torsdag 24. mai 2012

The mist-ery of Tatev


Armenia is a country of spectacularly situated houses of worship. And the Tatev Monastery might just be the most spectacular of them all. 

The pictures on the web leave no doubt:

Creative commons-bilde av Alexander Naumov
Tatev on a clear day. Wikimedia Commons: Alexander Naumov
The monastery complex, that was built as early as 895-906 AD, has been put so dramatically in nature - balancing right above a vertical cliff - that the myth about how it got its name, gets an extra potency.

It says that the architect could not manage to climb down after he completed the cupola of the main church, and that in his desperation he shouted: "Togh astvats indz ta-tev" meaning "may God give me wings".

As a tourist in Armenia you can easily overdose on churces. But the photos left me without doubt. I was going to see Tatev.

That made the town Goris only 35 kilometers away a natural base. Bradt Guides describes it as "the most attractive town of southern Armenia", but everything is relative. At least when the fog and drizzle lay thicker than the smoke from old Soviet lorries in a long uphill.

That makes Goris a dirty, dismal town of Poor Armenia, with packs of skinny street dogs and wheel tracks as dirt stains on the asphalt. At night things gets even gloomier. Deserted streets with dreary apartment blocks, barely any street lights, and mud, gravel and pot-holed asphalt. At least, one of the restaurants was open. It looked like a class room decorated for a graduation ceremony. Then it was goodnight. That comes early on a foggy autumn day in Goris. Luckily.

An almost clear moment in the city park of Goris.
So what do you do, when the fog is as tight as a sausage also next morning? There can be no views from Tatev in such conditions.

I went nonetheless. What else could i do? Stay in Goris? 

The taxi driver did not hesitate. He was stearing past loose rocks and landslides, rolling down windy hills without railings with switch for the the gas engine on "off". I was crossing my fingers for two things: That we would stay on the road, and that the sky would clear.

One of my wishes came true. But at we reached Tatev, the clouds laid just as low as ever, if not lower.

Before long I was not so sure if it really mattered. Because the atmosphere was just as tight.

Tatev in fog. The main church's cupola is just visible.

An empty monastery, now almost invisible. Empty stone halls with no lights. Moist khachkars lying on the ground or leaning to the walls.

And the church had a mass. Red candles burning in a bin, two priests with deep voices and the same number of choir boys answering in high-pitched voices. .The smell of incence. And outside the fog was so thick that grey balls of it drift in every time someone opens the door. As incence too.

And the chanting. Clear. For the priests I guess that's more important that what the panoramic views look like.

You should also read my blog about Armenia's traditional memorial stones, khachkars

The market in Goris. Ladas are still the most popular car...
One of the lovely side streets of Goris.

onsdag 23. mai 2012

Orosi Valley: Real Nano tourism

High above the Orosi valley lives Nano, the hospitality himself.
God must have been in a rabid mood when he created Orosi. Here, there are almost no such thing as a level space; the landscape is like a green mural painted on the steep walls of the valley. The only way to get some overview of the dirt roads, coffee plantations and minor settlements, is actually to view it from great height on the other side of the walley.

That way you can point out most places in the vicinity. But not the house of the man that this post is about. Even then his house escapes from view.
The coffee farmer Nano lives in a house he has built himself, high up one of the  side valleys that wind steeply up from the centre of Orosi. Even the canyon's only almost-sight (except Nano himself), a 30 meter high waterfall, drops down from its edge almost a hundred meters below the two story house.

At Nano's place bold hillsides quiet the sounds of cars, dogs and the bustle from town. It is not a place where the average car tourist in the Orosi valley stops by.
Landscape near the Orosi valley. Steep, as everywhere in the area.

If you stay one week at the Montaña Linda language school, priorities becomes different. Then you most likely have no rental car and seven mornings or afternoons to kill. You have time for the small sights, those spots that never make it into the guidebooks.

Sometimes, those are the very places that result in the fondest memories. At least, that's the case with Nano.

I doubt that he has a lot of education. Rich he is not. That puts no limit to the hospitality he shows visiting gringos.

Already in the cross of two paths at the opposite side of the brook, Nano comes out to meet us, together with two of the three dogs that share his forest paradise (like "all" Costaricans he have found them on the street).

He invites us to sit around one of the tables on the terrasse, offers bananas (from bunches hanging from hooks under the roof) and coffee, before he begins his routine.

He talks like a rapid while gesticulating with two hands that clearly show that he is a man of the earth. He tells about bananas (- There are 500 types of them in the world. On my farm alone I have 10.), animals, nature and history, and browses through a pile of coffee bags informing us which ones are good and which ones are not, but in dire need of milk, sugar or whisky before consumption.

- Export, says Nano about coffee made from first grade beans.

- Pffhhssss, he whistles to the worst bags, pointing thumbs down.

Peasants like him drink only fourth grade coffee - made from beans that were harvested while still green (finally they have to be picked, and laid in the sun in a last attempt to mature them) - and that has a sour taste. Therefore sugar is added to the coffee already in the bag.

- I drink Rey. It's fourth grade, but OK. We should have had whisky, that makes it better, but I am out of it, he smiles.

After that deeply personal introduction to coffee he show us around his house. It is huge, with two bedrooms downstairs and three upstairs, all of the top rooms complete with bunk beds with matresses.

- That was to little use. The cats have slept in them, he laughs.

Kitchen, the only place with running water.
His plan is to open a hostel. He just have to finish building the house. Complete with all the cons that tourists need although he himself can manage perfectly well without. Like tap water in the bathroom, not only in the washing-up area in the kitchen. And electric power. That he will get from solar panels or a mini power station in the creek, as it will be way to expensive to lay cables all the way from the valley floor.

- For me it's not necessary. But for the tourists it is, he explains.

It has become too late for any work this afternoon. Instead Nano finds cues and we move the protection from his billiard table.

We are deep in the woods, inside imprenetable native forest and bold plantations. A chicken sits in the tree outside. We play billiard on a table that is almost level.

- Feliz navidad, Nano says every time one of us miss spectacularly. When it is time for the black ball, he lets me win.

I have my doubts regarding his hostel, so far away from and above roads and civilization. The same goes with his business skills. But one thing is clear: It would be hard to find a kinder host.

Nano makes a fire in the kitchen, to make coffee.

This could very well be Orosi's only billiard hall.

A clearing in the hills where he intend to plant coffee.