Interested in seeing more of the “real” Armenia outside the reaches of Yerevan, we decided to head south to Tatev in the direction of Armenia's border with Iran. The journey there comes in two parts: a marshrutka (minibus) from Yerevan to Goris (4-5 hours) and a dilapidated 1950s school bus from Goris to Tatev (1.5 hours). Though the trip to Goris was relatively uneventful, we were amazed that the bus to Tatev actually winds and finds its way up hills, across meadows and in and out of a switchback-framed gorge – each and every day in one piece, rain or shine.
Tatev's main draw, the Tatev Monastery (9th-14th centuries), has stood mocking nature on a cliff's edge over a deep gorge for almost 1000 years. We had free reign to wander, climb walls and staircases and make the place our own. Free to explore, we felt like kids again. Tatev Monastery's simple beauty won us over – it proved our favorite site in Armenia.
Tatev: Donkey Days and Crazy Kids
Continuing to explore the village, we encountered Ruzanna collecting evening greens for her donkey. Sensing our interest in her photogenic beast of burden, she invited us on our first donkey ride. Dan's feet dragged. Not quite to scale, the donkey hardly offered a prodigious view. While the rest of us were amused, the donkey wasn't. He eventually halted in protest and began to poo.
After touring the town on our beast of burden, we stumbled on the village church and were surrounded by a group of curious kids in summer evening small-town boredom. At first, they were a bit suspicious, not sure what to make of us. A few waves and “barev” (hello in Armenian) from us prompted endless shouts of “Hello! Hello!” This was as much excitement as this side of town had seen in years.
In their excitement, the kids literally ran circles around us. After a photo and video session, they insisted we go inside the church. No one could find the light switch – it was pitch black inside. Undeterred, they led us each around by hand, showing us different altars and paintings in the dark, explaining everything in Armenian. The fact that we didn't understand (or see) a thing didn't seem to matter. We all had fun.
File Under “Small World”
After rolling every last bit of food out of the cupboard for us in a late afternoon snack (feast, really), our hostesses in Tatev asked us where we were from. To avoid complexity, we said San Francisco, the last place we lived in the U.S. Turns out that the woman's daughter now lives near San Francisco. Photo albums chronicling her visits to the Bay Area seemed to outline our past – San Francisco, Monterey, Carmel, and Berkeley. We were surprised to find a keyhole to our past in a tiny mountain village in Armenia. It's another sign that the world is not flat, just compressed.
Unable to secure a seat on the return bus the next morning, we balanced ourselves on metal milk containers and bounced our way around tight curves and steep cliffs to arrive in Goris.
Although the ride to Tatev can be a bit uncomfortable and long, it offers an unusual experience and beautiful scenery. It is well worth the effort (and sore bottom) to seek out this peaceful and pleasant little village tucked away in Armenia's southern hills.
Tatev Transport and Accommodation
- How to get there: Catch a marshrutka to Goris at the station behind Gum/Rassiya on Tigran Mets Street in Yerevan (5,000 Drams). From Goris, take the 3:00 daily bus to Tatev (500 Drams). Arrive early to get a seat. The bus returns to Goris every day at 9 AM.
- Where to stay: We stayed at B&B Lena and John. Comfortable, good food, and nice hosts. 3500 AMD/person includes heaping amounts of food – snacks on arrival, dinner and breakfast. Give them a call and they will meet you at the bus stop – +374 (284) 97392
- What to do: Visit the monastery, hang out with the local children, and hike in the hills.