Differences in the Kavkaz
27.07.2009 - 29.07.2009
Armenia is definitely different. The aphabet, although still undecipherable, is less swirly and more u and n shaped (all the letters kinda look the same). The people look slightly more middle-eastern, still with big noses, but with the bump in the nose in a slightly higher up place. The typical Georgian face, with a thiner jaw than forhead is long gone, and the men's haircuts have all become short, with a (nasty) fringe. The music has definitely changed, with cafes, restaurants, marshrutkas and taxis now blaring our seriously middle eastern sounding music, quarter tones and all, a change from the ballads popular with their Georgian counterparts.
The infrastructure and the roads have definitely gotten better (these ones aren't bombed out), we now have hardly any potholes, hardly any cows, and barriers on the sides of roads! Luyks! The economic situation here is not great though, and the crisis really shows, there are no jobs in the towns, and many people leave for Istanbul, Moscow and anywhere else they can get a visa for work. This tourist season also seems to be a record low, we've been alone in all of the places we've stayed at, and we've seen hardly any foreigners at the sights, most taxi drivers and hotel owners we've met have been complaining about how there's noone around (to swindle) compared to last year (when foreigner's money flew straight into their hands). Hmm... comments in brackets must be the Georgian propaganda.
Dilijan is a town famous during Soviet days for being a retreat for the creative socialist workers, which the Armenian tourist machine has audaciously rebranded "The Switzerland of Armenia". Although the forested mountainsides were pretty nice, the Soviet appartment blocks and buildings take something away from the alpine charm, as do the piles of rubbish and building materials. There we did the standard hitchhiking around, which has been amazing to meet funny bored drivers looking for some foreign entertainment, as well as getting us to monasteries hidden away in the forests. We got lost looking for one, and ended up trekking through the forest for quite a long time, knowing that the monastery wasn't there but hoping to stumble upon somthing good, until we found some lumberjacks who told us to turn back "nehuya tam i netu" ("nothing there", but in a style you would expect from a lumberjack).
Today, we managed ventured into long distance hitchhiking, after some transport around the pretty lake Sevan, a fairly large blue lake surrounded by grassy mountains we got onto a bus of middle aged German hikers, a bus which we actually hitched on before, albeit previously without the germans. This was an incredible piece of luck, and I was happy we had more in common with the driver and some random Armenian dude on the bus (who was probably on the payroll but didn't seem to actually do anything apart from chat to us) than with the bourgeois European scum. Yeah. Then after some waiting (we have nothing but time), we fulfilled another dream and got a Kamaz, carrying around 30 tonnes of wet sand to a factory somewhere. Clearly, 30 tonnes is a lot, and going uphill seemed a slow as if I were pushing it. A few painstaking mountian passes later, we reached our target in the southern grass covered mountains: Sisian, in a piece of Armenia wedged between Azerbaijan of 2 sides and Iran from the bottom (lots of Hajji truckers). Tomorrow we plan to inspect the petroglyphs and other cool stuff around here, a welcome change from the seemingly hundreds of thousand-year-old monasteries that seem to be as common here as gold teeth on old ladies (that's very common to the uninitiated into all things Soviet).