I said my final goodbyes to Irina, her husband Stepan and their good friend Armen. When you’re with your backpack, hellos and goodbyes become the norm. However, the blue sunny skies greeting me already foreshadowed what was to be a smooth, beautiful and crisp sunny day.
Irina from Iris Guesthouse had already made careful arrangements to get me to Vanadzor (previously known as Kirovakan).
She warned me not to stop any Marshrutka (shared minibus) that might pass by. Ashot knew exactly who to stop for and where.
Undoubtedly, the wracked old Communist remnant pulled to the side of the road and picked me up rapidly. I was barely inside the vehicle, the door was still open when he switched gears and I easily found my seat in the back of the bus as determined by the law of motion. It took me a minute to find a comfortable seat with the bumpiness that would last the whole 1h15m. It was expected that younger passengers will get the back seats. Elderly ladies were in the front of the mini bus and the two spots next to the driver seemed to be reserved for men. This was just a mere observation but I’m quite certain this is the case. Armenian Pop music, as well as the Debed River and snow capped hills accompanied this 45 minute 500 dirham ride to Vanadzor.
I had gotten clear instructions of my options at the bus station on how to get to Gyumri. Not wanting to wait 2 hours for the next bus to leave, I opted for the private shared taxi service. There was still some time to wait which gave me the chance to mingle with the bus and taxi drivers and take some photos.
They filled my ears with obscene jokes and urged me to put an ugly photo of their friend on Facebook. I agreed, but told them I will choose which one to include. After 30 minutes, I went back to Sergey, the taxi driver who was shouting “Gyumri, mi hokee” (one more person).
Unfortunately, only one other passenger agreed to go during the time I was socializing. Valuing my time since I would only have a few hours in Gyumri, I offered 3500 to get the car on the road. It worked and we were off.
With Aragats Mountain to the left, green hills abound, and refusing Sergey’s invitation and telling him repeatedly that I have to visit his little vineyard next time I’m in town, we arrived to Gyumri.
Gyumri (previously known as Alexandropol and Leninakan). In 1988 the region suffered a devastating earthquake which has left a somber atmosphere amongst the locals. But today I witnessed a generation of hopeful, smiling and beautiful souls proudly cherishing their beloved city.
During my walk and improper photo shoot with Armen, we spoke about generational differences, some history and our interest in photography. Armen is studying film and was actually at work. He made it possible to take a 45 minute break and spend some time with me. I’m so grateful.
It was definitely coffee or lunch time so I sat to recharge over ponchik and coffee. With my luck, non sarcastically said, a group of about thirty 6-year olds and their teachers came in after their field trip. We of course had a blast and took some pictures and enjoyed our puffy custard or Nutella filled pastries.
Meanwhile, Armen went to work but still kept in touch with me to make sure I’m ok. He even hooked me up with a comical character named Manvel who drove me to Marmashen monastery.
The monastery, is located in the Shirak Province near Gyumri and is built in the 10th c. The historical landmark has three standing churches built with apricot colored “toof” rock and two visible ruins.
After some asanas and a photo shoot with spectator mother and amateur photographer daughter who were selling trinkets near the church, I had to explain to them that I was not a championed yogi, which they concluded because of my imperfect handstands.
This day had gone completely how I had not planned it and I am so happy it didn’t. Being open to these experiences only provided me with these individuals and serendipitous situations. I was blessed, did a quick candle lighting and had to say more goodbyes.
As I went to pick up my backpack from Armen’s workplace, he escorted me to the taxi stand. I got in a shared taxi and hit the road.
For the first time since I’ve landed in Armenia the sun has decided to make its glorious presence felt. The light at 5:30pm was decadent and all I wanted to do was ask the driver to drop me off there. I was willing to pull out my thumb and hitch a ride. I should’ve. I could’ve. I didn’t.
I wanted to soak up the light hitting Mount Ararat, forcefully standing in Turkish soil. I wanted to stare at it until I could no longer see its snow capped peak in the darkness. But instead I reflectively took my place in the front seat and did not dare bend down to take out my camera to take a proper shot of it, because it was not the day.
Today, it was me and this natural wonder, separated by a cracked, dirty tinted windshield. Today was the day I yearned to be closer to it, sit down and meditate next to it and soak up the energy of our national symbol. Today also reminded me why I am here and why I should take in every second of this experience. It will be my goal to say hello to Ararat the next 7 days that I am here from various vantage points. This time I will take out my lens cover and show her to you. Till then…