October 19, 2012
Dear Friends and Neighbors around the World,
In southern Armenia, I was determined to get a glimpse of Lake Sevan. And maybe have a coffee on the shores. I accomplished both goals, but in a surprising manner.
I drove north from Yeghegnadzor, through the Yeghegis Valley and then through the Selim Mountains, over the Selim Pass (2410m – 7907 ft). As I descended from the pass I got my first sighting of Lake Sevan. In the distance the water seemed an unusual shade of light blue.
Lake Sevan is the largest lake in Armenia and the Caucasus region. It is one of the largest fresh-water high-altitude lakes in the world (1900m - 6234 ft above sea level). The lake itself is 940 km2 – 363 sq mi and the volume is 34.0 billion cubic meters. This is a very big lake, and one of the three so-call “great lakes” of the old Armenian Kingdom. Lake Van is now in eastern Turkey and Lake Urmia is in northwestern Iran.
The town of Martuni sits astride Lake Sevan but the shore was not visible from town. I pulled into the town square, unfolded my map to ask directions. Mind you, I don’t speak a word of Armenian, but I hoped that the map and my gestures would overcome any difficulty.
A middle-aged man approached my car and I “explained” the problem. He pointed me in the proper direction. I thought that he indicated that down the road I would find a traffic circle or an intersection at which point I would turn right towards the lake.
(I exaggerated a bit regarding my non-existent language skills. I do know six words in Russian including how to say “right” and “left” and everyone in the Caucasus speaks some Russian.)
I drove down the road, and down the road, and down the road. When I got to the next town I figured I missed my turn. Just as I was about to make a U-turn, I spotted flashing lights in the rear view mirror. The lights were insistent. There were no police markings or any official designations on the car behind me so I was hesitant to stop. Some bystanders on the street also signaled me to pull over, so I did.
Who approached my car? To my surprise, the man from the town square!
Apparently he watched my progress when I left him and saw that I missed the turn, or else he just followed me. He indicated, with a big smile, that I should turn around and follow him to the lake.
My guide stayed with me at the lake while I took my photos. I thought that I should compensate him in some way for his help. But he was driving a late model Volvo, not a taxi, and he was quite well dressed. I decided that I would insult him if I offered him money. So instead, I suggested we go back to town and have a coffee or a drink. He absolutely refused!
In a firm but friendly tone I understood him to ask me to follow him again. At the very end of his explanation he used a word that I deduced might mean “home.” So I followed him through town to the entrance of his home.
My new friend must have phoned his wife en route because she greeted me at the door, led me into a spacious sitting room, and offered Armenian coffee and a platter of fresh fruit!
So, let me introduce my new friends, Ashot and Rima Hakobyan. They live here in Martuni and have one son and two daughters. They were proud to announce that their elder daughter is married and living with her husband and son in Madrid.
We had a delightful time together, especially when we determined that Rima and I know a little German. When she served a plate of a multi-layered pastry, I asked, “Selbstgemacht?” Home made? She explained that her neighbor had baked the cake.
For about an hour we discussed family, professions, travels, age!, and a variety of personal statistics. It was clear that Rima and Ashot were pleased to entertain me, even excited to have me as their guest.
Then came another surprise. Rima went to her computer and using Skype she started a video chat with her daughter Angelica in Spain. Rima insisted I also speak with her. So I did, in Spanish! We discussed family and travels. Angelica mentioned she thought my Spanish was excellent.
As I was leaving, reluctantly for all of us, Rima asked if I had a Facebook account. I gave her the details.
Ashot pointed me to the route out of town and this time I succeeded. I drove up the mountains and through the Selim Pass once again. And just as I cleared the pass, I found another symbol of hospitality, but this one is centuries old: the Selim Caravanserai built in 1332.
In the Middle Ages, the caravanserai were placed along the overland trade routes. They provided room and board for the merchants and their beasts of burden. They are spaced about 40k – 25 mi apart or about a day’s journey. (Think Holiday Inns on an Interstate highway.)
The Selim Caravanserai displays lovely exterior sculptures and inscriptions attesting to the contributions of the local rulers and builders. The chamber has a central trough for water and “beds” carved from the stone for the animals, large and small.
The Caravanserai has a spectacular view of the mountain valley below. Travelers surely appreciated and welcomed the hospitality of this formidable rest stop.
I also welcomed the sight of my Guest House when I returned to Yeghegnadzor. My hosts are generous and the dinner they prepared for me was the perfect ending after a long day’s drive.
After dinner I turned on my computer to check my mail. The final surprise of the day? Angelina in Madrid wants to be my “friend” on Facebook!