stick with him and we took the cable back as well. There was something in between that we wanted to see, the Devil’s bridge, but because we couldn’t reach any other way but trekking, Dymitri insisted on going with the car and we couldn’t say no to that as we were quite tired from sleeping on the tent and not for very long. There, I realised I hadn’t have any decent sleep since my arrival to Armenia. I didn’t know what t expect from this “Devil’s bridge” and we came across a kinf of cave with a man guiding us and saying in Russian that it was a bit dangerous. We went down some rocks with the help of a rope and this man and then went down a ladder. There, there was a cave filled with water that we had to cross. The man had seen me in difficulties to reach with my feet the spots he was marking for me while going down the rocks and maybe because of that or maybe because he wanted to see me wet, he pointed me the water and all I could do was to get in up to my belly to continue the way. The lads simply crossed from rock to rock and avoided the  water. And we made it to the nice spot were he was pointing at what we were supposed to see. I still think we didn’t get the point. A couple came in when we were about to leave. The girl was wearing long DRY jeans and I looked at everyone wondering why I was wet and she was dry. Then, on the way back, we all went through the rocks and I got annoyed that I didn’t need to get in the water. The man tricked me or something, not fair! Thankfully, that was the last stop of the day and we just went to find a place to sleep.
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From the longest cable car in the world

So, we all three ended up in Goris an Dymitri joined our idea of getting to the guesthouse Georgi had booked for us and when we got there we introduced ourselves as the friends of Georgi from Georgia.  Inmediately, we were offered homemade vodzka from some berries they had in their garden. It was strong, really strong. We had a couple of shots and we had alook to the room. One double bed and one single bed. Oh oh. We asked to change it and got three single beds. Then, we chilled with the piano, and Dymitri delighted us with some weird instrument he played in his mouth.
Next morning, we were woken up by Dymitri. He was impatient to start the day and we had breakfast and went to look for more adventures. The plan was to make it to Sevan lake, but there were a couple of things that he wanted to check in the middle of the way and we were happy to see more than what we had in our plans. So, first, we went to Jermuk to taste different mineral water. It was disgusting. There was warm mineral water coming out in a sort of fountain  and all of them were extremely disgusting. It made me wish it was the homemade vodka from the previous night. After the gross water, we checked a waterfall nearby the town. And then, made our way to a volcano that Dymitri had been recommended by some local (the perks of speaking Russian here).
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Armenia landscapes!

We went up the mountains, passing a really cool spot with great views down and Dymitri took us through some crazy road where we thought whether we were not going to make it or the car wouldn’t. After a while, we made him understand that the car was not ready for such road and he stopped the car and asked some locals passing in a jeep in that moment. The locals made him understand that he could not reach anywhere around with his car, thank God. Then, he got really stressed because he suddenly had the idea anout reaching to the top and opening up his tent there. Jeroen and me got worried. We wanted to make it to Sevan to see if Georgi was coming there. We had not have connection with him in the whole day but the initial idea was to be around Sevan together again, therefore we had to get there. The volcano was cool but nothing I had not seen previously and we didn’t want to hike up as it would take too long and we definitely were not ready to sleep there, as Georgi took the tent with him. The Russian guy was visibly disturbed by all that was happening and quite overwhelmed. He needed to make a decision and he was completely disapointed that the way to the top was not easy. For Jeroen and me, it was a breaking point, and we offered him to keep going his way and sleep at the top and take as many pictures of stars as he wanted, but we would take our backpacks and go to the nearest town to find a ride to Sevan .He asked us for time to think about everything. You could see smoke coming out of his head and after a long while he decided to continue his journey with us. But first, he needed to take a picture of the volcano, which took like 20 minutes because he had to wait for the clouds to be gone to take the perfect picture. We started getting a bit annoyed with all these things, but never mind, after all, we had an easy ride to Sevan!
Once more back to the car, we made it to Sevan with a stop as well in a monastery in between and right next to Sevan. It was very cool but I started realising that I had seen too many of the same and now they were not looking spectacular anymore (especially after Noravank, the most espectacular of all and the coolest experience in the tent) and I was also sick of being in the car and of green mountains. It was time to make a move for me. It had been great but I was in need of a change. With those thoughts we went for dinner and tried to plan something. Checking prices to see where we were going to sleep that night, we realised that Dilijan, the next town in Jeroen’s itinerary was cheaper and we took the decision of trying to get there to sleep. Dymitri was staying in Sevan to shoot stars and would drive to Dilijan the next day but we were going after dinner. So we asked him to drop us in the motorway and when we found a lightened spot with enough space for the cars to stop, we started hitchhiking.
We were not very lucky and people stopping would not take us. Or they would ask for money. After a while, Jeroen decided to get in a nearby hotel to ask for other ways to reach Dilijan and also check prices over there. Just when I was left alone, a huge van stopped and I run away towards it to check where it was going. ‘Dilijan?’ I asked. The guy looked at me from top to bottom and from bottom to top and said ‘yeahhh Dilijan, Dilijan’. I freaked out and asked him to wait for me for a minute and run away, screaming Jeroen’s name all over the place to find him as soon as possible. I was not trusting the driver and I needed him to see that I was not alone. He actually got to hear me and came to find me and then we both went to the van. the driver was cool to get us both and we jumped in and ate apricots the had in the van while he talked all the time on the phone and drove like a lunatic to take us to Dilijan. We made it! We found our place to sleep, bargained for breakfast and got a couple of beers that we enjoyed in our balcony while watching fireworks. What a perfect way to end up the day!
Next morning when we woke up, it was the first day since I had arrived to Armenia that I was actually sleeping more than 8 hours. It felt bliss. We had breakfast and decided to explore the town a little bit before splitting up. I would be getting back to Yerevan to change countries and go to Georgia and Jeroen wanted to get to Gyumri, the second biggest city in Armenia. For our surprise, the minute we stepped out of the guesthouse, we bumped into Dymitri. Unbelieveble! So we jumped in his car one last time to go our this town and go to some monastery that didn’t impressed us at all and then to a lake that he had been told it was the best to see in the area. We had to hike for a bit and we couldn’t believe we were going to walk, finally! It had been a while since the last time. We hiked all the way up to see a shitty lake and then back to Dilijan to take a bus to our destinations. Jeroen didn’t find anything else but a bus going to Yerevan so, once more, we were stuck with each other! We came back together to our old hostel and saw everyone back there. We were all together once more!
It was my last day around and we went here and there. Georgi was in charge of organising a car to Tbilisi the next day and I couldn’t really believe I was going to get to Tbilisi ever because he was with his usual sentence ‘No problem, no problem’ but at 10pm he still didn’t manage to make the call. Classic Georgi, you could say anything that it would never be a problem. Whatever the case, it was my last night and all had to go for a drink (this time everyone pays his own drinks, no fuss with the rounds) and danced to every kind of music. It was the end, the perfect end for my Armenian adventures. I only can say that as bad as it is started, I had fun, lots of fun.

Jodafes, Iran!

My last day in Tehran consisted basically in gathering in sleep that I had lacked the previous night and would be lacking in the bus to Yerevan.

I had been lucky enough to get a ticket to Armenia at my arrival to one of the bus stations of Tehran. Because when I actually got to find the company that was selling international tickets, they told me they were all sold out and there was nothing until 4 days after! I insisted and used the solo traveller: it’s only me, only one ticket, surely you can allocate me somewhere! And then insisted on them calling to other bus stations for me to see if there was anything available for next day. They ended up selling me a ticket themselves for next day, somehow.
So, I was ready to leave and I bought some food for the long journey and made sure I was changing all my money and getting back a few euros to spend in Europe soon enough.
Everything was set and I was more ready than ever to get in a 24 hours bus. I wasn’t even sure how the bus was or the length of the journey. I never asked because I never really cared.
Next day, I got in a bus right after making a new friend that turned out to be in my bus. She was a woman travelling to Yerevan with her friend and her mum’s friend.
They were super nice and we were sharing fruits and tea during all the way. The bus was fantastic and they even got to play a movie. A Bollywood movie where the main male character was a handsome Iranian guy. The landscape was also beautiful and great to enjoy brown sights of lands and mountains with absolutely nothing in between.
That kept me entertained for a little way and unfocused on how much I needed to pee because the bus was stopping randomly in the road and men were doing their business in a side of the road but I don’t I can do the same in a country where I can’t even show my elbows!
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On the road, see ye later, Iran!

After dinner I was ready for some sleep, unfortunately my sleep was too short because after an hour the bus reached the town where the crossing was and people started getting on and off the bus. I took the moment to go to the toilet and went back decided to sleep but no. I was kicked out the bus with all my things and also my backpack because…the border was open even though it was almost 2am!
By this time I have already given up on the scarf and was wearing it on my shoulders as if it had fallen off.
I was sleepy and didn’t realise that I was about to pass the police control to leave the country and by law I was still supposed to wear it. The police man that took my passport to stamp it was not happy with my defiance. He looked at me angrily at th beginning. Then he made signs over his own head that I didn’t get. And finally he had to mutter: ‘scarf!’
After a more than exhaustive look at my passport and looking at all my stamps several times, I got stamped out. I kept walking: I was in nobody’s land! No more laws! No more scarf! I put it off until someone came over to tell me: ‘scarf’. I gave up and resigned to wear it until new notice.
It was over 2am then and I was crossing a bridge in nobody’s land. With all my shit with me, a scarf covering my head, in the darkness and surrounded of ugly dogs. I felt like a fugitive, running away from Iran. Jodafes Iran, jodafes!
Jodafes has been my favourite word in Farsi and I have been taking every situation to say it in Iran. Also they use the word ‘vale’ a lot in a very similar sense than the Spanish!
After crossing the whole thing and arriving to immigration control, I got my passport thoroughly examined again. The police looked at all the pages up to four times! Then he stamped me in and didn’t even asked me to pay any visa. Thank you!
I was in and now I was not only putting off my scarf but keeping it in my backpack. The bus didn’t show up until 4am and then I got sleep, finally!
It was shocking to see not only how the scarfs flew away but also men drinking away whole bottles of Jack Daniel’s and stocking up in wine and beer for the rest of the journey.
The first stop in the morning surprised me with a huge change in the landscape: everything was green and it was even chilly! We were in between some beautiful green mountains with a bit of ice still at the top. It was breakfast time and I was out of Iran, still a few more hours away from Yerevan.
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Changes in the landscape once I woke up in Armenia!

Yazd: making final decisions

After two comfortable hours of sleep in the bus station, I got a taxi to the guesthouse I had been recommended by some other traveller. I was immediately shown my bed, which was bliss. And then I got a huge breakfast and decided on having a walk around before it was too hot for that.

The first thing that I realised was that all the houses around were made of mud and straw. I had to love the combination. And the next thing that happened was a interesting exchange with the workers at the bread shop at the corner of the alley where the guesthouse was situated. They even invited me to come in and take a picture with them. Also, I checked the ovens and took pictures around and I wanted to ask if I could make bread with them, but it was way too hot inside with the ovens working and all my clothes on and I just couldn’t enjoy it longer than that. After such a happy event, I continued my walk to find out all the main area around was looking the same and making me feel like of I was in some kind of Aladdin movie. There were wind towers everywhere and the houses and walling kept me entertained during all the way, until I decided to visit the main mosque in the city.

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This town made of mud is lovely!

Once inside the mosque, and without having any prior idea about this, there was the longest qanat in the world, which is an underground structure for collecting water and bringing it to the surface. Such an amazing work of engineering and so old! I was very impressed. By the time I left it was not even midday and it was already over 40 degrees, I was really tired and I went to my refugee to take a huge nap. Actually, my biggest nap ever, at least so far. I woke up 5 hours later with that feeling of not knowing if it was daytime, nigh time or if I had been sleeping until next day. But I hadn’t. So I got ready and prepared to explore the city a bit more. It had been 47 degrees and the heat was still intense but I wanted to wander around and do some discoveries, such as a water mill with underground water conducts that were going all the way to other villages and cities.

The day ended up like that, with a very good feeling, with the impression that I could start connecting with his country, finally. The landscape around the city, the houses… It made me feel like I could stay there for a whole week without getting bored of walking around them. The only problem was the heat and I was okay with it, although I wish they could cover me in mud and straw as they do with the walls of the houses to keep them cool. In the hostel, I was feeling so comfy that I got to wear shorts for the first time in this country! I felt safe and okay with it and it was quite hot even at night so it was so relief and a bit of the taste of freedom.

Even though I had a very long nap the previous day, the next day I didn’t wake up as early as I was planning. But it was okay, as the tour I had in mind to take was in the afternoon. I had breakfast and went towards the small square where they do these tours to ask if it was possible to do it in that very afternoon. On the way, I took a small alley that was going straight to the square, it was 10.30 am and although there were loads of people around, just at that time there was no one in this alley. A car passed by and stopped at my side to ask me for some directions in Farsi. I am used to get by Iranian and most of the people that see me in the street and approach me, do it in Farsi because they mistake me. I immediately answered him with “sorry, I am sorry” and he realised I was a foreigner. He continued his way, but then stopped the car a few metres further up and got off the car. As the alley was very narrow, I had very limited space to keep my way and go to between the car and the wall through a very reduced space. In the meantime, he went to the front of his car and waited me there. I thought he was going to ask me again because he kept holding his phone on his hand, as if he was looking for directions. He wasn’t. He came straight to me to touch me and although it took me by surprise and I was scared, I aimed to punch him. He was too tall for me and all I could do was hit him in an arm and then run away from him, afraid of what he could do to me but still cursing and shouting at him and showing him my middle finger. I was proud I took the bull by the horns and took action even though I was afraid, because wanted to avoid the powerless and stupidity feeling I had in the last situation, but when I come to think about it, calmly… it could have got much worse than that. And I have no idea how “protected” I am when I take action to stop a man from doing anything.

I have learnt not to take decisions when the topic is hot. I know myself, I am a temperamental person and I tend to get carried away by my feelings. Most of the times, when the feelings are not positive, I haven’t got a positive result. But this time, this time wasn’t the first one and I had already decided to get out of Isfahan and also from Shiraz and started going North and speeding up to leave the country a bit earlier than planned. That was already decided. In my head, I had Kashan as the next step, a city quite close to Tehran with interesting traditional houses I wanted to visit. But, was it really worth it?

I like to think of myself as a powerful person. A woman with character, yes. Not afraid of anything, not afraid of taking on the world. I threw myself to the world and started a journey where I could have been scared at times, yes. But not by people. I have never been scared by people, all the opposite. I have given myself the pleasure of showing people how not dangerous the world is. I have found myself trusting people instantly, without asking why. I have come to realise that people is generally good and have a good heart.

I feel this country is getting the worse out of me. It has made start distrusting everyone. Especially every man. It is also making me feel mostly bad. Why should I continue here? What do I have to show the world? Is it not the case that this trip is about me and entirely me? That I was going to move only following my feelings.

Anyways, and thoughts apart, I put up with it, with the feeling that at least I hit him and stood up. Then, once organising the tour I realised it was not going to happen and I visited some water reservoir where there hold some fighting but not just at that exact time. The guy at the entrance was trying to be very helpful and show me around, but he kept touching me to lead me because his English was just not good and I felt a bit violent after the incident earlier that  morning. He invited me to come back at 5pm and see the fighting and I felt inclined to leave and come back by then. Plus, he ensured me I didn’t have to pay the ticket again.

At my way back to the hostel, everything was okay until I had a couple of guys in a motorbike talking in Farsi to me. I just kept going my way, completely ignoring them. But they had to come back and keep saying something, so I answered clearly annoyed: No Farsi, no Farsi! And they were really really surprised and even kind of blushed when they realised I was a foreigner, as if they couldn’t believe it and then they left. I was happy to go back to the sanctuary that the hostel was by then.

Back to the hostel, I met these 3 girls travelling together from Sweden. They were living there, and they were Chinese, Iraqi and Iranian. I just asked them to join me in the day trip tour I wanted to do, as I needed people to make it and it seemed it was not going to happen and they just were happy to join! Great! Things calmed down and close to 5pm, I decided to go to enjoy this thing back to the water reservoir. I was expecting some kind of fighting but nothing like that. It was some training at the rhythm of a drum and a man singing at the same time. Some curious thing to see, enjoyable anyway!

And when I thought the day would be over because there was not much more to do, I found myself in a car with these three lovely girls in the hostel to go to the Silence Towers. Some towers built in the middle of nowhere to bring the dead bodies of the Zoroastrian people, this new religion I am learning about. The landscape over there was the coolest thing, it was deserted, surrounded by these light brown mountains and there was a settlement of mud houses at the feet of the mountains where the two silence towers were situated. On the top, we got to enjoy a beautiful Iranian sunset.

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Towers of silence

I got to find out that the problems I am facing here are kind of normal in this area and also, that precisely because I look like Iranian my situation is worse, because I don’t get the kind and respectful treatment that the foreigners get but the treatment the locals get. “My problem” is to look Iranian to them. If it is the case that I have a problem, because I honestly think I am not the problem and I have embraced the rules and the customs here.

The next day would be my last day in Yazd and my last day of proper tourism in Iran, probably. I had this tour with these girls and we had a great time visiting an old inhabited town made entirely of mud. They didn’t know that if you cook the mud in an oven it gets more resistant! The town was fantastic, offering great views as it was all empty and you could explore all the houses and even get to the rooftops.

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Kharanaq, unhabited mud town to explore!

The next thing we visited was a Zoroastrian temple on the top of a mountain and with the “eternal fire” (how eternal? because I have seen a few eternal fires). Anyways, it was cool to know a bit more of this people and to learn they are a minority totally integrated in the country with lots of similarities with the Muslim religion. It was interesting and we continued our visit to some other place where ice was built and kept inside a building with a vault and 3 metres width walls! Wow! Lastly, we visited a complex where the camels’ caravans were stopping while in the Silk Road. The day was tough, as it had been hot but really worth it.

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Where they were unloading the camels

At the back of the hostel, more bad news: I was trying to plan my getaway from Iran, starting off getting the f*ck out to Tehran, but my host there would not be there. She invited me to a nearby town where she would be at the North. I just didn’t feel like giving any more opportunities, as much as I love a local invitation and declined. The next step was Azerbaijan. Or at least that’s what I had in my head, because when I started looking at the online visa I realised I couldn’t get it. It was supposed to be an easy and straight forward process, but Ramadan is finishing and they are considering the next days as holidays, which adding up with the weekend in between meant that there were not 3 working days to process it any soon and I would have to be waiting for it almost for a week! I couldn’t stay in Iran for that long. And just 3 days later than that I had my flight to Baku anyways, so no, no way! I would have to make a new plan, again. But first things first: getting out of Yazd for a start!