Armenia / Caucasus

Tatev. Tales from the South.

If I had to choose one place in Armenia, that took my breath away it would definitely be the Tatev monastery. It is one of the oldest and most famous monastery complexes in the country. It looks like a mighty fortress upon massive cliffs and once you get there the views are spectacular. We leave Yerevan behind for good. I will show you how beautiful the South of Armenia is. In fact, the closer to the border with Iran, the more beautiful the landscape. We don’t know where we gonna stay tonight nor how we gonna get there. We leave it to chance. This is where the magic happens.

So girls, there is only one bus to Goris and it leaves at 7am – says Manu, our CS host from Yerevan. – Say whaaat!?? – I don’t know whether it’s true or he just want to get rid of us as soon as possible, but we are on vacation and kill me… we won’t get up to catch the 7am bus. No way. If something’s meant to be, it will happen. We get up and it turns out we have to take a cab as the bus stop is way farther than we thought (girls vs maps drama). Once we get there we walk around trying to figure out which of the mini buses goes to Goris.  – Goris? Goris? – Goris! It’s there! – people point at an empty marshrutka (russian word for mini bus). Great! The thing is the mini bus is empty so we have to wait until it gets full, otherwise we will go nowhere.

After an hour, all the seats are taken but people are still coming. The driver puts 3 STOOLS inside so everyone can sit. I don’t know how relaxed are traffic cops in Armenia, as a gust I’m not the one to question health and safety. I close my eyes thinking “well it is, what is it”. I assume they know their country and its roads. 

During a short stopover the driver takes out a piece of paper and he draws a small map just to show us HE DOESN’T GO TO GORIS. The bus terminates in Sisian but “no problem girls, no problem, you can wait here on the main road and I’m sure someone’s gonna give you a lift“. Fantastic! One should always be prepare for unexpected situations while travelling in the Caucasus. We stay calm (or maybe I should say we are completely shocked) and nod because what else we can do? The driver gives us his business card saying “If you are in trouble, or no one will take you, just call me and I will come back to give you a lift once I finish work“. This is it. Left in the middle of nowhere…

Gas station (doesn’t it look fabulous by the way?).
It’s always good to know where are you going. At some point we are not sure if we want to go to Goris or directly to Tatev, but finally we opt for Goris. Tatev is just too beautiful, we don’t want to rush it so we decide to go there the next morning. If of course we are lucky and we get to Goris by night. 
We weren’t particularly sad the bus driver stood us up – just look at the landscape. It’s so beautiful! 

We don’t have to wait long. First time lucky! Two smiling Armenian dudes ask us where are we going. They don’t go to Goris, but they offer to give us a lift. It’s just 10 km but still, better than nothing. When we get out of the car, they gave us their phone numbers “just in case”. We don’t need them because as soon as their car disappears, another one stops. It’s a big lorry and we hop on it. We are lucky as the driver goes to Goris. After catching up with all the latest Armenian pop hits and inhaling second hand smoke from Martin’s (the driver) cigarettes we stop at a small restaurant to get some food. And when I say “some” food, in Armenia it always means a real FEAST and there is no feast without skewers! A shot of vodka to help the digestion and we are ready to continue our journey. At some point Martin starts hitting on us and suggesting we could visit him in his dacha (do you remember David’s comment about FAMISHED men?!!!?!!). We politely decline his offer, emphasizing how thankful we are for what he has done for us so far and we hop out of his lorry the moment we reach Goris.

Our first hitch-hiking experience in Armenia was short but the guys were very nice. 
We ate amazing skewers in a local restaurant courtesy of Martin!

Goris was a bit disappointing (however we did discovered its hidden gems on our way back to the North). We didn’t want to stay for a night in the city and it turned out that hiking to Tatev from Goris was way to long. We didn’t think twice, we quickly got a cab to Halidzor – a village from where you can easily hike to the monastery. I was so emotionally drained I couldn’t hitchhike more. You may laugh, but I’m the only one speaking Russian in our team so the burden of the small talk was 100% on me. Don’t get me wrong it is a lot of fun and also a free Russian class, but it’s also extremely tiring. In Halidzor we stayed in a cool eco-lodges resort in the middle of the forest. It was a bit cold but they did have a sauna so the rest of the evening we were just lazing around and it felt so good!

Eco lodges in Halidzor – they look cool, don’t they?
Inside our lodge. I actually found this place on INSTA but we didn’t book anything it advance as we didn’t know where we were going to end up. 
A beautiful place for your breakfast. 
Viewing point not far from our lodges. You can actually see the Tatev monastery from there. 

The next day, we pack our backpacks and armed with mobile app maps.me we start our hike to the monastery. Easy peasy. The map shows us a reasonable tourist trail of 8km. A tourist trail right? Watch this:

– Is this really the trail? – asks Anna. Well maps.me shows it is, so keep on walking!

Are we still on the path? We ask each other trying to get through grass and bush as tall as 1 meter. It’s very slippery and we are tearing through the thorns but the app clearly shows it’s the right way. The thorns prickle our arms so we have to wear long sleeve jackets. It’s hot and it starts to rain. It gets unbearable. After I don’t know how long, we finally get to the main road, we cross it and we land in the bush again. I’m exhausted so next time when I see the road we’re done. It turns out that we still have like 6 km to do. Those 8 km on maps.me I guess it was in a straight line… but we are in the mountains… Yet again we are lucky, as soon as we start walking on the main road a car stops and the man in it asks us if we need a lift. YES WE DO! THANK GOD!!

This nice guy gave us a lift to the monastery. He wasn’t even surprised to see two girls jumping out of the bush to the middle of the road. 🙂

In front of the gate to the monastery we meet three Polish guys who stayed at the same hotel. Fresh, relaxed and smiling they tell us they’ve just came from the trail. What trail? That trail? I ask them, showing pics from our ridiculous hike. It turned out we never really got into the trail. The trail was on the other side of the mountain. So we did a rampant hike… well it’s THE WILDEST TALES blog after all! I’d better save mobile apps like maps.me for when we are back in the city.

The Tatev monastery is an amazing place. The term “Tatev” usually refers to the monastery. The monastic ensemble stands on the edge of a deep gorge of the Vorotan River. Do you remember what I told you about Armenian Monasteries? Their power lies is in their unique locations. The Tatev monastery for ex., is located on a large basalt plateau it looks spectacular both from the below and from the top. During medieval times Tatev Monastery was a vital scholastic, enlightenment and spiritual center and played a singular role in the country’s history. For more spectacular views you can hop on the longest non-stop double track cable car. It’s called WINGS OF TATEV. We don’t go for it as we just hiked the same route.

The fairy tale monastery – this is how they should call Tatev. To me it looks simply fabulous!
The fortified Tatev monastery consists of three churches (Sts. Paul and Peter, St. Gregory the Illuminator and St. Mary), a library, dining hall, belfry, mausoleum as well as other administrative and auxiliary building.
Orthodox priest from the monastery will happily pose for you. 🙂
The view! If you have time and a good map it’s the perfect place for hiking.
You can find a lot of beautiful khachkars, also known as Armenian cross-stones, nearby the entrance to the monastery.
Beautiful stone-carved walls of the monastery.
The history of the monastery is very interesting. It was seriously damaged during earthquakes and wars but now it’s almost fully reconstructed (I say almost but you can’t see one of the smaller churches covered with scaffolding – you have to believe me it’s there!!).
The local traffic controller  – this lady is in charge of some crazy herds of goats blocking the roads. All I love about the Caucasus!

We walked around the monastery, popped into the local information center where a nice lady invited us for coffee and home made cake. A nice guy selling souvenirs in front of the monastery gave us free ice creams.

Small but generous signs of affection – they were happening all the time when we were in Armenia. We will never forget its generous people. (On the other hand maybe we look so “poor”? I don’t know how is it possible to get so many freebies all the time – does it happen to you as well?) 

We still don’t know where we are going to sleep tonight. We spotted a tiny village when we were visiting the monastery and decided to hike there. That decision was one of those LIFE CHANGING ones and probably the best I’ve taken during my travels. What happened in that village in the South of Armenia? Why I call it our Armenian haven, our shelter and last but not least, OUR HOME? You have to be patient, the best story is yet to come!