Only five days to see this beautiful country… Way too short! But we took longer in other places we really liked and due to our visa for the next countries, we have to speed up a little. How is it possible to see a country in such a short time? We decide to skip the capital Yerevan and most of the touristic highlights. Let’s drive the more unknown roads to the south in the direction of Iran, and see what we encounter on our way!
Living from nature
We enter Armenia from the border at Sadakhlo and our map shows the main road that runs from the north of Armenia to the south and is the most important connection between Georgia, the capital Yerevan and Iran. We expected a highway, but in fact it is a small road full of potholes. The big trucks are driving it as well, so it goes slowly. But the surroundings are beautiful: green valleys, rivers runner through it and every now and then a small village. After 100 km we go off the main road and drive in the direction of Sevan lake: a huge lake at 2.000 meter high. Just before the lake we drive into the mountains to find a place for the night. The road goes up and up through the forest and than we arrive at an alpine meadow, where we see a beautiful house lighted by the evening sun. Where did we end up this time? A middle aged man with a hat and nicely dressed welcomes us. His name is Yan and when he hears we are from Holland he says:”Hello Kaaskop (cheese head)”. We talk about his life and his beautiful place. He was a former colonel in the army and worked a lot abroad. He retired and decided to live a life closer to nature. At the moment he is building an eco village, to let others have the same experience too. While we drink his very clear and natural spring water from a well deep in the ground and watch his cows and horses coming back from the open fields for the night, he says: “We have to respect mother nature, in fact: she is so strong, we have no choice”. We stay one night at his place and when we wake up we drink fresh milk from the cows – delicious! It is time to move on.
When we continue our route south, we see that our first experiences are exemplary: Armenia is all about nature. Even along the road you can’t miss it: people are collecting all kinds of mushrooms from the forest and they sell fish from Sevan lake from the trunk of their car. When we drive higher and higher we end up at a high plateau with a volcanic mountain, and the greens fields are full of yellow flowers. Is this what Mongolia looks like in spring? In the fields we see people looking for herbs ands leaves which they use in their soups. And like in Georgia: cows, horses and other animals are walking around freely. Sometimes there is a shepherd to guide them, but others are just finding their own way to find the best grass. And in the evening they return to their owners to get shelter from wild animals. The Armenians seem not to cultivate nature, but just live with and from it. At this place at 2.300 meter, where the surrounding villages don’t have electricity yet, we have a calm and peaceful sleep.
Even though we have a short amount of time in Armenia, we have the feeling we get to know the country. And we love it! Every now and than we stop just to have a look at what people are picking from nature, we walk around in a small village, visit one of the beautiful typical Armenian churches with some frescoes insight and we even see a caravanserai on our route that is a clear example of the importance of Armenia on the ancient Silk road towards the Black Sea. A lot of impressions!
Let’s see if we can find a good place for the night. When Roderick has a look on the map, he finds three small lakes, just five kilometer of the road. We decide to take the next right and end up at the start of a small village. There we have to cross a river: is that possible with our bus? Next to the river is a farmer house with a big family gathered at the veranda. The man of the house, walks to us and somewhat later his daughters are also coming. We make clear that we are looking for the liche (lake) and they say it is indeed this way and that it is no problem to cross the river with our bus. We get invited for a coffee and end up having lunch together with them. Vico, his wife and their children Gemma, Alina, Armin and his wife Tamara are all there to celebrate the first anniversary of Vico’s grandchild. It is great to meet this family: the atmosphere is very relaxed and because Alina speaks some English we can exchange a lot. We have a great feast together with them and everything they serve is from their own garden and made by themselves.
And everything is so delicious! All natural and local, they emphasize this a lot themselves as well. It seems very important to them. But on the other side: they also tell us to throw our garbage in the river. “No problem, this is Armenia!!”, they say. We ask them where they think the garbage will go… “In other countries maybe a problem, but here no problem”, they state. We can’t understand how they love nature so much on one hand and on the other hand are so disrespectful. Probably until recent times most of their garbage was organic, but as they use plastic nowadays too hopefully their awareness about this will change soon.
A way of life
We go to their Agarak: a big piece of land – just ten minutes walking from their house – where the fruit – and nut trees are and the bees they keep for honey. When we walk around the garden they share their knowledge with us. And we feel a little stupid that we don’t know all those basic things of life ourselves! Where to use the wild herbs for, how to maintain a fruit tree, etcetera. In most Western European countries we just go to the supermarket and buy what we need. We are sure that in Europe we can collect a lot of things from nature as well, but we lost a lot of this knowledge. Here it is still passed on from generation to generation.
But, we also realize again how much time it costs to live a life like this. It is not something you do next to your fulltime job; it is a way of life. And the good thing is: in Armenia a lot of the responsibilities are shared with the family. Alina explains us that she doesn’t have a job: she takes care of her two children and helps her parents in the garden, especially during the harvest season. “My life is relaxed and happy!” she laughs. “But on the other hand, I would also like to travel, like you do. To see the world.” Hmm, yes, we understand this dilemma so well! Up till now we chose to work hard and save up to go on our next trip again. A simpler, more back to basic life, would probably also mean less time and money for things like travelling. Are we ready for that? We still aren’t sure. But how privileged we are that we have the freedom to make this decision ourselves!
After a great time with this very welcoming family, we say goodbye again. We drive more south again and visit Tatev: a beautiful Armenian monastery in the mountains. We find a great place to take a bath at the Devil’s bridge: a natural mineral pool. After that we hairpin our way out of Armenia: a 160 kilometer curving road through the beautiful and green mountains of Armenia. When we cross the last pass of 2.500 meters – just before the border with Iran – the landscape suddenly changes: the green disappears and what is left is a dry and arid landscape – and it is hot! As we drive down we get ready for our next border crossing: Passports: check, Carnet de Passage (import document for the car): check and headscarf: check. Bye bye natural and free Armenia, we will come back for sure!