Monasteries are not on the top of my sightseeing lists. When we first started off on our trip they were interesting to look at, just like any old historical thing. But after having everyone east of Trabzon try to sell their big, small, new, ancient, miracle, and cave monasteries to me, I’d heard and seen enough to know I never need to see another painted engraving, fresco or stone carving of saints again. Just bring me to your local abandoned factory and I’ll be happy…
So when, on one fateful afternoon, we picked up two hitchhikers in Armenia and they said they were headed to a monastery, I kind of wanted to poke myself in the eyes with a fork. But their ultimate goal in Armenia was the same as ours (the Iranian border), and we had done almost no real sightseeing in the country, so we figured we’d join them and then all sail to the border together.
They were headed to Tatev Monastery, a religious complex built on the edge of a cliff in southern Armenia during the 9th century. It was an important religious and cultural hub throughout most of its early history, then over the years it was raided and looted multiple times, and finally it was seriously damaged by an earthquake in the early 1930s. Now it’s a hot sightseeing destination. To facilitate tourist access to the remote mountain plateau, the government has even built the “Wings of Tatev” which, at 5.7km long, is officially the world’s longest non-stop double track cable car. Exciting!!
Normally the cable car and monastery boast breathtaking views of the surrounding green mountains. On this day, however, the entire region was shrouded in some of the thickest fog I’d ever seen in my life. Fog so thick, it could only be called a cloud.
And while normally I think monasteries are incredibly boring, this big old brown brick church looked AMAZING in the fog. It’s as if we’d been transported to Scotland or Ireland or some other misty, foggy place I’ve never been. The best time to visit a monastery is when you can’t actually see the thing.
On our way out we saw a Lithuanian couple who drove all the way to Armenia in their 4×4 jeep (pussies!). They even had matching “Lietuva” zip-up jumpers…. maybe Mook and I should invest in some for Deutschland too?!
It was time to make the two (three? four?) hour trek south towards the border, but Jagger was hungry and we needed to find some petrol. The town of Tatov lay just 200 metres away somewhere in the fog, but where? We tried one road and saw a bunch of dudes. Mook unrolled the window and asked “Benzin?” One of the guys pointed some directions, then ran ahead of our car, leading us down muddy, narrow alleys. He stopped us in front of a house that happened to have barrels of the stuff just waiting in the yard. One of the kids filled up some buckets and fed it into Jagger’s gullet through a homemade funnel.
Neighbours came to watch and everyone, including us, thought it was funny.
Then we were on our way through the fog…