In Bushehr I decided to move on and leave Iran, but Persia wouldn’t let me go without a bang. To travel from the Persian Gulf to Armenia, I had to ride 1500 km, crossing all of Iran from South to North, thereby traversing its hottest regions, the Khuzestan plains in southwestern Iran (remembering that name still makes me sweat). I hit the road in the early morning hours, quickly leaving Bushehr behind me. Even at that time no remotely sane person could consider the air anything else but a suffocating humid cloth. On the plains without the slightest bit of shade and a rising sun, the day started to get interesting. The barren landscape with oil drilling rigs and gas flares provided an appropriately dire backdrop for the following torture. To cut a long story short, I was sweating, more than I thought was humanly possible. And a black leather jacket and black helmet don’t make temperatures of 48 deg . In fact I preferred to have the visor closed because the hot air, that was burning my face.
After 800 km I reached the Zagros Mountains, totally knackered and with my brain melting and leaking out of my ears. The temperatures were dropping in the evening and due to the altitude and I found a spot for the night, complete with a river to take a swim. It would have been perfect if only there were no ants. After sunset they crawled out of their holes, and up my leg. I had to move around with a ridiculous hopping dance, shaking my legs to get them off of me. There were millions, the floor was black and crawling. So, for me there was nothing more to do except laying down in the tent and close the zippers tight, to lock out all the six-legged workers around me.
The next day with its 650 km was rather uneventful, I finished my loop around Iran by coming back to Urmia. I planned to pick up a rear tire here, that I ordered and send to Urmia, three weeks ago. Alas, the parcel was still in Germany, stuck in a DHL-facility, and the customer service was unwilling to help and get the parcel going or redirecting it to Yerevan, my next destination. Since I wasn’t willing to wait for an unspecified amount of time, I set off to Yerevan.
Crossing the border to Armenia was dominated by two opposing emotions. One was utter annoyance because of the border-crossing procedure and the associated waiting. It took me more than 3 hours, waiting in queues to meet bored and infuriatingly slow working border officials, convincing iranian soldiers, that my carnet was actually properly stamped and providing five different armenian officials with essentially the same information.
The other one was the cultural shock, that hit me like a wrecking ball. Imagine coming from oriental Persia to Soviet Russia! Armenia is an ex-soviet republic and this heritage is visible everywhere, in the architecture, the uniforms of the border-guards, the trucks and cars (Ladas everywhere) and even the weather, I felt the first drops of rain after more than two months.
The ride from the border to Yerevan was breathtaking, the road was winding through the mountains, crossing several high passes, steep and narrow valleys and plateaus. This narrow, and for long stretches badly worn down road is the only connection from the iranian border to Yerevan. This makes Armenia feel like the corridor, that it is, with open borders only in the south to Iran and in the north to Georgia. The relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey are hostile, so the borders to the east and west are closed and the soldiers on both sides shoot at each other occasionally.
After arriving in Yerevan, I had planned to do an oil change and solve my tire problem. After more than 10000 km, the rear tire was in a bad shape and some large cuts made me lose confidence in its reliability. Actually, I have already lost that confidence a few thousand kilometers back. Anyways, I met an armenian guy who helped me find some motorcycle oil (seemingly no easy task, the shop he brought me to, had to make several phone calls and I turned down several offers of car or two-stroke oil). But after the last several thousand kilometers with car oil, some proper motorcycle oil put my mind at ease. Finding a tire was more of a problem, and I had the feeling, that I offended my helpful companion by turning down his solutions. He was really trying, but I just did not want to settle with either a used tire, one with wrong dimensions or buy chinese ones with unknown profile and properties. So, in the end I ordered a tire from the Uk and hoped, that the british branch of DHL was more reliable than the german one.
To spend the waiting time for the tire, I and Sascha, a german guy I met here, went to Nagorno-Karabakh, a contested region in southwestern Azerbaijan. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the local armenian minority didn’t want to live under azerbaijani regime and declared independence. The subsequent civil war was supported by the armenian military and to this day the situation at the demarcation line remains insecure.
During the whole visit I couldn’t ignore a rather unsettling feeling. The defiantly exhibited national pride of this self-proclaimed but internationally not recognised republic can’t belie the decay due to poverty and war. While the capital Stepanakert was mainly rebuild and shows little signs of the recent war, the nearby town of Shushi, beautifully located on a hill and boasting city walls built in the 18 century, consists mainly of ruins, still inhabited and expressing a rather bleak prospect of life. This uneasy feeling culminated in a trip to the ghost town of Agdam. Destroyed and made uninhabitable by armenian military forces, it is now forbidden to go there because the demarcation line is less than a kilometer away (a taxi driver took us there for merely 8000 Dram though). This knowledge, the fact, that our driver hid his taxi under trees or behind bushes every time we stopped and the depressing presence of the ruins made me feel like wandering a postapocalyptic wasteland.