Last weekend, a few friends and I decided to make our own excursion rather than going on the Birthright one because it was just a swimming day at Lake Sevan. We wanted to do something a little more adventurous, you know, because hiking Aragats the weekend before wasn’t enough for us. Carineh found an easy hike between two churches, Saghmosavank and Hovhannavank, and she and I planned to go with one of our other Gyumri friends, Shant.
We met “early” in the morning on Saturday… 10AM… to catch a taxi out to Saghmosavank. It was about a 45-minute ride, and when we got there, it looked like they were setting up outside for a post-baptism party. Good timing for us because we made it there before it started and could explore the whole church. Somehow, no matter how many churches we see, there’s always something a little different in each one. This was the church of nooks. Seriously, there were nooks everywhere. Some were high, some were low, some had floating stairs leading up to them, some had no visible means of access. Maybe they used to have a lot of things to store? I don’t know, but as a lover of nooks, I thought it was awesome.
It is also situated in a pretty cool spot. It’s right on the edge of a gorge, and the hike we were planning to do basically just runs along the top of the gorge until you make it to the second church, Hovhannavank, which we could see in the distance. While we were admiring the gorge, we noticed that there was what looked like a decent road at the bottom, and we could hear a river. Then, someone pointed out a vaguely defined path that looked like it led to the bottom from where we were. That was all it took for us to completely ditch our plans and decide to hike down into the gorge instead. Brilliant, except for the fact that none of us were planning for a serious hike and weren’t completely prepared.
We’re all a little bit crazy, so silly little details like that weren’t enough to stop us. I think it ended up taking about 2-1/2 hours to make it down. The “path” that we saw was not quite as helpful or defined as we originally thought. After about the first 10 minutes, any indication of the best way down vanished, and we were left to plot our route as we went. I wasn’t even completely confident that there WAS a way down, but I had no interest in going back up so that only left one option. It took some gravel sliding, rock climbing, and scrambling, but we made it! And as luck would have it, there was a leak in a water pipe right at the bottom, so we frolicked in the freezing cold water spray before continuing down the road.
From there, the path was easy. We walked for a bit before spotting a good swimming spot in the river and taking a break to cool down. None of us were prepared for swimming (obviously, considering we weren’t prepared for anything that day), but I don’t even know that I would have wanted to go completely in because the water was frigid. It was enough to just wade up to our shorts and put some cold water on our necks. We also floated our water bottles in the river so that we could leave with some ice-cold water. Genius, I know. One thing we were prepared for was lunch, and after a classic Armenian hiking lunch of lavash (flat bread… kind of like a tortilla), salami, and cheese, we set out again.
The rest of the walk to Hovhannavank was uneventful. I was worried that we were going to have to hike out in a similar fashion to the hike in, but the road we were on started slowly ascending until we were out of the gorge with barely any effort. I’m glad that we started at Saghmosavank rather than going the other direction! I felt a little bit like an alien when we emerged from the gorge and entered into Ohanavan, the town where Hovhannavank is located. We were weary travelers who felt like we had just trekked across the universe, and it’s always weird entering back into civilization.
So, there’s the story of how our planned 3-hour hike transformed into a 10-hour adventure. Sometimes though, the unplanned ends up being even better than the planned. I don’t think any of us would go back and do it differently… except maybe for bringing more water and wearing more appropriate shoes. It’s fun to know that I have friends here who are as willing as I am to take the road less traveled (or sometimes completely untraveled) just to see where it leads.