Meghri

After my long day of travel from Yerevan to Meghri, I hit the ground running the next day and did some intense Meghri sightseeing. Kelsey had work, so I was on my own. I got tips from her about what to do in town, and then I did all of it. In Meghri, the major attractions are parts of the old Meghri Fortress (four parts, though who knows, there might be more), three churches, and a nice view of Iran. I started with the two fortress parts on the ridge closest to Kelsey’s apartment, and the trek there involved some sketchy felt-like-trespassing-but-what-does-that-mean-in-Armenia-anyway moments. There are houses all along the bottom of the mountain ridge, and I had to get past the houses somehow… I walked through someone’s open gate and no one said anything, so that was that.

Meghri

I’ve decided that the Meghri mountains are my favorite for climbing. They’re very rocky and steep which means that climbing them involves a lot of basic rock climbing/scrambling. It makes things interesting! I think that’s way more fun than just hiking. The views from both places were awesome. Throughout the day, I took about a million pictures of the same mountains over and over again because they never got less cool.

See rectangular structure #1 on top of the jaggedy cliff mountain

Rectangular structure #1

The never-ending struggle of travelling alone is remembering to take pictures that you’re actually in… and also figuring out how to physically take those pictures. Selfies aren’t my favorite, and I usually have a mini tripod, but of course I forgot it and all of the pictures on this trip are going to have to be improvised rock tripod pictures.

From there, I adventured down the other side of the ridge because I saw a road that I thought met up with the one I wanted to take to see Iran. That was kind of right… I got there eventually, so that’s all that matters. I also found a bonus church! I was walking down the street past some ruined buildings, and I saw a little peek of an arch that looked like part of a church. I decided to check it out, assuming that, as usual, no one would care that I was poking around, and sure enough, there was an altar inside! Who knows what happened to the church, but now it’s filled with grass and, based on the poop, grazing animals. I felt like I had stumbled upon a hidden treasure.

The faint mountains in the middle background are in Iran

Just enjoy the many mountain views… probably all the same mountains over and over again

Surprise church!

Another ruined building near the secret church

Finally, I found myself on the road to the view of Iran. I mean, you can see Iran from pretty much the whole town, but there’s a road that zigzags in that direction, so I walked down until I hit a little ridge that had a clear view of the Araks River and the border. Of course, I climbed the ridge because why not? I also took a bunch more pictures of the same mountains until it started drizzling and getting pretty windy, and I decided it would be wise to head down and avoid getting blown off the mountain.

Armenia on the left, Iran on the right

The murky looking squiggle is the Araks River. It runs along the Armenia/Iran border.

One of the arches inside Surp Sarkis

Luckily, the rain didn’t last too long. I say luckily because I didn’t have any rain gear (following a morning conversation with Kelsey where she checked the weather and assured me that it wouldn’t rain… oops), and that earned me a stern talking-to from an old woman who I passed on the street. Instead of taking the main roads, I chose adventure and walked down some dirt roads that seemed to be heading in the direction of the church I wanted to see next. It kind of worked… after some winding around, I popped out on a main road again, and from there, I headed to the 17th century Surp Sarkis Church (thank goodness for phone GPS). Again, I didn’t really know where I was going. I walked on the roads that looked like they were going in the right direction until I hit a dead end and asked some nearby old men how to get the rest of the way there.

My Armenian isn’t fabulous, but it’s usually good enough to understand directions. This time, not so much. He said something about taking the high path and then turning after going under the balcony and then something something something and I was completely confused. After one explanation attempt, the guy giving me the directions gave up and just went with me. I definitely would not have figured it out on my own. I don’t think I would have understood even if he had told me the directions in English. We went up this little path, walked under a balcony, around the corner, up some steps, across a rock, up some more steps, and we were there.

The inside of the church is filled with frescoes, and based on the scaffolding inside, I’d guess they’re getting restored. That exciting because they’re really nice already, and if the colors were a little bolder and less chipped, they’d be breathtaking.

Surp Sarkis and my new friend

When I was finished looking around, my friend and I headed back to where I picked him up. He invited me to come in for coffee, but I said “no, thank you” because I had a packed schedule to keep. My next church was in the middle of town, Surp Astvatsatsin Church (17th century). The main part of the church is stone, and the cupola is brick. Brick isn’t that popular in Armenia, so it’s a little weird to see that on a church. It was pretty though. Again, the inside was filled with frescoes in the same style as the first church.

Surp Astvatsatsin

Inside Surp Astvatsatsin

Inside Surp Hovhannes. Check out those arches!

My last church stop was Surp Hovhannes. It’s in the worst condition out of the three churches and is undergoing some significant restoration work. Kelsey said some French organization is restoring it. It has a shiny, new roof on the cupola and there’s scaffolding all over the inside. The major interesting feature of the church is the arches inside. They look like Persian arches and were intentionally designed that way so that the Persians wouldn’t destroy the church if they came in and conquered the town.

Surp Hovhannes

Since I still had plenty of time in the day and I wasn’t completely exhausted yet, I decided to climb to the other two fortress parts. I don’t know what way you’re supposed to get to them, but it’s definitely NOT however I went. I looked incredibly suspicious as I tried to find a way around all of the houses, and then I for sure walked straight down someone’s driveway and through their garden when I got tired of looking. Oh well. The climb to the first structure on the ridge was the most intense and highest climb of the day. I don’t completely understand what the different things, but two of the structures I went to were rectangular and two were round. I guess the round ones are watchtowers, and who knows about the other two. I tried to understand via the internet, but that was less than helpful.

Me + Meghri

Rectangular structure #2

After climbing to the highest point, it seemed almost pointless to go to the last watchtower, but I figured it was basically on my way down… and I hoped that from there, I’d be able to see a less shady way off the mountain. Sure enough, I saw exactly the way I should have come up. It wasn’t through anyone’s yard or garden, and it would have made things a whole lot easier. Oh, well. Live and learn!

Who doesn’t like a good ‘ole panorama?

This is another one of those times when I wish I had a fitness watch or had thought to turn on a GPS tracker because it would be interesting to know how far I walked. Based on how my legs felt, it was a looong way. I was walking/climbing for probably like 5 hours, excluding stopping time and such. My conclusion about Meghri? It’s beautiful, the mountains are the best, it was absolutely worth visiting, and if you’re a lunatic who likes climbing things, you’ll probably agree.

The Road to Meghri

My south trip started with a long marshrutka ride. I decided to go all the way south and then slowly work my way back because that seemed like the plan that made the most sense. My first stop was Meghri, a town almost right on the border with Iran and the last major town before the border crossing (the border town is still after that, but it’s very small). I wanted to go to see the town and because you can see the mountains of northern Iran from the Armenia side which is the closest I can get.

My friend Olivia has a friend in Meghri, Kelsey, and she graciously offered to let me stay with her while I was there! It worked out perfectly because I took the marshrutka there, stayed with her, and when I was planning to move to the next town, she was planning to go to Yerevan, so we took the same marshrutka (but I got off MUCH earlier). I’m getting very ahead of myself, sorry. Let me go back to the beginning.

I took a marshrutka from Yerevan to Meghri. It takes around 8 hours and involves a lot of windy roads. The same marshrutka passes through every town that I’m planning to visit on this trip, so it was like I got a little sneak preview of the rest of the week… when I wasn’t sleeping at least. We left at 7:30, I woke up at 5AM because I hadn’t packed (of course), and around 7, I called a taxi to take me to the bus station. I was assigned a seat next to an old woman, and soon after our intended departure time, we were off. This was one of the marshrutkas where you’re supposed to call to make a reservation, so I asked Zoe’s roommate to help me out the day before by calling to save me a seat. Part of the goal of my trip IS to work on my Armenian, but speaking over the phone is HARD! Especially when you’re asking someone to do something for you, and you’re not really sure how to ask them properly.

Here’s approximately the route we took to get from Yerevan to Meghri (the blue pin all the way in the south). The other destinations for my trip are the orange pins. From south to north it’s Kapan, Goris, and Sisian.

The long marshrutka rides always involve a lot of stops. You stop to let people on, you stop to let people off, and you stop so that all of the men can smoke (and so people can eat and go to the bathroom I guess, but mostly so that the men can smoke). During one of the stops, I started talking to my seatmate. She was very patient with me, letting me try to speak and speaking to me. Her name is Laura, she’s 78 years old, and she is from Meghri but lives in Yerevan with her husband. She was very excited about the fact that I also speak Spanish (though at this point my Spanish skills are at a pathetic level), and I felt like she kind of adopted me. Eventually, another woman sat on my other side, and when we got to our “lunch” stop, I was force-fed from both sides. Laura asked if I ate breakfast that morning and I said yes… and then she proceeded to put food in my hands, ignoring my insistent “no thank you”s. I was piled high with lavash bread, pork khorovadz (barbecue), cheese, peppers, lunch meat, sesame seed dessert things, and hard candy. Anytime I stopped eating, she pointed at my food and said “Ker!” which is essentially the equivalent of “Eat!”

The Meghri city sign, with the faint outline of mountains in the background

For the most part, the rest of the ride was filled with me sleeping or just closing my eyes so that I wouldn’t feel like I wanted to throw up. I’m not usually one to get carsick, but whipping around those windy mountain roads in a marshrutka is enough to freak out even my stomach. Plus, it’s a little disconcerting to see the little gravestones lining the roads from cars that almost certainly fell off the side… I’d rather not think too hard about how much I trust the marshrutka drivers. The one benefit of keeping my eyes open was that the view was beautiful. The mountains were just the right amount of snow-covered, and the sky was clear and blue… so I switched between forcing my eyes to stay open and look out the window and closing them so I wouldn’t feel nauseous.

You kind of feel a sort of kinship with the other people on the marshrutka on those long trips.  I felt like we were all on a grand adventure together. The ride is also very entertaining because people on the marshrutka will drop off bags of stuff with people who are waiting on the side of the road. One woman hailed a taxi in a town along the way and asked it to take a bag of stuff to a village nearby. The coordination that goes into those roadside handoffs is impressive. Also, the marshrutka will stop wherever you want it to, and sometimes, people get off in what seems like the middle of nowhere. After one woman got off, the driver asked her if she was sure because there was literally nothing around. Anyway, it’s all very interesting.

Kelsey said she’d meet me in the center of town, and I was worried that I wouldn’t know where that was. Hehe. Worrying not necessary. I knew when we were entering Meghri, and as soon as we pulled up somewhere that had a little plaza in the middle of a roundabout, there was no question that I was in the right place. Kelsey was there when I got off, and we spent the rest of the day hanging out, eating pizza (actually pretty good!), and roaming around town a bit. My major Meghri adventures happened the next day, but I’ll save that story for the next post

Meghri at night