Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Caucasus

Where to begin? It is like going back to our roots or something as the Caucasus gave rise to Caucasians but the people are a mix of everything now. The girls are still trying to figure out why they stand out so much as it's no longer a skin colour thing anymore. Must be the sketchy clothes (mine are a mess and I am constantly sewing up holes in my stuff now), flipflops and the occasional English comment from us. Or maybe we've perfected the lost tourist look.....
People are still arguing about where the Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia) belong. Is it Europe? Asia? The Middle East? It's just sort of stuck in the middle of everywhere and has a bit part in the history of everything it seems. And yet all 3 fell into war after the end of the USSR. Armenia and Azerbaijan with each other, and Georgia with itself. The whole area seems to not know what it wants to be, or where for that matter. Nagorno-Karabakh, the area Azerbaijan and Armenia fought over wants to be (and is) independent (though not internationally recognized) and the two countries still hate each other. Huge sections of historical Armenia are in Eastern Turkey so they hate each other too. It's a bit tough here with so many borders closed. Then there's Georgia, one area (Abkhazia) has separated from Georgia, and a few other parts also want to be on their own. There is also an area that wants to join back up with Russia. Go figure, because right across the border is Chechnya, which of course doesn't want to have anything to do with Russia. If they all had their way, there'd be a dozen countries here. In the mean time, it's a mess.
The style is definately very Soviet in the capitals but otherwise it is quite different and European. I never thought the day would come but I am now wishing for the days when things for us were still in Russian. Azerbaijan has a roman alphabet but Georgia and Armenia have their own alphabets so it is really hard to figure out what is going on. We just aren't there long enough to figure them out so I'm really happy when the occasional thing is written in Russian. English (and tourism) in the region are not very common at all and we are still having to make do with Russian.
The Caucasus is also a very poor and messed up region and I must say I have been very surprised at what we've actually seen here. I don't know what I was expecting but I don't think it was this. Things are totally run down, dirty and falling apart but things are finally starting to pick up. Corruption, crime and all that mess are finally coming back under control. The landscape of Georgia and Armenia especially, is beautiful. Green mountains, lots of rivers and gorges and tons of small villages scattered about. The Caucasus mountain range has a very, European look and feel.
Azerbaijan is Muslim, but Armenia and Georgia are the first and second countries ever to convert to Christianity. Old Christian monasteries on tops of hills all over Georgia and Armenia are beautiful. We have found the people here to be less friendly and helpful (though there have been many great ones too and we'd be very lost without them) than in previous countries, simply because I believe you can't get any better than what we've seen before. They are also quite unattractive. Big noses, big bellies and the women have an unbelievable amount of facial hair. We can't tell some of them apart from the men!
As I said before, tourism here is not very well developed and most accomodation is in homestay B+B's where a family will squeeze you into a spare room. A bit squishy for 4 sometimes. (Un)fortunately for us, we really can't appreciate the hospitality of Georgia or Armenia properly as they are huge drinkers and meals usually end up with people sweating alcohol for the next few days. This is, of course, all hearsay from other backpackers. One of the few ways to insult people here is to refuse a drink offer, so we've become rather unpopular at times.
The area really needs a few more years of tourism and stability to get the hostels set up and drive prices down. It's actually more expensive here than in most of Eastern Europe. Transportation generally sucks too as the towns are so small and people don't go anywhere. There are usually only a couple of minibuses going anywhere each day so it is hard to get around. Many places require very expensive taxi rides to see. As we are not financially or equipmentally prepared to see the region properly, I am finding the experience rather frustrating and more difficult than expected and we are continually scratching things off the list to do as it's just too difficult to arrange. Consequently we are moving fairly quickly now. We are currently in Yerevan, Armenia. I'll have to write about individual countries and experiences later.
Ammon
PS. Savannah wants you to know she is beautiful.
PPS. I think I created a few soccer junkies. The World Cup is on (if you didn't know) and we've been following it. Bre and Savannah are becoming obsessed and if there is a TV around during a game, the day is over.......

1 Comments:

At 11:15 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i wasn't aware the girls liked soccer. is it the sport they like or just the players?

i am learning a great deal about the world by just reading your blog. this is great, you do all the dirty work and i reap the benefits.

keep up the good work and i look forwart to your return home so we can talk in depth.

gord

 

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