Armenia and Azerbaijan

After a couple hours trundling along an awful road I reached the Armenian border. I was stamped out of Georgia remarkably quickly, but it took a little longer to get my Armenian entry stamp. The immigration official considered himself a comedian, going through every page of the passport and pointing out any faces in the artwork, saying they didn’t look like me. Finally he was done and I was allowed in to another new country!

I wear my hair differently

The roads were somewhat better in Armenia than they had been just before the border, in so far as I was usually able to weave a pothole-free route. I rolled along for a while on this high altitude plateau.

Rather than follow the highway the whole way, I turned onto a dirt road which led me through the mountains.

There was one particular climb on this route that was exceptionally challenging. After fording a knee-deep river I had to push up an exceptionally steep and rocky section, followed by the road turning into mud due to snow-melt. Then came a (mercifully short) section of pushing through snow. I was having some ankle pain as a result of all the pushing I’ve been doing over the last few days, so I didn’t enjoy that bit too much! I was glad to return to paved roads.

There were several climbs that day with the last taking me from an elevation of 1500m to about 2100m. This took place under the full heat of the afternoon sun, and I was very glad when the road turned so I could have some shade. Eventually my sweaty self reached the top of the pass.

From here the road gradually descended toward Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, which I reached the next morning. On the way into the city I stopped at a bike shop with whom I’d been in contact. They’d ordered a bottom bracket for me, but they thought it would be at least another five days until it arrived. I wasn’t sure what to do – wait for it to arrive, try to have one sent to another city ahead, reroute to visit the Georgian capital? In the end this worrying proved unnecessary. I went to the city centre, checked into a hostel, and visited another nearby bike shop. They had the exact part I needed and fitted for me. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t able to find any proper chain lube!

I spent the rest of that day, Saturday, catching up on various things I needed to get done. There were two museums I wanted to visit while I was in Yerevan. One was closed on Sunday, so I took that as a rest day. It wasn’t until the next day that I realised the other museum closed on Mondays!

I decided I would at least go to the one museum on Monday, so I wandered over to the Yerevan History Museum. This museum was interesting enough if not exceptionally remarkable, running the full range of Yerevan’s history – from a 5500 year old shoe found in a nearby cave to the boxing gloves worn by an Armenian who won a gold medal representing the Soviet Union in the 1956 Olympics.

I then spent a little time walking around the city. It seemed very European in many respects, with lots of wide boulevards, statues, monuments and parks.

As I walked I passed a building belonging to the ministry of justice. There was a group of protesters outside as well as a few police officers. I later learned this was part of a co-ordinates protest where, at the direction of the prime minster, 1100 people blocked access to various judicial buildings after a judge had ordered the release of a former president.

I returned to the hostel to relax and complete the various chores I needed to do. I’d had an unusually productive time in Yerevan, completing the long list of tasks I’d wanted to get done.

The next morning I headed over to the genocide museum, a few kilometres walk from the hostel. On the grounds of the museum there is an alley of trees planted by various world leaders who have visited the memorial. A wall of flags denotes countries who have recognised the events as a genocide.

Photos within the museum are prohibited and it is difficult to decide what to write here about such an event. It is a very emotive situation for so many millions of people around the world. As someone who is (obviously!) no expert, I feel the best thing to do is recommend that people take the time to look into it. I think it is something worth learning about.

It was a hot afternoon and on returning to the hostel I decided to spend the rest of the day here.

I set off at dawn the next morning. This was a good decision as the streets were almost deserted and the temperature cool as I cycled up the mountain away from the city. I’d been riding for 45 minutes when I had a sudden realisation: I couldn’t remember packing my spare phone. I stopped and searched my bags and, sure enough, it wasn’t there. I turned around cycled back to the hostel, descending in 15 minutes what had taken 45 minutes to climb.

I set off again, restarting the climb that gradually brought me up to 2000m above sea level. Some road signs gave distances to various far-off places such as Los Angeles, which they reckoned to be 11,000km. It’s taken me over 50,000!

At the end of the climb the road passed alongside Lake Sevan, Armenia’s largest lake.

A short climb further brought me to a tunnel and then a long descent out of the mountains, riding on a gradual downhill next to a river. The river continued to Azerbaijan, but the road did not. Azerbaijan and Armenia are at war – a region of Azerbaijan called Nogorno Karabakh has declared independence, and is supported by Armenia. The road led away over a last couple of low passes before I stopped in a hotel in the town of Noyemberian.

I made another early start the next morning, riding away from the hotel as the sun rose over the horizon. An hour’s riding bought me to the Georgian border. I was stamped out of Armenia and into Georgia without any great fuss, and was soon riding away from the border.

I only stayed in Georgia for a couple of hours before reaching the Azerbaijan border. After quickly getting the exit stamp in my passport I went to the Azerbaijani immigration, a more imposing affair. One group of soldiers at the gate checked my passport before leading me to the front of the queue with a second group of soldiers. These brought me to the immigration official, who took his time going through my passports. He saw the Armenian stamps, and asked where I’d been – mostly to check that I hadn’t been to Nogorno Karabakh, then stamped my passport. From here another group of soldiers at the exit checked my passport before allowing me to cycle off into Azerbaijan.

A gentle tailwind pushed me along as I rode quickly along the flat highway heading east. The people of Azerbaijan were very welcoming with waves and shouted greetings coming frequently. At one point I passed a police car that had stopped a car. One of the officers used the loudspeaker to wish me “Welcome to Azerbaijan.”

In the afternoon my bike suddenly started to handle strangely. At first I thought I had a puncture, but that wasn’t the case. It seemed that the handlebar bearings had seized, and so the handlebars were barely turning. I removed them and loosened things up, so they would turn again. However I knew they would soon need replacing.

Fortuitously I was only about 15km from Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city. If I could find a bike shop anywhere outside the capital, it would be here.

I rode into the city and made my way to the bike shop. It was very small, performing repairs for the cheap ancient bikes used by the locals. Thankfully though they had the bearings I needed and the surprisingly competent young mechanic swapped them over for me. Labour and parts came to a total of 3 manat (£1.50) so I’m not expecting great quality. I even managed to buy a small bottle of chain lube!

On the way away from the bike shop two boys came over to ask for a selfie with me. Afterwards they politely asked for a quick go on the bike and I decided to let them.

I rode for a couple hours longer then pushed the bike away from the road and set up camp in an orchard. Despite the delay this was still the furthest I’d cycled in a day while touring.

I packed up early and once again was riding before dawn. The day began with a tailwind at my back. Unfortunately I began to feel nauseous and had a worsening headache. I stopped at a bus stop and dozed there for a couple of hours. I felt a little better after this and resumed cycling, headache mostly gone and nausea reduced.

I rolled along for the rest of the day, cycling along the incredibly flat plains of Azerbaijan. There was not a single climb for the entire day – it was like being in the Netherlands!

In the late afternoon the wind changed and became a very strong headwind. After cycling along and struggling to cycle at half the speed I’d been riding earlier, I saw an abandoned building and stopped there for the day, a little earlier than usual.

I was still feeling unwell and stumbled away from my bed to be sick. After that I felt far better and had a good night’s sleep.

May 17: 135 km

May 18: 53 km

May 22: 203 km

May 23: 241 km

May 24: 182 km

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