The driver’s wearing a leather jacket, thick material. I think
“that’s too hot inside this cramped vehicle - it must be for the look”.
The driver looks like a gangster out of a Guy Ritchie film. Somehow I
convinced myself to put my trust in this gold-teeth-laden man with gold
ring and bracelet to match. He’s wearing his savings.
Across his weathered typically Armenian face adorn a pair of dirty
gold tinted sunglasses so I can’t quite see the colour of his eyes in
the rear view mirror. I’m sitting in the centre of a wide seat behind
the driver. My legs are squashed against the faux-leather covering of
the Ford Transit seating. I’m really trying not to think about how
perfect my tradjectory would be through the windscreen if we crashed.
I feel a little like an astronaut on the
first stages of take off, before they have any maneouvring control,
with no other option than to hold on for dear life. The burning rocket
thrusters carry the spaceship upwards until the thrusters are
jettisoned into space. Then I can climb over the seat in front and
wrestle the huge padded steering wheel out of the hands of the Marshrutka driver.
My mind wanders from thinking about other bicycle related things -
my future route, Yerevan, Iran, and then suddenly jolted back to the
reality that I may not live beyond today as I become increasingly aware
that the Stig (minus helmet - far too sensible) has been writing a text
message for the last 3 minutes, looking down at his phone and not at
the road, only retaking control to swerve back out of the path of
Somehow I feel confident in this guy though. I think of things other
people have said in the past unrelated directly to this situation- “I’d
trust someone who drove for a living more than an average driver”,
“It’s the way people drive here, if you don’t drive like that, that’s
when there are problems”. I’m trying to tell myself the way the guy
overtakes with one nonchalent glance is a reflection of his highly
skilled and experienced driving ability. My mind makes up a story that
he was probably a Soviet child prodigy racing driver now past those
days and makes a living driving a Ford Transit at 70 kph round
impossible corners on mountain roads. That’s why he taking the racing
He has a huge padded steering wheel, a packet of slimline cigarettes
on the dashboard. He takes a cigarette out of the packet, places his
elbows on the steering wheel whilst lighting up, then holds the
cigarette up to the window. The smoke is sucked out.
I hang on as we fly along the thin roads. I’m thinking about the
driving style. He drives really fast, or at least it seems that way
because I’m not used to either being in a motorised vehicle or to these
thin mountain roads or abundance of slow trucks. The gear changes are
quick and he accelerates on the straight sections. I would definitely
be slowing down more on this corner.
A slow Turkish lorry kicking up dust, an opportunity for a
death-defying feat of overtaking. I clench my buttocks and grit my
teeth, and think what I would actually do in the split second before my
death. But then we emerge unscathed, the mood in the vehicles goes from
one of tension to very mild but noticeable euphoria.
It doesn’t make sense- we come up to a rail track and he slows to a
snail’s pace to protect the suspension carefully edging over the rails
but then the vehicle almost takes off on a big dipper. The snaking road
is lined by derelict ex-soviet factories and the cold river way below
us. It’s one of many things which don’t seem to make logical sense
about the ex-soviet system that exists here and the politics and
bureacracy that goes with it. But along with it’s negative side, exists
an incredibly sweet and alive people who are used to improvising and
using their common sense.
It’s a beautiful day in these windy mountains. Spring is definitely
on the way as there’s a warm edge to the breeze, the hills are clear of
snow and the river has thawed. The driver returns, chewing a toothpick
sticking out of his mouth to add to the look. Everyone’s back in the
Marshrutka and we’re off again, pit stop complete.He spins the steering
wheel left and right in the style of a rally driver to clear some
enormous potholes in the road. He decides his sunglasses need a polish
and neglects to look at the road whilst searching for a rag to clean
them and making sure there are really spotless. Very ironic. I’ve lost
count of the near misses - or is that highly calculated overtaking
The big forehead crinkled in concentration, he hotches up the big
jacket by throwing his arms forward, he’s entering a deeper level of
focus. As the journey goes on I find I have a strange respect in his
ability not to crash, then I chide myself for thinking it, quickly
looking for something made of wood. My knees are white from being
wedged against the seat and my abdominal muscles are getting a good
workout as the rollercoaster ride bends left and right.
The sun burns up the sky, diesel, cigarette smoke and scorched film,
the yellow landscape blurs past, my eyes squint - this is sunglasses
country. Bare mountains, green rocks like dormant prehistoric animals
perched on steep slopes near the town of Ala Verdi where a huge
dilipidated mine exists, concrete and broken glass now being reclaimed
by nature’s hand.
On approach to Yerevan I can see Mount Ararat towering above the
haze from the city. I arrived safely in Yerevan, spent a week there and
cycled back to Tbilisi where I currently reside. I will be posting more
about cycling and my future plans shortly. The Marshrutka ride’s not
over until it’s over, a bit like Ride Earth. Sometimes you just have to
ride it out and trust things beyond your control.