Transcending Limits: A Journey Across Armenia
About a year ago, 15-year-old Ardavasd Ardhaljian decided to walk the length of Armenia. Not for any particular cause he wanted to champion and certainly not for the attention. He simply wanted to test himself, to test the limits of his endurance and to prove, without preaching, his theory that the only limits people have are the ones they create for themselves.
When he announced his decision to walk 500 kilometers from Meghri, Armenia’s most southern city to the most northern city of Gyumri, his parents weren’t enthusiastic about allowing him to do it alone but they were determined to help him realize his decision. His father accompanied him from Meghri to Yerevan and then his mother took over from there and walked with her son to Gyumri.
“Having them around to talk to made the pain (blisters) go away because I wouldn’t think about it as often,” Ardavasd says. “And because I got a lot of blisters, we talked a lot, therefore I learned a lot about them.” And after walking 500 kilometers, Ardavasd says that he also learned a lot about himself; he learned that he could “take more.”
CivilNet asked Ardavasd to document his journey across Armenia where he met beekeepers who knew how to handle their vodka and learned that a rooster could very possibly be more valuable than an iPhone.
Day 1 (Sunday: Meghri)
We woke up at 7:00 a.m., had an amazing homemade breakfast (eggs, jam, butter, tea, bread, coffee). After breakfast me and my dad packed, grabbed our hiking sticks, filled up our water bottles and started walking. The hardest part of the day was the first five minutes. All I could think about was, “Wow, I am about to walk 500 kilometers. Can I do it?” But after a while I said to myself, “Wow, I only have 495 to go. I got this.”
We took our midday break at around 11:00 a.m. The sun was way too high up. We bought a bag of mulberries from a couple of kids, had a couple of the sandwiches my mom made, and slept from 12:00 – 3:00 p.m. The rest of the day went by fast. At 7:00 p.m., a dog started following us and did so for the next hour. At 8:30 p.m. it started getting dark and it began to drizzle. The closest village was at least 4 kilometers away and off course. We decided to test our luck and continue walking on the highway in hopes of finding a camp site.
Annoyed. Tired. Excited.
Day 2 (Monday: Near Lichk)
My dad and I woke up at 7:00 a.m., had a couple of sandwiches, took the tent down and were about to leave when one of the beekeepers woke up, picked some fresh tea leaves and made us some tea. We talked for a bit, said our goodbyes and were on our way.
At 4:00 p.m we arrived in Kajaran, found a hotel, and passed out for the next two hours. We were too tired to explore Kajaran so we had dinner at the hotel (pasta, wings, veggies, and salad). We also enjoyed unlimited free drinks from the hotel. The Kajaran Hotel was probably the cheapest hotel I have ever stayed in. The room was 12,000 AMD (about $25 US) for the both of us. Dinner was 5000 AMD (about $10 US) and breakfast was 3000 AMD (about $6 US). After dinner, we went straight back to sleep.
Exhausted. Relieved. Pumped up.
Day 3 (Tuesday: Kajaran)
For breakfast we had an omelet and a couple of sandwiches. We were about to leave Kajaran when my dad decided to get rid of some unnecessary weight and ship it to Yerevan.I got rid of my sweatpants and my dad shipped most of his clothes, a 300 page hardcover book (that he thought he was going to read during our hike (not)) and some snacks.
HayPost opened at 8:50 a.m., so we had to start our hike later than usual. But, it was okay because we had time to spare. Kapan was only 20 kilometers away. We arrived in Kapan at around 3:30 p.m. But, by the time we got to the hotel it was 4:30. Let’s just say Kapan is a long city. We rested in our room for about an hour then had dinner with a friend of my dad’s at the hotel’s restaurant. Hrach, my dad’s friend, is the director of the Kapan Mines that produce gold, silver, copper and Molybdenum. He told us a lot about the mines and mining. Hrach also took us to where part of Karekin Njdeh’s remains are buried. After visiting the burial site, we went back to our room and back to sleep.
Interesting. Fun. Tasty.
Day 4 (Wednesday: Kapan)
My dad woke me up at 6:30 a.m. I took a shower, literally using a shower head that was sticking out of the bathroom sink. The shower area was the entire bathroom. Breakfast was refrigerated eggs and cheese from the night before because the hotel restaurant didn’t serve breakfast that early in the morning.
We headed out around 7:00 a.m. Today, we hiked up and down two and a half mountains so it was very tiring. But, for most of the hike we were walking through a forest so the scenery was nice. At around 7:00 p.m., my dad started to complain. He couldn’t take it anymore. His legs were in pain. Luckily we found a khorovadzanots on our way up the third mountain. We sat down, took our socks off. It took us a few minutes, but we realized we were in someone’s kitchen that was being used as a truck stop.
Melineh, the owner, offered us some madzoon (yogurt) and asked us to be patient because she was preparing food for her family and it would take about an hour for everything to be ready. My dad laid down on the couch. I, on the other hand, noticed a tavloo (backgammon) board and played tavloo with Souren, Melineh’s son. We played four games of the short version of tavloo and two games of the long version. The final score was 5-1. Souren beat me.
After our games, two Azeri-Iranian truck drivers walked in and started speaking in Turkish. Little did my father and I know, the family that lived at the truck stop also spoke Turkish. The table was set and the food was ready. To clarify, sitting at the table was me, my dad, two Azeri-Iranian truck drivers, Melineh, her daughter and three sons. Most of the conversations were in Turkish so even though my dad claims to know Turkish, we really didn’t understand much. After dinner, we asked if we could stay in one of the rooms and without hesitation they gave us a bedroom with two beds, which meant that Melineh’s kids were going to have to double up on beds. We passed out the second we laid down.
Interesting. Eye-opening. Fun.
Day 5 (Thursday: Halfway to Goris)
We woke up at 6:30 a.m., brushed our teeth at a natural water spring, left 10,000 dram on the counter for Melineh’s hospitality, and we were on our way. Interesting fact.
Melineh’s house is on the border of Artsakh and Armenia. Her side of the street is Armenia. The other side is Artsakh. The worst part of the day was halfway through our trek, we could already see Goris but we had to live with just ‘seeing it’ for 15 kilometers.
We had already decided to stay at the Mirhav Hotel in Goris because we had stayed there before and liked it. We were really tired when we finally got to the hotel but I had enough energy to run the last 200 meters.
We got to the hotel at around 5:30 p.m. They had one room left but we kind of freaked out when they said, “Would you like to see it first?” The receptionist took us to the fourth floor, to a room that when all three of us had stayed there before, there was no room to move. It was smaller than my bathroom. But, with no other choice, we took it.
We slept for a couple of hours and then had dinner with a couple of my dad’s friends from Sisian at Mirhav’s restaurant.
The service was slow but the food was excellent so it evened out. We also decided to take the next day off and sleep in because we were tired, had lots of blisters, and were ahead of schedule.
Day 6 (Friday: Goris)
Sleep. Breakfast. Sleep. TV shows. Sleep. Music. Lunch. Sleep. Movie. Sleep. Dinner. Sleep. Movie. Sleep. That sounds about right.Movies: Chappie, Big Hero 6.
Lazy. Fun. Vegetable.
Day 7 (Saturday: Goris)
We woke up at 6 a.m., brushed our teeth, washed up, had breakfast, and we were on the road by 6:45 a.m. We did the usual. Walked until around 1:00 p.m. We took a break until 3:30 p.m. and arrived at Shaki at 5:30 p.m. We stopped at a motel near the entrance to Shaki. At 6:30 p.m., one of my dad’s friends from Sisian called and invited us to a cookout on the riverbank. He sent us a taxi, which took us down to the river. Mesrop, my dad’s friend, also brought his wife and his father, who is a Karabagh war veteran, and a couple of friends and one of his friend’s son. We grilled chicken and lamb and boiled fish in river water. Most importantly we drank peach-flavored vodka. The food was amazing. We had a blast. Mesrop’s dad was the oldest person with us so he was responsible for the toasts and before every toast he would say, “Mek kayl arach” (One step forward) or “Yevus mek kayl arach” (Another step forward). At one point everyone was singing patriotic songs, Dashnaktsakan songs.
That is when I got a little bored and then the other kid and I took a bottle and matches and went to burn vodka. It eventually got dark so we cleaned up and went back to the hotel. Sadly, our hotel didn’t have wi-fi but at least there were outlets to charge our phones.
Day 8 (Sunday: Shaki)
At 9:00 a.m. we passed the halfway mark to Yerevan, 192 kilometers.4 km from Saravan.Stayed at family run restaurant/motel.
Day 9 (Monday: Near Saravan)
7:00 a.m. departure. Lunch in Vayk.Arrived in Yeghegnadzor.
Day 10 (Tuesday: Yeghegnadzor)
Areni wine tasting. We arrived in Zankagatun at 6:30 p.m. It was getting dark. We were tired and we had no where to stay. Near the entrance of the village, we met a family having dinner in their yard. We asked if they knew if there were any hotels in town or if anyone was willing to rent a room or house. They had no idea but one of the family members took us to a local market.
On our way there, we met a few old guys playing blot. We asked if they knew if anyone was willing to rent a room or house. One of them stepped up and said he had a house to rent. We went to the market and bought some bread, sausage, juice and a tomato. Almost. Village life.
Day 11 (Wednesday: Zankagatun)
Surenavan, Tigranashen, Barouyr Sevak. Yerask
Day 12 (Thursday: Ararat)
Today was the longest day by far. We walked 60 kilometers. We started a bit before Ararat and finished at my house in Yerevan. We made our afternoon stop in Ardashat, which was 30 kilometers from Yerevan. We had lunch at what seemed like the fanciest restaurant in Ardashat. I think the name of the restaurant was Ararat. I was really excited to get to Yerevan so I was listening to music all day and every once in a while I would dance to it, and drivers would honk their horn and smile at me.
We arrived at the Yerevan city limit around 7:00 p.m. My mom came to meet us there and she walked with me to our house. We arrived home at 11:30 p.m. We would have arrived sooner, but my mom …
Exhausted. Tired. Proud.
Rest in Yerevan
Day 17 (Tuesday: Yerevan)
My mom took my dad’s place as my travel companion. This was the first day walking with my mom and to be honest, I didn’t think she would make it.We left the house at 7:00 a.m. and around 10:00 a.m. we took our first break at a complex called Vanahovid, right after Vahakni, to rest for 20 minutes at a friend’s house. We had water, juice and watermelon at Klaris Kabakian’s house. We chit chatted a bit and were back on our way.
At around 2:00 p.m. we got to Ashtarak, had lunch at a café we go to a lot (Pascale and Diodato). We both had sandwiches and the best tan we have ever had. After lunch we walked around town in search of a hotel. After asking around a bit, a couple of people told us about a hotel near the center of town. But, it was kind of scary because even the local residents didn’t know if the hotel was still operating. We walked to the center and sure enough we found the hotel. We don’t really like judging a book by its cover, but we probably should have this time.
The Ashtarak hotel, an old Soviet-era building, is still operating but with limited space only on the third floor. There was one person operating the whole hotel: Sofik. “Does the hotel have running water,” we asked. “Anshushd jur ka,” said Sofik. But only enough for 15 minutes at a time. And, damn it was hotter than hell in the room.We rested for a couple of hours but couldn’t stand the heat so we went back to Pascale and Diodato for dinner. We ran into some friends who happened to be there for dinner too so we all ate together. I had a burger. Meh. After dinner we went back to hell and somehow went back to sleep in the heat of that room.
Hot. Slow (thanks to my mom).
Day 18 (Wednesday: Ashtarak)
Even though today was easy for me, my mom was basically dragging her feet the last couple of kilometers. A very interesting thing happened today. We were taking our midday break rest under a tree near Kosh, near a guy from Nerkin Bazmaberd, who was trying to hitch a ride back home. (It was only about 10 kilometers so I am not sure why he didn’t just walk.) Thirty minutes after we got there, he gave up on trying to hitch a ride and started talking with us. At one point I called my dad to ask him something and the guy from Nerkin Bazmaberd noticed my phone. He asked if he could see it. My mom gave it to him and he checked it out. When he was done, he asked how much the phone was worth and if we would sell it. My mom said that we weren’t selling the phone. He then suggested that we go back to his village with him and he would trade the phone for a rooster. My mom said she thought the rooster was probably more valuable.
There were some women selling vegetables a few meters away. They had come over while we were resting. When we woke up from our rest, they came back over and offered us some apples and peaches for the walk. They wanted us to take a whole bag of apples but that would have been too much weight to carry.
We started walking again after one of the women, Melo, told us that there was a motel some seven kilometers up the road. We walked, and walked, and walked. Ten kilometers or so later, there was a hotel but let me repeat myself… “there was a hotel.” The Narek restaurant/hotel complex had closed down some weeks or months ago according to someone who worked at the construction site close by who offered us some much needed cold water and told us that there was a truck stop with rooms about 10 kilometers up the road.
My mom was tired and in no condition to walk any further and suggested we hitch a ride to the truck stop. But, I was not going to cheat myself out of the 10 kilometers. We agreed that we would take a taxi to the truck stop and then have a taxi bring us right back to the spot we were at first thing in the morning.
It was a cozy truck stop/motel with one room. All we cared about was that the room had water and electricity. Alla and Raya, who run the truck stop, made us a delicious meal of chicken, french fries, salad, and bread and cheese. My mom made some sandwiches with the bread and cheese we didn’t eat and we put them in the refrigerator for the next time. After dinner we went to sleep. We were exhausted.
Day 19 (Thursday: Somewhere near Shamiram)
The taxi driver picked us up at 6:30 a.m., drove us back to the spot we left off on the night before, and we started walking. We stopped at Alla’s truck stop for a rest and an early lunch. There was a group of Spanish construction workers at the truck stop having, what looked like a coffee break, but it lasted an hour and a half.
We filled our water bottles and were on our way to Talin with a quick stop at the Katnaghpyur intersection for tan. We knew there was a restaurant/hotel complex near Talin called Msho Ojakh. Several drivers stopped to ask us if we wanted a ride. I think they were surprised (shocked) when I told them that I wanted to walk. When they asked me why, I said, “haves eh” (It’s cool). “Vonts vor oozes” (As you wish) they would say.
By the time we reached the complex, we were ready for dinner and sleep. But, all their rooms, well the one room they have for guests was occupied. So, we walked into Talin in hopes of staying at the Talin Hotel in the city center. But, when we got there, we realized that the Talin Hotel had closed some time ago.
We ran into a few police officers and asked if they knew of any hotels nearby. They said no. Then we asked if they knew of anyone who would rent a room. Some random guy overheard our conversation and said he knew someone who had rented rooms in the past. He called this guy who came to meet us to take us to the apartment. We got to the building. He opened the door. We walked in and some random guy (a friend of the owner’s I guess) walked in after us. Walls. Ceiling. Floor. Mildew. And a burnt bed. That was it. Nowhere to sleep. No blankets. No sheets. No anything.
My mom said, “Asi chlinelu (this isn’t going to work)” and we walked out, back to the city center and tried to find a cab. My mom called Alla and asked if the room was still available and it was so we headed back to the truck stop. Two nights in the same truck stop. We rested, washed some clothes, had dinner and went to sleep.
Day 20 (Friday: Somewhere near Shamiram, again)
The cab driver picked us up at 6:15 a.m. from Alla’s and drove us back to Talin and told us if we needed anything to call him.
Today’s walk was long, hot and dry and when I say dry, I mean no water. Although our water lasted the whole day, it is hard to believe that it did. When we reached Mastara, there were two gas stations. One of the gas stations had a bistro but it wasn’t open yet for the day and it didn’t have any water or anything else to drink. Just at the edge of town however before leaving Mastara there was a domik, which had a khorovodz manghal outside of it. It was 9 a.m. in the morning but the manghal was operating. Thank goodness the domik was a truck stop of sorts and restaurant. I ordered a kebab sandwich. We rested, ate, and were on our way to Maralik.
Mastara to Maralik was drier and hotter than Talin to Mastara. Not a single gas station, store or fruit seller along the way.
We were hoping we were not going to have to go back to the truck stop again tonight so my mom reached out to a few friends in the morning to ask if they knew anyone in Maralik who was willing to rent a room or if they knew of any hotels.
Luckily, my mom’s friend and former colleague Asqanaz saved the day. Basically, this is what happened. My mom SMS-ed Asqanaz, who called his friend Kolia, who asked his mom Melineh, who asked her friends Maro and Zabelle (two sisters) if we could stay at their house. They said yes and we did. Maro and Zabelle were wonderful hosts.
An interesting coincidence. Kolia’s wife Zara, who showed us to Maro’s and Zabelle’s house and had coffee with us at their house: While we were talking, Zara asked me where I go to school and when I said Kvant, she told me that the principal of my school is her uncle. (Maybe she can put in a good word for me because I didn’t do all of my summer homework.)
I slept all day and night while my mom enjoyed Maro’s and Zabelle’s company.
Day 21 (Saturday: Maralik to Gyumri)
We woke up early and so did Maro and Zabelle. They made us a wonderful homemade breakfast so that we wouldn’t be hungry on our last day. (They also called us twice while we were walking to see where we were. I can tell this is going to be a lasting relationship.)
I’m not going to write much about today. It was rather easy. We didn’t do much other than walk. When we arrived at the Gyumri sign we took pictures.
My mom said that she was proud of me and I could see tears in her eyes. Obviously I was also proud of myself but I guess I didn’t really show it at that moment.
I was thinking a lot. I was thinking about how this was the first time in my life that I actually did something big and that this was the most amazing experience of my life so far.