Hitchhiking Armenia’s Silk Road
At last, a retired policeman picks us up from the Road and offers us a ride all the way to Meghri, our last stop on the route. As we drive up the mountain pass, the weather changes dramatically, and soon the gloomy and rainy Autumn is replaced with cold and snowy winter. Our driver, a mid-aged man, drives carefully – the road is slippery, and none of us has a desire to fly off the edge and down the mountain slopes. On the other side of Kajaran pass the weather changes once again, and as we drive in to the town of Meghri, we see colorful trees and persimmons, and tangerines, and pomegranates.
The ex-policeman drops us in the center of Meghri. “I might stay in the town tonight, give me your phone number, if I’m here, I’ll invite you for drinks,” he says. After exchanging phone numbers he leaves, and we never see him again. It takes about half an hour to walk to the other side of Meghri, where the Old Town is. Locals call it “Pokr Tagh” (Small District).
Pokr Tagh is a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys that run between two or three storey houses with verandas – the oldest extant structures of Meghri. Passing by one of the houses, we notice bright orange garlands of persimmons hung to dry in the sun. As we stop to take photos, the owner of the house greets us and invites us in.
The yard is full of boxes of nuts and fruits. Armen, our new friend, invites us for a cup of coffee. As we go inside he begins to open every single cupboard and shelf in search of cups, sweets, nut. “Armenian husbands are like this, they never know what’s where. Usually it is the wife who takes care of the house,” says Armen and laughs. His friend Mikael prepares the coffee, and when it’s ready, we sit around the table. But all of a sudden, Armen takes out wine glasses and a huge bottle of homemade wine, and also cognac. This is when we realize we are trapped! Invitation to drink coffee is never just about coffee in Armenia. And so we drink – to friendship between Armenia and France, to children, to parents. In the next two hours we finish all the alcohol in the house.
Drunk and quite merry, we are still hoping to get to the town of Agarak at the Iranian border to officially complete our Silk Road trip. “Don’t worry, I’ll call a friend, and we’ll take you there,” says Armen, and then adds. “But have you seen our church?” The church he talks about is the St. Sargis basilica built in 17th century. The Oriental style frescoes on its walls are one of the most exquisite in Armenia.
We take a walk to the church, and wander around the houses of the old town after. Then they take us to the border, and there, not even being able to get out the car to take photos, because photographs are prohibited here, we finish our journey. Technically. Because our adventures in Meghri continue with more alcohol.
“You must be hungry by now. We’ve booked a table in a restaurant, so let’s go to eat,” says Armen on the way back to Meghri from the border. In the restaurant we undergo another round of drinks, mainly homemade vodka. Just as when we finish our feast, Armen says that since it’s now late, we are going to be his guests and spend the night at his house. “Besides, my wife is already back from work, and prepared food for you. The table is served so let’s go home,” says our host. “Jesus, we’re in trouble. Get ready to drink for the rest of the night,” I whisper to Emée.
On the way home we pick up our friend and fellow hitchhiker Jo Magpie, who just arrived in Meghri and with whom Emée was to hitchhike to Iran. Back at home, we find a big table full of food and drinks. Armen’s wife, Tsaghik, invites us to sit down. The evening continues in a friendly atmosphere. We drink, eat, share stories and tell jokes, play music, and raise toasts.
(photo by Emée)
“Remember! This is your home. Whenever you are in Meghri, come here right away! And everything will be fine! And thank you for accepting our invitation to be our guests tonight,” raises her glass Tsaghik. It’s far past midnight when we go to bed – full, drunk and happy. Half awake, half asleep I hear wolves howling and dogs barking into the night. I thank the Road for taking care of us during our journey, and let Morpheus to carry me away.