Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Between Jolfa & Marand

The morning started off misty but soon cleared up. Shortly after hitting the road I passed through a police checkpoint. The Aras valley had become quite narrow, though the river ran swiftly it wasn't very wide. My road followed along the river on the South side. An enclave of Azerbaijan surrounded by Armenia started only 50m away on the other bank. At one point Azeri border guards shouted greetings from across the river to me.

It was a lovely ride through the valley. It wasn't a through road to anywhere important & furthermore, as I later found out, a permit was required to get anywhere on it. As a result it was very quiet. As with the Turkish-Armenian border there were lots of watch towers though I saw no sign of life in any of them.

I passed a second police checkpoint, at which a permit was requested. Naturally I lacked this however it didn't seem to really matter & I was allowed to pass.

A little while later I came to the Armenian monastery of St Stephanos. It had an impressive set of defensive walls that were intact. The monastery church was in good state & undergoing restoration. The entrance to the church had the same kind of pattern as I'd seen a number of times in mosques. I wonder whether this was an addition when the area came under Muslim control & the church was converted to a mosque or just cross pollination of architectural styles. Apparently the first church found on the site was only a generation after that of Christ himself, though the oldest part of the current version was from the early centuries of the 2nd millenium. Further along the way, nearly into Jolfa, I passed the ruins of a caravansaray.

I'd presumed that Jolfa would have been a more important place than it was. I'd hoped to find something like a supermarket but there were none. In Western Turkey bigger towns possessed large European supermarkets, as I went to the East I regretted their replacement by smaller ones. Now in Iran the largest 'supermarket' I've found is smaller than most NZ corner stores. It's taking some getting used to, while doing so I need to take care that I eat enough. I miss the easy to find Turkish bread & sheep milk cheese. Something like it must exist here, flocks of sheep are no less common here. The bread is quite different from in Turkey which had familiar, more or less baggette shaped white loaves. Here readily available bread is flat, for rolling things in. Bakeries aren't so common. Today in Jolfa I discovered the lovely sweet pastries, excellent cycling snacks!

While in Jolfa I tried out an Internet café. The one in Maku had had a pretty poor connection but I supposed that was at least partially because I was on the Internet during the busiest hour. In Jolfa I had a go just after lunch. It was just as bad. It'll be a problem to read & send emails not to mention upload photos.

From Jolfa at 850m altitude the road climbed up a narrow valley. Only after 20km & at 1350m altitude did the terrain open out. I just managed to find a secluded campsite as the Sun was going down. But the wait was worth it. The spot was sheltered from the sight of the road by some abandoned buildings in the middle of rolling meadowland. At the time of writing this section there was no moon & the stars wre very bright.

I cycled 83 km in 6 hours & 3 minutes

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