The Marshrutka dropped me off in the central square of Hadrut at dusk, the town just starting to come alive after as the afternoon heat ebbed away. Here I was, in the far south of Karabakh, with only a couple of homestay names pulled off the Janapar wiki and my phrasebook to guide me. I was pretty worn out from travelling all day, hungry and thirsty, so I figured I’d try the hotel first.
“One night, 10,000 drams.” Well that’s a bit pricey considering the state of the place, I thought to myself, better try to find some of these homestays instead.
Unfortunately, nobody in the town recognized the names I’d written down, and my rudimentary speech was definitely not helping. A series of confused locals pointing randomly later, I found myself on the outskirts as the sun set (technically a different town, it turns out) asking a bunch of kids if they knew where I could find “Hamlet & Susan”. One girl decided she must know who I meant, and lead me to a small house out of which she dragged a young woman not much older than myself who, quite befuddled, could only respond to my inquiry with “what room?!?!”. Clearly, this was not the homestay I was looking for.
Armenians being Armenians however, after a few minutes of back and forth inquiries (partly translated by my enthusiastic young guide, Mariam) the woman invited me inside for tea while they tried to figure out how to aid me. In retrospect this is pretty amazing: how would you react if a tired and dusty guy with a scraggly beard and backpack, who clearly cannot speak your language, showed up at your door as night is falling?
Even in rural Canada, that wouldn’t end well.
Now things became a comedy as my kind host discovered we both knew about three words of each others languages. Mariam ran out and appeared a few moments later with an old Armenian->English dictionary, more family members appeared, and I became something of an extreme novelty as they peppered me with questions and I explained my predicament regarding a place to spend the night. I discovered that the family was ethnically greek, and that they were one of only a handful of such families remaining in the entire country.
Hours passed and I was invited to stay for dinner. A simple fare involving a variety of foods which I could not identify at the time (Cornelian Compote, matsun (a type of yogurt), and noodles) but which was all incredibly delicious to someone who hadn’t eaten since 7am. After explaining my plan to hike the length of the country, (by now I had remembered I could translate to Russian on my phone), [names] mother remembered something excitedly and brought out a faded binder of maps and info. It was a printed copy of the Janapar wiki & maps! Presumably distributed to homestays back when Raffi originally built the trail nearly eight years earlier. Whether I had actually found the Susan I was looking for, or the binder had simply made its way there by fortune, I could not determine.
This drove home a shocking realization: I had simply assumed the homestay wiki was up to date. In reality, the entries for many villages had not been updated since 2007. Things were to become much more interesting when it came to seeking places to stay along the trail.
After a few rounds of arm wrestling with Radzik & Ghot, the two young boys of the house, I retired for the night. Tomorrow I’d hit the trail, and see just how far a collection of soviet military maps and my wits would get me.
– It’s true, the hospitality here is unbelievable. I joked before leaving that I would simply wander into towns each night and find a place to stay. I didn’t actually expect this to work.
– Don’t trust online wiki’s without checking the last edited date!
– Having the Russian language downloaded to google translate is extremely handy in these parts, but without a Cyrillic keyboard also installed any interactions will be entirely one-sided.