We got up at a unpleasantly early time to take the only Mashrutka back to my favourite town of Vayk, then quickly catch another south to a town called Sissian. We'd become spoilt in the last few days by being brought breakfast in our warm sitting room. These breakfast were so large and diverse that we'd saved them for lunch too. We got to the only bus stop in town early and waited in the cold rain for the bus, which was late. A taxi driver came up and told us we were at the wrong place, the right one was miles away, but he could take us there for a large sum of money and if we hurried we would catch it. I was pretty unimpressed, cold, wet and bored with all the slyness we'd met so far. When the Mashrutka came it soon filled up with equally grumpy passengers.
What a difference arriving back in Vayk this time! Instead of being dusty, late and uninspiring, it was wet, early and uninspiring! I know I'm being unfair to the town as I only saw a tiny part of it, I'm sure if I'd spent time there I would have started to know and like the people.
But what I did see this time, was different cafe next to the Mashrutka stop, run by a cheerful, friendly woman who plied us with hot Sorch at the correct price and we chatted about our lives, not an easy task with my limited Russian and Armenian and her limited English, often using scraps of paper to illustrate. Meanwhile taxi drivers hovered around outside like wasps. She tried to explain the transport system there, which seems obvious now, but then it just seemed so confusing, though it gradually began to sink in. Basically, a lot arrived there from the capital, Yerevan, in the north, hovered outside tantalisingly for a few minutes, turned round and went back again. Some didn't turn round but were already totally and utterly full and were mainly going to Stepanakert, the capital of a country that officially doesn't exist, which I'll tell you about in a future blog. We wanted to go to a town a few miles off the main road, so there weren't many buses going there. The map I'd looked at didn't make it clear that it was so far off the main road, which added to the confusion. Don't worry, she said/mimed someone will tell us when one gets here, maybe one hour.
We spent several hours there. The rain eased and I went outside to find a French couple we'd met in Yerevan cycling along the road and chatted for a while. There were a couple of make-shift stall around with people selling phone credit, fruit and veg and the ubiquitous seeds. Seeds aren't something that we do in England, but they are common in so many other countries and I learned how to eat them in China. They are toasted, salted and are usually sunflower, pumpkin or melon. The knack that works for me is :- hold them sideways up, point inwards, between the teeth and push them slowly into your mouth as you give three or four gentle cracks along the sides with your teeth. The third or fourth time it should open enough for you to hook your tongue inside and scoop out the whole kernel, leaving the empty case in your hand. The best ones pop into your mouth by themselves and the worst just disintegrate into a mixture of shell and seed. Its a fantastic way to pass the time, waiting for a bus, sitting on one, or just contemplating life in general. Crack, crack, crack, scoops, eat, crack, crack, crack, scoop, spit, eat and so on. Squatting while you eat them makes them taste better even better. Squatting is something that's not done a lot of in England either and although I've got a lot better at it, especially when my feet are pointing downhill, after a few minutes my legs start to hurt and I have to stand up and pretend to be interested in something else.
The seeds are usually incredibly cheap and usually the street vendors are pretty poor. I bought some from an old lady, who cried as I bought them, and said something long and rambling in Armenian, probably about the plight of seed sellers, and we hugged each other. After that people became a lot friendlier and actively started to help out with Mashrutka situation. Armenian has its own writing, but as I already knew Arabic and most of the Russian letters and had recently learnt the Georgian alphabet, I'd decided not to strain my poor brain with learning yet another - especially as we were only spending three weeks there. However, I couldn't resist pulling out the dog-eared paper with the alphabet on and trying to decipher the destination boards on the Mashrutka windscreens. If I'd be hoping to impress any of the locals, I was sadly disappointed, but I had great fun working them out and cheered myself every time I got one. Eventually I read one that said Sissian, which belonged to an incredibly full Mashrutka and managed to persuade the driver to let us on, the whole town must have been fed up with me by this time and probably begged him to take us away!
I realised, after the last blog, that you, dear readers, mostly get to read the edited highlights. This of course is right, You don't often need to know the details of what I ate for breakfast, the boring times, the details of the haggling, hassling, delays, total incomprehension or any really personal stuff. But, just this once, to give a slightly closer idea of the reality of travel, I've forced you to stick around with me, in a bad mood in boring Vayk while I ramble on about seeds and Mashrutkas.
Anyway after two hours of uncomfortable travel with some friendly people, passing through some breathtakingly beautiful scenery, we arrived in Sissian. We spent some time looking for the cheap hotel only to find it was the big relatively impressive one we'd passed. We asked for one of the cheap rooms which had a balcony and looked out onto the fountain and rose-beds, the helpful English speaker manager came back from her shopping to explain how to walk to Carahunge, or Stone-Henge a few miles away, which was one of the reason we'd come there.
We walked quite a lot of the several kilometres towards Carahunge until a man in an expensive car stopped and insisted on giving us a lift. The majority of Armenians I met don't really see the point of walking for pleasure, so he was quite insistent. We'd had a long day so far, and so we got in. He told us he owned the big hotel, which he pointed to in the distance, spoke perfect English and didn't seem at all worried about driving his car over the bumpy track that led to the site. "Any problems at all, just contact me", he told us as he dropped us off at the entrance.
What an impressive site! The sheer number of stones is what hit me first - they seemed to stretch on forever. They varied in size between small child and a large adult, some of them had holes in them at a variety of angles, some pointing at the sky and some at the horizon. Some of the stones were set straight and others were leaning in different directions, maybe having been placed that way or had settled there over the hundreds of years. They seemed to be arranged in a circular pattern, which I walked around taking in the atmosphere and inspecting the separate stones.
Even without the stones, the scenery would have been beautiful. It's granite cragginess, which I hadn't seen before in the Caucasus, reminded me of Ireland. It was greener than most of the areas I'd seen around, which were mostly parched and yellowish after the long summer, fairly high up and surrounded by mountains, some of which had the start of the winter's snow on their peaks.
We had the place to ourselves, except for small shop and were free to wander wherever we wished. As the sun was getting ready to set, it rained a little, producing a rainbow that stretched over the hillsides. I'd been thinking about a close friend of mine and how much she would have loved it there. She'd had so many misfortunes over the last two years, but was getting married the next day in England. As I watched the rainbow I wished them both better times and a happy marriage.
We went into the shop before we left, which sold a few postcards and had a small collection of books and was run by a young man. He made us welcome and told us his friend was coming to pick him up soon and we could have a lift back into the town. I looked at the diverse books, some of which were in English. Apparently Carahunge or Zorats Karer, is about 7 hectares in and consists of hundreds of standing stones and over 200 stone tombs around the area. I mentioned the stones with holes in and these are thought to have been made to take readings of the movement and positions of the sun, moon and stars. Its been estimated that its at least 7,500 years old, predating our own Stonehenge. There was even a claim that Ancient Britains originated from Armenia and built Stonehenge using their ancient knowledge. A lot was mentioned about it being the point of a special sort of triangle, to do with ratios, between Stonehenge and The Pyramids. The jumble of claims and theories became harder to understand and so I sat and looked at the pictures and chatted to the man in the shop. Soon his friend arrived and we headed back into the town.