3 August 2008

Forbidden Ani

Leaving Vandzor we hitch-hiked to Gyumri. A bus full of workers stopped by and welcomed us into the little mini-bus. Like everyone else in Armenia so far, they were ecstatic to have a foreigner in their midst - not to mention an Armenian from Autralia. So they talked with enthusiasm and eyes as bis a saucers. They put on some Armenian music really, REALLY loud and all started standing up and dancing in the little bus, as it was driving and serving - encouraging us to do the same. When we got to Gyumri we found out they were all police officers on work outing with their families.

The police were paranoid about us camping in Gyumri and so they insisted that we stay in a guest house. They drove us to a nice, cheap place and wished us the best. They next day we tried to go to Ani -Armenia's old capital city, from the Middle Ages. Everybody we met told us it is impossible to go there: the receptionist at the hotel, her co-worker, the owner (who drove us to the bus station), the bus driver, a few taxi drivers, a woman on the bus, her son, a random kid on a bike in the village near-by where we were dropped off, and the Armenian official who oversees the whole Ani area. Apparently you need official papers to see Ani. It's actually beyond Armenian soil. It's technically Turkish soil, so the border is protected by Armenian and the more-serious Russian soldiers (who are they in a vested interest to keep an eye on Turkey and Armenian in their pockets). Of course we knew none of this so we were optimistic - and I was confident the universe would find a way.

Surely enough, as we started hitch-hiking the 5 km form the nearby village to the border an Armenian family from Belgium stopped to pick us up in their swish 4WD. They had the same idea and the conviction to get a look at this ghost town. They drove us to the border, sweet-talked the young, Armenian soldiers with kind words and bags of fruit and were granted 30 minutes to take a look. It was a really bumpy road, so by the time we got there we only had minutes to satiate our eyes and take some photos from afar, next to the sign which said, "Photos and Video are Strictly Forbidden." We gave the soldier from the lookout tower a bag of fruit and returned hence-forth. Unfortunately, when we arrived back at the border check-point, the Russian soldiers had also arrived and weren't too happy with out. So they confiscated our passports amd we had to wait until the officer in charge arrived from Gyumri to determine whether we were dangerous or not. This was a 3 hours wait of not knowing what the heck was gong on, as everyone was speaking Russian. Gago, the father of the family whispered to us, "delete all your photos and film." I figured we better satisfy his request seeing that if it wasn't his sweet talking we never would have seen this amazing site.

The officer came. He was Armenian and thought I was pretty funny. I think he quite liked me, so I asked him for a lift back to Gyumri. He said no. Poo! I turns out we had actually misread something in the Lonely Planet guide which said we might be able to get in to see Ani if we sweet talked the soldiers. When we read it again later we realised it was talking about a VIEWPOINT in a completely different area. Oops :)

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