Armenia for the explorer in you- part 3
Are speed cameras a real enemy?
You have spent 1–2 days in the capital? Are you ready now to go out there to the rural and rigid Armenia? You might even not feel ready yet but it doesn’t matter, it’s time to explore! The country side of Armenia is waiting for you!! When planning my trip, I decided to travel by car and when I say travel by car I mean not only drive it from point A to B. If you are backpacking in Armenia, I’d suggest you to make your car your hostel. Your car will, eventually, become big part of your travel experience. I’ll say it now; you might compromise your comfort when doing so because living in a car for a few days would not be very convenient. Camping is not very popular neither, you can pitch your tent though wherever you want but I’m not sure it would be more convenient than staying in the car. It might, as well, be less protected from the cold and from the heaps of mosquitos that are all over the lowlands next to rivers, I once parked over-night next to a river, the mosquitos were so unbearable that we had to drive 20km up to the mountains to avoid them.
In my opinion the perks of travelling by car will make up for this lack of comfort and you will thank me for advising you so for 2 reasons: First- you will really get to travel spontaneously — there is a real excitement to wake up every morning (in the car, of course:) when not knowing when you will finish your day, you can find yourself in unexpected town with no electricity but amazing locals (that story will come later). Second is flexibility- the ability to go wherever you want, whenever you want. Third- you can’t get everywhere by public transport so when having your car, even the most remote corner of Armenia would be accessible for you! Outside of Yerevan it is hard to find proper accommodation unless you are in one of the other tourist areas which are only a few. Try to plan your trip (more or less) by the weather condition. Bear in mind the unwritten rule- the northern you go the more rain it gets.
Northern Armenia is characterised by the Lesser-Caucasus ridge. These mountains called ‘’lesser’’ because they are lower than the Greater Caucasus ridge which span Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Well, these ‘’low’’ mountains rise up to 4009m above sea level.
So we start our journey and we decide to go right to the heart of the Lesser Caucasus! After renting a car in Yerevan, we considered in what direction we should start our road-trip, a quick look at the skies made us decide to go north east and try to win a glance at the top of the lesser Caucasus- Mount. Aragats. (4009m)
It was not 20 minutes after I started the journey when I was stopped by police, consider myself as a very cautious driver, I did not understand the matter but did not want to dwell on it so instead of hassling myself to a police station I closed the deal with the cop- 5000 Armenian drams fine (€10) paid in cash on the spot (50 percent ‘’discount’’ of the original fine). The cop was happy with his little bounty and I got back on the road.
Once you start driving in Armenia you will notice right away- this country has one of the most developed traffic police in the world , police ambush every-where in the city and fine whomever they can with no hesitation, when going out of the city you will notice (or not) speed cameras everywhere on the roads, there can be a road that’s half paved with poor infrastructure and no lights but speed cameras would be placed everywhere especially on entrance to small towns and villages when you need to be fast and sharp to slow down rapidly.
Ask Armenians about the traffic police and cameras in Armenia and they would probably nod and giggle, they are aware of the phenomenon, at the end of the day, it’s apparently contribute a lot to the economy.
After my first experience with police in Armenia and the ridiculously vast amount of modernistic speed cameras me and nephew named Armenia ‘’the police country’’.
Be ready to get lost! — even if you have great navigation skills and you are equipped with GPS/Waze you name it… but take it easy! This is part of the experience. The roads and signage are not correspondent always to the electronic maps that’s why it’s highly recommended to get a road map of Armenia in Yerevan before you are heading to the country side.
Back to Aragats, we departed from Yerevan when the skies were blue and no hint for a storm to come, we started heading towards the mountains and with a blink of an eye the weather changed so rapidly and a storm hit us, this, together with poor navigation devices and one big detour we arrived at a place called Aragats Cosmic Ray Research Station some few hours later, this place, by the way, makes one of the largest research centres for ray cosmic physics and atmospheric electricity in the world and it’s also the highest spot in Armenia which accessible by road. It was May and the higher we got the snowy it was, over the last 10 km we drove where snow and ice piled up on the sides of the road. At altitude of 3200m we felt the lack of oxygen volume in the air, when you go to high altitudes you need to be aware of the potential risk it may involve, in that case we planned on staying at the highest area for only one hour or so to avoid developing altitude mountain sickness (AMS) symptoms which could evolve within hours if not climbing and acclimatizing gradually. The weather got better again and we could spot the summit of mountain Aragats from only a few kilometres away. It was worth the journey and it´s always nice to be in high altitudes where you can see the landscape of the country, on the way down we noticed the vast blossoms all around us that indicated the very late spring that arrived at the high mountains in May.