I was with 5 friends at Garni Temple, a 1st century Roman Temple in Armenia, exploring the grounds and mosaic bathes. Somehow, we ended up meeting a ranger from the adjacent forest reserves. Before we knew it, we were going to go on an expedition into the depths of Khosrov Preserve. We headed to the store, shopping for any supplies we could think of: fresh village bread and cheeses, herbs, tomatoes, drinks and some snickers. The 6 of us (plus the ranger) piled into the 5-seat rugged Russian jeep and went down the steep canyon, back up the other side to enter the preserve.
Passing two gates which ordinarily require permits in advance, we kept going until the road ended. We decided to break bread, picnic, rather than carry our supplies on the hike. The ranger took off his shirt during lunch, the four girls in our group were impressed with our new friend who was soon going to earn the name, Mountain Man.
The road ceases where the river enters a narrow canyon, no more space. From here we had to walk. Soon after starting the hike, we were asking our new friend a million questions, one of them was about poisonous snakes. He said there were vipers; we asked if there were a lot. He was ahead of us. He grabbed our friend’s walking stick, put the end of it down on a snake we hadn’t even noticed. He scooped it up, showing it to us. We were duly impressed. We continued the hike, the title Mountain Man began to circulate among us.
We continued walking. Mountain Man caught one more snake before the canyon opened up. We came out of the thicker parts of the forest and saw beautiful cliffs while we followed a pristine river. We were in the middle of nowhere, a place that the guidebooks didn’t even mention. We had reached a gaping cave above us; we scrambled up to explore.
The cave was a huge space, with stunning views of the canyons around. There were ancient ruins of man-made structures, including stairs going up and up the side of the cave, to a section that had long ago collapsed in an earthquake. We went up and down the stairs to nowhere, talking to our very own mountain man, watching the warm colors of the sun changing on the canyon walls surrounding us. The light reminded us that we had to start heading back, we were a long way from our bed for the night. We also realized we wouldn’t be able to see the other sights of the preserve, a fortress called Kakavaberd, and the monastery, Aghjots Vank. We didn’t feel too badly; Mountain Man assured us we would be welcomed back.