Couchsurfing and Hitchhiking in Armenia

Couchsurfing and couchsurfers shaped my time in Armenia, and I couchsurfed the nicest place I’ve couchsurfed yet – a penthouse apartment with a 13th floor view of Yerevan and all the way out to Mount Ararat, all to myself. My couchsurf host picked me up at the airport and took me to his apartment, gave me the keys and some fruits, and then left to stay with his parents.

me, the tango DJ and the Russian couchsurfers at Sevan Lake

me, the tango DJ and the Russian couchsurfers at Sevan Lake

Through him I met other Armenian local hosts, and I convinced one to accompany me to the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra and watch Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto. Another was showing around a Russian couple who later hitchhiked with me to Georgia and around Tbilisi. We all met for a couchsurf bbq on the balcony of my apartment, and ate kilos of chicken and bread, in true Armenian style.

sunset BBQ

sunset BBQ

I hitchhiked one taxi on my way from Khor Virap monastery, which I never considered trying before, but he took me to the nearest bus stop, without charging me, and then waited 45 minutes with me in the sun til the bus arrived. On another day I took local buses to nearby Garni pagan temple and Gerhard stone church, and I met a different Russian couple who told me to follow them to Etchmiadzin. They spoke Russian and could find the right buses and change or get off at the right places, so I followed them to the headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church and managed to get back without them.

Haghartsin Monastery

Haghartsin Monastery

I also couchsurfed in the little Switzerland of Armenia, a small city called Dilijan, with a Russian host. Its amazing how useful and necessary Russian language is here, and useless English is, so its been a tactic of mine to make friends with Russians on the road. I also made some friends through tango dancing, after attending a milonga in Yerevan. The DJ there, who knows a friend of a friend, offered to take me and the Russian couchsurfers on a roadtrip to see some beautiful places in the Armenian countryside. We made a couple of hikes, one to a beautiful river/waterfall canyon whose name I can’t remember, and then Gosh Lake, where I lost the other three for 3 hours in a failed mission to go apple picking.

inside Gerhard stone church, a place of very special acoustics and echoes

inside Gerhard stone church, a place of very special acoustics and echoes

We visited Sevan Lake and ate delicious fresh fish, and visited a lot of stone churches and old monasteries. I thought I saw a lot of hitchhikers on the road, but they signaled to cars by holding both their arms up and spread to the side. I later learned those are fishermen trying to sell a catch, and the space between their hands signifies the size of the fish.

Mount Ararat in the background from the top of the sculpture parks at Yerevan's Cascades

Mount Ararat in the background from the top of the sculpture parks at Yerevan’s Cascades

Hitchhiking from Dilijan to Georgia was a breeze, especially with the help of my Russian translators, but our first driver spoke terrible Russian and no English, and somehow we ended up an hour out of the way trying to visit yet another stone church in the middle of a forest. Things got weird when he tried to buy a 6 pack of beer at noon to take with to the church, so we decided to try our luck with another car. After 5 cars and never waiting for more than 3 minutes, we made it to Tbilisi, where I’ve decided to take a break from couchsurfing and hitchhiking.

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The Ups and Downs of Traveling in the Balkans

yet another beautiful view

yet another beautiful view

Besides the narrow coast line of Croatia, the Balkans are a mountainous region with tons of ups and downs and windy roads. Between the valleys and highland plateaus comes mountain range after range, and without any major highways, the journey time from place to place is slow but breathtaking, and sometimes a little frightening. Add a lot of rain and some flooding, and traveling by bus becomes quite the adventure. On the tops of the mountains between Montenegro and Kosovo, everything was pines and snow, so a bus can even take you from summer to winter in a matter of hours.

This trip started in Zadar, on the norther end of the Dalmatian coast, where I couchsurfed with a dentist named Marko. After a couple days of pouring rain and stormy winds, and a few hours of sunshine, I couldn’t really complain about my broken umbrella or soaking shoes since it was still 20`c. The only regrettable thing was not being able to jump into the crystal blue Adriatic sea, since it looked so inviting and seemed to call my name, but it wasn’t quite beach weather.

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a mini port in Zadar

The road from Croatia into Bosnia & Hercegovina was anything but direct, and we may have gotten lost a few times (I was roadtripping with 3 Croats who entrusted me to read the maps and roadsigns…). A few bus rides later I always seemed to be sitting near the one lady who got car-sick, and having someone puking repeatedly into a bag and listening to her heaving noises (one sat beside me and another time behind me) isn’t easy. When I was walking up the road to Ostrog Monastery in Montenegro, a car pulled over to let a woman out to spew throw up directly infront of me. Yum.

I enjoy walking around aimlessly, simply strolling the towns and city centres, but that doesn’t always end up so pleasant. In Sarajevo we nearly got attacked by 10 stray dogs, who seemed to think we had trespassed into their territory when walking past a Muslim cemetery too late at night. There are a lot of not-so-nice stray dogs, but mostly they’re harmless during the day. You’d think the same about people, but one guy tried to offer me a ride to the next town in broad daylight when I was sitting alone waiting for the bus. He was half my size and nearly half my age, so I said yes, only to be offered kisses and condoms and a skinny dipping adventure. No more hitchhiking for me I guess!