Listening for the Alien Heartbeat

Vanadzor:  I wake up to -8°C, icicles on the roof and no electricity, water or heating.  Exactly how my father said I would end up.

26km to cover today but I take a taxi for the first 4km past the rusting semi-abandoned factories,  so my actual walk to Dzoraget will be 22km.  The driver, a friendly yet alert man who has seen a couple of wars, waits till I have shouldered my backpack and wishes me luck.

Past Pambak, stick hard-tapping the ground to warn dogs I am armed and unfriendly, I enter the (famous) Debed River Canyon.  Now -3°C, cold wind, some sun.  So far so good.

I start descending a valley.  I can hear the river way below.  Really a winter landscape, not much joy.  Just a few birds sing brief winter music.

The road winds down steeply to the river.  Bad for injured toes.  After the failure of the bubble wrap I am now wrapping my toes in a layer of cut kitchen sponge, held in place with duct tape (inside socks inside boots).  After a few hours I reach the valley floor and the river:

Debed Canyon floor, river and Orange House

At Vahagnadzor, I eat figs, apricots and almonds on a tree stump beside a stream.  My jacket is off so the  sweat I have accumulated evaporates.  I compliment a proud farmer on his pink pigs.  A nearby donkey joins me in lunch:

Debed Canyon, donkey  lunching

A few more hours and I should be near the turnoff to Antaramut but can’t see it.  Disheartened.

I curse all maps.  In the past maps showing towns which failed to materialize have caused me to get stuck in a sandstorm, almost run out of water in a desert, and spend a night in a place where my host guaranteed sincerely: we won’t kill you [1 ].  After several near death experiences, I have concluded that some maps are just made up.

But today, no big problem as the road runs right beside the river,  so eventually I will get somewhere.   And the river invites:  I could easily drop in for a swim:

Debed Canyon, road beside river

Hours later:  Quite a few tunnels here.  Deep, deep dark, and no footpath, just a thick accumulation of dust and rocks on the edge of the road.  Very unpleasant.

Then buildings, even though on the other side of the river:

Debed Canyon, Railway buildings near river

Then Dzoraget.  Finally I know where I really am, not just my latitude & longitude.

Debed Canyon, stone houses near hydro

And welcoming the weary traveler:  chickens and a laundry:

Debed Canyon, Dinner and Clean Clothes

I arrive at the Avan Dzoraget, a remarkable hotel between 2 canyon walls of black basalt, about 200m+ high and 80m wall to wall [2 ].   My room is over the river and has a bath!   The first in 2 months.  So I bathe twice.

Dinner:  lamb soup, then lamb stew, then Armenian coffee.  A tough place to be vegetarian.

Night, with a full moon over the mountain coming straight in the window, and the roar of the fast flowing Debed River below, I sleep well.

(events 29 Nov 2012)


[1]  It was evening in a remote place in south-east Pakistan.  Riding my motorbike (BMW R90S) south, I happened on a community who offered me a bed for the night.  The (I guess) headman said I should stay with them rather than another nearby community, because, quoting his reassuring words in full, “They will kill you, we won’t”.

[2]  A few days later I was to walk up to the plateau at the top of the valley.  In places it seemed a mere 50m across.  With good shoes, a long enough run-up, and an up-to-date last Will and Testament, it seemed one could almost jump across.


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