As I mentioned in a couple of previous posts, my aim for the return trip was to minimize as much as possible driving on the same roads I drove on the way to Europe and try to see more of each country I was passing through again.
The good thing with Armenia is that it’s a fairly small country so distances between the attractions are not very big. After Lake Sevan, I took the highway towards Yerevan, but just before getting to the capital I turned off towards Mount Aragats. Mt. Aragats is a huge system of volcanoes covering over 5000 square kilometers and there are four peaks forming the rim of the crater (North – 4090m, West – 4080m, South – 3879m and East – 3916m). You can drive all the way to Kari Lake at 3,250m on a tarmac road, but more of that in a second.
Before starting my drive up the mountain, I was stopped by the Armenian traffic police in quite hilarious fashion. Right before the road starts to climb, they are building a new highway, but the traffic was restricted to just one lane for each way with a speed limit of 50 km/h. I was doing about 60km/h so definitely over the speed limit (but I was pretty much following the speed of everybody else on that road) when I see a police car behind me flashing their lights and one in front of me on the other side of the road also flashing their lights. I stopped and one policeman from each car comes to my window. We say hello, shake hands and then he says that I was driving very fast and he has to give me a big fine pointing out in a very serious tone that two police cars stopped me at the same time. He says the fine will be 45,000 Armenian Dram (about 85 Euros). I point out that this sounds like quite a lot of money and that I only have a total of 21,000 Dram cash. He then starts negotiating at which point I knew this wasn’t a fine, it was a bribe. I showed him the wallet with all my cash and he asks me if I have Euros or Dollars. I did (not in my wallet of course!) but I said no, pointing out to my debit card and saying that’s how I get money. He then says, ok for 20,000 Dram, saying he will leave me 1,000 so I can have a drink. The whole experience was really annoying and if I wouldn’t have been wanting to make sure I get to the top before it gets dark I would have stayed and argued with them some more.
Having gotten rid of all of my cash I had to take a detour into the closest town to withdraw some money, which gave me the opportunity to stock up on some provisions as I was planning on camping on the mountain. Once I finally started going up, my first stop was at the Amberd Fortress, a fortress and a church on the slopes of the mountain, built between the 11th and 13th centuries. I wandered around for a bit, taking some photographs and then made my way further up the mountain.
By this time, the clouds over the higher parts were looking very dark and it started raining. I thought nothing of it and still planned on camping once I got to the top. On the way up the sky cleared up a bit towards the valleys and a beautiful full rainbow appeared over me.
After taking some photographs (and missing the second rainbow by a few seconds) I continued up. The weather continued to get worse and worse and by the time I got to 2,800m hail started pounding the car. At this point, I was considering my options and looking in the Lonely Planet to try and find out if there is any kind of guesthouse at the top. They mentioned there is a very basic guesthouse right by the lake so if this was open I planned on going there instead of camping in what was already 3 degrees Celsius.
At 3,000 meters it started to snow which got me very excited as it was just about the only form of weather I hadn’t experienced during this trip (having started in the Kaluts in the South of Iran with 64 degrees Celsius)!
I pulled up by the side of the lake as the wind was blowing the snow almost horizontally by now and knocked on the door of the guesthouse, hoping someone will answer. A man did and although he didn’t speak any English and he was fairly surprised to see a tourist there driving my own car, we agreed on a price for a room (15 Euros) and sat down to have something to eat. There wasn’t much of a selection for dinner, but the Vodka options were great as you can see below!
The room was very basic, but it did have a heater and a TV connected to a satellite dish so I spent the evening reading, listening to the howling wind outside and catching up on the news. The weather cleared up by about 11pm and I went out by the lake to have a quick look at the mountain bathed in beautiful full moon light (this was one evening after the Supermoon).
The next day, I woke up around 8am to find a beautiful clear day with the mountain in full view. I couldn’t help myself so I took a dirt track up further towards the mountain, driving through snow and a muddy track. I only drove a fairly short distance (the mud was getting quite deep and the back of the car was sliding quite a bit!), but enough to get a few photographs with the car in the snow (the photo at the top of the post).
From there I started driving back down and I stopped to make myself breakfast once I was at around 2,500 meters. The three eggs I had bought the day before were all double yolk so it was a perfect way to finish this really cool adventure up Mt. Aragats.