(Note: This is Part 2 of 2 about my weekend excursion to the southern part of Armenia with my fellow AVC/Birthright Armenia volunteers. Check out Part 1: Exploring Southern Armenia: Tatev & Tandzatap)
We awoke with the sun the next morning and after a breakfast of eggs and tea, Allegra and I went for a walk to photograph Tandzatap in the bright sun. Chickens and cows greeted us as we wandered and from the end of the village, we could see all the way to Tatev Monastery at the top of the Vorotan Gorge.
Shortly after 9:00 a.m., about half of the group began a hike down into the gorge. The others chose to head back to Tatev for a Palm Sunday mass. We would reconvene much later in the afternoon.
Our hike began along a slippery path covered with a mix of ice, snow, mud and manure. Keeping our balance was tricky and it wasn’t long before the trail claimed its first victim as Alen lost his footing just minutes after we joked about not taking each other down if we fell. The messy conditions didn’t last long, but we were soon met with another foe – thorny branches blocking the path. By the time we reached the bottom of the gorge, I had stopped multiple times to pick splinters out of my ankles and I was covered with scratches!
Reaching the 17th century Mets Anapat monastery just up from the bottom made it all worthwhile. Many of us went our own way, finding the perfect spot on the grass covered roof of the monastery to take a nap or just gaze out on our surroundings. Some snapped pictures galore and others even did some yoga. I made my way around the monastery with my camera before settling on the roof to enjoy an apple and get lost in my thoughts. It was refreshing to be the only visitors anywhere in sight and it was hard to leave when it was finally time to move on with the hike.
I don’t think any of us were prepared for how difficult the hike back out of the gorge would be – steep paths that often weren’t really paths, thorny branches blocking our way at every turn and loose rock that simply crumbled away as we stepped. The end of the adventure saw us carefully crossing the remains of a rock slide (still feeling fairly unstable) and then sliding down a hill of pure dirt and rocks to the main road, where our vans awaited.
Still just early afternoon, we had plenty more to see as we moved on to Goris. After lunch at a hilltop restaurant overlooking the city, we had time to explore the surrounding rock formations and caves.
Finally, we packed back into the vans for the five hour drive back to Yerevan. Wiped out from the drinking, dancing and hiking over the past 24 hours, it was a mellow ride back. We stared out of the windows in awe at the snow-covered mountains and green valleys. We chatted quietly, getting to know each other better. We dozed off into a much-needed sleep. Before I knew it, we were back in Yerevan, five of us piling into a taxi to return to our respective city home stays.
As I fell into bed, completely exhausted, I couldn’t help but smile at the new friendships I forged and the unique adventures I experienced in southern Armenia.