x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Lost in translation on road to Armenia

Chris Guillebeau is on a mission to visit every country in the world and is currently on number 189. In his latest despatch, he reports from Armenia.

Chris Guillebeau, 33, is the author of The Art of Non-Conformity and The $100 Startup. He is on a five-year mission to visit every country in the world, and is on number 189. In his latest dispatch, he visits Armenia.

I set out for a run in Armenia. The temperature was perfect—too cold for walking, but after five minutes of jogging I was feeling great. Passing by revolutionary statues and people warming their hands, I thought about where I had been recently and what lay ahead.

Over the past week I had been in Tbilisi, Georgia, and loved everything about it. It was a magical, enchanted city. I spent time in cafes and walked the Old City, climbing to the Narikala Fortress that overlooks the outlying area. Before Georgia, I was in Azerbaijan, making the overland transit by overnight train.

As always, I had to keep moving. I got up early and took a taxi to the bus station. From there, I asked around, using the one-word question: "Yerevan?" The capital of Armenia, it was my next destination.

When I started travelling, I worried about not knowing languages. How would I possibly get by? One of the first important lessons I learnt was that there's nothing to fear. Even without a common language, people will always help you.

The guys in the bus office didn't speak English but asked around on my behalf and one of them directed me to a waiting minibus. This kind of transport doesn't leave until the bus is full but I was in luck - we set off within half an hour.

A younger passenger spoke some English, so we chatted about my journey and he shared a basket of bread with me. Since the trip was six hours, most people had stocked up on provisions. I contributed a granola bar and felt bad I didn't have more to share.

I asked why everyone was travelling. Some people were traders, it seemed, moving frequently between borders. Others had families on either side. A few seemed to be in the process of migrating, looking for new opportunities.

We came to the border stop, where we had to clear immigration on both sides. I love airports, but there is much more life in changing countries on the ground. You usually have to visit at least two offices, one on either side, and pass through "no-man's-land" in the middle, a confusing passage that usually involves walking a gauntlet between touts and money-changers.

With only minimal paperwork, I received my stamps and paid for the Armenian visa with a US$50 bill (Dh184). Thankfully, I didn't delay the other passengers, something that happens from time to time when I'm the only one with a Western passport.

Two hours later, our minibus reached Yerevan. Success! I said farewell to the other travellers and set off to find my guesthouse.

Later, after my run, I stopped by a Georgian restaurant for spinach pie and sweet red wine, reading from a magazine and making notes in my journal about the past week.

I would leave Yerevan a few days later by 4am airport taxi. This had been a good trip and I looked forward to returning - but I had to keep going.