After a pleasant stay in Isfahan, it was time to head towards the Armenian border to make our way to Batumi in Georgia where we were due to catch a ferry for Ukraine. The ferry crosses every week along the Black Sea and gives a unusual view of Crimea and the Black Sea coast. We left late (as usual) and made our way towards Kerman. The landscape changed from desert to green arable farmland and we soared along the perfect roads, admiring the ridiculously green hills either side. It felt a bit like Scotland at times with its green hills and rocky outcrops and lack of trees. It was still ramadan so with the help of our hosts in Isfahan, we’d filled our panniers with food already and our host’s mother had plied us with fruit and dates and a lot of snacks!
Finding a place to camp was a problem as everywhere we looked was clearly farmland. In the end we took a narrow muddy track through rocks and streams across a number of tended fields until we found a rocky hill which was clearly not farmed. Sunset was beginning to pull on the sky and the birds had started their evening song. Kicking the worse of the rocks away and some of the pricklier thistle-type growths, we set up the tent and just in time to observe the stars beginning to emerge, pricking the canopy of velvet blackness with silver gold. Serenaded by a far away chorus of wild dogs, we only worried when they seemed to serenade us from closer and closer until they were barking only 20m away, their eyes glinting in the torch light. We ate our campfire dinner and bedded down as the wind picked up again and whistled through the hills.
The morning was glorious sunshine and a steady buzz of insects. We breakfasted and started to pack the tent when an old man came cannoning out of nowhere on his tiny scooter with a small boy on the back. We said “Salom” and he shouted something back, Alex realised then she didn’t have her headscarf on and hurried to rearrange herself more decently. After waving at each other for a bit and failing to breach the language barrier, they scooted back off and we finished packing the tent.
Heading towards Tabriz, we marvelled at the landscape. The mountains wound around us like ribbons in gold, red, green and yellow. As far as the eye could see- it was a riot of striped magnificence and our jaws fell in disbelief at the range of colours.
Once we reached Tabriz city, it wasn’t the buildings which gave it away but rather the sudden impatience of other road users. We’ve found that in country roads mostly people respect other road users but in towns everywhere in the world, everyone believes themselves to be the best driver EVER. Being so thick as to follow the road markings ourselves, we were almost taken out by a number of keen car drivers who enjoyed veering close to us, waving and then swiftly undertaking to take a good photo. It seemed like a nice city, green and well maintained, with a very expert car drivers, who just love to use the space efficiently and create a new lane out of the designated ones!
Almost too soon, we left Tabriz and we found ourselves in a mountain gorge, with a small road winding at the bottom of imposing cliff-faces and hugging tall, craggy mountains. We followed the signs for the border, conscious of the time (it was close to sunset, an hour away at most) but we absolutely had to cross as our ferry to Ukraine was leaving in five days’ time from Batumi. We found the border crossing eventually, spotting a cluster of duty-free buildings and a casino and a gate. After shooing away various small boys who, with the ease of salesmen, tried to ply us with SIM cards for a small fee and whatever else we needed. Outraged at their easy confidence for such small people we waved them off only to hear them clearly muttering and laughing (probably at how stupid we were not to take advantage of their amazing SIM offer). Changing the remainder of our cash, we braced ourselves for the border and came up the empty gate. The guard was friendly and processed us reasonably quickly and then handed us over to the official border where we had to queue up and found suddenly a whole warehouse full of people in transit. They checked our passports, whisking them away for twenty minutes while we waited in the hall, returning them with a flourish and an attempt at Polish and a big smile when they realised we were not dangerous. Then we had to go around the entire complex to find the customs house and get our bikes stamped out. Various massive trucks had pulled up waiting to be seen and one chap couldn’t speak any English (or Turkish, or Farsi) and seemed to have basic Russian. Simon stepped in to help translate as he couldn’t understand that he had to wait until the morning to have his goods checked. This seemed to take and inordinate amount of time and we had to wait until his formalities were done, until he went for a nap in his truck and only then could we be ushered forwards to be considered for export.
Eventually we made it through with little difficulty. No one asked to check our engine numbers to our relief and they were happy enough to wave us through. Soon, we were in Armenia greeted by a fleet of long haired women in tight trousers and brilliant smiles who spoke to Simon in Russian with sparkling eyes and Alex celebrated by finally removing the buff from her hair. Even the complexities of the small payments for temporary importation and for compulsory insurance didn’t put us off, we filled the paperwork with smiles as it was the last of the countries which would be new to both of us on our journey and so far, it was so wonderful.
We’d had a long few months which seemed to be quite intense in pace, and although the pace was still full on, we’d promised ourselves a rest in Yerevan before heading out to Batumi. It was still easier to rest in a country which had red wine and where Alex was able to walk comfortably in any clothes. It’s funny how your priorities are shaped by necessity and lack of choice. After a fairly long import process, we rode out and tried in vain to find a bed for the night that was far away from the dodgy people who seem to collect at border towns. All the rooms in town were corrugated steel shacks with a dirty mattress and going for £20 a night. The women touting their spare shed-rooms took one look at the bikes and said in Russian “If you can afford a BMW, you can afford £20”. Obviously there is a little logic to their argument but it lacked the context of a year on the road and affordability not being the same as value. We declined their offer, despite their astuteness and business-savvy attitude, and carried on in search of a camping site. The road was irritatingly close to vegetation with no clear access for a bike until we cam to a long curve around a river and a small dirt path ran down from the inside turn. We explored and having hidden ourselves at the base of the path, we were satisfied that no one could see us from the road and set up camp amongst the lazy bugs and wildflowers of our new little nook.