Thursday, July 25, 2013

Poly to russia, me and Nata to Georgia

Quick break in Armenia, by Sevan lake. We are going to georigia!

Chief of police to Nata: if you come live with me, you'll eat like that everyday

"Gavar Dzhobat!", Nata is hysterical, "Hello Georgia!!!" I have mixed feelings. Georgia is my dream place now but it also feels like going back. From here I could easily get to Turkey. How easy is it to cross turkey and go to Bulgaria. And Bulgaria, that's European Union already. A few kilometers to Ante and we're there! 

Stop the philosophical stuff, we're in Georgia now.

First we went to Tbilissi.

Eldar from Ozurgeti found us a place to stay, some relatives. Not easy to find because everyone was in other parts of georgia. Anyhow we ended up sleeping at some place with two iranian girls. I danced with M., it was great. I am still caughing and it is getting worse. I am afraid it could be Pneumonia. Poly is taking really great care of me. I really feel safe with her, from the medical side. As I feel safe with Nata for all things concerning this trip.

Today, Poly is leaving us. We will go with her on the military road and leave her at the border with russia. This is harsh, I wouldn't wish that on anyone. But it is the only solution if Nata wants to be in Iran in time.

Poly and Nata

Let me rewind a little and connect with Ilona for a little while. There wasn't too much Ilona in my posts lately but she was no less important in my travelling life. She managed to organize herself for the last week, occupy her time in Dilijan so I could travel to Karabakh. When Nata decided to go to Iran I asked Ilona for one more week. She said yes.

I met Ilona in Yerevan, she managed to find a place to stay for her and me. She didn't have any complaintsm she was a model of tolerence. And I can travel with Nata one more week in georgia, to see the places we failed to see the first time. Svaneti most of all.

Poly is a little stressed out, she is trying to decide what to do and Poly has a long decision making. I actually think she is trying to mentally prepare for her 3000 kilometers lonely ride with no tent. I can understand that 3 hour wait. Nata hates waiting and I can understand her too. Waiting without purpose is hell and that's why I am always late in life.

Poly hitchhiking in georgia

Hitchhiking is slow, the road gets worse, the night starts falling. We finally make it about 8 kilometers to the border. Poly will depart early in the morning. We have the eternal debate Park or Nature. Nata and Poly outvote me, it's park. There is a french gypsy with dogs and a camel camping nearby. It's kind of reassuring.

Poly buys me some herbs for coughing, I think she is really concerned. Nata's view is that I must just decide not to be sick and I will stop being sick. It sounds harsh but she is more right than she knows. Because I think my immunity gave up for psychological reasons in the first place.

Last camp with Poly

I will miss Poly. She is the sweetest person in my inner circle. And I don't want to be left alone with Nata. At the same time I want to travel just with Nata, she is the single most amazing person I know right now. If we don't feel this irrational need to protect Poly anymore, this trip can start to get wild.

Unfortunately it didn't. The weather wasn't kind with us.

We first went to the geysers; it was wonderful. The guy who drove us bought us tons of food and we had a warm bath, first bath ever actually. Breakfest in hot springs. First time in my life.

Geysers of mineral water

We stayed a little longer, just long enough to drink tea, and tea again, from the mineral water from the geysers.

We went to Svaneti and slept at one of Nata's contacts. I was drunk with Svaneti wine and I needed to sober up but Nata decided to sleep at Tomu's place. I don't know how to describe Tomu but let's start by saying he's hopelessly in love with Nata. He had a wife and daughter but that didn't stop him.

However, contrary to the Armenians, he was still a georgian and you cannot completly evaporate the democratic blood, even femme fatale Nata can't. So he wouldn't try anything without her conscent. He appeared to me as a stuck person, stuck in his love, stuck in his life, stuck between his couch and TV, stuck with his father, stuck with his speech. Everything in Tomu was stuck and Nata was his light. He would do anything for her and he didn't care about anyone else.

I was her brother. I don't like playing brother with Nata. It takes energy to play and I am exhausted by switching between fake fiancé, fiancé, husband and now brother. It's not just a label for me; I like to live my charachters, especially with Nata. Going from husband to brother was kind of demaning. I do feel some attraction to Nata and brothering it doesn't feel good.

I couldn't explain that to Nata, she wouldn't understand. Maybe because I couldn't express myself correctly. Talking to Nata isn't as relaxing as talking to Ilona. Ilona gives you time to tell your mind, to weigh your words, to correct your thoughts. With Nata, I have a time clock as soon as I start a sentence. If I don't express myself clearly and simply in the allowed time frame then my words fall on death ears or at least I feel so. It is an issue I still have to work out and I hope I will. I don't like giving up on other people or myself unless there is a rational reason to.

Back to Tomu. He was supposed to live at his place with his wife and kids. We were supposed to see him for three minutes. Instead, he was there alone with a 13 year old girl, Taco and his father. And we ended up staying two days at his place. I was really angry at how all things turned out. He tried to buy vodka and get drunk with me and his brother. No fucking way. I asked him if he loved his wife and if he believed a person should only live with one woman. He nodded, I think he was a little depressed. I couldn't blame him. His brother didn't like me. He tried to scare me, he told me that I was getting into big trouble. Fuck him and his advice.

I had to go out. All this was too much of a mindfuck I just had to take a walk. I was back in 45 minutes and everyone was looking for me. Nata was worried. She was right and this was a mistake I made. Usually, I am rational; usually I don't make mistakes. But this stuff just drives me crazy I can't keep my rational mind. Maybe I am not used to follow another leader. Or did I fall in love with Nata? Is that why it's so hard? Am I one of these stupid zombies following her like Tomu? I hope the hell not.

And then we leave Svaneti. I suggest to be hosted in Kutaisi at Sopo's place but it doesn't work out. I cannot contact them and finally I find out that they are not at home. Nata is right again but this time it's about an important decision. I am still rational enough not to put our expedition in danger just because I am holding a grudge.

We visited another of Nata's families. This one was better. They had real kids. Not just hypothetical ones. Of course there was a guy who wanted to marry Nata and probably build a monument for her but I am considering that like casual behaviour now.

They drove us away in their truck to some other hot springs. Amazing.

driving towards hot springs, again

A storm came. Lightnings. We took warm showers in the storm. Nata broke her electronic book, it fell into the water.

Bathing in geysers

Everything got wet. Clothes, sleeping bags, us. We knocked on a door and got warm dinner. Everything is OK.

The next day we arrived to Yerevan. Ilona was there. I was so glad to see her. Nata got her visa to Iran. Tomorrow, we are going!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Karabakh

Written in Tabriz bypassing the filters from an internet café
I have trouble finding my place with Nata and Poly. I could not have imagined her being all over me but suddenly she was. I need to have some attraction with Nata. I don't need it with Ilona, we get along like relatives. We share a river. I need it with Nata, we go up and down, we fight and reconciliate. We share a mountain stream.
Or maybe this marriage for passports just got to me too much. Of course I don't want to spend my life with her or with anyone for that matter but I don't want to settle just for the documents. Maybe we could try something. Just to avoid any misunderstanding, I am far from being in love but Natalia creates an equally huge mindfuck.
While my mind is being torn upside down by what I described above and also by Nata's mood swings, we enter the Armenian controlled Azerbaidjani region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
I don't have my passport, it's at the embassy of Iran in Yerevan. I am crossing the border not only without registration but also without documents so I'm a little stressed.
Fortunately we hitchhike with the vice minister of defence of Armenia. They don't check their documents because of government plates so we are not checked either. The border is really simple, just a little barrier.
So we go to the capital, Stepanakert. Nata and Poly want to sleep in a Park, I say no way. There is a lot of wild nature outside, just a few kilometers from the capital. It's so easy to go further from the city, I don't get why we don't do it. But Nata says the terrain is too difficult. No flat places, she says. How can there be no flat places in hundereds of kilometers square of land? But she says she's been to Crimea, that she knows this terrain, that there is no point in searching for flat spots.
Plus she's afraid a similar situation as with the assholes will happen again. If we try to hide, we'll be discovered by assholes. But Nata doesn't want to admit the difference between hiding in the first place and hiding from people already searching for you.
I can't believe my ears, I am definitly against the park plan, where else would drunk Armenians gather?
Anyway they outvote me and we decide to sleep in that park. We buy a bottle of wine and drink it away from the police because you're not allowed to drink in public.
I'm fed up with Nata because they've outvoted me one more time but what can you do. And Poly is too sweet and Nata is too fucking beautiful to be annoyed for a long time. So I let it go.
It turns out we sleep in a stadium. It's my first time sleeping in the stadium. Despotic Nata gets bonus points for that. She gets definite minuses for us waking up at 5:30AM.
We continue to visit Karabakh god knows where. We sleep at a factory called Based Metals. Nata and Poly sleep in one room, I sleep in the other. I am lucky not to sleep in the common dormitory with about 30 male students who all want to screw Poly and Nata.
This night I think that my little game with Nata is over. Our little affection trip just ended. I feel kind of sad. My psychology got a little more fragile for one second and I think it had some consequence on my immunity. Nata didn't stop coughing until now because of our midnight bath in Sevan lake.
Tonight, Nata got better and I got sick.
We eat at the local canteen, take some food. Then we decide to go back through the northern road.
That's not a road, that's not even a mountain path. There is a car every half an hour. More donkeys than cars, really.
"Are you Azerbaidjani spies?", "Do you have registration"
The questions keep falling. Mostly frustrated guys jaleous that I'm travelling with two girls or just small policemen looking to score points of authority.
Main road out of Karabakh

We crossed the border again on this awful road. We are covered with dust. We eat dust. We drink dust. We see dust. And then, back at Sevan.
Nata tries to get a hold of Jay, an iranian guy from the rainbow. Interesting person. I didn't like him at first. Now I kind of do. Anyway he bailed on us. Nata got really sad. She has a strong connection to the guy. Or maybe she likes to miss people. Anyway it was a big blow for her that he bailed on us. It is with two slightly depressed girls that I went to sleep tonight. But what can I do, sometimes a man is just useless and I like walking under the stars.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Assholes, take two

Written in a car towards tbilissi (hitchhiking with Nata), drunk with mingrelli wine and overeaten with all kinds of food.

We kind of expected trouble in Karabakh. It's a disputed territory belonging to Azerbaidjan under the control of Armenian army.
But trouble came way before Karabakh. We were all tired after one sleepless night and expected another good night sleep but destiny voted otherwise.
After bathing in the geysers we left Jermuk for better horizons. The mountains of Tatev should be beautiful and plenty of places to put a tent. Plus, there also are geysers of hot water. So why not try them again and not repeat the same mistakes?
In the evening, a car stops. We eat ice cream. Nata looks amazing. With her red hair, she looks exactly like Kirsten Dunst.
The guy asks where we are going, Nata says Tatev. They will even give us a tour of a city. I don't trust that guy but I don't say anything because I don't have any arguments and without and Nata and Poly seem to like them. So I trust their better judgement. Girls have better intuition anyway. They bring some lavash, armenian bread. Great, dinner is secured. I don't like that little bottle of lemonade, there is vodka in it and it's not the industrial kind, it's home made. That means sixty percent.
Nata points out that it's a small bottle, there is a limit. I think they have another but I also think that Nata is right. Because as we saw earlier, Nata has ressources and decision making and in general, is often right.

The guy is a telecom person, he does something with optic fiber. He has education, can't be that bad. They take us to the hot springs which turn out to be cold springs. I don't know it yet but this is the last time me and Natalia kiss. From that point, our fake relationship for passports goes down as formally as a relationship for passports should.
God still gets bonus points for that kiss but I guess he is getting sober now. He is getting sober and he is getting a serious hangover.

There is a cliff with a rope. Poly doesn't want to climb. The telecom guy wants to climb down that cliff towards that mountain stream inside caves where some people are already bathing.
I like that idea and Nata to. We climb down. Telecom guy is helping Nata more than she needs, my thinking is that he is just waiting for an excuse to grab her. He gets that opportunity when Nata falls. And then he wants a million pictures of him and her.
I don't like that guy. I have a bad feeling about him. He climbs better than I expected but still worse than me. I asks Nata if I should be worried and she says that everything is allright. No worries then but I still don't like him. For a little while, I wonder if I am not jaleous. But how can I be? I don't believe in jalousy and I don't believe in relationships, let alone exclusive ones. And I don't really believe in a relationship with Nata. She is already screwing with my head too much.
So if it's not jalousy, should I be worried?
We have dinner. We drink this liter of vodka. We say toasts, as we do in georgia.
"We drink to meeting new people and all will be good and there will be no borders and everything will be allright; it's like all people go to one another and find happiness in their heart."
That is a georgian toast for you. Nata masters them with ease and grace. It's in her native language so it is easier but she has charisma, sure no doubt about that.

The vodka is pretty strong. Poly doesn't drink, she's pregnant. Of course she isn't but with armenians, you have to resort to extreme arguments. We decide to go to sleep when the guy brings another bottle. No way. He starts dancing with Nata. No fucking way. So he dances with Poly. He is drunk, he is annoying. No more dancing, we go.

"Why don't you let me dance with your sister?", he asks me. I'm the bad guy here but I couldn't care less. Later, Nata will tell me that the guy tried to kiss her and that he tried to grab Poly. I knew it! But what does it matter if I don't act on it? That is one difficulty of travelling with Nata, she is a good leader so I doubt all my decisions more. And less of them make it towards my lips.

He goes with us to find us a place for a tent. Thank you very much, this is indeed a nice place but we'll look a little further if you don't mind.
As soon as he leaves we continue further along the path. Lots of flat spaces next to the path but it's dark, we don't see very well.
A few minutes pass and we hear shouting. Flashlights. The guy is looking for us. He and his friends. They are calling us. They don't see a tent so they want to figure out what's going on, why didn't we put up a tent as they told us, they want to have control of the situation. Armenians.

I want to go deeper into the woods. Poly and Nata are against it. Poly doesn't want to explore this forest in the night not to hurt herself and Nata doesn't believe it is possible to find a good place to sleep deeper into the woods. That is one thing weird with Poly and Nata, they sometimes consider entire regions of a country to be unusable for tent building. They just point at a mountain patch five kilometers afar and say: "look at the terrain, there is no flat space". I don't get that concept, so far I've always managed to put a tent everywhere.

I go to explore but it's useless because I know that Poly and Nata won't follow me even if I find something. It's annoying, I am loosing my self-confidence.

So I come back to Nata and Poly. The flashlights are still there. They're searching for us. It must be half an hour they are trying to find us. Aren't they tired? Stubborn Armenians. We fall the the ground. Powerful cones of light circle the space around us. They don't see us, they don't see us. But they don't stop. Another car arrives, more flashlights. They are doing a systematic sweep of the territory. Stubborn armenians, they never give up. It's past midnight. Soon enough, they have us.

"Why are you hiding from us? You think bad things about me don't you? Shame on you!" That's one angry Armenian with his pride hurt. One more armenian who doesn't understand why it is wrong to hunt for people who explicitly told him that they want to be left alone. I try to reason with him. He speaks russian and a little english. I try to point the conversation towards the notion of respect.
"Respect - what is that?", asks the guy. Why am I not surprised?
Anyway, Nata does not let me negociate. She has her own way of handeling things. And she is smart, I'm sure she has a plan and a good one.
Every thirty seconds she jumps into my labourious conversation and floods it with native russian.
"Please Nata let me just try one thing. Give me one chance to make him leave and if I fail, he is all yours."
"You don't know Armenians. They are stubborn they are not like French. They're like georgians, you cannot get to them this way. It's another culture."
She talks to me like I am a ten year old. Do you think you are the only one with resources here? The only one who has travelled georgia. We have had our fair share of encounters with Ilona too and we have solved them. I have crossed turkey with girls without any trouble. So go to hell Nata, I can solve conflicts if you just shut up two minutes.
I don't doubt Nata's superiour abilities with Armenians but beside being Armenian, this guy is also a bit of a geek. And I wouldn't bet a georgian cow's bony ass on Natalia's abilities in handeling geeks.We give in to his demands as Nata wants, Poly starts building a tent. I am really angry. I don't like being stepped on my toes. I don't care how amazing Natalia is, this is not right.

We start to argue, mostly in english, Nata has her moments of russian that I am glad I am not able to translate.

Poly pulls herself between up. She tries to calm us down. She is so moving, it occurs in my mind that I am travelling with two exceptional people. But I'm still angry. Meanwhile, the camp gets circeled by armenians. We are literaly under siege and there is no escape. The situation could be scary but it became absurd instead.

"Do you see what you did to our marriage?", I shout at the siege leader, "We were the happiest newlyweds in the world and now you've ruined it. Shame on you!".
In Armenia, you should be careful with the "shame on you" and "you are a bad man", people get hurt for less.
The guy is a little taken aback, not too much, it's barely noticable. Maybe he expected us to be afraid. But we are mostly tired and angry. He turns his attention to Nata.
"I'm not talking to you.", she says, "We are fightning because you only talk to me. Talk to Filip."
So he turns to me.
"Don't talk to me, talk to Nata!"
"You're like little children", says Poly.
Nobody pays attention to our siege force.
And it is that asieged that we go to sleep.
"I am going to leave you", says the guy, "because you have caused me harm. You had bad thoughts about me. But I cannot guarantee some bad people from the village won't harm you."
Armenian translation, to harm probably implies to rob, rape and kill.
"If bad people come and find us, how can they know we are there?"
"What are you implying?", the guy's pride is hurt again, "you can only think bad things about people, shame on you."
Nata goes to sleep. "I hope the armenian people will not betray us." She says.
I am not going to sleep. No way. If will not be taken by surprise in my sleep. Of course, probably nothing will happen but this time, I do not want to leave anything to chance. Because I do not want to witness the real version of yersterday's events.

I take my knife and pepper spray and stand watch. I will stay here all night if I must. As soon as I exit the tent, a powerful flash of light points into my direction. I have time to hide behind the tent. The camp is being flooded by light. They don't see me. Light beams cover the camp for 10 good minutes before they get tired.
At least a car is standing high above our camp with lights on. I hear someone walking around. Or maybe it's just wind or animals.
Slowly, I make my way out of the camp into the darkness of the night. The flashlights miss me, I feel free. Free from the siege but also kind of free from Nata: I make my own decisions. I want to take the high ground, discover how many people are there and if there is reason to fear them.

Unfortunately, without light, I step on one too many branches. It makes lots of noise and I am discovered about 20 meters from the camp by a huge flashlight. It's the telecom guy, the siege leader.
"Can't I go to the toilet in peace?"
He makes his way towards the tents, he is going to wake up the girls. No way. I try a bold move, I abandon the camp and make my way towards the car. It may be open and empty, probably keys are still inside. How much does he trust me with his brand new car?
It works. He gets back, welcomes me with a smile. He is alone. His car is empty. He doesn't look that strong, I could probably pepper-spray him and beat him badly enough for the girls to sleep till morning. I wouldn't get much sleep though. But I remember Nata's opinion on this. When you get into a fight in Armenia, you don't put a few bruises in the balance. You play your life and as for the girls, you can imagine.
And that guy is a better climber than he looks, maybe he is also tougher than he looks.
One thing is for sure, that guy is a psychopath. He is ugly, he is smart and he is a manipulator.
He would like to have sex with Poly. At least now I know what this is about. Actually, I am relieved. It's just about sex. I try to play the religion card, it doesn't work. He doesn't care about religion, he only cares about himself. He doesn't respond to pity either. He doesn't understand other people's pains and emotions because they don't understand his if he still has some.
In fact he hates Poly and he hates Natalia too. He probably hates himself in the first place.
Nata is right, it was useless to negociate, to talk about our freedom and respect. He doesn't have empathy for anyone but himself. And he thinks the price for his hospitality is sex with Poly.
I wanted negociation, I have my negociation. Nata warned me not to get into that, was she right?
I understand that he is a female-hating nerd swimming in self pity and I'll try to connect to that. I explain to him that Poly is a bitch, that she's frigid as hell, that I tried to have sex with her several times but it never worked because she was so stupidly in move with her husband. And Nata is my wife so no question about that, even for an asshole like him.
For the first time, something works. We talk about women, not in the nicest way. He suggests us having sex all together, me with Nata and him with Poly. He also asks me to hold Poly down while he tries to... you imagine the scene. It took all my mental strength not to crush his head against his fucking windshield.
By 2AM, I think I convinced him that the girls were useless, sexually speaking which made our encounter useless completly.
No matter how, no matter why, 10 minutes later, he left.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Geysers and assholes

Never in my life have I seen geysers. I remember this paper I have written about them in high school: a study of geysers in Yellowstone. It was fake from the very beginning, there was no real scientific study and all the results were bullshit. What I didn't know at the time is that nothing is never real enough until you hitchhike to it.

Or maybe nothing is real enough until you've hitchhiked to it with Nata and Poly. You can push the limit of your expectations endlessly. Nobody will stop you, they'll just become a little absurd.
Today our plan isn't absurd, we just want to see geysers under the stars.

It is normal to make mistakes in life and it is normal to make mistakes during a trip. Some mistakes are free, some cost everything. This mistake demanded a fair price by Armenian standarts at least.

We went to Jermuk, a town built on hot springs. The water there is very hot and has lots of minerals in it, whatever that means. Healing water, that was Poly's favourite subject together with healing energy and whatever magic that mostly works in Harry Potter. But Poly is still alive and healthy so that's proof of something isn't it? I shouldn't despise her theories just because they don't look scientific enough.

8 kilometers from Jermuk, accross a few rivers that we had to get our feet wet to cross, we finally got to those hot springs. A geyser was erupting every few minutes and the water was warm. A dozen of guys were eating shashlik and drinking vodka. They've invited us to join them.
The girls don't drink and don't eat meat. I didn't mind a solid dinner so why not. It was brief, I ate two big portions of shashlik and manage to refuse all drinks except three little shots of vodka. Industrial 40% vodka, in this region you might as well call that water.

We decided to put up a tent about 100 meters from the drinking party, light a fire and wait for them to leave. Afterwards, we will go into the geysers under the stars. What could be more perfect. None of the guys had tents so they can't stay here very long, the night is coming. Of course they told us to stay and they kept talking about how dangerous it is out there with bears, wolves and stuff.
"Yes yes, thank you, Schnorhakaljutzun, you're very wise, now we'll go somewhere else where you won't bother us". You can't reason with people who think they know the truth too much. Just to be safe, the girls pretended not to speak russian. Therefore I would be the main communicative pipe and if they want to get to them they'll go through me. It went pretty well except for the absurd fact that I was playing russian-english interpret for two russian native speakers.
I wanted to hide our camp more, to go deeper into the woods where the guys could not see the fire but Nata was afraid of the wild animals and I don't think Poly wanted to go very deep too.
I can't argue with Nata yet, she is still too impressive, I'm still too fascinated by her to put my point accross. Little did I know that it is actually quite hard, in general, to convince Nata that things should go differently than she thinks, especially with Poly on her side.

So we camp there and soon the guys find us. Two or three of them come and say hello, offer vodka, take back their vodka and spend ten minutes repeating that it is dangerous out there and wolves and bears and whatever. I translate it to the girls who nod to my approximate translation, sometimes I just speak random english.
Nata is my wife and Poly my sister. They're both from france. It doesn't matter we speak english, they can't distinguish french from english anyway.

Then they leave again. Poly goes to sleep, me and Nata wait till midnight. Some guys are leaving, a few of them still remain. We decide to go anyway.
Nata just briefs me on the two most important sentences: "My khotime pobit adni." and "Stavte nas adni", leave us alone.

Not too complicated you could think but this is without knowing how stubborn Armenians are. When me and Nata got to the springs and explained that we want to take a bath in the hot springs under the stars, we are husband and wife, newlyweds, probably on our honeymoon should I draw you a picture or what?
Yes probably because the fucking armenians kept going on about how dangerous it is with all these bears and wolves and how could we leave our sister out there 100 meters from here. Let's call our sister back, let's wake her up, no matter that she's sleeping.
No discussion, our vegetarian tired to death sister would be better off in the middle of drunk and loud guys and a ton of beef meat.
No problem with that, no problem at all.
Bears, wolves, bears wolves, they don't talk about anything else. Had I been a bear I would start eating their meat provisions staying in large quantities by the fire. Assholes.

After a tiring discussion which was more like looping through sentences "bears wolves dangerous" "leave us alone" and "we want to be alone" they finally left us bathe into the geysers.

It was really beautiful, you could see the milky way, not a cloud in the sky and from under, just the bubbling water from the geyser. Single most romantic moment in my life, even considering the fact that Nata is not my girlfriend.
Every few minutes the geyser heats up the water, we're in a hot bath.

Flash back to reality, here goes gravity, here goes the flashlights and assholes again. "Are you safe? Do you need help?" What fucked up question is that? Are you fucking serious?No we don't need help, we are naked in the fucking geyser stop shining your fucking light stick at us, don't you have any shame? Nata jumps out of the water and I hide her with a towel. The guy offers us his jacket. Fuck your jacket, do you understand the notion of privacy you stupid stubborn Armenian? How the hell will you find yourself a girlfriend or will you just buy one on the street because it's cheaper than to learn some manners?
Yes, one stupid stubborn Armenian and where is the other? They were two right? Nata is the first to notice. Isn't the other one with Poly? Oh my god are they really that annoying? Did they really separate in order to try to protect poor Poly who wishes nothing else but a good night's sleep? No they didn't, I cannot believe that. I just can't.

But you know what? They really did. We ran to our camp with Nata, still dressing up on the way. I hope this other asshole didn't wake up Poly, god let's hope he didn't do anything to her.
And then we see him, sitting next to her tent, repeating over and over the same fucking sentence "Wolves, Bears, Dangerous, come out".
I am sorry I didn't have time to describe Poly in detail but know that she is the person with the most patience I know to date.
An example, when we met, just before departure. She waited three hours for me, worrying if something bad hadn't happened. When we met, she just threatened to circumcise me and that was it. Next minute, she was all smiley.
In this situation, it was way over the top. The guy was shaking half-asleep Poly's tent for thirty minutes.
For thirty minutes, the conversation was one endless loop:
"Let me be! Let me sleep!"
"It's dangerous, there are bears and wolves! Come to the main fire!"
"Please go away! go away!"
Tent shaking. Go to first line of dialog.

Poly was so angry she switched to russian. This way she broke her cover but the Armenian asshole was too drunk to notice anyway. He was too drunk to think about anything else than fucking bears and wolves.

"What the hell do you think you are doing here?", I ask the guy who is sitting in front of Polys tent. I hear Poly's voice. "Go away!!"
The guy seems calm, he does not see any problem whatsoever.
"It is not good to leave your sister in the woods like that. There are bears and wolves. You are lucky that I am here.", he answers me, calm as a man can be.
"Get this asshole out of here!", says Poly.
I tell him that everything is fine, that we want to be alone, that our lives are ours to live or to lose and that we are more afraid of people than wild animals.
He insists that we should join them at the fire and keeps looping his wild animal talk.
Is he for real? Unfortunately yes, he is.
At last he leaves and we go to sleep after apoligising to Poly who is just glad to be left alone. At this point, if there was any fear of being eaten by wolves, it completly dissapeared. If I opened my tent and saw a bear, I would be so relieved that it's not one of these two assholes.

2 AM, my tent is shaking. Those assholes again. We pretend to sleep, fuck them. Poly and Nata sleep in the other tent. Their tent is shaking too. No reaction.And then, suddenly, into the silence of the night, I hear screaming. It's Natalia's voice and this is the sound of despair.
"No please no! Pleeaase! Pleaase!" She is crying. She is screaming. There is panic in her voice. Panic and despair, it's horrible. "Please, please!" She is begging for mercy. No doubt in my mind this is rape. I never wanted to witness that but here it is. These two armenian guys are raping Natalia. She is helpless. She is a proud person, she is brave and selfless and they are raping her for amusement. They are raping my fiancée and she is begging them to stop. No person alive should witness this. It is inhumane. And suddenly I know that I cannot live with myself if I let this happen. There is no life beyond that. There is no rational decision to make. Thinking about state justice is bullshit. There is no state justice here. I take out my knife and pepper spray and for the first time in my life, I am going to kill somebody. I will go to that Armenian asshole and I am going to cut his throat. And I am going to do that now.
I am not a human being anymore, I am an object, I am a weapon. I might fail, I might break, but one thing I might not do is to think. I will not get hurt because I am an object. I will not panic because I am an object. I will not defend myself because I am an object. I will just go and cut this guy out of reality like you cut a weed that annoys you.

I get out of my tent and I see Natalia. She is on her knees, she is begging the guys. They are in front of our tents, in front of our dead fire, it's burning a little. Nata is crying.The guys are as calm as still water. Natalia runs into my arms. I am afraid. I wouldn't think I would be afraid. And then she says: "It's an act. Everything is allright, I am just trying to scare them."
I am completly surprised for a few seconds, my reality shifts. I am happy that Nata was not raped. I am happy that I don't have to fight, let alone kill someone. I am still anoyed that the two assholes are still there. I know only one person who would have the idea to play such a scenary. And that person is me. I can't help thinking that me and Nata share some common very original features but there is no time for these thoughts.

And the assholes are not scared. A woman crying in despair, begging them to go away doesn't move them a bit.
"We are cold", says one of the guys, "We don't have any warm clothes and we didn't bring a tent. We are cold."
Assholes. How the fuck does their brain work? First they annoy us with morals about how it's dangerous with all the bears and wolves. They tell us how we are naive and inexperianced to camp there against their better judgement. And finally they come to us and ask us for shelter because they didn't bring warm clothes to the mountains. How lame is that?
"My Zamrzli", they repeat. Fucking Armenian assholes.
There is no solution except one. Well I have one and Nata has one. Mine is to pepper spray them and leave them somewhere in the forest. Nata's is to give them one tent. Nata wins.

Contrary to the asshole guys, I just cannot argue with my fake fiancée who just got fake raped. Plus, she is right. We give them a tent and a blanket and go to sleep in the other tent. We hear them snoring. Victory!

We didn't sleep much, there is no space in that tent. I wake up before the girls do and see them making fire and bringing some lavash, armenian bread.

"Did you sleep well?", they ask. They are not ironic. They really don't see any problem in their behaviour. On this kind of trip, we don't make waves, we play nice, we give a chance to other cultures. But this? No way, I cannot live with myself if I don't explain to these guys that what they have done is wrong. I'll try to retrace the conversation.
ASSHOLES: Did you sleep well?
ME: What do you think?
ASSHOLES: ...ME: No, we didn't, the girls were afraid.
ASSHOLES: Yes they are wolves and bears, we told you, you didn't want to listen.
ME: They were afraid of you
ASSHOLES: Of us? Why? We are good people. Tell them not to be afraid. We are here to protect you.
ME: When a girl tells you to stop one time and you continue, that's OK, when she tells you two times to stop, that's OK. When she tells you ten times to stop and go away and you shake with her tent, that is not good.
ASSHOLES: Your sister has to understand we want to protect her. She shouldn't be afraid of us.
ME: It is called freedom. Our life is ours. Giving a choice to a person is called respect. It's like democracy. You armenians of all people should know that.
ASSHOLES: ...
I thought respect is an international word but it is not. These guys have no idea of its meaning, maybe it doesn't even exist in their vocabulary.
ME: I'm dissapointed by your behaviour. I thought you were good people.
ASSHOLES: So you think we are not good people?
ME: I don't know. If you shake a girl's tent and she doesn't want to then maybe you are not good people, how can I know.
ASSHOLES: You don't know bad people. You know if we were bad people we could have killed you. We could kill all of you, like that!
Passing Turkey, you just learn not to be impressed by death threats. Avoiding death is important, avoiding threads is just recommended.
ME: Do you want to kill me?
ASSHOLES: ... no but we could kill you.
ME: If you want to kill me, then go on, kill me.
ASSHOLES: Why? We don't want to kill you.
ME: You didn't kill us but you are killing our freedom. That is why I am dissapointed.
ASSHOLES: Ok, sorry. If you want us to go away, we will call our taxi. Sorry, we didn't think we did anything wrong, we are good people.
ME: Tell that to the girls, they have been wronged.

My russian vocabulary has reached it's limits. But I'm glad that they apoligised to Natalia. We shake hands.
"Haper", they say, "Brother"
They offer us all of their food as a sign of apology. I don't touch any of it. I am not taking hospitality from assholes.
Assholes or cultural clash? The opinion is yours.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I want to marry you Natalia K.

Never in my life have I seen geysers. I remember this paper I have written about them in high school: a study of geysers in Yellowstone. It was fake from the very beginning, there was no real scientific study and all the results were bullshit. What I didn't know at the time is that nothing is never real enough until you hitchhike to it.
Or maybe nothing is real enough until you've hitchhiked to it with Nata and Poly. You can push the limit of your expectations endlessly. Nobody will stop you, they'll just become a little absurd.
Like flying over the sea of china. Like sailing a boat through the Kuril islands. Like climbing a narrow wall where a russian princess waits and ask for her hand in marriage.
God is drunk and the world is crazy but this idea isn't actually bad. It had occured to me already, when I was visiting Anush in Vanadzor that I could marry someone for the documents. So many armenians hoping for a chance at better life. So many armenians struggeling to find jobs. So many armenians trying to get abroad. But they can't, they're stuck in their little country. And what do I lose by marrying an armenian girl? Nothing really. Marriage holds no value to me and she could get a chance at a new beginning, countless options would open.
And as the georgian bus drivers say, if you can help, then why not?
This was just an idea at first but with Nata it suddenly makes a lot of sense. She struggles to go to europe, shengen visas are hard to get for russians. And it's a mess to travel in Russia when you're a foreigner. This makes sense. It just does.
Should marriage make more than just sense? In the old days, parents organised couples together. The jezidi people still do so. Would our marriage be worse? I doubt it.
Should our marriage be more? Maybe but this is completly up to us. If relationships taught me something it's that freedom is priceless and freedom is key. If we get engaged we will be as free as the wind, as free as before.
So does that marriage mean something besides a signature on documents?
To me, definitly, it does. It is very likely than never in my life will I meet someone like Nata at a rainbow gathering and never in my life will I get married in georgia. And there is no better place to marry in the world than in georgia.
So why let pass a chance of such a beautiful perspective? Because it's not real? Because it's fake? Not true. It is neither real nor fake but I assure all of you that it is beautiful.Maybe it lacks love but it certainly does not lack perfection.
Real or fake? Piece of cake!
And of all the people I know in this world, if I had to marry one person now, it would be Natalia. Because she is beautiful, because she is kind, because she is surprising, because she is a fake redhead. Because she is independent, beause she is brave. Because she is caring. Because she has a russian passport. Because she climbed on mount Elbrus. Because I could probably fall in love with her if I didn't have a panic fear of relationships.
Because this marriage could be our jewel of freedom. We can hide it in a closet, we can wear it on our fingers, on our faces or in our hearts. There is nothing in it that binds us, only things that break us free.

An awful invitation

I don't really know what happened after our mountain climb but I know that we got invited at night. The çocuk-yok test proved negative: our host to be had a wife, a child and a sister. With so many women under his roof the lad could not possibly be an asshole. Or can't he? Because it soon turned out that he had more affection for his lost love in Sochi, Russia than for his current wife.

He was an important construction worker in Sochi, he even built restaurants for the mayor and had an affair with his daugter. The daughter, being of muslim background wanted a muslim marriage so he told her to go fuck herself. Then, someone discovered that he was in Sochi illegaly and he asked his girlfriend for help. She told him to go fuck himself and he returned to Armenia. There, he mourned his lost love and fed his growing frustration.

Now, if I had to draw his womanly priorities, it would look like this: Sochi-girl, Nata, Poly, probably a couple of girls he finds in a bar, loving wife.

His wife was holding him, hands around his neck, eyes filled with affection. The guy seemed a little irritated.
He really wanted to provide us with the best hospitality his home could offer because that is what Armenians do. In his case, his hospitality was mainly directed at Nata and Poly.
"I have this awesome meat soup, it's a meal for the whole day", he told Poly.
Poor poly who doesn't even eat bread hasn't touched meat for ages and Nata, while less extreme wouldn't even dream about eating that.

So, more for me. You could see the blood flowing into that guys head. Little icons of crushed skulls floating between his synapses. He felt played. And Armenians don't like to be played. I bet he wants to tear my eyes out and pour that meat soup into my skull but he tries to remain civil in front of Nata. So I eat my plate. It's great.

To add to the frustration, Poly soon leaves to play with their baby while Nata goes help the wife clean dishes. Who is left to keep company to the poor lad: me of course. We don't exchange a word but I think we both know we won't be friends on facebook. Shame.

His frustration finds a way out when he suggests to sell me to slavery in his construction working business. I'd like to see you try boy. I've brought down bigger businesses than you could even imagine so I wouldn't sleep too quietly under that roof I've built for you.

"They are not sleeping together!" The guy repeated a few times, he almost yelled.
Nothing in his little world would make sense. He started from nothing. He climbed his way to the top. In Armenia, where people struggle to find the shittiest of jobs he found a way to provide for his whole family. You've got to give it to him, the guy is a fighter. And for what? A wife without personality and a home made soup? Where is the glory? Where is the recognition? Why aren't these girls eating my food? And why is this stupid geek travelling with two girls and for fucks sake is he even screwing one of them? How can that be? He can be tolerant, he can take loads but he won't be part of this absurdity! Fuck you fate, fuck you destiny, they are not sleeping together.

But actually, we kind of are. The poor guy doesn't realize it but the truth is aper, I am as astonished as you are. Why are Nata's hands joining mine and why does she climb into my arms I have no idea. Maybe it's how rainbow works, maybe god is drunk. I might as well enjoy it until he has a hangover.

The next day the guy lets us shower and cuts the water when I'm inside. Luckily I've just finished showering. I just didn't have time to wash my teeth but I'll survive without for today.

I am sick of his way of treating me. I have never seen such lack of respect. And when every connection has failed, the only way to gain respect again between men is a good fight. So I challenge him. He seems confident. He is stronger than me, he's the kind of guy who would beat up half of the bar. He's fast. He is smaller than me and he has a shitty face defence. He thinks that he doesn't need it because he has won too many fights. He is a tough motherfucker but I'm not afraid to face him, I'm not afraid to face anyone. When you make the decision to travel with two girls who look like Nata and Poly then you also make the decision of being punched in the face. It's only a plus if you don't and I certainly hope for destiny to be kind to me.
Nata jumps of her seat like a red rocket: "they will be no fighting!"
She means business. And to be completly honest, she saves my ass. Just my pride is hurt. I'm angry with her and most of all, I'm angry with me. Then, I'm just angry with me. I can't be angry with Nata for too long. We left so quickly that I didn't have time to take my towel and my cap. We leave them there. Nata doesn't want to come back; she is too afraid for me and she is too afraid for Poly. Weirdly enough, she isn't afraid for herself.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sevan lake again

First day with Nata and Poly. I expected to connect better with Poly because she is more easy-going and last time I spoke to Nata, she seemed a little annoyed with me god knows why so I intended to keep my distances. As I said, our relationship reached its peak just before I left for Aragats. And I like Poly a lot, we can talk, she doesn't judge, she doesn't hate anyone and consequently, she doesn't hate me. Why would she, of course but I mean in general, she's not the hating kind of person. She's confortable to talk to.
Turns out I also got to know Nata and turns out she's very interesting. I would say that her one main quality is bravery. Nata is brave like few people are and you will read about it in the pages to come.
Mountains at sevan lake, Nata in a flower field
For now, no bravery is needed, we just go to Sevan lake. Nata is in a hugging mood and I am at the recieving end. I have no idea wheather this is normal among rainbow people or if I trigger some attraction on her part. In normal condition, there would be no doubt but you see, rainbow people hug, kiss, cuddle a lot on a regular basis.
So who knows and more importantly who cares?Besides my fear of relationships I am not Gandhi, I am not going to push out the most beautiful girl I have seen in a last few months. That would be absolutly retarded.At the lake we break camp and Nata and Poly. They start making tea. They have tons of tea and a million different herbs. This is cool. Poly cooks my pasta with soy sauce, it rocks!
At night, we went swimming naked in Sevan mountain lake. It was cold as hell. Nata got sick. Poly didn't want to come because she has a brain.
Last time at Sevan lake, I wanted to climb one of the surrounding mountains to get a magnificent view of the water surface. Ilona, though full of good will, didn't even begin to understand why I wanted to climb that random mountain, what sense it carried.
Imagine my surprise when Nata was actually thinking the same thing: let's climb. I love like this coincidence plays exactly into my wishes; it's like magic.
We climbed to 2400 meters and the view was stunning. The flower fields were stunning, sevan ake was stunning, the mountains were stunning and in all that, Nata was just amazingly beautiful. I thank my vaccinations against romatic relationships which keeps my heart steady and my head rational while travelling with Nata and Poly.
The way down was difficult: we got lost. I get lost all the time, no surprise there beacause of my horrible orientation skills. So far I haven't seen as awful orientation sense as mine. Until now. Nata has a condition called topographic cretinism which basically means you can get lost in your own appartment. It's touching to finally meet my match and even funnier is the fact that she is a traveller too.
View at Sevan lake

Friday, July 12, 2013

Travelling in armenia: how do we fit in?

Travelling with Nata and Poly is very different than travelling with Ilona. When travelling with Ilona I take the main flow of the conversation. Armenian society being mostly patriarchal and let's say it, downright machist, the driver (who is a man) will not talk to the woman who is kind of inferior but he will talk to me as the representative of the group. Besides, I am sitting in front and Ilona in the back so it makes much more sense to talk to me. If something goes wrong, I am the representative part and I can play an important role in negociating. I can apply more psychological pressure than Ilona because I am a man and my word can be respected as much (if I negociate well) as any other man present.
Our way of functioning with Ilona is also very effective in detecting weirdos.
In Armenia, there is a rule in communication: you do not involve a woman into a conversation between men. More specifically, a woman does not interrupt a conversation between men, it's more than impolite, it is a downright lack of respect and most Armenians will not tolerate this behaviour not only from local women but sometimes also not from tourists.
If we happen to see a man talking directly to Ilona and systematically cutting me out of the conversation then this guy is probably a weirdo and we should exit the car as soon as possible.


With Nata and Poly, it is another story. The girls speak fluent Russian, see, so they quickly take over the conversation. With my feeble russian, I just cannot compete. Therefore a couple of things happen simultaneously. First the driver is confused. In this patriarchal society he expects me to be the voice and leadership of the group. Instead, he sees Nata as the leader. And rightfully so, she knows how to act, react, get the situation under control. She talks a lot, she smiles a lot. She is the main connection.
In a few minutes I lose face and all respect from the driver: shame on men who follow a woman. There is no point in discussing that in fact we form a leaderless group, there is no such thing in the drivers mind because Armenian society does not work like that.

Therefore I appear like a powerless puppet and all the psychological leverage I could have over the driver vanishes. Nata appears as an independent woman which she is. Unfortunately in Armenia, independent is closely connected to available and sometimes even easy to get. Nata has amazing resources in debunking the myths of her sexual availibility but unfortunately her actions are limited by the fact that whatever she does, in Armenia, she is and will remain, only a woman. She will never convince the driver as well as her husband would, had he retained the drivers respect, which I have not.

So the situation is left at the hands of Nata and besides physical confrontation (if it comes to that), there is little I can do to solve the situation. And fortunately for us, I could not imagine a person in her place with better decision making that she has. Our personal Donald McGillavry, russian instead of scottish, female instead of male, teacher instead of general.

One advantage of having a man in a group is relieving the girls of hard and tiring negociation, the man can easily acquire a credible authority. But does that mean that two russian native speakers should be deprived of their language? Does that mean we should lose all the cultural exchange that is made possible only by Nata and Poly? Does that mean that a fierce and proud personality as the one the girls have should be reduced to silence all for the sake of safety?
And even if we played by Armenian rules, would it be enough? How could a frustrated Armenian guy forgive me for travelling with two stunningly beautiful girls?
A woman isn't as precious of a person as she would be in western europe. I have two, why wouldn't I share? Why wouldn't any good man share? Sharing and hospitality is a part of Armenian culture and that is also what defines a good man here.
Of course I could be a muslim and have two wives but then I would be Azerbaidjani and this is one step closer to catching a bullet.

This few paragraphs just to say that travelling with two beautiful girls in Armenia is a wonderful experience but not as easy as one would think.

Making plans

Yerevan is a capital city. Yerevan is a dump. Yerevan is so poluted it should be in China. Yerevan is the city where reality randomly links events together and patches the blanks with wonder. I don't like Yerevan but I like everything it triggers.

I go find the rainbow family in that bar. It's late and I cannot go to back to Armen. The rainbow atmosphere has taken over. Poly is there and Nata too. I talk to Poly, I cannot talk to Nata. Nata is too impressive. She really is. She's as radiant as firework in the night and she kind of has the same characteristics.

Nata doesn't tell me much. She would want to go to Iran but she can't leave Poly. She doesn't talk about it obviously, except maybe with Poly, her best friend, little sister, the constant of her life she needs to protect. One could dare say, one of the rare constants in her life? Nata doesn't deal in feelings and unachieved plans. Nata makes decisions and acts on them.

I cannot return home, it is too late, Armen and his family are sleeping. Ilona is somewhere in Dilijan, she has plans with Sevan I think. Nothing to fear, we keep in touch until we get our visas, in one week. Luckily enough Ljuba and Michael, two russians from St. Petersburg take me to their friends place. The place is a mess, it feels like home. And then I have a plan. The twisted kind, one that is too complicated to work, one that is too complicated for people to even listen to it until the end. And here it is.

Poly wants to go to greece,me and her can go together. We can speed-hitchhike there as a group of three and return just me and Nata. After that, Nata can join me and Ilona and we can go to Iran together, the three of us.
But if we want to do this we better start now because time is flying.

Poly has another idea. Nata can't go to greece but we can go to Karabakh the three of us. Then she goes to greece with Sevan or whatever, we'll figure it out. There is a computer a Ljuba's friends place so luckily I can skype with Poly from a random account. Hell it's weird how everything works out. These people don't get stuck with details, we try things, they'll just work. 

That day I pack my stuff at Armens place and I hurry to Poly. She lives in an appartment in Yerevan, it's a maze. I am three hours late. Poly doesn't kill me, she just threatens to circumcize me. She's half israelian you see.

Nata is there too, she is seems happy. I'm still too fascinated by that person to read and react to her emotions properly. Now that we will travel together she cannot be my muse anymore, you don't travel well with abstract concepts. You only travel with real people. People you can rely on.

I think I can rely on Nata and Poly. Why not?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Climbing up to 4000

Written in a georgian car drunk with Svaneti wine with Natacha in front trying to debate with me, how can I understand a word you're saying I'm drunk
II am leaving the rainbow the rainbow leaves me. The best memories are behind me, I am on the road towards the highest peak in Armenia with my bag and my hope. I am underfed from the rainbow vegan food and I have a smile on my face. I have Nata's friendship bracelet and I should hurry into idealizing into a symbol because I will need a motivation to climb to the top.
Nata is an alpinist see, she climbed Elbrus so the coincidence carries a strong symbolic.With these things in mind I descend the rainbow mountain (the main camp is about 1500m high) with Ilona and Nikita, the guy from Ukraine who showed us the rainbow. They buy some stuff and I continue to Vanadzor. I have a piece of bread and a couple of tomatoes. I'm underfed from the vegan food from the rainbow, these are no conditions to climb that moutain.
Luckily, I am invited to a restaurant by some great guys and I also sleep at their place. I get apricot jam and bread. The daugther of the guy who invited me is a widow, she seems sad, I wonder if I couldn't marry her so she could get a passport to France. I continue towards Aragats.

Dinner before ascention
Next destination is Aragats. I just pick a random village on the bottom of the mountain. "Where exactly are you going", says the guy in the truck.
"What do I know, just leave me there, under the mountain."
He says there is no path upwards but he is a democrat, he'll let me try. But he insists on me having a decent dinner first. So I eat a mountainairing portion and I am on my way. The wheather is not ideal but I hurry because of Ilona. I promised her to be there in... I don't know when but soon. Some parts of the sky are blue, sometimes I hear the thunder.
So I try not to mind about the storm and I direct my way straight towards the giant mountain in front of me. I never saw any object this big before.I can also hear some automatic weapon fire some distance to my left but honestly, my worries are more directed towards the weather.
I stop as the last construction to collect water. I guess I will need avery drop I can get. The weapon shots are getting closer but since I have other things on my mind I kind of ignore them. I cannot ignore them when I hear them from another angle. Are they directed towards me or what?
I throw myself to the ground, half wondering if the world has gone crazy. Have I just been shot at? Probably not, but still, I don't need to stay here.
I double-check the border with Azerbaidjan on my map. Everyone knows they shoot at sight, better not get into their way. But no, the border is fine, everything seems allright.
I deviate my path to the left, away from the weapons fire. If you look at the GPS records, you'll see me making that detour. I also look for people to check what is going on. And where there are people there is less danger. Unless they are the ones shooting.
I meet two sheperds who tell me that these are indeed automatic weapon shots. Military is training on that side of the mountain and it is indeed possible to catch a bullet when going too much to the right.
Had I been in europe, my question would be: "Do they shoot?" In armenia, with military everywhere and complicated borders, there are people with guns probably on evry corner. So I settle for the more constrained question: "do they shoot at people?"
The sheperds say no. Just to be safe, I take off my military hat. I have lost my hat a few days before but luckily, a soldier gave me his hat at Sevan lake. So I am facing a dilemma: If I keep my hat off, maybe I won't be mistaken for a soldier and shot at. On the other hand, I will not last two hours under the shining mountain sun. I'm already at more than 2000 meters and it is noon. I hope I'll make it to 3000 today.
On my way, I run into several more shepperds.
"Are you alone?", they ask, "you cannot go alone on that mountain. You will not succeed"
But after a bit of debate in bad russian, they acknoledge my determination. I'll get to base camp at 3000 and hopefully find some tourists there. He tells me that there are no tourists but I can find some Kurds there. Not sure what he means by this. Kurds are in Kurdistan, what would they do here? Never mind.
"Good luck Filip-djan! May fortune guide you on your path"
2500 meters, I meet the last shepperd. He is on this way down. I cannot hear the shooting anymore and I'm glad about that. The guy stinks of vodka. He shows me a water source to replenish my water resources.
But his speech is different.
"Go down no! There is no way of climbing that mountain alone. They are shooting. You cannot go up."
I try to figure out if the main problem is the shooting or if he just thinks that the ascention is too difficult. Then he starts going into transe:
"They're shooting! You understand? Shooting! They have guns, rockets, grenades!"
That's it my friend, your babbling and the vodka that is just enough for today. I've had enough of your morals, I have Nata's bracelet for protection, what do I care about your Kalachnikovs? Just kidding, the truth is I don't believe a word of that guy said so I go.
I must admit I am a little scared and my fear grows when I decide to take a break in a little hole in the ground. Because that is not a hole, that is a crater. Grenade? Might be but let's not jump to conclusions.
My altimeter is climbing to 2700 and I start feeling the effect of altitude. Maybe a little sooner than expected but hey, at least I know when my body starts reacting to it. White clouds start forming when I reach 2800, the village is covered in them. Anyway the village is so small now.


The village is covered in clouds
I always kept that village as a psychological attractor, a way of turning back, as long as I see it everything is OK. But you can probably see Yerevan from the top of Aragats; does that mean that everything is fine. But you need to hold on to something, right?
3000 meters, the walk gets a little more tiring. I drink a lot and I walk with all the stuff in my backpack, that's why probably. I have almost reached the peak of that little mountain on the left. The shooting has definitly stopped. I will now traverse to the right. Where are these kurds?
I call Orianne one last time to confirm my position. The call is cut off by the weather. White clouds cover the sky in a matter of seconds. Mist is getting thicker. Storm is coming.


Storm is coming
I'm at 3200 meters and I have just time to descend to a valley. I throw my tent on the ground. There is a small lake there.
It's not really a lake, more likely a small pond fuelled by a snow patch above it. It flows down the mountain as a small stream which is getting bigger as the heavy rain falls. I have just the time to build my tent and jump into it with all my things. Lightnings start to fall all around. Thunder is louder than I have ever remembered. I count the seconds between lightning and sound. Three, two, is it one? That one is instantanious. Thunder must be hitting less than a kilometer from my tent. That's the high peak of Aragat and the neighbouring peaks.
I wonder if I should just pack my most important things and run to the village. How long could it take? Three hours? Two to the bottom if I run like crazy? But I also know that this isn't an option. In the dark of the night I would twist my ancle before I cover half of the distance. The ground will be slippery, I would fall multiple times. I could stay there, in the same position I'm in now but without my tent and without my equipement. I certainly do not want that. The rational choice is to stay there and wait. And that is what I do; that is the only thing I can do.
Last minute base camp

This lightning is scary, it doesn't have the same color. That one seems like fire. Do lightnings have a different feeling in high mountains or is it something else? If you had contact with me through facebook after the ascention then you know it was something else and what it was.
I guess Nata's bracelet wasn't enough of psychological protection anymore because I decided to calm myself down by messaging my friends. I got a reply from Alexandra, she was experiencing a nice wheather in the south of france. I don't know if that information calmed her down, maybe a little it was the contact which was important.
Then I watched an episode of game of thrones, you never know, if something happens to me, I'd better finish season 3 first! I didn't finish season 3 because the rain became so heavy that I just couldn't hear any other sound.
I survived to the other morning and the weather was OK again. I woke up Orianne at 5 AM to get information about my location and where the fuck is Aragats? There were some peaks in the reagion but the biggest one seemed to be only 300 meters higher than my current altitude. But what do I know, it's difficult to estimate heights. Orianne confirmed where was Aragats, thanks a lot for that, I wouldn't like to be woken up at 5.
Meanwhile I lost my two only warm clothes. I tried to find them because I've never heard any mountainair climbing to 4000 in a t-shirt.
Search unsuccessful, the wind must have blown my clothes away. Let's climb in a t-shirt then. I's 9 AM now, I have to hurry. And what the fuck is there? Another shepperd? At 3200? Where does he come from?
Anyhow, I am so glad to see a human being after yesterday's storm. When did that guy wake up? It took me the whole afternoon to make that ascention and he's there at 9 AM with his herd of sheep.
Over the hill, jezidi camp

"Od kuda, od kuda? Selo v nizu?"
"Nizu Nizu!" So yeah, he comes from downwards, how did he do that?
I look over the small hill just next to my tent. Oh my god, tents. Big, small, many. This is base camp!
I run down to the base camp like crazy, a wonder I didn't hurt myself in the process. Mountain climbers! People!
"Is anybody there?", I start in english. There is some woman who doesn't react so I change to Russian. Nobody speaks english here, even tourists probably. Russian also falls on death ears so, a little confused, I switch to my very limited armenian.
My surprise is complete when the lady does not understand armenian. These are no tourists. They must be the Kurds the shepperd told me about! I have no idea what kurds speak but I try turkish. Nope. Another woman comes in. She speaks russian.
"We are not Kurds." She seems a little offended. "We are the Jezidi people."
Jezidi tent under Aragats
Not Kurds, Jezidi, why the fuck not, I mean, I've been in a storm, shot at, a rocket has exploded next to my camp so yeah, why not a Jezidi tribe making cheese under Aragats mountain. Nothing can surprise me.
"Come and eat Filip-djan" they all invite me. They're so kind. They are full of encouragements. They have these buge tents, kind of yourts with wooden walls in some places and chemineys.
I tell them that I must hurry. The sun is already too high in the sky. One guy tells me to go from the left, there is no possible way from the right.
So I go. I manage to climb to almost 3600. It is not easy. Sometimes, I really have to climb. When I climb, I double check, triple check my climbing points. It's afternoon already and the weather is starting to get worse.No lightnings but big white clouds are gathering. No lightnings yet but where do you think they will strike first when they appear? I have to turn back at 3600, about 500m of altitude from the top. The wheather is deteriorating by the minute, I go back to my tent. It's further than expected, I am really tired. I pack it and go back to the Jezdis.
They welcome me with open arms and tons of food. My first failed attempt doesn't stop their encouragements. I'll try tomorro, morein the morning. They say the weather should be kind to me until 2PM, afterwards, they cannot guarantee anything.
In the evening, Baze, their big shepperd dog decided it doesn't like me too much. The beast jumped at me from behind and bit me hard into the leg. It' a big dog, the kind that scares wolves away so it hurt pretty bad but luckily, I had two layers of clothes on my leg so it was just scratches. The second bite hit my vaccination papers so no damage as well.
I have an amazing dinner. The husband of the russian speaking woman asks me if I have porn on my computer. I don't. I must say that in that Jezidi camp, the brains belonged to women. The russian speaking woman was very smart but her husband, though probably having a good heart and will was pretty dumb and by european standarts probably also an asshole. But you cannot apply european standarts to another population otherwise everyone would be an asshole except europeans.
Dinner at Julie's
The other couple I remember was Julie. I say Julie because I don't know who her husband is. Unlike the other Jezidis, Julie is Armenian and married a Jezidi. So me and her were probaby the only two strangers in the camp. The questions why am I not married came pretty fast as always. I tried to explain my situation with Ilona and Julie thought it was pretty sad. I think she really wanted us to be together.
In the night, the camp got attacked by wolves. Nobody got hurt but I still couldn't watch game of thrones because of the very strong wind which completly deformed my tent.
The next day one of the shepperd goes with me until 3400. The jezidis gave me warm clothes and food for the road. I still have the apricot jam. It's delicious. She shepperd shows me the road which I already know. It is safe to continue alone. I make a bigger detour through the neighbouring peak. The path is easy and I reach 3600 in no time.The peak appears really close. I am afraid not to make it to 4000 because there simply is no 4000. Or do I have the wrong peak?
No I don't. And it really is way higher than it seems. After a while, the path stops, only razor sharp stones in front on me. I have to climb almost 90 degrees with a cliff underneath. I don't do that kind of climbs alone. I will lose time but I decide to make another detour,, go to the other side of the mountain.
At 3600
The terrain gets difficult, a lot of sliding stones, some climbing. I never climb over cliffs. I always double-check my climbing points; Nothing unexpected happened. At 3800 it becomes really hard to walk uphill. I rest often. I drink amazing amounts of water to compensate the sore throat due to heavy breathing. My altimeter indicates 4000 meters and I am almost on the top. The weather is degrading but I don't care at that point. On my side of the mountain, the sky is blue. On the other side, it is white. I can't see at 10 meters in that direction. 4080 meters, small top.
Crossing a difficult part
I stand in the mist. I am afraid of a storm, of lightnings, I don't want to stay here one more second. I am preparing to go down when I see a silouhette a few hundered meters, on the other side of the mountain. It's also climbing and resting every few meters. At least I'm not the only one having problems with the oxygen.
At the top, 4000!
I run down to him, I want to help him with his backpack. He's from Poland. Czech and Polaks, that's an ever repeating story. I would be surprised had he been of any other nationality. Except Armenian of course. Together we reach a second top, a few meters higher than I was waiting on. The highest top lies in front of us, in the mist. 4100 something. Polish guy doesn't watnt to go, it is pure climbing to get there.
That's when I notice that there is actually a path on the other side of the mountain. That is the regular path, that's where the tourists are. That's why the people from the village couldn't point me the exact way because there wasn't any. I was doing a free climb.
I climbed the rest of the way to the highest peak beacaus it wasn't so different from the rest of my improvised path. The Polish guy knew the weather, no storm ahead. I reached the cross, 4100 meters, highest top I've ever climbed.
At the top, we were joined by an Armenian guy who had climbed a lot of peaks. When I told him my itinerary towards the top of Aragats he thought that I was some kind of mountaind climber and that I've climbed Mont Blanc. I don't thnik I could climb Mont Blanc alone, I heard it's pretty difficult. Aragats is as easy as a 4000 can get if you take the conventional path. I have no idea what my path is worth.
At the top, messages in bottles. People who have climbed that peak wrote someting. No suprise there. Armenians, Czechs, Slovaks Polish. That's it. What else to expect really?
There is a very good phone signal at the top but of course I don't have any. I'm lucky if my phone operator knows that Czech republic exists, I can forget about most of Armenia.
Next thing that doesn't work too well are my shoes. I must say that I didn't expect Sylie Houdré's (my podologist) shoe implants to last more than a month. Surprisingly enough they resist very well to whatever condition I impose on them I am not a person to take of my stuff. The shoes, on the other hand are starting to fall apart a little and I my shoes may day way before the implants. It's a shame the implants are useless without the shoes.
I descended about 500 altitude meters in a couple of minutes. I used the snow patches lying everywhere accross the mountain to slide down on my shoes. It's easy, just select a good looking snow patch, imagine your shoes are skis and try to keep the balance. If you fall, sliding on your ass works as well. So I slided on a patch of small moving rocks, then a patch of snow and I was down.

Next morning I wake up insanely early and I hitchhike the road down towards Vanadzor and Dilijan.

I made it!
The Jezidis congratulate me and a giant dinner is waiting for me. I eat at Julie's place. I like Julie. I like one of the shepperd guys as well, especially one who speaks a little french but mostly I connect with women because they are the brains and the language of the settlement.
And the other russian speaking woman is very wise, I wonder if she finds happiness with her machist husband and family. The Jezidis, as I understood it, are wed by their parents. They don't choose their life partner, their parents do. This way, the Jezidi people keep their culture and their language.
I didn't think the husband was a bad match because he asked me for porn, I cannot even imagine the level of relationship exclusivity the Jezidi people have, no wonder he felt lonely and the wife frustrated. But as I talked to each of them I thought I really didn't see much compatibility even after god knows how many years of marriage.
It was 6PM already and I really and I was still at 3000 meters. If I want to meet Ilona before it is too late I better hurry. The children help me pack; they all carry my things around and pack them randomly, it's a wonder I didn't lose anything. I'm packed in like 5 minutes and I have to run. I have to cover about 6 kilometers of mountain terrain and 1000 meters of altitude difference before dark, that is in 3 hours, maybe 2:30.
I am not using a detour anymore, I'm going straight through the place where I heard the shooting two days ago. I's weekend, nobody should train there and anyway I don't hear any shooting.
Only a few hundered meters from the Jezidi camp I start discovering the first shells. They are unexploaded. Big rockets, small rockets, all sizes, some are new, some rusted, some are just bare pieces of torn metal. I wonder for a second if a place would not be evacuated in a country such as france had only one such unexploded shell been discovered. Who knows. Here there were hundereds. How is that possible, this is the main access road for the Jezidi people?
But as the Jezidis explained, nobody in Armenia cares about them, people even think they are Kurds so maybe they just don't care about casulties.
One of the many shells on my path
People get regularly sniped at borders here so what should they care about a few Jezidis?
I wonder if the place is mined so just in case, I try to avoid them like we always do in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Basically it's about avoiding high grass or middle-sized stones.
I arrive at the village at nighfall. I am greeted by two scary shepperd dogs. I manage to pick up some stones just in case I have to scare them off. I don't need another bite, the ones I have hurt enough already.
In the darkness I finally manage to find the place of the guy who brought me to the mountain. "Good fortune to you Filip-djan", he had told me as they all did, "if you come back, visit us here".
So I knock at his door at 10PM, his wife opens. She seems not to recognize me. Did I end up in another dimension or did I misinterpret their hospitality offering? Maybe it was just politness as Ilona says. Could it be?
Nope. The husband just woke up and invites me in. A place to stay and second dinner after the last descent. Yay! And a couch.
It takes an insane amount of time. I eat at Vanadzor at Anush's place. Anush is a woman who takes care of her mother. She is an english translator and her mother is an english teacher. But it doesn't mean anything here because there is no job for anyone so everyone just farms their own garden and Anush works at a ginormous garden, it's a wonder she manages it. Living here is really hard and she would have a better chance at life in europe. At that time I thought that I could just marry her for passport, why not?
Meanwhile, at the rainbow, Michael and Ljuba were worried because of my lack of answer my last SMS being something like "Lightnings everywhere, mountain lake running over to my tent. I'm scared."
My mother became crazy because she got a series of GPS signals, the last being at 4100 and no signal from there. And I just came back to sleep in my tent at the rainbow.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Rainbow

We arrived at the rainbow gathering with a drunk bus driver who probably hoping to sleep with Ilona and all the rainbow girls. We managed to lose them on the way up.

 

My first rainbow gathering is an amazing experience. People are kind to each other, they hug, they smile, we touch casually, like flowers in the wind. Ilona has trouble filling in, I am kind of curious of the experience. People are open, they don't expect bad things.  I think I like that. Groups have formed but remain accessible.

 

You can go into one group, people accept you even if you don't have anything special to say. You are not expected to do anything in fact. However the kindness that you experience, as unique as it seems is not. People are kind to everyone, that is the spirit of the gathering. But why be jaleous because it is the kindness that matters, not the exclusivity. Should you blame people for the size of their heart, for being kind to more than one person?

 

Food is prepared collectivly in the kitchen. There are several fires burning. Beforefood, we gather in a circle. We hug, we kiss. We pass the kisses. A kiss on the cheek from Natacha realeases about as many endorphins as a passionate kiss from a western princess.

 

Natacha is a russian readhead with a personality of the same color. She's many things, she's a mountain climber. Poli is her friend, they are travelling together. She sounds naive but she seems as free as you can get. She has a boyfriend in a free love relationship which is about the only relationship that I can believe in.

 

Flounder is American from Indiana. He's here with Sarah. Art professor and writer. Charismatic couple. I like talking with them. Everybody's hitchhiking. I don't know how to describe flounder correctly. Maybe am I writing with too much delay? I think you can tell the guy's American. He doesn't have that faded mentality known to europeans. But then again, not many people here are faded.

I like Sarah too. She writes and you feel it when you speak to her. Talking to her reminds me how much I like writing.

 

Jay is from Iran. He climbed mound Damavand. At first, I thought he was an asshole. Now I think he is a great guy. You have to give a chance to people.

There are several camps. There is a russian camp, an iranian camp and some mixed camp. There are several french there. I don't trust the french. They have a way of taking over stuff.

 

There is a guy from Quebec, his name is Alexis. He is quarter native american and has fled home when he was 16. Now someone stole everything from him and he is waiting to recover his passport and stuff. He seems happy though.

 

Nearly everyone is interesting. Some are inspiring. Natacha is an inspiring person. Sometimes she likes me, sometimes she doesn't. She could be a good muse. Some people are good candidates for muses and everyone needs a muse for psychological stability. A muse is a sort of a guide in life, someone you can safely idealise.

A long time ago and for some time, mine was Alex but it's been ages I'm not idealising her. Maybe it's time for a change.

 

With Flounder and Sarah, we go to the lake. Sarah throws her clothes of and jumps naked into the water. I'm kind of astonished to be honest.

"Brave girl", I say

"And how else would you do it?"

 

The casual conversation kind of stayed in my mind because of the easy going tone, abscent any shame which escaped from her lips. I am not used for people getting naked in such a casual way.

It turned out that almost everyone from the rainbow also got naked and jumped into the pond so Sarah wasn't so exceptionnal after all but still, you got to remember the first times.

 

Maybe I'll write some more about the rainbow, maybe when my feelings have rested for a little while.

 

Ilona is becoming a genuine hippie. Her first ill feeling towards the food ceremony has long gone.

 

As life goes on, still no reply from Iran. Alexis tells us we can transit trough russia to Kazakhstan. Maybe we will. Azerbaidjan seems a bit tricky after all. On the other hand, I'd love to see Iran. The more I talk to people, the more magic flows from this place.

Mahan looks a little tired walking from the shower a few hundered meters uphill.

"Marihuana", he says.

"Do you have some?", I ask

Marihuana is growing everywhere here, it's a weed. Marihuana bushes are growing next to the road and nobody cares. The thing is, it's mostly male plants.

"No I don't.  But I need." says Mahan.

"Come to my place in Iran. We have hashish and marihuana... eeeeverything". Good to know, usually the good people of hospitalable countries offer food.

"We have goooood LSD also."

That's Iran for you. I have a feeling we europeans are very mistaken about that country.

Honestly, I wouldn't have expected any drug. Drug-wise, Iran was just another Finland in my mind. But since this was the opium route, was there any drug, I would have expected opiates, heroin for example, not weed and even less LSD. But hey, I am glad that heroin shit is out of my way!

 

Rainbow, rainbow, I like you, people you inspire me but there is one thing I would like to do more. Even more than seeing unearthly beautiful naked russian girls swimming in rivers I would like to climb mound Aragat, 4100 meters high mountain, highest peak in Armenia.

Ilona can't go, her knee hurts. She must rest. So I'll go alone. I'll hitchhike alone in Armenia. I'll find that mountain. I'll find a route going to there. I'll find some people to go with. And for the first time in my life, I'll climb that peak.