Getting Kicked out of Armenia..Almost
Yerevan, Armenia to Tbilisi, Georgia
So wake up with the sun shining in our faces… sleeping a bit through the cold Armenian night. .. well that in general has escaped me this entire trip much like girls at an engineering party… we were about a few hours to Yerevan and were determined to get there…
The drive to Yerevan was beautiful with mountainous desert views. It was extremely arid with little trees. We were now getting the first taste of the desert. We came off this plateau with a view down onto the vast city of Yerevan. The city itself was filled with amazing statues and buildings. These statues were grandiose and quite impressive. Whoever made them IS quite the artist. Crowded with cars and people, we make it through the city.
We make it just outside the city and see these auto repair shops popping up… we were at 5300 miles in at this point and decide to take a bit of preventive maintenance and get an oil change… We pull into this shop that has oil barrels and just a shelf full of oil and figure well this has gotta be a place to get an oil change… We communicate in broken english, hand gestures, calculators and lots and lots of smiling and nodding that we need an oil change. The dude is super chill and quotes us for the oil and oil filter and say “no charge for labor” with a big smile.. Not sure if thats the norm, but it happened. I think it was because of Marshals beaming face. We pull in and while the oil change goes on. We assess the damage the Georgian mountains had done to the underside of our car.
Surprisingly the sump guard had done its job… only a smallish dent in the exhaust and a bit of scrapping on the big container looking this towards the back of the car… no idea what it holds… maybe fuel? or the spare tire? i have no idea.. We all think its the space tire holder… The oil change is finished and we are off towards our first Armenian monastery, Khor Virap.
The monastery in fairly close to the Turkish border.. but in the background it Mt Ararat in all its glory.. the lone mountain looks so displaced in the area. Just this giant overseeing the Armenian countryside… we almost couldn’t see it due to the weather conditions… but with some squinting and rubbing of our eyes there is was.. snow capped and ginormous.. too big for the region methinks. The monastery was quite a site to see. What impressed me the most was how cool the lower areas were.. drilled down into the rocky ground.
We decided to fly the drone around the monastery getting a 360 degree view of the area with Mt Ararat in the background… now this alone wouldn’t have been too bad.. .but then we decided to get some approaching shots.. taking the drone out far into the rocky landscape then turning it around and flying it towards the monastery… This was in retrospect probably not a good idea… You see the monastery is literally on the border of Turkey and Armenia… We were flying the drone into no man’s land..
As we were packing up, a man came up to us and motioned towards the monastery and trying to motion us in with some rapid and angry Armenian… We were confused, but were on a time constraint and just moved on towards the car.. at the car another man popped up and did the same.. shouting and motioning in rapid angry Armenian… still no idea.. we try to go, but he holds our door open and blocks the car from backing up… finally an Armenian-american man who lives in Arizona, explains to us that the head priest wanted to speak to us for flying the drone..
We were still confused as ever, but Josiah goes up with a copy of his passport to talk to the priest…
I ran quickly up the hill to the monastery hoping to get this resolved quickly so we can hit the road. After getting to the top of the hill, I don’t see any of the people who were gesturing earlier or anyone that appear to be looking for us. Just as I am about to head down to the car a lady who is collecting money outside the restroom starts gesturing at me and pointing at the sky. She leads me into the monastery and inside an area off limits to visitors.
I enter a large, high-ceilinged stone room ornately decorated and am immediately confronted by 3 orthodox priests in robes and one man dressed in civilian clothes (later identified as the head of security). The head priest is a huge for an Armenian man, standing head and shoulders above me. He shakes my hand and angrily gestures for me to have a seat in one of a set of large ornate chairs arranged nearby. He asks for my passport, for which i provide my copy. He is irate that I did not bring the original and asks me multiple times why I only have a paper copy. I explain my passport was not accessible and I was told he only wanted to confirm my citizenship. What follows is a heated interrogation regarding why my friend had a drone, who gave him permission and why it was flown across the Turkish border (who Armenia is currently at war with). I apologetically explain it was a mistake and that we are uninformed tourists.
He accuses us of being Turkish spies and moves to call the military intelligence forces. He says he will give us a chance to erase the video before talking with the military, which is a very big favor. At this point things are looking bad for us so I take an even more apologetic tone, explaining that we clearly made a mistake and are extremely sorry. I play the dumb tourist card one more time and he pauses to think about it.
He examines my passport one last time and keys in on my last name. He asks where Mangiameli is from. I explain that my family was poor catholic immigrants from Italy who moved to the US for a better life. He immediately starts talking Italian to me. I again apologize and explain that our grandfather wouldn’t teach my father Italian to give us a better chance at success in the US. This exchange seems to soften him a bit and he is clearly considering his options. I push my advantage and explain how apologetic we are. I insist that we will erase the drone footage and had no intention of violating international borders. He softens a bit more, gives me a stern lecture about asking permission and finally lets me leave with a firm handshake. I book it down to the car which is turned around and ready to go and we haul ass out of there…
(And.. .I’m back)
We are off to the next monastery (this time with a healthy bit of caution). We got a bit lost, but were escorted to the right road to the next monastery. This monastery, Geghard, is absolutely awesome. It’s built into the mountainside with the most impressive columns and lighting. The pictures just don’t give it enough justice. But have a gander. :P
Absolutely beautiful gothic structures lit up by candlelight and natural sunlight through a well placed hole in the ceiling. We were all awestruck by the details inside and how cool it was inside even though it was blazing hot outside.
We were about to head, but Patrick decided to go down to the river to cool off a bit beforehand, so there he was just sitting and soaking his shirt when the nicest Armenian man, Vardan, comes up to him and hands him some Pepsi and tells him to drink. Initially he refused out of politeness, but Vardan insisted. The Pepsi was cooling in the mountain stream alongside two melons. Vardan then went back to his picnic area to get a cup, at this point Jon, Josiah, and Marshal arrived. When Vardan came back with the cup he was excited to meet the rest of the group. Eventually we were joined by two other men from the group who offered us some delicious freshly grilled meat. These men convinced Josiah to take a dip in the water and refused to take no for an answer as they continued to give us more and more food! Finally, we had to leave as we were on a tight schedule to get back to Georgia, so after many thanks we parted ways loaded down with delicious food and a bottle of Pepsi.
And off we went to the Georgian border, we knew we couldn’t leave Armenia without having some Armenian bbq. We luckily found a street side stand on the way to Lake Sevan, the old man and his family running the stand were brilliant. We were standing around asking one man about the prices for the skewers.. when his brother (at least I think) comes out with a clear glass bottle with some clear alcohol of sorts in it. He uncorks it and man oh man… that is strong stuff… everyone’s face puckers up after a sniff… He just stands back and laughs every time like a child seeing a balloon for the first time.
Then he goes back into his store and comes out with a shot glass… we all look at each other for help… Patrick uses his, “oh I’m driving card” first with hands on the steering wheel motion.. What a jerk face… we were all jealous of his quick wit to use that excuse… now we all had no excuse but to try this mystery liquid. Josiah goes first… the face contorts and squeezes into shapes I didn’t know the human face had muscles to do… Then runs to the car to grab the Pepsi the river Armenian family had given us….Next was me… yup.. it was crazy strong… although I think my allergies and the fact my nose was all clogged up (thankfully). I can’t describe the taste…. but strong alcohol… but definitely wouldn’t take another sip or whiff…
We tell ourselves we only took it out of being friendly… we order some skewers or delicious Armenian bbq and then are on our way to Tbilisi.
We get to the Georgian/Armenian border at the dead of night (we seem to do this a lot) and its chaos everywhere… we find out we need to pay an exit tax or something like that.. but we had spent all our money on bbq prior to this… $15 for something… I think a customs document.. then $4 or 2000 Armenian monies for a stamp of some sort… Josiah is inside the building while I’m going back and forth between the car and the building finding documents, updating Patrick and Marshal on the situation, trying to find Josiah’s wallet, find more cash, and just general shenanigans..
While the guys in the car are getting yelled at by this mean border guard about why they don’t have papers. Only to be told to relax by a nicer border guard who speaks english and continue on… A ton of mixed signals.. after about an hour and a half we exit into Georgia side… only to be greeted by another crazy border line… You see the Georgian border is set up so that the passengers go out by foot into immigration, while the driver sits in the car and drives through the kiosks..
This particular border crossing was filled with a mountainous waves of people trying to get into Georgia. There are no lines and for a good hour or so of it.. there is only one poor officer lady stamping people.. Soon more lines open up as we stumble over bags, children, small ladies, angry ladies, pushing men and tired old men. But we made it out with no problems.. This time Patrick got a big smile for being born in Georgia on his passport…and off we were to Tbilisi.
Somehow I navigate Josiah to the hostel we booked and then we crash.. tomorrow we would be entering Azerbaijan.