Notes From Hairenik
September 12, 2010

Last Monday my wife and I decided to take a trip to Lori once again, but this time to stay at a “resort” called Tezh Ler. It’s located about six miles west of Vanadzor, and you get there by driving a half-mile down a gravel road off the highway to Dilijan. This highway is flanked by rolling green mountains nearly the entire journey heading towards that sleepy town, and just before you cross the border into Tavush the valley narrows, with the slopes completely blanketed by rich forest. We drove there by way of Sevan since the scenery is spectacular and I wanted to avoid the filthy Vanadzor air altogether. I calculated that there is only about a ten-mile difference in driving distance anyway coming from Yerevan, so it was better to sacrifice fuel economy at the expense of enjoying beauty.

What to say about Tezh Ler… the single room we stayed in was extremely clean but sparse. Apart from a quite comfy bed there was no other furniture—no bureau in which to store clothes, and not even a chair. Just a coat rack and a mini-refrigerator, the top of which served as our nightstand. The bathroom was cramped because the enclosed shower stall took up most of the surface area. And to get to the tiny sink that barely caught the water I splashed on my face regularly, you had to literally step over the left corner of the shower basin as the gap between it and the toilet was only about two inches wide. The set up was strange but it worked somehow. Then there was the floor--not only the bathroom but the bedroom was covered in tile. There were only two placemat-sized woven rugs to keep your feet warm. During our first night after watching a depressing Fassbinder movie my laptop mysteriously crashed to the floor when I was in the bathroom. Although thanks to the ingenuity of the designers at Apple the electronic components within were undamaged, a decent carpet would have prevented the new dents that now add character to the aluminum casing. I told my wife they are immortal signs that the thing is truly loved.

I had forgotten what the trance-inducing Lori air does to the mind, body and spirit. Shortly after we arrived we were hopelessly drowsy. This air--the climate, coupled with the pristine nature, lulls you to sleep, whether you want to be or not. The compound is quite far from the smog of Vanadzor, which is in clear view. You can’t avoid dozing off several times throughout the day, as it is virtually impossible. Nearly each time I awoke from a catnap I was groggy and grumpy, feeling guilty that I had been dozing instead of doing. No matter how active you are on your feet roaming about, eventually you’re going to want to take a break and sit someplace, then before long you will be dreaming about the mounds of buttery mashed potatoes and breaded crispy chicken wings you’ll be eating for lunch.

Speaking of food, they feed you three times a day for 5,000 dram, which comes out to about $13.70 at the current exchange rate. Breakfast was the usual cholesterol-rich fare that you’ll find at any one of these hotels/resorts, with full-fat cottage cheese and sour cream (both of which never resemble anything that you would eat with the same names in the US, where they are bland and lack character of any kind by comparison), some wedges of processed cheese since they can’t serve that excellent homemade Lori cheese three times a day, a pair croissant-like rolls delightfully filled with Nutella, a small pile of shredded butter (a nice touch) and some honey, served in place of homemade jam. That was followed by a main course of locally produced frankfurters. Some tea bags were waiting for us on the table before we were arrived, but they were more than happy to oblige us when we asked for Nescafe instead. Soup is served in addition to an entrée for lunch, and the evening meals are comparatively light. Every single person working on the compound was kind and caring for the needs and privacy of their guests. There weren’t too many of us, anyway. We dined with two other elderly couples, but I think there were other guests who just stayed overnight.

We were looking forward to a swim in the afternoon shortly after our arrival, but the water seemed a little dirty with forest debris. The next morning we were disappointed to see that that they had drained the pool entirely, which was a bit odd since usage of the pool was included in the price we paid, and we made it clear to the concierge that we wanted to use it. I didn’t inquire about getting a discount as a result of the cut in amenities because I knew I wouldn’t like the answer, so we dealt with it.

This time I failed to bring some wine or cognac with me to sip in the evening, and I figured the stores in Dilijan weren’t that well stocked with liquor. By the evening I was craving for my nightly summer beer. There is a small outdoor café on premises where I thought we could sit for a bit while I chugged away, but I was embarrassed to hang out there when I saw the staff was preparing for a birthday party. Back in the room I asked my wife if she wouldn’t mind fetching a couple of bottles as I was too shy to go myself, and she came back with some Miller Genuine Draft brewed under license by Peroni in Italy, according to the label. That was the only beer they had in stock.

The décor of the buildings is tastefully done in an autumn, rustic style. There are about four buildings that accommodate guests. In the one we stayed in there were four rooms on the first floor where we stayed, and besides ours they were all empty so we had total privacy. The lobby has a comfortable sectional sofa and a sturdy coffee table, both perfect for writing. This place seems to have existed during Soviet times, and according to one of my wife’s friends who frequents Tezh Ler, it is operated by a couple from Yerevan.

The grounds, however, are in dire need of a landscaper. Save for one small area near the pool, most of the property was overgrown by weeds and scorched tall grasses. Some of the park benches had even been taken over by the weed growth. A groundskeeper, assuming if one would ever be hired, could easily bring the garden into shape in a matter of a few days. There are plenty of rocks around to build a stone garden, perhaps one or two replicating the designs of petroglyphs that you see on rocks in certain parts of the country. Getting hold of some autumn plants shouldn’t be an issue to put in strategic places. Coupled with the awkward, seemingly random slabs of concrete everywhere the landscaping or lack of it was a real eyesore. The hypnotic hills in the distance compensated, however.

At noontime on our first full day there, having awoken from my first of several naps, I decided to explore the forests. Just beside to the guest buildings is a pine forest that was obviously planted by the Soviets. Beyond that area on the descent to the river far down below are the oak, beech and maple forests. There are all sorts of trails going in random directions, and I wasn’t sure at first about which one to follow to make the steep climb down. I wanted to find the river, but I didn’t want to dive off the ledge to get to it. I found a path that basically zigzagged down the slope, part of which was actually covered in concrete at some point in Armenian history, which I naturally thought was a bit odd. I took my time heading down in my clogs, since I lack coordination as any of my friends well know and can easily fall on my ass for no particular reason. Luckily, I didn’t trip or slip on any loose pebbles as I headed down. Since time doesn’t exist in Lori I thought it took me an hour to get to the river basin, when only about 20 or so minutes elapsed.

The river was just wide and deep enough to make wading across a bit difficult without properly soaking my feet. I walked along the basin to see if there was some kind of natural bridge I could use to get across, but there wasn’t anything, except for the stump of a long-dead tree that had fallen across a narrow section of the river. The way some of the roots were positioned over the water lead me to believe that it would indeed be possible to make it across, depending on how well I could steady myself. I could also rely on the thin, yet rope-like strong branches of a young tree to grab hold of. I stood there pondering the possibilities of making it across without falling into the water, and concluded after several minutes that it was worth attempting, and I was surprised with myself for having crossed the water without any snags. I marched about on the other side, confident that I could follow the banks of the winding river and possibly climb up on the far end of the compound, but the stone paths lining each side of the river merged with the water after about an eighth of a mile. At one point only 300-foot walls of ledge and trees supported the waterway, so I had to go back the same way I came.

No matter how facile getting across this stump may seem from the photo shown above, it’s not all that easy. For one thing, the root branches are too weak to use as support. There was another branch that was thicker than the others, but in any case all of them were thoroughly dried out and stepping on any one of them could have been perilous (at least for me). My sense of adventure is always hampered by unsteadiness on my feet, poor navigation and lack of any athletic prowess whatsoever. I’ve always been hapless when it comes to sports, and no matter how hard I ever tried, I never excelled. But I had to get across the river using that same stump, since there was no other way. I broke off a limb that was fairly easy to use as support while I stepped onto a smaller branch that I would use to step up to the main branch. I could feel my left foot give way and it became only partially soaked in the process of leaping across, but I managed quite nicely. That my entire body didn’t end up submerged in the river was a near miracle. The sun was in full force so I found a rock on which to sit. I took off my sock and rung it dry, then laid it down on the hot stone just beside me. After a few minutes I turned it over so it would dry evenly, and then when I realized that my wife could possibly be in a state of panic for having been gone over an hour, I declared out loud, “Wet or not wet, the journey continues.” The sock and shoe felt fine, and I was on my way up. But I realized that since the path was rather steep, it would be handy to have a walking stick with me for the hike. I found a tree that had some dead hanging branches I could easily break off, but the trick was being able to do so without having an Inspector Clouseau-like moment by whacking myself in the head in the process. While I pulled I walked away from the snapping point of the branch to avoid such a disaster and it worked. I shortened the branch a bit and broke off the thinner ones that grew from it, then I was on my way. The stick gave me the support I needed and the confidence to hike up the slope without difficulty. At the midway point I found a shortcut that would cut the travel time in half, although it was a bit steeper. During any kind of cardiovascular exercise, once I feel I strong taste of celery in the back of my throat I know that it’s time to take a break for a minute, but I only needed to do this one time. Overall, I was rather pleased with how my adventure panned out.

The rest of the time was spent enjoying the intoxicating air, reading and eating. On Wednesday we drove to Ijevan and I bought three kilos of assorted grapes, which I am still trying to finish. There you can also find garlands of bright red hot peppers, which you are meant to dry and use throughout the year. I have only seen this particular sort there, with each pepper being about two to three inches in length and a slightly rounded rather than pointed tip. We bought one string about four feet long with a few dozen peppers hanging from it, which will probably last us six months at the very most since my wife loves making spicy dishes, mostly Indian influenced. I wanted to spend the night in Dilijan at one of the bed and breakfasts or perhaps another resort, but she was eager to return to Yerevan as she was missing our mischievous Chi Chi.

Our original intent was to visit the Georgian port city of Batumi, but that road trip will unfortunately have to wait indefinitely. Hopefully, I’ll drive down to paradisal Meghri in mid to late October, just in time for the pomegranate season…

If you want to stay in a quiet, "apero"-free spot of Armenia, Tezh Ler is where it's at, so long as you don't mind hearing the commotion of a couple of over-protective dogs chasing a grazing cow away or the occasional groan of diesel truck inching itself uphill in first gear. Serenity is waiting for you there.

Photos by Christian and Anushik

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Blogger nazarian said...
Even on Tej Ler they have managed to have a plastic bag in the river?