Armenia / Caucasus

Armenian Shashlik-Mashlik.

All good things come to an end. We’ve been in Armenia for just 9 days but I swear I have enough material to write another 10 posts on my blog. This trip has been a real journey to self discovery. We’ve learnt a lot about ourselves, our strong and weak points, fears and hopes. Armenia took us on a roller coaster ride – we’ve been through amazing times but also the scariest moments in our life.

Today I can tell you one thing – we know Armenia (or the Armenians!) like no one. It’s a truly wicked feeling!

Last two days we spend based in Yerevan, but instead of further exploring the city we decide to travel to Hovannavank. It’s a beautifully located monastery on the edge of the precipitous gorge of the Kasagh River. We get a bus to Ashtarak, but it turns out that the monastery is like 10 km from the town, so we hitchhike there. We don’t have to wait even 5 min, a taxi stops and the driver takes us to the monastery. FOR FREE!

So… we are the only tourists here. The beauty of Armenia! I’m not gonna lie, we are more interested in the canyon that the monastery itself, but we’re quite afraid of hiking on our own. I’m not so sure if I’m physically (and mentally) prepared to sweat. We do wear good trekking boots but also our comfy PJ trousers from Thailand – not the most outdoorsy outfit when you have to hike… Trying to conduct a brief risk-assessement we wake up the guy sleeping in front of the monastery to ask him if this place was safe. He confirms. Can we go on our own? He gives us the Girls, alone, hiking? look. We are about to give up when we notice a man sitting behind the monastery. He is smoking, contemplating the view. Not a rapist, not a psycho. A romantic local soul. That’s it! He certainly knows this area. We call him and ask what does he think of our crazy idea. He doesn’t think it’s crazy. Good start! However… he isn’t very convinced of letting us hike alone. We suggest him going with us and (surprise, surprise!) he says YES.

We have our private guide! Stiepan, the humble protagonist of today’s post, didn’t expect his day-off to go the way it did – a hardcore stroll in the canyon followed by defending two Polish tourist from some wild animals!

The most ancient structure in Hovhannavank is a basilica typical of the fifth century. It was rebuilt in 573 and repeatedly renovated later.
The guy who is taking care of the monastery doesn’t have the most exciting job – we caught him napping during working hours. 🙂 
The rhythmic arrangement of the horseshoe-shaped wall arches, resting on wall-attached pilasters, adds to the impression of the interior being extended in length.
The architectural ensemble of Hovhannavank is distinguished by a compact arrangement of the monuments around the main building. The clever use of the terrain (the eastern walls of the churches verge on the edge of the precipice and seem to be an extension of it) adds to the picturesque ness of the complexes which are especially expressive when viewed from the opposite side of the Kasagh River canyon.

Stiepan disappears for 5 min and he comes back with a long stick. – For the snakes – he says. SNAKES?!!!!!! WHAT SNAKES!!!!!!!!??????? It’s too late to poop out so we take a deep breath and decide to trust his snake-whisperer skills. I’m sure he just wants to scare us. Our guidebook didn’t say anything about snakes!

A cheerful Off we go! and I step on a huge cow dung. 🙂 No panic, no panic, the stinky boot is for the good luck! Our hike down the canyon is rather pleasant but when we get to the bottom we realize there is no path to follow. Maybe it was here ages ago but now we are just walking in the tall grass (ticks!ticks!ticks! – alarming signal in my head!) and we scramble through prickly bush, almost tearing our clothes. Then there are rocks, spider webs and swamps… tough mudder? The worst is yet to come when we discover that the beautiful canyon is a habitat of vipers! I’m not kidding. There were like thousands of them there!!

It starts more or less in the middle of the trek. I can hear some noises. I’m like ok, it’s normal, we are outdoors. But there is something weird about these sounds, they are more like hissing? I asked Stiepan what is the noise and he says “oh this is how the snakes and vipers sound“. Say whaaaat??! And we wanted to hike on our own… Thank God Stiepan is walking in front of us with his stick!  

90 % of time Stiepan, is really good at his job but sometimes when he starts chatting he loses the focus. We walk in Indian file, step by step, and he keeps on talking. I’m on the verge. I can’t concentrate on replying him in Russian all I can hear is the hissing of the snakes Oh… shut up and get us out of here!

Suddenly the distance between my friend Anna and Stiepan gets bigger and in that moment I can see a shadow jumping out of the grass, crossing the path in front of Anna. It was a meter long snake. If it hasn’t been for Anna’s scream Stiepan wouldn’t have realized we actually were in danger! I don’t want to think what would happen if that snake bit my friend. The closest hospital was in Yerevan. Stiepan said Armenian’s snakes weren’t poisonous. Right. That doesn’t make us feel any better (or safer!).

After the incident we walk way slower. Stiepan finally started taking his duties seriously and he doesn’t say a word focusing on checking for the possible enemies. Finally we decide not to continue the trek as it’s getting late and to get to the monastery on the other side of the canyon is like another 8km. Stiepan calls his brother and he takes us to there by car.

Off we go!
Hiking down the canyon was fairly easy.
Sweaty selfie with Stiepan. 🙂
Chilling out after the first part of our hike – we found a small chapel on the way. 
I doubt we would do that trek without Stiepan, bless him!
Even though we were so scare of snakes all the time, you have to admit – the views are insane.
I mean INSANE, right? 
My best friend and myself after the trek.
Artsy Armenia!

Stiepan’s brother offers to take us back to Yerevan. We didn’t ask for it so it’s super nice – saves us from hitchhiking again. On the way we visit his mother who invites us for a snack, a typical Caucasian scenario. “A snack” turns out to be a home made cake, fresh juice, shaslik-mashlik (a funny Russian name for BBQ)… you name it. These people are SO NICE! In the afternoon the guys take us back to our hostel.

In the evening we met the guy who gave us a lift from Dilijan to Yerevan the other day, he takes us to another beautiful monastery – Khor Virap, located nearby the Turkish boarder. It’s where our hitchhiking nightmare happened (read about it HERE). We climb the nearby hill to have a rest there and admire the beautiful monastery listening to the voice calling for prayer (from Turkey).

The 17th century monastery-fort of Khor Virap is located on top of a hill. We arrived here well after the sunset.
Khor Virap (The Deep Pit) was where the prisoners were tossed, and which was full of poisonous snakes and insects. According to Aghatangelos and other historians, Grigor the Еnlightener was tortured in Khor Virap.

This is my last post from Armenia. I hope you enjoyed the stories. I do believe Armenia is an incredible country, the country where the wildest of the wildest tales are born! Only a fool would miss a chance to go there and experience the real adventure!

Sipping coffee with the owner of the hostel we stayed in Yerevan!