06 May 2008

Yemen to Yerevan

Sorry for the delay in postings, folks, but Internet access remains unreliable, slow, and frustrating. Yesterday, for example, I wrote a nice, long post about Armenia--in Word even, so Blogger wouldn't eat it--and, should I be surprised?, Word crashed, and I lost it anyway. Windows, you are the scourge of mankind. I hate you. So here we go again.

When I stepped into the departure lounge for Yerevan at Sharjah International Airport, I saw a tired group of people. They were disheveled, their eyes were dark, and they looked a bit drunk. In support of this latter, they all carried plastic bags bulging with bottles of duty-free alcohol. The men looked beligerent and wore pointy, black shoes. The women were dressed in a style which I have since nicknamed "haphazard trashy" (something I haven't seen anywhere else except, well, New Jersey). Seeing this sight, I knew I was in the right place: these were Armenians.

I am exaggerating a little bit for comic effect, but the men really do wear pointy, black shoes, and the women really do dress quite trashily, with tight, revealing clothes and way too much cheap make-up/perfume. Not that I'm complaining! After months in religiously conservative nations where women mostly cover up their bodies, it is refreshing to see once again such liberal displays of cleavage and excessive reliance on push-up bras. Armenia, ho!

The flight to Yerevan became eventful when I rose from my three-seat-across slumber (score!) to see the majestic Mt. Ararat majestically looming before me in all its majesty. Snow-capped and over 5000 meters high, it's the Armenian holy mountain, though located nowadays in hated Turkey, and also the traditional final resting place of Noah's ark--so I guess it's appropriate that I'm coming to Armenia from the city of Shem, retracing the footsteps in reverse of the Semitic son.

I was surprised by how nice the airport is--high-end designer retail and all--and this made me feel both reassured and uneasy. I was also surprised when I was hit with a $50 visa charge. C'mon, Armenia, your country's the size and shape of a spare rib. Why can't these former Soviet Socialist Republics just drop the damn visa fees, or charge like $1 per hundred million square kilometers they occupy?

Cleverly dodging the taxi vultures, and though unable to speak Armenian (people keep asking me if I speak Russian--"why the fuck would I speak Russian?" I glibly respond), I somehow find my way downtown to my meeting point with English Tom, my couchsurfing host in Yerevan. I mostly hang out with him and his Iranian-Armenian girlfriend Teny for the next few days, going off on my own only to explore the city a bit, see the Armenian Genocide Museum (continuing my self-designed educational tour of the world's greatest crimes against humanity), and visit a "heathen" temple and ancient monastery in the nearby countryside. Tom is on a multi-year bicycle trip around the world. He and I both left our respective countries at about the same time, and here is where we met, Armenia, the crossroads of the world. I'm lucky he got a bit bogged down and has an apartment to make available to me. Since leaving England last July, Tom reports that he's only spent about $3000. And he's 24! So much for experience.

Armenia prides itself on being the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion (in 301 A.D.!). Yerevan, the capital, prides itself on having been founded a full 29 years before Rome (in 782 B.C.!). So you can imagine what things are like today, after the intervening several thousand years during which there was nothing for them of which to be proud. Actually, and even though I had read that Yerevan is somewhat depressing in a post-Soviet way, I rather like all the red concrete stone architecture. And after months in dry, desolate, and over-urbanized places, the abundance of trees and greenery in Yerevan's relaxed neighborhoods has been almost as refreshing as the abundant cleavage. And the countryside around the city is wonderful! Hilly and sparsely forested, it climbs and rolls and dips, looking to me like Scotland or parts of New Zealand.

I like it here. Unfortunately, the road goes ever on, and I cannot remain long. Georgia, with its traditional hospitality (and Southern belles?) beckons. But before that, I have one more oddity of an adventure to undertake.

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