The road on the Georgian side up to the border to Armenia is in extremely bad condition, in our heads we are already counting the screws we lost. At a traffic light shortly before the border a construction worker makes it clear to us how little he thinks of our next destination. Seems like the neighbourly relations are not the best around here.
When leaving Georgia, only our driver’s license and the previously bought insurance for the motorcycles are checked. The receipt for the payment of the insrance is proof enough, you do not have to print all the documents you receive via email. On the Armenian side a large, abandoned hangar with numerous cabins for the customs control of trucks and a well-maintained asphalt road testify to the fact that this border crossing was probably used much more intensively in earlier times. The entry formalities to Armenia are the most protracted so far. After checking the passports and vehicle documents, all bags must first be opened on the motorcycle or removed for a x-ray scan. Afterwards the fee for the use of the roads in Armenia is to be paid in the adjacent building, 12€ per vehicle, payment can be made in US Dollar, Georgian Lari or Armenian Dram. With the receipt for the payment of the fees you have to fill in the form for entry and introduction of the vehicle at the customs counter, which has to be kept until you leave the country! With this new document you then have to buy obligatory insurance like in Georgia, 10€ for a motorcycle for one month. The seller of the insurance offers SIM cards at the same time. After all papers are available, these are checked again when exiting the border post and compared with the number plates, and then we are released into the Armenian vastness.
Meanwhile also the sun is out and shining again and the asphalt road on this side of the border stands in strong contrast to the pothole road on the Georgian side. But the grey asphalt band only reaches exactly up to the next village, where the road surface was broken up and removed, but the crew for the application of the new road surface apparently never found the way here. The village looks very poor compared to what we have seen on our journey so far, simple houses, fences built from scrap metal and stripped car bodies, and all the men of the village seem to be busy driving the returning herd of cows through the streets. After the brown herd has disappeared in our rearview mirror, we are all alone on the trails. These now consist only of loose ground, but are much more pleasant to drive than the destroyed asphalt roads before. For which roads we have paid the fee at the border post exactly now is a mystery to us.
Meanwhile the sun is falling towards the green and gold shining hills and we follow a track getting narrower and narrower towards a waterfall, which we have chosen as the camping site for the night. But there is a wet obstacle in our way: A murmuring river rushes across the path, the current is not too weak and the height of the water level is not visible. But since there is no other way, I wade through the river and consider the passage feasible. And here, too, the waterproof boots prove their worth: the water running into the shoe from above stays in it excellently.
After we have mastered our first river crossing under the watchful eyes of a shepherd and followed the track for a few more kilometres, we descend steep mud path with deep furrows and arrive in front of the next river. The waterfall, which was only announced before by its consistently growing rumbling, can already be seen from here. At this point the ford is deeper than the last one, the stones in the river bed are bigger and slipperier and the current is much stronger thanks to the waterfall. Since it is already getting dark, we don’t want to risk sinking a motorbike today and decide to pitch our tents on this side of the river and walk the rest of the way for the much desired shower.
After the tents are standing, the water still remaining in the boots is emptied and pants and socks are hung up to dry, we enjoy the sight of the stars and the approaching thunderstorm and then go to sleep hoping not to be woken up at night by rain crackling on the tarpaulins. Because then the steep descent would become a mud slide, which we would have to climb up with our bikes.
Heat in the tent and bright sunshine makes us climb out of our sleeping bags in the morning with a big grin on our faces. Armed with towels, shampoo and flips flops we set off for the march towards the waterfall. The way quickly becomes a lot more difficult than we thought. There is no direct way to the waterfall, instead the river has to be crossed twice and some banks and rocks have to be climbed over. Flip flops don’t seem to be the optimal footwear for this task, and the water is so cold that after a third of the first river crossing the feet are numb with pain. Two flip flops are lost, only one of which can be rescued, and we cannot get close enough to the waterfall to take a shower. Although the spray thrown up by the roaring masses of water is already enough to soak us completely. Not quite as clean as planned, but definitely refreshed and a few scratches richer, we return to the campsite. Appropriately, the waterfall was marked as an adventure waterpark by Google Maps. In this weather we take our time eating breakfast and dismantling the tents before we get back into our still wet boots and head south.
Before we reach the first asphalt road, we drive through a few more of the poor looking villages, which seem to be completely abandoned by the younger population. On the way to our destination today, the road surface changes again and again between good asphalt, patchwork carpet and Swiss cheese like roads. The roads are lined with countless industrial ruins, most of them no longer in use and left to decay, probably leftovers from Soviet Union times. We find a similar picture at our destination for the day: Lake Sevan. It is almost 80 km long so that the other shore is not visible, even in good weather conditions. However, the ruins sprouting out of the ground along the shore are not abandoned industrial halls, but partly huge, but apparently never finished hotel complexes. While we follow the course of the lake we get the impression that the area has prepared for a tourism boom that never reached the country.
Before we pitch our tents, we stop at a restaurant for an evening snack. In these restaurants each table is in its own lockable room. At the request of a little grilled meat, salad and cheese a table for 6 persons is set for us. After such a day, the dishes on the table are extremely tasty, and only the artfully laid heating pipes and the hail outside are able to distract us from our delicious meal.
After the last hailstones have fallen from the sky, we swing back onto the motorcycles and turn into a former park area directly on the river bank, the steel scaffolding of the benches has not had any seats and roofs for a long time and the paths are partly overgrown, so we can enjoy the sunset in peace with a PET bottle of beer and Semetchki.
After a breakfast made of far too large dough and the cheapest, greasiest and tastiest sausage of all times, we leave for Georgia again. In order not to drive through the smaller villages and towns again, we turn onto a narrow track into the hills. After a few kilometres it ends suddenly, in the distance we can see a faint strip of dirt looking like another way. So we drive cross-country until we reach the next dirt road and follow it on detours around the surrounding villages until it leads back to the asphalt road. After a fall over the front wheel, the fork of the DR has to be straightened under the watchful eyes of a shepherd and his bleating herd.
Shortly before we enter the Debed canyon in the northern part of Armenia, we take a left turn up into the mountains, so we do not drive into the bottom valley of the canyon, but on the upper flank on a gravel track accompanied by great views of the surrounding landscape. Here we also turn into a small branch to visit one of the numerous monasteries in Armenia. But this one has been abandoned for some time already, and so we have the scenery all to ourselves. Afterwards, a road hanging from a steep rock face with many hairpin bends leads us back to the bottom of the canyon and to the main road, which we follow up to the Georgian border. Jan and Silke from travelove.org gave us the tip with the branch to the gravel passage above the canyon and the abandoned monastery, thank you very much!
When we leave Armenia, only the papers issued on entry are collected and passports and vehicle papers are checked, then we are already back in Georgia and on our way to the capital, Tbilisi. The road in front of and behind the border point is anything but good here, but luckily it’s a lot better than when we entered the country. The border post is also much better visited.