Armenic Proportions

Walking into Reza's was a lot like meeting the parents of your significant other for the first time—delightfully painful.

It's the kind of feeling you can never prepare for, but you know you have to deal with at some point down the road. I had never couch surfed before, which was not unlike several in our group visiting Yerevan. But nonetheless, I was a newbie—in limbo.

It wasn't so much the uneasiness of being in some stranger's house or encountering weird foreigners that were sharing the living space, it was the pure anxiety that came with the notion I was not going to sleep at all.

And I was right.

Reza is an early 20-something Iranian going to school at the American University. Besides the fact that the house rules state you must take your shoes off, everything else was very westernized. If I didn't already know I was 12,000 km from home, I would have guessed I was shacking at a frat house back home.

After two nights of being on the floor with fellow TLGers, random backpackers from Eastern Europe and Asia and Peace Corps kids, levels of exhaustion reached great heights—forcing the four of us from our group who hadn't already abandoned ship to do so. We retreated to another surfer's home a few blocks away, an Indian student named Sumit, who was equally as hospitable and entertaining but provided a much quieter setting.

Our days were mostly spent zigzagging the countryside; visiting old churches, graveyards, lakes and pagan sites built nearly a thousand years ago. It's always mind-numbing for me to think about how old stuff is in this part of the world but its everywhere, making it a delightful continuity since you see it on every turn.

Instead of relying on taxis or tour buses to get us to where we wanted to go outside of Yerevan, we decided to rent a marshultka, which was actually cheaper in the long run and also allowed us to catch up on the sleep we lost on the cold floor since we had room to spread out. Our driver's name was Roman, who actually preferred to be called Rafael for some reason and enjoyed playing us a mixture of Armenian and English pop songs...over and over again.

For three days Rafael drove us everywhere, including his home, where he fed us fresh fruit and coffee and even offered to let someone milk a cow (but no one did...thank God).

The second day we headed southwest to visit a church built on a well that housed the first supporter of Christianity in the country. For 13 years the "well guy" was forced by the king to live in the dark hole, where he survived only on the food that some village women provided him out of pity. It was said that years later he converted the country over to form the first state of Christianity...but don't ask me how.

I didn't climb all the way down the main well, as I was more intrigued by the mountainous landscape in the distance. From a ridge not far from the church, Mt. Ararat stood gallantly in a light blue backdrop of Turkey—flaunting its beauty to all who held a camera.

Ararat is in fact the mountain most religions believe Noah's Ark sits on. Looking at the white, ridged outlines on its side, all I could think of is R.E.M.'s "Man on the Moon."

"If you believe they put a man on the moon. If you believe there's nothing out there to see."

I'd like to believe there's something up there worth looking for. It kind of adds to the whole intrigue of a 16,000+ foot mountain.

It's interesting to note that every historical site we visited sported a U.S. Aid sticker somewhere in the vicinity. America is of course known for providing the service to countries across the world, but Armenia has an interesting relationship with the west since it holds great ties with Russia and Iran.

The added pressure of keeping a wedge between the two rocky states somehow obligates our government to fork up some extra dough to support its tourism. So, the next time you hear some politician ranting about social programs to cut, just remember Armenian churches and museums...and KFC/Pizza Huts.

Yerevan was the most cosmopolitan city I've seen thus far in the caucus states. The modern architecture and mixture of cultures has created an beautiful array of restaurants, night clubs and department stores in its centre.

Tbilisi may have more color, but Yerevan certainly has more trees...in a metaphorical sense of course.

Yer-e even has a few karaoke bars, which of course was one of my highlights of the trip (Kenny Rogers, The Beatles, Queen and George Michael if you were wondering).

I skipped out on the inevitably depressing Genocide Museum (remembering the 1915 Ottoman Empire onslaught on the Armenian people) tour and wandered the streets, finding another museum of manuscripts and a bookstore that housed a copy of Hemmingway's "The Old Man in the Sea" for 600 dram ($1.50) that I for some reason felt obligated to buy.

I thought about buying a present for my host family, but then I remembered where I heard Armenians had gold teeth, stole and were basically liars and I thought better of it.

I'm not exactly sure why all the caucus states hate each other. Maybe it's kind of like America's fascination of blaming Canada for being so passively perfect or Mexico for having such cheap workers.

I think I'll just hate Turkey and call it a day.


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