Southern Tour

This past week was fall break for the schools in Armenia, and I used it as an opportunity to travel around my marz (Syunik) to see other volunteers and explore some new cities. I went with two other volunteers that live around Sisian and started on a Saturday, not knowing how far we would get on the first day. We ended up getting all the way down to Agarak, a town on the border with Iran.

So close, yet so far...

It provided a great view of the other side of Iran (we even saw a mosque in one of the towns) and the city itself was enjoyable. We had a great dinner at a cafe that played an entire CD of Joe Cocker’s greatest hits – not what I would have expected, but pleasant nonetheless.

The plan for the entire trip was to have no plan, and this first day was no exception. We had no idea where we were going to stay. Lucky for us, one of the volunteers we met up with had just moved out of her host family’s house and into her own apartment. We had a nice little house-warming party (there were only five of us), but apparently the neighbors didn’t enjoy our 1:00 am dance party. So instead of staying a second night, we went to Meghri, a short taxi ride east along the border. We explored the town a bit and ate dinner at the house of a relative of a PCV’s host family. That night we stayed in a hotel for about $11 and took an early marshutni to Kapan, the capital of the region. Similar activities followed in this city, and since one of the days was the birthday of a fellow travele, we had a very good time. It included karaoke, a number of cafes around the city, and some late night french toast.

One interesting experience in Kapan that I haven’t had anywhere else was the number of people who spoke Russian to us. We quickly requested that they speak Armenian to us, and they always obliged. It would have been very nice to have learned some Russian during out language training since many people assume we speak the language and just about everyone here speaks it.  In fact, when me and my travel partners stayed the night in a village outside of Kapan, the host mother of the house spoke very little Armenian. What she did know in Armenian was usually heavily influenced by the local dialect and came out with a heavy Russian accent, making it one of the most challenging linguistic experiences of my service thus far.

Learning the Russian alphabet with an Armenian host mom

Though an extreme example, her cross of Russian and Armenian is pretty indicative of how the two languages have mixed here. There are a number of words and phrases that people don’t even realize are Russian, and when I point it out and ask  for the Armenian word, it’s funny to see that they don’t even know it. It’s especially common among food items and clothing. I almost never hear kartofil or lolik (potato and tomato) – it’s always kartoshka and pomidor.

But I digress. After Kapan, one PCV departed for his village and the other and I went to Goris. An A17 had recently moved into a nice apartment there, and we ended up staying for three nights. We cooked some good meals, watched movies, and generally just relaxed.

Saturday night, we returned to the caves outside of Goris for a Halloween celebration. It included a picture scavenger hunt and ended with rain later in the night. It continued until the next day when we had to make a 40 minutes hike to the marshutni up a muddy road. That rain turned into snow about halfway up, making the walk almost comically wet and miserable.

I made it back to site yesterday and promptly took a shower. It was a great trip, but sleeping on floors and in caves for a week wears you out. I slept twelve hours last night. Back to school tomorrow!


2 thoughts on “Southern Tour

  1. You are a real trooper Joel! The perfect example of a
    Peace Corps Volunteer..but this is your mother’s opinion
    of course. I am glad you are exploring your new country and making good friends in the process. What a wonderful
    experience. I am always so happy to hear that you have had a warm shower and a good night’s sleep. Some things never change.

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