Somewhat hungover, we wandered out of Yerevan in the general direction of Mt. Aragats. It was hot, and we were sluggish, but the hitching was relatively easy. Soon we found ourselves in a small town on the long, winding road leading up to the top.
Storm clouds rolled in, locals stared at us like aliens, and we ate lunch under a small canopy, in a slightly creepy children’s park while a man gave us apples, likely wondering just what the hell we were doing there.
As the day grew late, one man who picked us up offered us a place to stay. Awesome!… Of course, being us, it wasn’t going to be so normal. This “place to stay” ended up being an abandoned hotel that he was the caretaker of. We politely declined, and only slightly because this was how a horror movie should start… And as storm clouds rolled in yet again, we made for a castle in the distance.
As we approached a valley, the wall of cloud we had been racing to beat was on us. A nearby patch of trees seemed like the best choice to make camp, as going through a valley in the dark, with a storm ripping around, is likely not the smartest choice. Of course the girls still thought we could make it. Little psychos.
The rain hit as we finished putting up our shelters, but the little fire we had coaxed into life persevered.
Unfortunately, at one point the wind was so strong it tore a hole in my tarp, causing a mild panic attack. I mean, on the side of a mountain, in a rain storm, with a big hole in your shelter = a cause to worry. Generally. By this point the worst of the rain had come and gone, so I simply propped my jacket up in front of said hole and let the wind rock me to sleep in my hammock. Solved!
The next day we reached the castle, sitting on the edge of a canyon, and slowly but surely crumbling away. As castles do. Standing on top of the main keep, it was hard to imagine the Kings and warlords of centuries ago calling this place home. Back then they were testaments to mans abilities, but today they are just attractions for tourists passing through. I tried to imagine soldiers, wearing their armor and various weapons, standing on the battlements while invaders crept up the very same trail we had followed…
There was even a bathhouse! And a church, naturally. But as interesting as this was, we had a Volcano to climb. Onwards!
The next vehicle that stopped mistakenly took us back to the castle. The road we had walked back to connected with a road going to this castle, which we didn’t know about… But we did make it up, eventually.
Where the road ends, there’s a lake. There is also this strange complex of oddly shaped buildings, towers, observatories, and various rusted machines. While we ate lunch on the side of the lake, some men appeared from one of these buildings and approached us.
Nice guys. They invited us to come after our hike to talk, eat, and sleep there if we’d like… The mystery and kindness intrigued us. We would be back.
From the lake to the south summit of Aragats (there are four), it’s only a two and a half hour climb. Doing the whole circuit would be fun, but time was short. The views from the south summit were beautiful enough, however, and we were quite satisfied with what was presented to us.
The day was growing late so back down we went, with the girls wanting to get back to Yerevan that night. Such rushers. If that was the plan, this was where we would part ways, because this mystery complex was too much to pass up.
Another rain storm hit as we reached the main building. We walked into a foyer with a big digital clock above a set of once-grand stairs, stained glass clearly from a Soviet time, and… No people.
From one of the many rooms, one of our friends from before emerged. This thin older guy with a roughed up baseball cap was the man in charge, and essentially the only remnant of a once busy and bustling physics research station. Once all the rooms were full of eager young scientists, especially during the days of the USSR. Now most rooms were used for storage, a few for guests, and the hallways are generally quiet and empty.
We were treated to a big dinner (with vodka), prepared by the one cook, and attended by the one helper guy. Of course, since we were these interesting and strange traveling creatures, we told our friends of our travels, and in return given the history of the place.
Stalin had ordered the construction of this complex during the second World War. I couldn’t begin to properly explain or understand how their research works, but they study physics. How cosmic rays effect weather patterns on Earth. Apparently it was very important during the cold war, but those details were not explained so much. Most of the buildings themselves remained a mystery, but it would have been great to spend even a week there exploring the place, or just shadowing our new friend.
The entire place had this post apocalyptic, frogotten-civilization feel around it. The man himself, more or less alone in the main building, amongst so many other empty rooms with empty beds, had a look in his eyes of so much experience and knowledge. He had experienced so much, and been in such an important place in recent history, but now he sits on the edge of a volcano, in a slowly crumbling building, helping out stray dogs like us. Eager to show us pictures of the past and make sure we were comfortable and fed before reluctantly letting us keep on going down the road.
I was sad to leave. This place had such an attraction about it. Maybe it was the rusted experimental structures, the alien-like landscape up there, or this living piece of history who does all he can to make others happy all of that and more perhaps.
But we had to go. The girls’ trip was soon to be finishing, and I had to figure out about getting to Iran! So we headed down the mountain the next day, to head back on north. To Georgia! (again)