Marshrutka from Tbilisi to Yerevan

Please note that information is only accurate at time of posting, so please note date of posting, and check for updates accordingly.

Mashrutka from Tbilisi to Yerevan

Time taken: 4 hrs (11.00 – 15.00)

Vehicle: Mercedes Vito

Price: 35 GEL (13.50 USD at time of posting)

Getting from Tbilisi to Yerevan by Marshrutka

Maybe it’s beginner’s luck, but my first marshrutka (shared minivan) ride went very well! Tripadvisor actually has several reports of crappy vehicles, crappy drivers, waiting forever for the van to fill, but none of that happened to me.

First off, there are several bus stations for marshrutkas going from Tbilisi to Yerevan. From my understanding, there are three, one from the Tbilisi Railway Station, one from Ortachala (the most popular, apparently), and one from Avlabari metro station. I chose the last option, because it’s convenient by metro, and more recent reports suggest that you get better vehicles, and there’s supposedly a timetable of sorts.

Based on a supposed timetable by someone on Tripadvisor, I aimed to go for the 11 am departure. I arrived at Avlabari station at 10.50 am. Following the excellent directions from another traveler on Tripadvisor, I located the marshrutkas easily.

Where are the Marshrutkas in Avlabari?

When you come to the top of the escalators, take the left door. Once you exit the door, look to the right. There is a parking lot with several mashrutkas. On the day I was there, they were all heading to Yerevan.

Despite comments suggesting that English isn’t used, the marshrutkas had the English word “Yerevan” written on the signs displayed on their dashboard. Once I got there, I approached a gentleman holding a notebook. I said “Yerevan”, he asked if I had reservations (so, you can make reservations!). I said no, after which he directed me to one of the marshrutkas. I was the second last person on that marshrutka. He filled the last spot in less than 2 mins, and we were off before 11 am.

The marshrutka I got on was a new Mercedes Vito seating 7. It also seems to have a functioning wifi, as advertised – I say “seem” because I didn’t try it myself, but the guy in front seemed to have used it with no problems. I was in the front row, middle seat. Even though I was in the middle seat, it was actually very roomy. I didn’t feel cramped or uncomfortable throughout the trip. I did have to buckle up, because the driver occasionally jammed his brakes, and the seatbelt prevented me from flying forward.

Mashrutka from Tbilisi to Yerevan

Georgia – Armenia Border Crossing

This was easy peasy. The Georgian side didn’t take took long to check me out of their country. We then hopped back on the marshrutka, and he drove a short distance over to the Armenian side. The Armenian side took slightly longer. Be prepared with address/proof of your accommodation in Armenia. It’s not a super strict requirement. The immigration officer just read the address off a third party app on my phone. He also scanned in my Azerbaijiani visas without comments.

For the border crossing, either remember the people in your marshrutka, your driver, or take a picture of your marshrutka. There are several similar-looking vehicles heading in the same direction. I’d say the whole border crossing took under 30 mins.

Changing money at the Georgia – Armenia Border

I changed the last of my GEL into Armenian drams at the exchange after the Georgian border. Rates were ~10% worse than market rates, but whatever.

We stopped for a short rest on the Armenian side of the border. And about 1 hr after the first stop, we stopped for another break, and also for the driver to fuel up. He dropped several people off en route on request.

We finally pulled into Kilikia Bus Station in Yerevan at around 3pm.

Quite frankly, I was expecting the worst after reading all those reports about marshrutka travel. It did not reflect my experience. I had pleasant ride in a new vehicle and a decent driver. I didn’t stumble out of the marshrutka thinking to myself “never again”, so yay!

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Transportation Adventures: Three Tales of Woe in Kampala, Uganda

Uber is available in Kampala. They offer both boda boda (motorbike taxi) and regular cars, but it sure didn’t cut down on the drama.

Boda Boda: From Bus Station to Protea Kampala

Uber currently has an offer on boda boda (motorbike taxi), and rides are going for 1500 UGX (~0.40 USD). After my 16+hr bus ride, I was too tired to wait for one to show up using Uber, so I simply negotiated a ride to my hotel for 5000 UGX.

I spent ~6 months studying/researching in Vietnam, so I am no stranger to the xe om (also motorbike taxi, available for hire on Grab) as a means of transportation, but the ride in Kampala was actually quite harrowing. I was very keenly aware of how unprotected my helmet-less head was, as we went through potholes, speed bumps, in the dimly-lit roads of hilly Kampala.

While this was not the worst ride of my life, I did deeply contemplate my mortality on this ride. I think potholes and dim streets are a lethal combination. Try it by all means, preferably in daytime – it’s actually the fastest way to get around with the terrible traffic in Kampala.

Kampala

Uber – What Could Go Wrong?: A Seinfeld Moment

I was supposed to catch a Modern Coast bus from Kampala to Kigali at 8 in the morning, with a check in time of 7.30. Based on the maps, it’s supposed to be a 15 min ride, so I rolled out at 7 am to hail an Uber. The Uber showed up at 7.30. He then detours to a gas station to top up his tank. He actually picked me up on an empty tank. It was like a scene from Seinfeld, in the episode, The Movie, where Jerry was trying to get to his set, and the taxi driver decided to fill up his gas tank.

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7.40: We roll again, but are then stuck in this terrible gridlock. I really considered jumping out, and hailing a boda boda for the last mile. Thankfully, we pulled into the bus station at 7.50. I was very thankful I didn’t miss the bus.

Modern Coast from Kampala to Kigali

My adventure started at the ticket office. The guy just wrote this on my ticket, “Namirembe Kobil”. He told me that’s where I was supposed to take the bus. What does that mean? It was my second day in Uganda, I have no context for understanding this set of instructions. So, I set out to figure this out. As it turns out, Kobil is a gas station. But once again, this set of instructions was about as clear as saying, “Let’s meet at Starbucks in Seattle”. For future reference, anyone departing from this particular location, I’ve marked it down. It’s the Kobil station behind the Kampala Central Mosque. You will see a Modern Coast office there.

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I booked the Modern Coast’s Modern Executive Bus from Kampala to Kigali. It’s supposed to be their second highest class of buses, after their Oxygen buses. I’d say the experience is not much better than the previous Modern Coast Bus from Nairobi to Kampala. I paid 51000 UGX (~13.50 USD) for the First Class on this bus (cheapest option). The VIP ticket was 60000 UGX.

The seating arrangement of this bus was 1-2, so the VIP seats were solo seats, while the FC seats were duos. Thankfully, this bus was quite empty, so I actually got both seats to myself. However, it was still quite a ride.

Modern Coast Bus

It might have just been my luck, but this bus was also filthy. Someone had spilled a bag of cooked rice on the astroturf carpet, so there was this giant pile of rice that was continually being stomped into the carpet by various passengers. Trash was also strewn everywhere by passengers, and there was no clean up. Although it was advertised as an AC bus, the AC was not turned on throughout the ride, so I opened the windows for air when it was not raining.

Modern Coast Bus

The bus pulled into the Kampala-Kigali Border Crossing at Katuna/Gatuna at 4 pm. The exit from Kampala was pretty quick, though things were a bit slower at Kigali. The immigration itself was actually quite fast, but Kigali custom officers were fairly thorough in searching through bags. I am not quite sure what they are looking for, but they did pretty much dig out everything in almost everyone’s luggage. They did leave my packing cubes alone, so I didn’t have to repack.

Katuna

The last two hours from the Gatuna border to Kigali was actually pretty rough. It involved a lot of hairpins down hills, and the bus driver was auditioning for Fast & Furious: Bus Edition. I don’t usually get car sick, but I was pretty sick by the time I rolled out into the Kigali bus station.

The ride from Kampala to Kigali took about 10 hrs – we arrived around 5 pm, because of time zone change between Kampala and Kigali.

This was definitely my fault for not researching, but there are other options, like Jaguar Executive Bus. They don’t seem to have a website, but their buses looked a lot cleaner inside when we were parked beside them at the border. Do check them out as an alternative to Modern Coast.

Don’t take these two articles’ experiences as a bashing of Modern Coast. At the end of day, it is what it is. I have experienced very excellent long distance buses in South America and China, and decent buses in Europe and Southeast Asia. Relative to bus travel in other parts of the world, Modern Coast required an adjustment in expectations. It has some things going for it – it is reliable, and its staff was polite and friendly. Just leave your expectations at the door and try to enjoy the ride.

Modern Coast Bus

Yerevan Airport Express Bus

Yerevan Airport Express Bus

Yerevan Airport Bus from Zvartnots International Airport to Town

Price: 300 Drams

Distance: 15 km/10 miles

Time taken: ~30 min

Frequency: every 30 min?

Bus Number: 201

Where to find the bus?

From Yerevan Zvartnorts International Airport

The Airport Express Bus is located at Arrivals level. It is on the island beyond where the taxis are lined up. You should see the signage fairly easily. It costs 300 drams, and there’s wifi and credit card advertised. I wouldn’t count on it. I paid cash.

Yerevan Airport Express Bus

Yerevan Airport Express Bus

From Yerevan to Zvartnots International Airport

I boarded at Yeritasardakan. The bus can be “found” opposite the SAS supermarket. It makes several stops along Abovyan, Amiryan etc, Kilikia central bus station. (more on this later)

An article online suggests that the frequency is half hourly. I’d say, it shows up when it shows up, and it really depends on the driver. When I went on a mission to locate the bus the day before, one driver was waiting at Yeritasardankan, and departed on the dot at 13.00.

When I actually went to take the airport express bus from Yeritasardakan, the driver was 5 min late. And although Yeritasardakan is actually the first stop, he didn’t actually make a hard stop. Thankfully someone else was also looking for this bus, so he stopped when she flagged him down. In the other “stops” that he was supposed to make, he just made a quick visual scan, and kept driving.

If you are planning on taking the bus from other stops, be sure to be standing by the side of the road, scanning for the bus.

I’ve posted some maps of where to find the bus.

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At Yeritasardakan, wait across the street from SAS supermart, right by the underpass.

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On Abovyan, wait around the benches opposite the Singing Fountains.

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17,000 Bumps on the Road: 16 hr Modern Coast Bus from Nairobi to Kampala

Modern Coast Bus

My Fitbit registered 17,000 steps that day, and yet, I did not walk. Also, by 10.30 pm, I have developed a vehement hatred for DJ Perez. How did all this happen? Let’s go backwards.

The Pre-Journey: Booking a ticket with Modern Coast Bus (1 day before)

I was researching buses from Nairobi to Kampala, and Tripadvisor suggested that Modern Coast was a VIP option. Well, it’s VIP relative to other options, which I’d summarize as Guatemala chicken bus – you might have someone sitting on your lap for the journey. For the price you pay on Modern Coast, you will have get an assigned seat, and nobody will sit on your lap (unless you want them to).

I tried booking the ticket online, but their credit card payment system was unavailable. Hence, I schlepped it down to their office in Nairobi. They actually have two offices, and for some reason or other, Uber drivers keep trying to drop me off in their shittier location, which is nestled amongst other buses leaving Nairobi as well. Why is it shitty? Well, in the 5 min I was there, I got asked by some asshole to “Teach me some kungfu”, and another guy tried to grope me. Not fun.

In the first location, I was told, cash only. I decided to try their main location, which is about 20 min walk from the first (shitty) location. Although they pasted the Visa/Mastercard logo outside, when I got to the counter, I was told, “Cash Only”. So, then I had to pull up a map, and tried to find a forex exchange on a Sunday (not a good idea). Fortunately, I saw a Standard Chartered ATM, walked in, got some cash, turned back, and bought my ticket. I got the third last seat (the bus ended up full). I bought a “Business Class ticket” (essentially their cheapest ticket) for 2400 Kenyan Shillings (~24 USD). They have more expensive options of First Class (3200 KES) and VIP (3500 KES). First class is wider, while VIP is even wider and usually solo seat with more legroom.

The Day of the Ride

I showed up at the ticket office at 6.30 am, and there was a bus waiting there. A good sign. At about 7 am, the bus driver checked off our names, and we were off on time. The VIP bus is … just okay, to put things mildly. There is a power outlet if you want to charge your electronics. Otherwise, it was rather dirty. But having seen other buses heading in a similar direction, it’s more VIP than other options.

The ride was bumpy, and I would say that it’s actually a good thing. Some of the bumpiness is from the condition of the Kenyan roads, but a significant portion of the bumpiness is from speed bumps along the road. Given the driving speeds and style of rounding corners at high speed, I’d say that this safety measure probably prevented a lot more automobile accidents. How bumpy was it exactly? Well, I have a Fitbit Flex 2, which basically measures significant vibrations as steps. On most normal car journeys, it registers a big fat ZERO. But at around 2 pm, I actually got awoken by some mad vibrations on my Fitbit (I set it to alert me when I hit 10,000 steps) – I had hit 10,000 steps that day, but I did not actually move.

The bus pulled into the Kenya/Uganda border at around 4 pm. The Kenya/Uganda border crossing is actually super easy. The Kenya exit immigration and the Uganda entry immigration is actually in the same room. So you stamp out at one counter, and shuffle over to stamp in at the adjacent counter. It was to my amusement that the Uganda immigration booth actually had an A4 sheet with “Countries that do not require visa” pasted in their little booth. When I handed over my passport, the guy just scanned that sheet, and gave me a stamp. It did avoid many an officer calling/flipping fat ringbinders to check Singapore’s status.

There were some other minor adventures along the road. It rained for part of the journey. It wasn’t particularly heavy rain, and it wasn’t sustained as well. This was about when I discovered that the window insulation of the bus is not the best. The light rain actually seeped through the bus window. Thankfully, by this point, a number of people had gotten off the bus at various stops, and I could scooch a little away from the window, and prevent myself from getting wet. If it’s the rainy season in Kenya, you’re well advised to pick a non-window seat if you don’t want to get drenched.

At about 8 pm, I guess the driver had gotten bored, and decided to start blasting his funky jam, which is fine, except it’s the same damn song on auto-repeat. It goes somewhere along the lines of:

“I am DJ Perez, I’m fucking awesome”

“Say my name”

[female voice in monotone – I suspect robot, or maybe it’s Siri’s side gig]

“DJ Perez”

After about 2+ hrs (before we finally arrived in Kampala) of listening to DJ Perez tell bored female to say his name, I was done. I don’t know who the hell DJ Perez is. I sure as hell was glad when I finally rolled off the bus 16+ hrs later.

My Fitbit thinks I walked 17,000 steps that day.

Oh, and I hate DJ Perez.

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Bye bye, butt. Bye bye, sense of humor

Review of Carlo’s Shuttle Namibia

Carlo's Shuttle at Windhoek

Carlo’s Shuttle in Namibia runs a minivan shuttle between Windhoek – Swakopmund – Walvis Bay (in addition to private shuttles or car rental) for 250 NAD each way. They do door-to-door pick up and drop off. I found them while searching online for shuttles from Windhoek to Walvis Bay. I believe you can take a unscheduled minibus for cheaper (wikitravel reports ~100 NAD), but I like reliable, and reliable Carlo’s Shuttle is. This is rather important in Namibia, considering the other shuttle service I booked no-showed.

I found them about 2 days before I was scheduled for the trip, and used their online booking form to book my shuttle. I got an e-mail reply in under 24 hrs asking for a confirmation – a good sign. I was informed that I would be picked up at my hotel between 6 am – 7 am, and at 6.30 am, the driver showed up with cellphone in hand, indicating that he would have called if I wasn’t there.

Everyone booked on the shuttle has a seat each, so there won’t be squeezing, giving a stranger an extended lap dance, etc. The driver was also very safety conscious. On the way back, one of the tyres was a little low on pressure, and instead of just brushing it off and moving along, the driver stopped along a gas station to get it checked out. This is highly preferable to the vehicle breaking down in the middle of nowhere.

If you’re traveling in Namibia and they happen to serve your routes, use them with confidence. You can access their site here, and they can also be contacted via Whatsapp (+264 81 270 4395).

Hairpins through the Snow, Traveling from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, 24 July 2016

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I woke up bright and early-ish to catch my 10-hour, 1030 departure bus that’d bring me across the Andes from Argentina to Chile. The morning was a bit of a snafu. I asked for a taxi, expecting one to show up immediately, but it took a lot longer than expected, because the Park Hyatt called one of their trusted cars for the trip to the bus station. But I didn’t miss the bus, so all is good.

Bus from Mendoza to Santiago - Cama Ejecutivo

For this trip, I booked a second class bus, Cama-Ejecutivo for 500 ARS (~30 USD). It was a double decker, and the seats were 2 by 1. As I booked the ticket online, I was able to pick my seat as well, and naturally, I picked the solo seat. The leather seats were very comfortable, and there was a lot of legroom. Included in the ticket price, were also meal services. So there was a breakfast service almost immediately after departure, where we were given a package that included a sandwich and an alfajor. I sense this is a theme. The bus attendant also offered hot beverages, and soon a movie about Chinese who were transplanted to the borderlands was played.

Bus from Mendoza to Santiago - Cama Ejecutivo

I drifted between the state of sleep and being awake on the bus trip. I was very glad for the moments I was awake, because the snowy landscape was stunning. Families turned the snow-covered mountains into ski slopes, or other avenues of snowy fun. People were sliding down the hills. I wished I could have joined them!

Bus from Mendoza to Santiago - Cama Ejecutivo

Due to traffic at the border crossing, there was about an hour spent waiting. The border clearance itself wasn’t that terrible, but inspecting our luggage, and just generally, waiting in turn for the administrative process to be over took up some time.

At the Argentina - Chile Border

The greatest treat was the portion after crossing the Chilean border. There are a lot of hairpins leading down to Chile. While watching the ginormous bus wind through these hairpins was rather harrowing, at the same time, it was a beautiful sight to behold. This was easily one of the highlights of my trip, and reminds me of why I like traveling – life’s marvels will just unveil themselves when you least expect it!

I’d recommend this trip to anyone.

Argentina: Bussing from Rosario to Cordoba, 19 July 2016

Terminal de Omnibus, Rosario

The only grand plan for today is to get from Rosario to Cordoba. The older I get, the less I can deal with longish bus journeys. I used to be ok with 12 hr bus-rides, but these days, even the 6ish hours bus ride seems a bit much. And because I value my comfort more than anything else these days, I opted for a noonish departure, which means the bulk of my day is spent on the bus.

Terminal de Omnibus, Rosario

The Argentina bus system is pretty easy to navigate online. I used Omnilineas to check the departure times. Thankfully, buses from Rosario to Cordoba are fairly frequent. As this wasn’t an overnight bus, I opted for the semi-cama, which features quite a bit of recline, and the chairs were arranged as 2 by 2s. The bus ticket was about 460 ARS (~30 USD), and comes without any service. For more information on what the different classes mean, do check out this page, so you may select a service that works best for you.

Plusultra (Semi Cama) bus from Rosario to Cordoba

Cordoba is the first city of Argentina, and is home to one of the oldest universities in the world. The Jesuit missions in Cordoba are also a UNESCO world heritage site. Arriving at 7pm, I got a glimpse of these older buildings, but I was too tired to explore. I simply went to the mall that’s beside my hotel, grabbed some food from the food court, and passed out for the night.

Plusultra (Semi Cama) bus from Rosario to Cordoba

Plusultra (Semi Cama) bus from Rosario to Cordoba

Plusultra (Semi Cama) bus from Rosario to Cordoba