Sunday, August 4, 2013

We know where you're sleeping... Camping in the shadow of Mount Ararat and Khor Virap

We saw the headlights in the darkness and heard the crunch of gravel under the wheels. A car was approaching our campsite. I ran down the list in my head of people who knew we were sleeping here, in the shadow of Khor Virap monastery at the Armenian border with Turkey, as Flounder and I ran back toward our tent. We zipped ourselves into the tent just as we heard a car door open and slam shut.
Khor Virap at night
Two of the site’s caretakers knew we were camping here. The thought was not comforting, as one of them was developmentally disabled and had wanted to hold my hand more than was socially acceptable while the other had pointed to his elbow pit and made a symbol that looked remarkably like inserting a needle there. They had insisted we come back with them and sleep there, likely a purely hospitable gesture, except that they had tried to charge us more money than seemed reasonable to camp on the monastery’s grounds in the first place.

Flounder unzipped the tent enough to peek out of it. He held his multi tool with its two-inch knife while I crouched behind him, unable to see what was happening. I felt a bit shaky and a bit sick. Would they rob us, rape me, or both?

‘What’s happening?’ I whispered to him.

‘I can’t really see,’ he said.
Stormy sky
The moon was nearly full, but the sky was stormy and cloudy. An occasional burst of lightning illuminated the ancient monastery (the site was over 1500 years old) and the few trees around us. The wind, stronger than I had yet felt it, whipped at our tent bending the flexible tent poles so much I thought they would break.

‘I think they’re just tourists,’ Floundered whispered, ‘taking pictures of Khor Virap.’
Khor Virap in the daytime
Whoever they were, they hadn’t come near our tent, but they hadn’t left either. Flounder was steady; I was not. I put my hand on his shoulder and his warm flesh and tight muscles under my hand calmed me.

Why was it that I had wanted to camp here despite Flounder’s misgivings about the site’s caretakers? Doing so went exactly against my two camping rules: (1) Camp in secret. Make sure no one knows where your site is OR (2) Camp in a proper campsite with other campers around, with management and infrastructure.

What exactly were my guidelines (based on experience and common sense) for, if I chose not to follow them? I wondered this, not in fully formed sentences, but in bursts of words and feelings and fear as I held Flounder’s shoulder and he peeked into the dark night around us.

After ten minutes or five or two, I heard the cars doors slam again and the engine start. With the crunch of gravel I relaxed.

The night was stormy. Lightning surrounded us; it lit the sky on all sides of us. Rain poured down and wind shook the tent, but I slept through it all, slept more soundly than I could have predicted.

In the darkness, I promised myself I would follow my guidelines from now on. Isn’t that what they are there for? But in the morning, I awoke at the long foot of Mount Ararat, in the shadow of Khor Virap and I forgot the night’s fear.
View from Khor Virap
Instead I looked at the Biblical mountain (site of Noah’s Ark), the symbolic mountain (on the coat of arms of Armenia), the revered mountain (said to be the site of the gods), and the night faded away like the storm’s remnants had evaporated into the arid air.
Mount Ararat
And my promises to be more careful faded away too. I would do it again. I’m camping at the foot of one of the holiest sites in Armenia; picnicking with an Armenian family who share their food with us so casually, so matter-of-factly; practicing my Armenian with the taxi driver who picks us up for free and takes us away from Khor Virap and Mount Ararat. I would do it again.


  1. delightful story. thankful for flounder's protection and care.

  2. But remember to take extension cords and water hoses so you can bring those resources into camp and even right into the tent with you.pop up gazebo


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