Saturday, December 18, 2004

Snow… Snow… Snow

Winter is defiantly on the way.

I left Martuni at 8am on the 15th to go to Yerevan. I took a mini van, as I avoid driving in the winter as much as possible. I figure it’s best to leave the driving up to a professional.

The mini van that I took was a red Ford van, driven by Bedo, a 50 something year old with a little bit of grey hair.

With us was some very familiar Martuni personalities, including Vito, the owner of one of the largest stores in Martuni. Vito and I had reserved the front seat, but once we got in the van, a woman who suffers from high blood pressure and motion sickness sitting up front. We chose the next row of seats as an alternative, which was probably also safer.

We drove towards Stepanagert and as passing Aghdam, it started to snow. Once we got to the new Stepanagert bus station, the snow was coming down quite hard.

We picked up one passenger at the station and continued on. The passenger told us that the snow had started at 2am and that there were many cancellations of vans and cars going to Yerevan.

As we started to make our way out of Stepanagert and up the hill that goes to Shushi, our van lost traction and could not continue. We stopped and the driver and one of the passengers got out to put on chains.

As we were waiting for the chains to be put on, I got a call from my friend Harout, who runs ABBA-NKR martial arts studio in Stepanagert, who was suppose to meet me in Yerevan where he had made arrangements with a private car to take him, his family and one of our reader’s son Dan, who had been studying with Harout for the last 3 months. He asked me how I was going and told me because of the bad road conditions, their driver canceled the trip. They had been looking for an alternative, including calling the Red Cross for advice. Their big dilemma was that they had tickets to Lebanon for the morning of the 17th and they were non-refundable, so they had to get there today if at all possible.

I told Harout that I was in a van that was about a kilometer out of Stepanagert that had room for him and his family, but he would have to find someone to bring them to us and we would wait.

The passenger who was helping the driver, came back to the van to warm up and tell us that the driver was having problems putting on the chains. I got out to see if I could help and discovered that he was putting the chains on backwards, with the locking clasp on the wrong side. I helped him put on the chains, which were a little bit too small, as the tires on the van had been changed with tires that were one size bigger than the original tires.

After a bit of a wait, Harout and family with Dan showed up. They had lots of bags, which were good, as we loaded them up on the roof in the back of the van, giving us that extra weight for added traction.

We loaded up in the van, with Dan sitting between Vito and I and drove on.

As we neared Lachin, the roads seemed as if they had been de-iced, so our driver decided that we should take off the chains.

Before we got to Goris, the driver pulled into the yard of a house where he had agreed the day before to pick up a passenger, but to find that the passenger’s son the night before had been sick, so the passenger would not be joining us.

As we tried to exit the yard, the van would not go. There was too much snow and ice on the ground and after trying to lay down dirt and rocking the van, the driver had to back the van out the way he came in. (it was like a circular driveway deal and we were trying to go up hill).

The driver backed down and ended up sliding the van around, but while doing so, ended up almost driving us into a gorge as we were trying to cross over a small bridge.

After trying a bit to get us off the shoulder of the road, but instead of go into the road, we were sliding off the edge and Vito deciding that the driver could drive us back on the road, I spoke up and ordered all the men out of the van to push. We all piled out and shoved the van back on the road and then got back in.

Now we are driving back in the direction of Artsakh, looking for a level place to turn around. At this point, the woman with the high blood pressure is sucking on a lemon to bring her blood pressure down, as I guess sitting up front was getting to be a scary experience.

We got to a level and somewhat wide place on the road, where the driver applied the brakes, which caused the van to slide out of control, right towards the side of a mountain, tapping into the mountain and then bouncing back, turning our van around in the direction we wanted to go in.

As we were heading down the hill into Goris, for whatever reason, the driver tapped the breaks, causing our van to once again slide, this time towards a gorge that was very steep and deep. Fortunately by the time we neared the edge, there was a fence, that kept us from going over.

We drove into Goris in 2nd gear and into a gas station, where we insisted that the driver put the chains on. I figured that driver could do it himself, since he just had instruction a couple hours before, so we went to a store and had a cup of hot coffee to warm up.

When we returned to the van, the chains were still not on and there was some man giving our driver advice on how to put on the chains, not knowing that the chains were too small. I stepped in and thanked the man who basically said that his way was right and if we didn’t do it his way, the chains would fall off and installed the chains as we had before, this time having to let some air out of one of the tires to allow us to squeeze the chain on, later filling it at a tire repair store.

The rest of the trip was quite uneventful, with one of the chains breaking at a point where we were going to take the chains off anyway.

We got into Yerevan 13 hours after we left Martuni. A very long trip, which when we got to the bus we discovered that we were the 2nd van to arrive from Stepanagert, meaning that we did well, making it in 13 hours.

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