I had been volunteering in Yerevan for about two months and I had very much enjoyed my time but I was yearning for something more. It is difficult for an adventurer to be content in the confines of a concrete jungle. The idea of following in the physical footsteps of my ancestors, seeing the landscapes and villages of Armenia as they exist today, whilst meeting and educating children along the way captivated me.
I gathered my supplies and equipment, trying to leave behind as much as I could, and headed out the door. After meeting my fellow walkers and a pleasant send off at the American Peace Corps Office, we hopped into a trusty marshrutka for the long journey south. We arrived in Shvanidzor, a village that rests right by the Iranian border, just before sundown. Two local girls playing in the street helped us find the school and the principal welcomed us with hot coffee and sweet cherries. Our first lesson was experimental but went well, thanks to the group of curious children. When I threw my pack on for the first leg of the hike my shoulders tensed up under the weight. I knew an arduous challenge lay before me. However, I was not alone. We were nine walkers but one team.
On our third day, our unaccustomed muscles were questioning each step when a truck delivering ice cream stopped next to us. After a quick exchange, the driver opened up the back, handed us ice creams and asked if there was anything else he could help with. After arriving at a school one wet afternoon, the smiling principal showed us a tree bearing yellow cherries of a rare variety. He broke off a few branches for us and told us to do the same whenever we desired a sweet escape. Generosity exists in its purest form when a fellow human shares the little that they possess with a person they barely know and asks nothing in return. Border 2 Border revealed to me a glimpse of human generosity that exists around the world.
As we entered villages, towns, cities, general stores and schools, the curiosity of the locals were evident. People and children were happy to speak to us, meet us, share information, tell us we were crazy and ask us all sorts of questions. It was always pleasant to see the shocked face of someone who had just learned that we had walked from Meghri. The conversations and observations throughout the journey brought me new insights into the lives of villagers, modern day Armenians, the issues that they faced and the joys that they cherished. A great deal of our interactions was with the children of each place we visited. Prior to our classes, we’d throw around the frisbee with the students, which always brought out smiles and laughter. The classes were a fun way to engage with the children, observing what they already knew, discovering the diversity of personalities and schoolyard politics that exist in all schools around the world. I hope that we inspired many children to think differently and to consider new perspectives.
Early mornings, simple lavash wraps, active lessons, long hikes under sweltering heat, cards and music by night before falling into a slumber wherever I lay. Over the three week journey, I fell into a routine but it was far from mundane thanks to my hilarious, tough, intelligent and amazing companions. Waking up knowing that a new majestic landscape awaited me added to my motivation. We began in the rugged and dry mountains close to Iran. We stayed atop the green, the chilly and windy peak of the Meghri Pass. We floated through the rocky cliffs and jagged mountains past Kajaran. Our eyes remained in awe no matter which way we looked. Comfort was restored as the buildings and fountains of Kapan greeted us. We departed the abundance of life in the city once more and found ourselves on the forgotten road to Tatev. The wet deterred us from hiking but not from movement, as bobbed along the rough terrain past Verin Khotanan in indestructible Soviet-built 4WD Nivas. The ancient Tatev Monastery sat atop the vast gorge in a commanding position, difficult to spot from a distance. The flooded canyon beneath the Devil’s Bridge withheld a calcified cave of wonder, where the geothermal waters flowed beneath the bone-like stalactites. Later we went from the depths of the gorge to sailing above it on the cutting edge Wings of Tatev cablecar. We left behind Tatev and traversed through luscious green hills towards Sisian. Every crest acted as a cliffhanger before the next amazing horizon could be seen. We passed through the plains of the Sisian region, home to hills in the distant horizon. Valleys, waterfalls, rivers, wild cherries and mulberries, ancient churches, thunder and lightning, and wildflowers guided us during our last legs to the end point, Yeghegnadzor. It was unbelievable to think back to the day we set out from Yerevan. We had covered more distance in that one drive than in our entire three weeks of hiking. However, in our three weeks of hiking the South route of Border 2 Border, we had seen every detail of the nature around us and gained so much more.