We were driving at speed in a little Lada, away from the Georgian border town of Vale towards an unknown stopping point. Neither our driver nor his two friends spoke English, but we were able to communicate enough through broken Russian to ascertain that they weren’t headed anywhere near Armenia, our target destination.
For a recap of how we ended up in this situation, click here
“Pochemu Armeniya?” our driver asked, ‘Why Armenia?’ in a tone that suggested he was slightly offended that we didn’t want to spend some time seeing his Georgia.
“Priyatel v Armenii,” I replied. ‘Friend in Armenia.’ I then indicated that we would be coming back to spend time in Georgia later on. This seemed to appease him.
Squeezed into the back with Adriana and I was a tall man with the dark features common in the Caucasus, in his late thirties. The man in the front passenger seat was younger but with similar features. The driver was different. He looked like a Russian ex-special forces man. He was in his early fifties and had a huge barrel chest, a neck thicker than my thigh, with a head perched on top of it, about the size of a watermelon. All three men came with a hospitable warmth that put us at ease. We learnt that our driver was called Georgi, and that he lived in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, where he owned a bar. He was just visiting his friends in his home village. The other two in the car, Gocha and Levan, were these friends.
Afternoon would soon be turning to evening, and we were keen to get to the Armenian city of Gyumri before dark.
We drove for about 40 minutes, leaving behind the greyness of Vale and climbing a hill that cut through rolling green fields and lush countryside. Down in the valley below us ran the Kura river, known to Georgians as Mt’k’vari, which sits at the feet of the Lesser Caucasus mountains. Houses were few and far between, but we passed a church every five minutes. Each time we passed one, all three men silently marked the cross on their chests. Around us, peasants made their way along the dirt paths on carts pulled by donkeys. We knew we had left the main road to Armenia, but we trusted the men we were with, so decided to wait and see where we were heading before making any efforts to leave the car and get back on track.