Shikahogh, Armenia - When we haven't been working or enjoying the village lifestyle, we've gone on excursions to nearby sites including famous historical churches and monasteries, small churches restored by LCO volunteers over the past several decades, and natural settings in the southern Armenian countryside.
Saturday July 18th, we visited Yeghvard village in Siunik region to see a 17th century church restored by LCO from 2008-2012. We all were moved by the beautiful stone structure that resembled a larger version of the church we're restoring in Shikahogh, but especially volunteer Lori Pogarian, who worked on the church as an LCO volunteer in 2010. The village mayor Spartak provided us with lovely homemade tea, honey and pastries in his home, followed by a delicious khorovats barbecue feast in the community center. We toasted "Genats!" to one another again and again, in emotional displays of gratitude and friendship for LCO's many years of work in the Siunik region.
Sunday July 19th, we rode in the back of an open-air truck on bumpy dirt roads through the Shikahogh forest to a local swimming hole that no tourist has likely ever visited. In true "village style," we swam in the river, built a rope swing, constructed a barbecue of stones and bricks, and created a makeshift picnic-style table of a blue tarp laid out on the ground to enjoy khorovats, right there in the forest! It was a relaxing and enjoyable day that none of us will ever forget.
Wednesday July 22nd, we visited famously picturesque Tatev Monastery. Upon arrival, we saw the beautiful 17th century Soorp Minas church in the village of Tatev, which was restored by LCO in 1998 in partnership with the late past mayor, Dr. Sarman. Afterwards we ate lunch outside at a tourist café run by Dr. Sarman's widow and daughter, who still remember many past LCO volunteers. They toasted to us with homemade Armenian wine, saying that they're grateful to LCO's many years of work in Tatev village which improved tourism and the local school, and that they're devoted to staying in the village and continuing Dr. Sarman's work. After lunch, we rode in the world's longest aerial tramway over beautiful mountains, and continued our journey to Karahunj, the 5,000 BC "Armenian Stonehenge." We then drove to the town of Goris, where we saw ancient cave dwellings and a stone church built in the 17th century near the caves restored by French LCO volunteers and the Goris Sister City of Vienne, France in 2012.
Although our excursion days are long at times, visiting previous LCO project sites has inspired us to realize that our work moving one stone at a time truly is making a difference in restoring important historical churches throughout Armenia. Many of us volunteers already plan to come back again in the future, so that we can continue this legacy of important work, and also to see our completed church in Shikahogh village!
*** You can follow our progress via photos posted in our Flickr Album ***