Slipping and sliding along as fully loaded with packs we maneuvered across the icy footpaths to the main square of Jermuk, it’s a chilly wait in the subzero temperatures before our ride arrives and soon enough the local minivan is weaving its way down the valley. As the sun rises ice crystals in the air perform a captivating flickering dance which has us appreciative of those little travel moments that combine into life long memories.
Dumped on the main road in Vayk we sat around for several hours waiting for a minivan to pass headed our way before giving up and sheepishly approaching the taxi drivers we’d earlier refused. Loaded into a taxi our man had his work cut out for him as we bump and bash our way over the worst road we’ve ever seen, bottoming out the rear suspension time after time as we near the pass to Goris. Gale force winds come hard and fast from the right and our beat up old car rocks back and forth with oncoming traffic doing the same as snow piles up on the tarmac. Snow from outlying fields is whipped across the road with visibility reduced to almost zero.
Stopping several times to ask oncoming vehicles with uncertainty if the road is open we proceed onwards with trepidation. Cars are running into banks of snow drift, others are moving forwards in a sideways positions whilst yet other cars had given up and simply pulled over. Having to get out to help push a car out of trouble the combination of slippery ice and 100/kph plus winds promptly puts Matt up in the air, landing with a thud on the ice.
As soon as we turn off and head downhill towards the small village of Halidzor the wind lets up and the blue skies return. Still there was no chance the Tatev Cableway, also known as Wings of Tatev and claimed as the world’s longest cable car, was going to be running its 5.7 kilometre length to the Tatev Monastery in these conditions.
The Harsnadzor Hotel, where we were planning to stay, appears all but closed down at this time of year. The café/restaurant is shut with maintenance works being completed, which bummed us out as the tables scattered around the property are great for enjoying the view over a beer or two. We’re in luck though as they still have their gorgeously simple barrel style wooden cabins open for occupancy. Precariously perched on the side of the cliffs we’re a little uncertain that we shan’t roll off the edge in the middle of the night, what with the gale force winds which return in the middle of the night with a vengeance.
Being out of season all restaurants within close vicinity have closed down though the folks at Harsnadzor will happily whip you up dinner (at a cost) and a breakfast of eggs, bread, cheese and fig jam with a cup o’ tea (all local and organic) is included in the price.
Being later in the afternoon we manage to hitchhike up to the cable station to find that it is in fact not running and at this stage of the afternoon the 12km return hike to Tatev is out of the question (especially once we’d peer down into the valley which we’d have to descend and reascend). Deciding to wait around for an hour and enjoy a beer the onsite restaurant is clear out of the amber liquid so it’s strike two for the day. Lucky for us we were about to get ambushed, Armenia style.
Opting to walk the 4.5km back down to the hotel its only minutes until a young local guy in a Lada Niva four wheeled drive pulls up and commands rather than asks us to get in. Before the door beings to swing shut a plastic bottle of homemade vodka appears as if from thin air (but was actually stashed in the rear door frame).
‘This one’s violently strong’
we agree, as our new found drinking buddy, who we shall call Bob, exclaims that he loves life and foreign people in his best broken English. Stopping in town for some supplies we’re scared that the teeny tiny town may well be dry of beer.
Eventually we hit the minor jackpot managing to scrape together three small beers each from out of the dark depths of a local store. The bottles are covered in so much dust we figure they must be a good vintage. Still, success. Making our way back into the valley on the way to what we thought was the monastery, the car is suddenly jerked off the road and we’re careening down a rocky dirt track.
‘Ehhh, what the fuck is going on now?’
Pulling up under a ruined monastery with a view down to the valley below our companion asks us if we’d like to smoke the ganja. Not waiting for a response he waves a handful of green buds in our face then skins one up and proceeds to blaze away without ever leaving the driver’s seat (we didn’t inhale…much). The rest of the afternoon is spent cruising around meeting his friends, drinking more vodka, eating fresh Armenian lavash bread and visiting sights such as the Devils Bridge and a small viewpoint out on a ridge where people tie fabric to a tree for good luck. We never did make it to the monastery.
Parting ways as the sun goes down we were looking forward to the pre-ordered dinner we were expecting to get stuck into back at the hotel. When we arrived however we discovered that between the changing shifts the message had not been passed on. In our half drunken state we end up sitting with the family owners in a small wooden room with two single beds crammed into it nodding and smiling over a cup of tea until we realise there’s no food coming. Back in our barrel we resort to eating cups full of muesli and water for dinner, not the first thing to come to mind after a few too many vodkas.
Relentless winds batter the cabin all night, a power outage results in a complete lack of heating and there’s inadequate bedding to compensate meaning it’s a restless night and the fear of toppling over the edge is ever present.
But the glorious morning views sweep away the tiredness as from the window it seems that the world slips way to the valley floor below. It’s one of the most magical places to wake up in Armenia meaning the mission to get here, the ambush and the resulting return trip were all worth the effort.
Getting to Halidzor
If you’re only coming here to visit Tatev’s cableway it’s still worth it and can be completed as a day trip from Yerevan. It’ll be a long day though it’s doable as we met several other travellers who’d done so (sorry, we have no other info on this!).
This part of Armenia is a lot less connected than the mid and north of the country. It’s even harder if your trip doesn’t originate in Yerevan like ours and adverse weather such as snow is going to slow your journey down as there are three major passes between Yerevan and the border with Iran.
From Jermuk we left at 7:30 in the morning (AMD500) on a minivan heading to Vayk where we sat on out bums for two and a half hours with not a single minivan to Goris passing by. Goris is the main point for connecting with a taxi to Halidzor, just 20 kilometers away. In the end we shuddered to think we’d have to get a taxi, so with some bargaining we got our driver down to AMD10,000 for the 110km drive all the way to the hotel.
NOTE: There were plenty of minivans which passed through Vayk to other destinations, and although we asked a few which said no we’re sure atleast a couple of them passed close to Goris and would have allowed a continuation via taxi/hitch hiking. With limited Russian and speaking virtually no Armenian we struggled to figure it out and we’re pretty sure the taxi drivers who kept telling us ‘This one doesn’t go to Goris’ weren’t on our side either….
Thanks for reading, if you’ve visited the area and have anymore tips on how to get here independently and on the cheap drop us a note in the comments below!
You can also check out our other blogs on Yerevan and day trips from Yerevan or head to Flickr to check out more of our travel pics from around the world. Oh and here’s the link to some of our Armenia pics on the Guardian’s Travel Snaps site!
Tips for Halidzor
- If you’ve visiting out of season book your stay at Harsnadzor Hotel on Booking.com for off season discounts. Twin, double, triple and quadruple rooms with shared bathrooms are available. The views are worth it and at the time of staying we paid AMD5,000 per person.
- The Wings of Tatev cableway is open from 10am – 6pm everyday except Monday, weather permitting.
t less connected than the mid to north of the country. It’s even harder if your trip doesn’t originate in Yerevan and weather like snow is going to slow any journey down as there are three major passes between Yerevan and the border.
From Jermuk we left at 0730 in the morning 500 AMD. Heading to Vayk we sat on out bums for two and a half hours with not a single minivan to Goris, the point of connecting with a taxi to Halidzor. In the end we shuttered to think we’d have to get a taxi, so with some bargaining we had him down to 10000 AMD for the 100km drive.
Tips for Halidzor and Tatev
- If you’ve visiting out of season book your stay with
NOTE: There were loads of minivans which passed through Vayk to other destinations which we’re sure passed close to Goris and would have allowed a continuation via hitch hiking. With limited Russian and speaking virtually no Armenian we struggled to figure it out. And we’re pretty sure the taxi drivers who kept telling us ‘This one doesn’t go to Goris….’ weren’t on our side either.