Back from an exhausting, long, strange, crazy weekend of discovery and coincidence. On Thursday night I called Ashod Nakashian, who used to log on this page before he became too important for it (ouch!). Towards the end of the conversation, we ended up deciding to do somewhat of a repeat performance of our foray into the north of Armenia, and the border area with Georgia, paying a visit to Arkady, a villager our age we had become friends with the year before. Setting a strict take-off time of 9:30am on Saturday, we got our stuff into order and were looking forward to a serious change of scenery. You can read last years log here
Saturday at 9am, the first problems began... Zabel had work to finish before she could join us, and Ashod needed to get the brakes looked at before he came over with Anna. To make a long story short, we left at about 1pm, if not later. With half the day gone, already things started to quickly drop off of my list of intended destinations. Once again, Surb Grigori Vank of Dsegh would escape the shots of my camera, as well as a permanent end to its isolation after I nailed down its GPS coordinates. We drove up via Aparan, the town locals widely poke fun of as the stupidest in Armenia (think Polish jokes here). Stopping to look at a recently renovated 5th century basilica
(the pictures on that page are outdated now), we were impressed with the work that had been done, the nice new garden and the townspeople at prayer. I gave the gardener there some new seed varieties and we took off over the mountain pass. Dropping down to Spitak, we were again impressed with the new church that was completed last year, but didn't have time to stop as we continued to Vanadzor. In Vanadzor we stopped at a food window where I was impressed with a loose local interpretation of the pizza, and we continued on up to Alaverdi (with another nice new church) where we made a final pit stop for food supplies before we headed up towards the border. The customs guy we met the previous year had met last year had gone on his vacation a day before we arrived, but different guys would be guarding his post during his absence. The two guys we came across sent us through without a hitch and after our 4.5 hour drive to reach this point we had another 2.5 of pure dirt road to look forward to. The scenery here rapidly changes and is absolutely spectacular, the girls had never seen it and were as impressed as we had been. Lush forests, bright green meadows, moist cool air, healthy cows, and picket fences remind you off a Swiss heaven, and the dirt road couldn't distract us from the surrounding beauty. Both Ashod and I were a bit worried about finding our way there over these dirt trails with no villages nor signs along the way, but were happy to realize we remembered every twist and turn of the way. Finally as we approached the village the first person we came across to ask directions to Arkady's house was coincidentally Arkady's grandfather, who is over 80 years old. He was grazing the pigs (a practice I had never heard of till I saw it everywhere in Armenia) and recognized us after a few seconds. Happy to see us he pointed us on our way and we continued to his place. Arkady was in happy disbelief, instantly recognizing us and telling us how the day before he was telling his mother we had forgotten all about them and wouldn't return. We laughed at the way the trip materialized much in the same way it had the year before and it seemed like we had just been there a week earlier, not a year. After working on a problem Ashod noticed on the car, we stayed up talking, laughing and drinking with the whole family before getting to bed well past midnight.
Waking up very early, I tossed and turned, not wanting to get dressed to go out into the cold just to visit the outhouse. When a few of the family were up and about I got up and joined them, learning that the puppy, who was running around at a hundred miles an hour the night before, was now sick from eating mouse poison in the basement during the night and would not eat or move. The began to force feed him some matsun and Arkady and Zabel kept him awake and alert as possible for an hour or two to try to save him. Eventually he started walking again and after drinking a ton of water that swelled his belly up, he regained his appetite and got significantly better. At this point it was becoming quite late in the morning, and Ashod just got up. We had some tea and bread with fresh village butter and preserves while convincing our friends not to slaughter an animal for us. We settled upon them killing one of their turkeys, which we would BBQ later.
Heading out no sooner than 1pm, we had no time to spare. We drove into an Armenian Village in Georgia, where a funeral was taking place with the casket and procession going down the road we needed to take. This forced us to take a significant diversionary road, in even worse condition, which is saying a lot considering how virtually every meter of road in this area of Georgia is a complete disaster. We reached Khuchapi Monastery
finally and were again amazed at this architectural wonder. Resting inside the border of Armenia, not too far from the Stepanavan-Tblisi highway, it is one of the most impressive monasteries of the land, which soars to heights few churches here reach. You can get up a great deal of it through a steep stairwell built into the walls themselves and we enjoyed the view and carvings a few stories up. Sadly short on time, we left for our next destination, Khorakert Monastery
, which has a very unique look to it not seen in any other structure until the building of the new St. Gregory the Illuminator National Cathedral in Yerevan last year. Enjoying the scenery, the monastery, and one of the only gargoyles in Armenia, we rested up as the turkey cooked. It came out absolutely delicious and we cleaned up our mess before heading back to the village at 5pm. We left the village at 6, despite the protests of out friends, and headed back over the mountains. The customs guys had changed again, and these ones when we asked again about the guy we met last year said he was dead. He had died in a car accident the day before. We were pretty shocked, and I thought it was kind of odd that he was smiling as he told us this news. We stopped at a great little food joint in Alaverdi for Zabel to run in and pick up some water. The woman there asked what we were up to and said we should stay at her house. We didn't want to inconvenience her, so she just came out to say hello to me and I gave her some of those Candy Lily plants I have been growing, knowing that I will be able to visit them again next year. Finally, we went on to Odzun that night which we reached in the dark, and slept quite peacefully at a nice little guesthouse which coincidentally was run by a guy we had run into on the roadside two days earlier. Going to bed at 10pm, we were determined to head out early in the morning to make up for some lost time.
We were in the car at nine and didn't make it off the driveway due to car trouble. Half an hour of poking around under the wheel, etc led to the conclusion that more qualified mechanics should look at it and that the car would probably make it down to Alaverdi for this work. Well the car made it down and the wheel was removed and greased, the frame was welded and an hour later we drive north to the very tip of Armenia where the climate suddenly changed to hot and much dryer. Swinging in a loop to head back south, we stopped in Berdavan, to see one of Armenia's more interesting castles
. Not too large, but very picturesque, we enjoyed this nice little castle which was only a few hundred meters from the Azerbaijani border. Some of the villagers escorted us to in so that we wouldn't accidentally stray and gave us a helpful warning not to wander east before heading back to their work. Finding our way back to the highway, we continued to Koghb over some brand new highway (which was nearing completion all the way past Dilijan, where a tunnel will connect it to Hrazdan and Yerevan next year, making it a primary traffic road to Georgia). In Koghb, we asked a few people for directions to Mshkavank Monastery
. We overshot the turn-off road and the car broke down again. A little wire had come loose from the starter, and over an hour of poking around led to Ashods somehow blindly getting it back on. Now we had only a few hours of light left, but the old villager who had help us with the car and his friend who had given us food as we waited (we also grazed on blackberries, which had been ripening all over the region, along all the roads we were travelling) gave us some new directions to the monastery and we headed up. At a few points we wondered if we had lost our way, but in the end we found the monastery and a better road back to boot! The monastery was quite cool, and one of the tons of spots in Armenia that tourists never make it to. The architecture was interesting and some of the carving were just stunning masterpieces. Now with the hour really getting late, we rushed back towards the village, only to have the brakes freeze up on us. We stopped in the village for gas and to ask about a mechanic, when the gas station guy pops up and turns out to be one of the customs guy from the first day. Now we are quite far from that check-point and had passed dozens of gas places... what were the odds we would ever meet up with him again?? Well anyways, Ashod stunned him with the news that his coworker had died two days before, and he was quite noticeably saddened when he brightened up a bit and asked Ashod what the guy who told him this news looked like. When he figured out he laughed and said he was sure the guy was joking. Now we couldn't understand how that could be considered funny, but he laughed and said that is just how those guys were, he was sure of it. Now we were a bit stunned at the sickness of this humor, but Anna remembered the guys smile as he had told us 'the news' and it seemed to all make sense. We shook our heads in hopeful relief and went nextdoor to a mechanic who fixed the car... in just short of an hour. With no time left to see more stuff, we headed back past an area where the highway goes through what is technically Azerbaijan, but controlled by Armenia, which has a beautiful 7th century church
visible from the highway, then past a large reservoir in the same situation, then to Ijevan where we picked up some 'fast food' (fried bureg kind of things) as the sun set. The last 3 hours of the drive were a blur and quiet as we went up past Lake Sevan and then down to Yerevan... getting home at midnight.