Berd

One thing that can really make being away from home difficult is missing holidays. The beautiful thing about PC is that you have your own family of crazy PCVs who are more than willing to go to great lengths in order to celebrate American holidays in strange lands throughout the world.

Most people back home might think it’s crazy to ride in crappy public transportation for 6 hours one way just to see some Americans and sleep on the floor of a crowded cold house. But for us, it’s not only exciting, it’s a way of life! And so when we were invited to Halloween in Berd we made the trek.

Berd is in Tavush Marz. Sharp readers might remember that Tavush Marz was one of two that I had not visited when I wrote about my journey to the south. Despite being our northern neighbor, Berd is pretty hard to get to. One marshrutka per day from Yerevan in the morning is all they have. In contrast, Vardenis, which isn’t much bigger (but has a bigger footprint with a ton of villages) has at least one marshrutka leave Yerevan every hour from 9 to 6. Taking a taxi from Vardenis takes at least 4 hours. Going through the Yerevan hub takes 6 hours. So it’s a difficult destination, which means that it was my first and last trip to Berd.

On the way there we were able to take a taxi, as there were 4 of us wanting to go from Vardenis. This was a rare opportunity to go up the east side of the lake. We went through Chambarak, a quaint regional center in northern Gegharkunik Marz (my marz) that is definitely forgotten about more often than remembered. Similar to Vardenis, it has a large refugee population in its region. But Chambarak is much closer to the border and I believe had even more serious problems related to the war. It was great to pass through this place and see it with my own eyes. It was surprisingly beautiful with some rolling hills, a small river, and snow frosted pine trees on top of the hills.

Sour Water

Just past Chambarak is a village called Ttujur. The village name means sour water. Sure enough, we stopped at the source of the ttu jur. A concrete well with large stones contained bubbling orange water. Our taxi driver did not hesitate to grab the communal cups that were sitting on a ledge next to the well and begin filling them for us. Setting aside our American germaphobia (a valuable skill in Armenia) and disregarding all those training sessions on staying faithful to the big white water filter buckets we tasted this bizarre water. It was like mineral water and then some. Pushing its way through the bubbly sensation was the strong flavor of ground minerals. Someone mentioned it was like Jermuk (a famous mineral water here) but more sulfuric. We decided that if any of us fell ill it would be due to the ttu jur. Of course I have had no problems so far.

Laura enjoying some ttu jur

Ttujur marked the end of our nice paved road. We turned onto a rarely used mountain pass that leads directly to Berd. Distance wise it was a shortcut, at 130 km from Vardenis. Time wise I’m not so sure. The other route was over 200 km but the road is better. We averaged only around 40 km/hour on the snowy, foggy, and muddy road filled with potholes. Still, the road had a more mild path than the switchbacks we would take on the main road on the way back home. It was a mysterious journey. We couldn’t see far at all. We only passed 2 cars during 2 hours on the road. And every time I saw a structure dotted into the mountain side, I realized quickly that it was just a wooden skeleton of a building uninhabited for the greater part of the year. The visibility was a little disappointing as I had read this road offers incredible views. Indeed, the environmental change was stunning. We went from the treeless snowy hills of Gegharkunik to forested mountains and fog in Tavush.

Pit stop with Cardinals red, rally stache, and snow

Wild roadside rose hip

Just as we were approaching Berd, a Niva honked and pulled up next to us. We stopped and Artur rolled down his window. His face lit up as the Niva’s window lowered. Vardenis barbar started flowing and it was clear these were a couple of his friends. They were both surprised to see each other on this desolate road so far from home. I guess that happens in a country of only 3 million.

There are a few PCVs in the Berd area, 2 of whom have houses in the town. Around 25 PCVs descended upon Berd for the weekend, and most of these stayed at John’s house, which was our first destination. John is well-loved among PCVs as a very helpful IT volunteer and possibly the most social person in country. It wasn’t surprising that a lot of people wanted to come from all over to visit. His house has a large balcony and a large kitchen and living room, which is where we spent most of our time. It is almost imperative to have a large balcony for PC gatherings since it gives people a place to smoke and escape the toastiness of a wood-stove fired room. We unloaded our stuff and started catching up with old friends and new acquaintances.

Since Berd is so remote it does have some nice stores. There is a nice little supermarket that shames anything in Vardenis. It is just down the hill from John’s place. John warned them that a bunch of Americans were coming and would drink all their beer, so the store owners stocked up just for us. The Armenians were a bit bewildered at the throng of Americans buying all the beer, fumbling at the cash register, and blocking the stairs while hugging and greeting fresh arrivals.

On Friday night we all enjoyed some drinks and some delicious potato soup. Rocky Horror was played on a projector and most of the crowd was inside watching that. I stayed outside with the smokers and got to know some of the A 19s a bit better. Since I can’t participate in the All-Vol conference next week, I considered this trip to be my All-Vol and my chance to get to know the 19s. Even though it was cool and wet in Berd, the temperature was noticeably warmer than Vardenis. I had no problem staying on the deck for hours.

Luckily, I was able to stay with the other Berd PCV who has a house. She just moved into her place and wasn’t even settled in, yet she was willing to host a few of us. It was great for me because I was on a weird sleep schedule after weeks of waking up at 5 to listen to the Cardinals (it was getting light here at 8 before the time change so people tend to wake up at 8 or later). Saturday morning was Game 7 of the World Series, so I lugged my computer with me and went to bed early.

Saturday morning came quickly. I shuffled around in the dark to turn on my laptop, struggle with an internet connection, and begin listening to the game while not waking up my comrades. It won’t be easy to forget Game 7. Not only did the Cardinals win, but the circumstances that I was listening to the game in were so ridiculous that it’s funny. I was thankful for being able to listen to the game, although it still doesn’t feel like they won the World Series.

The afternoon was spent wandering around Berd in a small group. It was raining, which canceled plans for a larger hike, but we were still able to see the city and also the old castle on a hill that the town is named for. People say that the Berd region is similar to Nagorno-Karabakh, the mountainous quasi-nation that Armenia and Azerbaijan base their news cycles on. Without having been to NK, I have to agree with those people. Berd is mountainous, lush, and mysterious. Every family has a stockpile of wood, which you just don’t see in my area. The hay there is also just stacked in piles rather than baled, which I think is due to the lack of flat ground to run a baler on. We traipsed through the mud and arrived back at John’s house.

Hiking over an unfinished Soviet bridge

The remainder of the evening was spent waiting for costume time to start (6 p.m. start time) and then acting ridiculously in the costumes. I didn’t really have a costume but rather a wicked pastel sweater/hat combination. People would guess what I was, which was nice because I didn’t know what I was. The consensus was that I was Easter Waldo. Some of the other costumes were truly amazing considering our limited resources. Several people chose to dress as Armenians. There was a Mary and Joseph couple. And John had arguably the best costume, dressing as Squall from Final Fantasy 8 (video game reference).

Squall

They sewed these!

Representing Solak

The Armenian family as seen through the lense of America

The next morning it was time to go. For the first time in my service, there were so many Americans leaving a destination that we had a marshrutka all to ourselves. It was funny and interesting. I realized that marshrutkas probably won’t work in America due to our love of stuff. Bags, sleeping bags, and other crap was overflowing everywhere. At one point I was one of 4 people awake. People were lying on top of each other completely passed out. It was a post-party crash scene for the ages.

Overall, a great Halloween. I don’t know that it topped the Halloween of 2006 when the Cardinals won the World Series while I was studying in St. Louis, but it was definitely the winner for most unique. I would love to hear in the comments how you guys spent your Halloweens!

The Berd countryside

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8 Responses to “Berd”

  1. Wayne Burt Says:

    Mine was spent in darkness as we lost power due to an early heavy snowstorm. So I did nothing. Second time since I’ve been back that I have lost power for more than 24 hours. i would have gone nuts with this pre Vardenis. Several in my town are still without power, it may be two more days. What would my Halloween been like had we had power? Same.

  2. icenugget Says:

    You would have spent your Halloween in the dark?? So you’re one of those “I’m not home” guys. 😀

  3. Aunt Kim Says:

    I spent the night waiting for Trick-or-Treaters. Much to my dismay, I only had one. Strange for a subdivision. We usually attract a lot of inner city kids. They must have had something else planned down there this year.

    Now I have all this candy, which I’ll eventually eat. This is not good.

  4. icenugget Says:

    The curse of the leftover candy! I read about a dentist somewhere buying candy from kids. You need to hook up with that guy.

  5. Peter Says:

    You did very well it sounds like! But DUDE, no Halloween will ever top 2006. Might I remind you we went to a party that had a full size trampoline indoors? Okay the bathroom line was 20 minutes long but we got over it!

  6. icenugget Says:

    Okay that was a ridiculous party like something out of a movie. Plus I had my favorite costume that year…Marvin Tikvah! Come on Shelley!

  7. Peter Says:

    That squall costume is SICK. I definitely belly laughed when I saw the easter getup. Please bring that bad boy back to America!

  8. icenugget Says:

    Armenia may be one of the only countries in the world where you don’t need to go to a special shop to get a Squall jacket.

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