At the beginning of August we drove in to Trusso gorge and stopped at the town Stephandsminda. We spend a few days in the area and decided to visit Trinity church.
There we happened to meet 4 Dutch people. Two of them had been cycling for almost a year, and had cycled all the way to Georgia! It was August 4th and they told us that the next day they had left the Netherlands exactly one year ago. So did we, what a coincidence! They invited us to come to their campsite at a local pool for a celebration. So we did. There were a few more people camping there and we had a fun and relaxed evening.
The next day we wanted to drive the Arkhotistavi pass from Juta to Roshka, but it turned out that this was yet another military area or border area. Georgia has a lot of those. They don’t show on a normal map or on the satnav or anything. So you plan this route and then have to turn around. It is actually quite frustrating because you can’t reach your goal and have to change your plans. This happened several times unfortunately. It was the first time we were in a country that obviously doesn’t have the best relationship with its neighbours and we got to experience first hand what that means. You can visit some of these closed off area’s with a special permit. But you have to apply for this permit at least 5 weeks in advance and in Russian. So we drove the same (and only) way out of Trusso gorge past Tbilisi and slowly in the direction of Telavi. We found a nice campsite at the river Lori where we spend a relaxing few days before driving in to Telavi for shopping and fuel. We then drove the Abano pass and visited Tusheti, you can read more about that here. After 4 days in this remote area we were almost out of food and fuel so we drove back to Telavi to solve this. In Telavi we also found a replacement kitchen faucet. We drove back to the nice campsite at the Lori river for a few days of rest. Then we headed back to Tbilisi for some car maintenance, bike parts and we decided to renew Binkies health certificate, how that went you can read here.
Since it was still quite warm we decided not to visit Lagodekhi since it is situated in a desert area, although the national park itself is a forest. Instead we drove the Tikmatashi pass to Ninotsminda, a green area on a mountain plateau. To be honest it was a bit disappointing. So we didn’t hang around and on the 25th of August we drove in to Armenia.
We didn’t cross the border at the most beautiful part, at least for this time of year. Everything was dry, dusty, rocky and beige or brown. Our first stop was Gyumri, the 2nd largest city of Armenia. Although not exactly situated in a great area, the city itself is relaxing and worth a visit. We strolled through the nice (shopping) streets, saw Vardanants square and the black fortress. And after searching shops for over an hour we managed yet again to buy a paper road map. We found a good place to camp near a small river, surrounded by trees. We would soon find out that Armenia is generally quit dry (at least in this time of year) but has a lot of these oasis. And there are also areas that are covered in forest. It seems the best time to visit Armenia is in spring when everything is still green. But that goes for a lot of the warmer countries and we can’t all visit them in spring.
The Black fortress
After Gyumri we drove past Vanadzor, another nice city to Diljan national park. Diljan is one of the green areas covered in forest. It wasn’t easy to find a spot to camp there. Armenia has a lot of paid picknick areas. They usually take up every available flat space near a river. They are quite expensive (€8-9 per day) and there aren’t any facilities like a toilet. They can also be quite busy, so we avoid them. On the last day of August we visited two waterfalls in Diljan NP. The first one was the whispering waterfall, it wasn’t whispering any more though because it was completely dry… The hidden waterfall however still had plenty of water in it and there were quite a few other tourists. It was a nice and easy hike as well.
With August coming to an end, so does the typical tourist season. We don’t mind that! It is nice to meet other travellers but it was sometimes a bit crowded. We noticed that we quite like the out of season calmness. And indeed both in September and in Armenia there were a lot less tourists.