One family's diary, journeys and thoughts

Friday, May 23, 2008


If you look at the map of Armenia, you will notice in addition to Sevan Lake in the middle and several smaller water reservoirs in various areas, a group of strange, geometrically shaped lakes in the southern corner of the country. These are artificial fisheries of Armash, bordering with the "no man’s land" between Armenia and Turkey, and there we went last Sunday with a small group and the President of the Center of Bird Lovers of Armenia as a guide.

What makes the fisheries special is the amount and diversity of water birds there. After some other lakes in Armenia were drained or the habitat around them destroyed as a result of human activity, the birds started making their nests at the fisheries, which are surrounded by reeds and are rich with food. Beside the ducks, herons and egrets, terns and cormorants of all shapes and sizes, that are fairly common (even though some of those are threatened too,) there are some spectacular birds that live here – spoonbill, glossy ibis and black stork, for example. Pelicans and flamingos, that are not native to Armenia, stop over at the lakes during their migration.

Seeing as the lakes are practically the last resort for these birds in Armenia, you would think this a wonderful opportunity to dedicate at least part of the vast territory of the fisheries to a bird sanctuary, close it to hunting and fishing and open to kids, families and birdwatchers. Not so fast! The government does not seem in the least bit interested in stepping in, and the owner of the land, it seems, couldn't care less about endangered species (let me put it this way - he is yet to prove that he does). All that matters is that these birds eat fish. He grows fish for profit, and they eat it! So, without further ado, he sets to destroy them every which way he can. Besides regularly burning the reeds with nests, eggs and babies, he also allows an Italian-Armenian joint venture tour company to bring over groups of hunters to shoot the birds and has his own people shooting them as well, as they proudly boasted to us while we were walking around the lake. “They eat fish” said the young man with a gun showing us a shot black crowned night heron, a squacco heron and a duck.

The zoologists approached the owner of the fisheries more than once, asking him to stop allowing hunters to the lakes, but the answer still stands as negative. By the most optimistic predictions, it won't take long until the birds stop returning to these ponds, and will move to our southern neighbors for permanent residence. If they don't disappear altogether.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Where do stork babies come from?

The photo is clickable-enlargeable. Did you notice how many sparrows make their nests on the outskirts of a stork nest?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Fit to drive?

Did you know that to get a driver license in Armenia, you need an approval from... a gynecologist? AND an otolaryngologist. AND a surgeon.

Basically, in order for police to issue a driver license, you need to bring a certificate from your regional outpatient clinic, stating that you are healthy and sound enough to drive a motor vehicle.

In order to get that certificate, one needs to actually GO to the psycho-neurological and narcological clinics first and get certificates from them stating that the person in question has never been admitted to the clinics (or, in short, that I am not a psycho or a drug addict). A computer database connecting all these institutions is a thing of the future in Armenia. In my case, seeing as my passport does not have a permanent address stamp (instead it states that I am a permanent resident of USA) – I had to go get yet another paper from what you might call condominium that I actually live at the address I give as mine.

Are you getting tired reading this yet? Well, it took me a few mornings to get all the paperwork together, and it was raining most of the time. When I finally collected all the required papers and returned to the outpatient hospital, the condescending “vice-chief medical officer” sent me down a row of offices for a “total checkup”. Fortunately, most doctors realize how absurd the outdated procedure is, and simply sign the paper without attempting to run any procedures on you. (If I had a serious health issue, I wouldn't wait till getting a driver license to report it to a doctor, would I?) Bureaucracy at its best, where either you waste time or you bribe someone and get your certificate issued without further ado. The only procedure I underwent willingly was determining my blood type – it was so long since it was done, and it’s always good to know.

In the end, after spending several hours and about $33 for all the papers, I got what I needed – a paper with my name and picture, stating I am not in any way prevented from driving a car. It even says I have a 20/20 vision, when in fact I am very nearsighted – but I preferred to not let them know I am wearing contact lenses. I could have been a blind deaf pregnant psycho drug addict with persecution mania and still get that paper, though - if I was willing to pay the right amount to the right person…


It’s raining cats and dogs.
The cars driving through puddles raise fountains of muddy splashes.
The real, not idiomatic cats and dogs are hiding.
One of national traits of Armenian guys is a disdain for hats and umbrellas. It’s funny to see them running and shivering from cold water trickling down their necks.
The thunder is so loud, it triggers car alarms.
And it just keeps raining.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

It looks like the closer this world is to its end, the faster it goes down. And even though we know we live in a fallen world, tragedies like those in Burma and China still wring our hearts. It all looks too familiar, and here in Armenia the echo of 1988 earthquake can still be heard, even 20 years later.

We are praying for all who were touched by those disasters.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An attempt at speleology, or I thought I was going South!

Speleology ( for those who don’t know) is the study of caves. It always fascinated me, yet I have never been to any cave larger than an outhouse. So, when a tour to one of the most fascinating caves in Armenia was announced last week, I rushed to join it, despite the fact that I was just getting over a bad cold, and Roxy had a lot of homework.

Mozrov cave is located in the mountains of South-Eastern Armenia and, as I found on Armeniapedia (http://www.armeniapedia.org/index.php?title=Mozrov_Cave ) is about 300 m in depth. It was reported to have amazing stalactite formations and to be hard to get in.

Hard it certainly was, because the entrance is from above, and the way down is perilous, with large boulders and smaller stones moving unexpectedly just as you step on them and running from under your feet. It’s a steep descent through the first room of the cave, which you enter through a hole in a tin cover of the cave opening.

It was sort of disappointing for me that (mainly due to lack of organization in the group) after all the trouble of hiking up the mountain I didn’t make it all the way down the cave. Roxy and I were only able to see the first few rooms, which were amazing nonetheless. I guess I will have to go back there on my own, especially because there are other caves in the neighborhood also worth peeking into.

What made the hike even more challenging was the rain, cold and relentless, pouring down just as we were climbing up the slope to the mouth of the cave. Naturally, Roxy’s shoe broke on the same hike and made her footsore… Yes, altogether this was probably one of the most challenging hikes we have been to.

BUT – the scenery was beautiful, the cave was absolutely stunning, even the little that we saw, and once we took a hot shower that night and changed into dry clothes, the life instantly became bearable again. Our next destination and the lodging place for the night was the city of Jermuk, a resort high up the mountains with the famous mineral springs (also the source of the bottled mineral water sold in most Glendale stores). Even though we were going south from the capital, we were also going higher and higher and the weather was just getting colder. In Jermuk it actually snowed by the time we got there, so we had a chance to enjoy quite a Christmas-y view out of the hotel windows.

The next morning we had to buy a pair of cheap and cheesy shoes for Roxy, since the sole of her boot came off almost completely and refused to be mended. Thus, we missed a short hike to the nearby waterfall, and some more rain (wasn’t sorry to miss that one!). Our last stop on the way back was a cozy little 10th century monastery of Gndevank nestled in the gorge of Arpa river. Like so many other historic monuments of Armenia, it struck me by its absolute conformity with its surroundings. It looks like a part of the mountains that shelter it, as if it grew out of them – not only the color (obviously, it was built of the same rock the mountains consist of) but the shape, the form and the essence of it.

Now that you read all that, here are the pictures:

Views from the mountain climb toward Mozrov cave. A classic Armenian countryside: river, fields, village, mountains...

Eroded cliffs of Vayots Dzor.


Inside the cave.

One of the most elegant whites - I think it's called Blackvein in English.

City of Jermuk. Merry Christmas on May 9th!
Only yesterday is was warm and sunny...

Eurasian Jay looks quite different from the sky-colored Blue and Shrub jays in California. Still, they are first cousins.

Gndevank, 10th century.

What's going on

Not much, really. Vicky is back and has camped in my living room, completely eliminating any possibility of us having guests over. Roxy is finishing a school year, and is doing quite well. Me, I am just chilling at my new job - all I do all day is translating, no stress, no people yelling... love it.

And the city is just as crazy as ever. There are hunger strikes in different places with a demand to free those arrested during the presidential election aftermath. There is construction everywhere. And traffic, of course!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Whose idea is it?

Just two examples of how well-known brands can be used - in a slightly changed manner - to promote a totally unrelated business in a third world country. The top picture is of a faily large furniture store, and the bottom - of a bar/cafe sort of thing. Let me know if they remind you of anything...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

An illustration on how I feel right now