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Sunday, October 16, 2011 | Onward to Yerevan

Another early start, heralded this time not by my alarm clock but by the urgent call of the muezzin. Today I am going to try to get to Yerevan, but whether I will get there or not remains to be seen. Who knows what the roads will be like? We will find out very shortly. As it happens, I reach the border with Georgia at around midday, with everything going super-smoothly. The border officials are very co-operative and I give them a brief inspection tour of the Editourmobil. Then they wave me onward with a cheery "welcome to Georgia."

Once across the border, an urgent need to fill up. The Editourmobil can just about squeeze into the small petrol station. Then we are off again, and again into the mountains. According to my faithful GPS, I have to climb up over a pass to reach Yerevan. Road conditions which had been just about OK, now go on a distinctly downward trend, so to speak. After about two hours (no time to pull in for a meal) the roads are in such bad shape that I’m forced to crawl along at 5 -10kms/hr. Potholes, mud, steep-sloping hillsides and huge rocks litter the road. And – something I’m only familiar with from pictures I have seen from India – there are cows peacefully ambling along at the roadside or munching at the hedgerows. None of this is very helpful in making progress. To cap it all, it is now late afternoon and the light is beginning to fade. I‘m beginning to wonder how long this will go on. Someone should be hauled over the coals for allowing the roads to get into such an abysmal state. The road weaves its way through tiny villages where people wave cheerily at me as I pass by. I have no idea whether they are greeting me as a stranger out of sheer friendliness, or whether in pure astonishment that such an unsuitable vehicle should be trying to negotiate these perilous roads. As dusk approaches, a mist descends, and still the road to the pass seems never-ending. This is no road for such a huge vehicle; a jeep or even a Hummer would have their work cut out here. To my left the road falls away suddenly to a sheer drop of around 400m, whilst to the right jagged rocks loom over the vehicle. Did I remember to write my last will and testament?

The road now peters out, and worse still, it is now pitch black. I'm still not over the mountain. I press on and on and then suddenly, at an altitude of about 2030m a huge clearing appears with a large signpost, indicating various directions. I've actually done it, I'm at the top of the pass! In sheer relief, I get down from the cab and have a quick walk round. I take a picture. There is snow up here. From here it is downhill all the way to Yerevan.

My relief was, sadly, short-lived. I will spare the reader details of the descent. Suffice it to say that it was as just about as catastrophic as the ascent. The shock absorbers of the Editourmobil are probably completely knackered. The potholes are harder, deeper and more numerous than ever, and I spend my time desperately dodging between lumps of tarmac and thick mud. There has obviously been no work done here for at least 20 years if not more. The poor Editourmobil has to pick its way constantly through deep water channels and mini-waterfalls tumbling from the rockface. Water, water everywhere, all over the road, plunging eventually down the mountainside. I just hope and pray that I don’t get a puncture or that the vehicle is not simply swept off the road by the force of the current.

After about 8 hours, absolutely shattered, with a raging headache, I arrive on the other side and at 11pm manage to locate a place to stop at a small, still open petrol station. Yerevan is still 322km distant. ‘Nuff said!