As in Turkey, the cheapest form of transport in Georgia and Armenia is the dolmus – but here they call them marshutkas, and the marshutkas have seatbelts.
Another difference between the marshutkas and the dolmuses is that the marshutkas do cross border trips. I recently decided to go to the Armenian capital Yerevan to do some stories about the Syrian Armemian community there, and – since I was convinced that there was no way to fly direct – I flew to Tbilisi and took the marshutka the rest of the way. Two days before I left I met some Armenian friends in Istanbul who informed me that they were flying direct to Yerevan the next day. Assumption is the mother of all fuck ups.
The trip takes around 5 hours and costs 35 Georgian Lari, which is the equivalent of $20. On the way you glimpse vistas of both Narnia-esque mountain greenery and post-Soviet dystopia through the grimy windows. You also pass through all four seasons; some parts of the journey were bathed in glorious sunshine, others were as wet and grey as a February morning in London.
The scenery gets really dramatic about 2 hours in, just after you cross over the border. The road curls around the sides of mountains that are blanketed in an emerald green that only makes the beige and grey of the abandoned factories stand out more.
In the last hour of the trip, just before Yerevan, the landscape flattens out. The pointed peaks become gentle gradients and the tree carpeted slopes turn bald. The road rises to an ear popping crescendo and, just for a moment, you’re above the clouds.
And then you see the finishing point – Yerevan, laid out in the basin in front of you.
It was an adventure; I was glad, by the time I got to Yerevan, that I hadn’t taken the direct flight there.