While I spent most of my time in Armenia in Yerevan, making day trips to various sites from the capital city, I decided to head to the countryside for my last few days in Armenia. As it’s near the border to Georgia, where I was headed next, I decided to go to Dilijan, a small town that locals often call the Switzerland of Armenia.
Some fellow backpackers had warned me that hotels in Dilijan are expensive, especially as I was traveling solo and wouldn’t have someone to split a room with, so when one of the taxi drivers at Dilijan’s station said that I could do a home stay with his family for $10 a night I happily agreed.
As we were driving up a winding mountain road into what looked like denser and denser forests I thought about how these sort of spontaneous home stays usually end up being travel highlights, but they are also the perfect setup for me to be raped and murdered. This time turned out to be a little of both (spoiler: don’t worry, parents, I wasn’t actually raped or murdered).
We arrived at Garik’s home just in time for lunch, which turned into quite a feast as Garik’s wife Karin decided that I was far too skinny and needed some instant fattening up. We were eating off of small tea plates, so as Karin was piling my plate with yet more pieces of meat pâté and smoked fish my hosts’ heads eventually disappeared from view behind the tall pile of food in front of me. I felt like Dagwood digging into one of his late night sandwiches. Ahh, Armenian hospitality!
After lunch Garik returned to his taxi duties, while Karin and I settled in for a relaxing afternoon of Russian television. After a cooking show about the perfect potato soup (it’s all in the butter!), the news came on, showing clips from protests in the Ukraine. Karin shook her head and muttered, “so sad, life is difficult!”
She then told me how much she missed Soviet times, when life in Armenia was much easier and everyone could count on receiving supplies from Russia. She was voicing sentiments that at first had surprised me when coming to Armenia, but by now I had had this conversation with many Armenians.
One of my taxi drivers had told me that Armenians used to have more freedom under the Russians because they didn’t have to work such long hours and had more free time. “Now we work all day and night to support our families and raise our children. But for what? When our children are grown they will just have to move to Russia, because there are no jobs in Armenia.”
It was a conversation I had had with many people in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well, where I was surprised at the extent of nostalgia for the Soviet past.
The next day Garik announced that he was going to take me to, surprise surprise, a nearby monastery! About twenty minutes outside of town, Haghartsin Monastery was built between the 10th and 14th centuries and is seriously picturesque.
All in all my Dilijan experience would have been pretty ideal, had Garik not turned out to be a bit of a creeper. Wandering hands and some uncomfortable compliments served as a warning, but they are also things I’m pretty used to when traveling on my own. Then in the middle of the night I was woken up by the creak of my bedroom door opening and I heard Garik’s voice whispering “Silvia? Silvie! Silvishka! … Silvinka?”
I pretended to be asleep and he eventually gave up and went away, but it made for a very uncomfortable and sort of scary car ride the next morning when Garik took me to the neighboring town’s bus station to get a marshrutka to Georgia (I would have tried to get a different driver, but we had to leave at 7 am AND it was snowing).
In the end nothing bad happened, but it reminded me of several other uncomfortable experiences I’ve had while traveling, both alone and with friends. Danielle and I wrote about one such time in this post about hitchhiking on the Pamir Highway, though after it was over we sort of made light of it, even if at the time we had been pretty scared.
I’m incredibly pro solo female travel (girl power wooo!) so I think I’m guilty of often making light of this ever recurring downside. I mean, sure I could get into similarly dangerous situations in my hometown, but the truth is that I am more vulnerable while traveling alone in a foreign country, especially when it means that I’m always having to get into cars with strange men. I just try my best to be smart about it (well, except that time Danielle and I had to get a ride from a maybe drunk local who was the only driver available from the China-Kyrgyzstan border to Sary-Tash. Though he ended up introducing us to our favorite host family ever so… worth it?).
So does this mean I should skip the remote destinations and veer back onto the safer, beaten track? I would say absolutely not. While bride kidnapping technically is still a thing in Central Asia, I’ve heard more actual horror stories from Europe (did anyone else read Agness’s experience with Sexsurfing?), and the worst and most consistent sexual harassment I’ve experienced was during my two years working in Japan, which is widely considered one of the safest countries in the world.
So what about my stay in Dilijan? The home stay and time spent with Karin was by far my best experience of Armenian culture, but do I wish I could trade it for a more peaceful stay in a hotel?
Um… is it bad if I say no?
Seeing Khor Virap and Etchmiadzin as part of a tour of Armenia
My friends recently did the Best of Georgia & Armenia 10-day G Adventures tour and it sounded amazing. I wish I had managed to see so much of both countries! They said that their group was really fun, and they certainly had a more relaxing time than I did!