It’s a bit of a wasteland here; Continental Drift-er has sustained a lengthy absence. I posted a video in October but it’s been a few months since a words-heavy post! This hiatus has happened without intention, but with awareness that it’s happening. My aim is to delve into the reasons why, and in doing so concurrently share a little of what has happened lately.
Perhaps it’s best to start with a residue of a university learned habit: The executive summary. All is well. I am in Armenia and have been for just about two months. I’ve just started cycling again after a long stay in Yerevan, bound for Turkey by way of Georgia. Both much excitement and a twinge of nervousness inhabit my present outlook.
On The Road:
In the months since April, when I started out on Stan The Bicycle, posting about happenings from the road has rarely happened while actually on the road. Instead these stories have been reflected upon, drafted, edited and published primarily during interludes in cities.
The last written account on Continental Drift-er recounted a few August days in Azerbaijan. Since then there have indeed been extended periods of time in the wild, far from cities. These have been splendid! After leaving Azerbaijan and entering Georgia I had the good fortune to venture not once but twice into late summer splendour in the Greater Caucasus. This mountain range separates the Republic of Georgia from its northern neighbours Chechnya, Dagestan, and the Russian Federation.
First I met my maker in the form of a wild road into the region of Tusheti. By way of hitchhiking, cycling and hiking, Tusheti’s people, landscapes and ancient architecture revealed a little of themselves to me. Not long after I joined up with one Evan Price to explore another part of the Greater Caucasus, the Svaneti Region. With knowledge that we were heading soon into our respective winter wonderlands, a week of balmy weather, long days and rough but dry roads in Georgia was treasured. We called it ‘Summer Appreciation Week.’
The third and (much-contested) fourth Republics in the Southern Caucasus are Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, respectively. To my surprise and delight I’ve spent more time in this corner of the world than in Azerbaijan and Georgia. Excepting a week I’ve been in Armenia and the NKR since late September.
Vehicles marked the beginning of my time in Armenia. I zoomed down from Tbilisi to Yerevan, Stan and I both shoved into seats of a marshrutka, to join a tour in time. A tour?! Indeed, Gilad and Stella led six of us participants around the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in what was an organized tour, but only in name. I had met Gilad in Tbilisi, Georgia through a mutual friend. During the six-day excursion we did our best to blend in with the crowd, and by way of excitable driving in Lada Nivas, daily daytime vodka swigging, sleeping on floors, camping and eating local I’d deem this endeavour successful. Gilad and Stella come highly recommended and can be contacted here for experiences in the Caucasus that will humble and excite you.
Perhaps a telling indicator for what was felt during the week with the Ladas was that I promptly returned to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic for another look. This time both my bicycle and Evan joined me. Although we braved some new paths, even what was repeated struck me anew during this second, slower venture. This was no Summer Appreciation Week. It was foggy, cold, muddy…and really fun. Mountains, challenging cycling, friendly people, good food and solitude were difficult to avoid. And why would you want to?
However, all this hasn’t been at the expense of time in cities run amok with my favourite place to write: Cafes. And not just any cafes – these are among the most eclectic, fun, atmospheric and loyally attended I’ve come across in a long time. There’s been no shortage of opportunity in Yerevan, in Stepanakert, in Tbilisi, in Yerevan (again) to sit down and write. So…what’s the deal?
Those Near And Far:
Contributing to my reluctance for a Caucasus departure is that, as with periods in the mountains, time in cities the last months have also been in the company of others. By luck, circumstance and perhaps their very disposition, the Caucasian cities have offered me a degree more opportunities to develop friendships, compared to Central Asia. It has been very social and very fun.
It’s also felt very finite. Each time homage is paid to the Calumet Ethnic Lounge, or Prospero’s Bookstore and Cafe, or Moulin Electrique, or the Armenian Pizza Place, or someone’s home, that it will be the last time is a distinct possibility. Transience has a way of magnifying the impact of choices. Faced with glaring limits on the time left to spend with those around me the last few months, blogging has been decisively relegated to ‘later, when I’m alone again.’ Lately, it hasn’t even graced the to-do lists of tasks that may or may not ever get done. Too much friend time…what a problem to have, right?
It’s not that I haven’t been writing. Cities in the Caucasus usually have decent wifi, at times even video-Skype worthy. I spend a lot of time emailing and Skyping those who put up with my draconian reluctance to use instant messaging. It’s typical for me to try to empty my inbox before writing blogs and this hasn’t been conducive to posting. Although it’s hard to argue against that correspondence with those I care about is one of the best uses of my energy and typing skills, I’m working towards starting the day with creative writing preceding correspondence and communication; I think there’s enough time for both. It’s likely that I just need to sleep a little less or exercise a little more discipline.
Even with all that, between the delights of friends, exploring cities, eating great food, emails, reading, and lots of sleeping, there’s still been time in the day to write several posts. Recently I was speaking to a close friend about the other aspect, namely some anxieties I’ve been experiencing, and he was surprised to hear that this was the case.
I’m in the denouement of my time in the Caucasus, in autumn’s final embrace, and alone again after unbelievable and varied companionship. When considering an imminent, long and comparatively solitary winter in Turkey and the Balkans, I can’t help but feel that it’s not just a region that I’m leaving behind upon departure from the Caucasus. Although I expect plenty of cold cooking in my tent vestibule and painful extremities, staying warm isn’t my primary source of melancholy. Neither is the growing pains inherent to learning to navigate a new culture, and quickly.
Though I’ve been given and dished out many a ‘see you later’ instead of ‘see you never,’ this only goes so far to salve the sting of splitting up. This for me has been difficult, and these days I’ve been feeling the weight of both adjusting to this new reality and the perception of challenges ahead. I’ve let it distract me, and believe it or not, Americanos in kitschy mugs at trendy Caucasian cafes, they do little to alleviate this funk!
Well…Then Why Am I Leaving The Caucasus At All?
No one is pushing me farther west, or through winter, except for myself. I don’t even have a Turkish visa yet (but it’s easy to get and I will be getting it). It’s simple: I feel conviction to carry on in this manner, in part exactly because it’s a source of unease.
This bit comes last but it’s intentional, unlike this blog hiatus (which ends now!). The last word is that there’s more to winter, and leaving the Caucasus, and being alone again than the adjustment, anxiety and shivering. Much more. There’s beautiful wintry landscapes and warmth of people, inversely proportional to the plunging mercury. There’s the process of adjustment itself, inherently rewarding. And what of that hardest part, the cycling away from those I met in the Caucasus? Well, it still sucks, but is not without optimism. Plus, I can’t help but remember that I’m cycling towards Europe, where there too are familiar faces and ‘see you laters’ to deliver on.
As with first blogging after a long hiatus, the hardest thing about getting back on the road is starting. These last few days I’ve made a stab at both. Thank you to everyone in the Caucasus and beyond to making the last few months exceptionally memorable.
See you on the road, see you in Turkey!