Defeated by Armenia's Southern Mountains

We had a few problems in Yerevan, the first being a Chinese visa problem and the second being a gastrointestinal problem. I will get to the problems later because they ended up altering the course of our trip significantly (at least it felt significant to us).

Our first few days in Yerevan were lovely. Our hostel was right in the city centre and we were within walking distance to parks, restaurants, markets. The streets and patios were absolutely packed with people every evening when the weather was perfect. We took a trip to nearby Geghard Monastery and Garni Temple, we visited the huge weekend market, the war museum and victory monument and made an obligatory stop at the Armenian Genocide Memorial. We met lots of interesting travellers at our hostel and we drank wine and shared stories. And drivers stopped at all the cross-walks! Yerevan, unlike Tbilisi is a city built for pedestrians.   Early morning glimpse of Mount Ararat from the steps of the Cascades

  Republic Square

  Geghard Monastery, an easy day trip from Yerevan

The first thing we did in Yerevan was attempt to obtain Chinese visas. Armed with everything we thought we needed we made our way to the embassy. After watching the total ass of a consular officer slowly scrutinize our papers, we were handed a receipt. We would be granted a 14-day visa but we would have to wait a week to get it. This was not very good. Of course, we had no case to argue, our "flight bookings" and "hotel reservations" had us leaving from Yerevan in a little over a week for a two week trip to Beijing, why would we need a rush-service 30 day visa? We hesitated over whether or not to walk back to the embassy and get our passports back, but we decided that this would at least get us into China. From there we could catch a cheap flight to another country (flights from China are way cheaper than from neighbouring Central Asian countries). The problem was that we only had a 21-day Armenian visa, and we would now have to waste 8 days of it in Yerevan. Instead, we decided that we would begin cycling towards the Iranian border, leave our bikes somewhere, then take a bus to-and-from Yerevan to pick up our visas. It wasn't perfect but we couldn't really afford to delay our departure.

Then we got sick. Really sick. Yann was sick first, sleeping for an entire day and pushing back our departure from Yerevan by a day. Then I got sick, ending up on the floor of our hostel bathroom at 2:30am unable to get up. This pushed back our departure from Yerevan another two days. Bringing us to visa pick up day. We picked up our visas and as we had feared, they were unusable: we had been given one month to enter the country and we needed at least two. We didn't leave Yerevan until the next day. And when we left, still recovering from our illness, having eaten very little in days, we were dejected at our Chinese visa failure. Plus we now had only 6 days to cycle with no rest if we were to make it to the border before our Armenian visas expired.

Our first day of riding from Yerevan was absolutely brutal. It was 40C, we climbed 1500m, we rode for more than 12 hours and we didn't even make it to our destination. We ran extremely low on water and our steri-pen water purifier died after purifying 2 litres (it's supposed to do 50). We passed no store. Actually there was virtually no sign of civilization for the entire climb and the only water source we found was a pipe running into a cow drinking trough. I broke down in tears several times. The only reason I made it was because Yann strapped half my bags to his bike and spent the rest of the climb patiently repeating to me that I would make it. When we made it to the top of the pass and spotted a store where we could buy water I felt overcome with emotion. I was so relieved.   The barren landscape of the climb from Ararat Valley to Vayots Dzor

  Emilie smiling on the outside, but not on the inside

In the tiny village of Chiva we were saved by our amazing host family at the bed and breakfast where we spent the night. The minute we arrived they offered to make us dinner and began preparations. We were served the best meal we'd eaten in weeks: salad, yogurt, cheese, bread, omelet, potatoes, barbecued pork, all fresh, mostly with ingredients from the family's garden. We ate outside under a trellis covered in grape vines, next to a pomegranate tree as the sun set and the weather cooled. We were very disappointed that we couldn't stay another day.   Downhill to the village of Chiva

Our second day, while not as brutal as the first, was tough and discouraging. Again we climbed all day, but this time Yann got bad stomach cramps and we faced a strong headwind for the better part of the day. I broke down once again in tears, even before the day's real climbing began, and again Yann kept me going (reloading my bags onto his bike). We both knew that if we didn't continue, the next day would just be longer and harder. We didn't come anywhere close to making it to our destination. We stopped about 500 metres from the top of the Vorotan Pass with winds actually knocking us off our bikes. We camped on the side of the highway and had a so-so night of sleep with traffic and loud winds keeping us up.  Following the Arpa River the climbing was more gradual, but the wind was strong

  Happy to be out of the wind and making dinner

Day three began with the 500 metres that we hadn't climbed on the previous day. Our elation at reaching the top of the pass quickly faded as we rode up and down for the rest of the day. It didn't help our spirits that the winds didn't die down: we were faced with an almost immobilizing headwind ALL day! I moved on to the next stage of mourning, I was no longer crying, I was yelling. The wind was so loud that I could barely hear myself, so it was a nice release. After 6 hours of riding we made it to our previous day's destination! We still had several more hours to go.   Making it to the top of Vorotan Pass

  Rolling hills before the descent to Goris

When we arrived in the lovely town of Goris and checked into our really lovely bed and breakfast, we barely had time to walk to a restaurant and have dinner before having to start our bedtime preparations. We had 3 more days to go before we could rest. Even more metres to climb than we had already done. When our alarm rang at 5am the next morning, I suggested that we couldn't really continue. After a lengthy discussion, we made the very difficult decision to arrange for a taxi to the border. Why was the decision so difficult? We aren't really sure, but it felt like a failure to not be able to cycle every kilometre of our journey. We were worried that we would regret our decision or that we would feel compelled to hitch a lift every time the riding got difficult. After a day of doing nothing in Goris we loaded our bicycles on to a taxi roof rack and were driven the roughly 100km to the top of the Meghri Pass. We didn't regret our decision to get a ride, it felt a little bit liberating. Actually after seeing the climbing involved, it was pretty clear that we never would have been able to make the journey in two days (not that we knew this when we made the decision to get a ride).   Loading our bikes onto the taxi roof rack for the ride up to Meghri Pass

  Descent from Meghri Pass (it isn't quite as rewarding when you haven't gotten to the top yourself)

We rolled down the 2,000 metres to Agarak, the last town on the Armenian border with Iran where we spent the night. Our bodies and minds were recovering and the next day we would be crossing the border into Iran!   Outside our B&B in Agarak, a few kilometres from the Iranian border

Stats for Yerevan to Agarak:

Days of cycling: 3.5
Days of rest: 1.5
Kilometres cycled: 288
Metres climbed: 3852
Cycle-tourists crossed on the road: 1

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop Expedition Support


al said...

Wow - tough sledding! We had a tribal gathering - much easier - thought of you! Cheeeeeers! Stay safe!

Sonya said...

Wow, that is intense! The pictures don't really convey the difficultly you were facing, it would have been easy to make it look like a delightful ride. Thanks for the story!

paradiso(angry) said...

Vous êtes courageux. Merci Yann de porter les baggages d'Émilie quand elle en a pas la force. Bonne décision de raccourcir l'enfer.


Chantsy said...

Wow! You visited my homeland! Sorry you both got sick :( (not so good for the image!).
You guys are the bravest people I know. When are you doing Everest? Love the blog! xox Chantal, Michael and Victor