The “AYF Summer 2017” section of the Armenian Weekly’s Youth page will highlight the 2017 summer programs of the Armenian Youth Federation—Youth Organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (AYF-YOARF) Eastern United States.
A Birthday in Paradise
By Michele Bahtiarian, AYF-YOARF Philadelphia “Sebouh” Chapter
I looked up to see our director, ungerouhi Kenar, laughing after asking her what we would be doing this weekend for our excursion. Still laughing, she managed to respond, “We’re going on another hike.” This was the last thing our group of 11 interns wanted to hear, especially after the 18-kilometer hike we had endured the weekend before with the AYF ungers from Yerevan. I was especially overwhelmed, because this hike would be taking place on my 20th birthday.
That Saturday, July 1, we all reluctantly got out of bed, piled into our Soviet-era van, and headed to Lastiver, where we would be spending the night camping in treehouses. On our way, we stopped in Old Dilijan, which was like nothing I had ever seen before. The town was very small and rustic, and the scenery that accompanied it was even more beautiful.
After our short visit in Old Dilijan, we continued our trek to Lastiver. We stopped one more time along the way to purchase some meat and potatoes for that night’s dinner, before finally arriving at the start of our hike. All of us poured out of the van, and began our two-mile journey to the campgrounds with all our bags and food for the weekend.
Slowly trudging through the woods, stumbling up a hill of loose rocks, I was stopped dead in my tracks. I looked out past the small sliver of land we were walking on to see one of the most beautiful sites I had ever laid my eyes on. The pain I felt in my knees and calves immediately disappeared, and I had no words for the scenery in front of me, aside from “this is the best birthday ever.” I could have stayed in that spot for hours, but we had to continue our hike to the campgrounds.
A few scrapes and bruises later, we finally made it to the camp, where we saw these tiny tree houses scattered throughout the forest. All of us were laughing at their size, believing there was no way we would be staying in one of those. We ran around exploring the waterfall and washed up before arriving at the dinner table to see a mountain of lavash in the middle of a spread of meat, tomatoes, cucumbers, and potatoes. Starving, we all quickly dug into the meat, vegetables, and bread. Although I still couldn’t tell what kind of meat I was eating, I swear it was one of the greatest meals of my life. Using lavash to wipe off my hands and face after the meal, I felt immensely satisfied.
Following that wonderful dinner, we all cozied up around the bonfire with other people staying at the campgrounds. We laughed, sang, and ate bags of marshmallows. It was around then that we also found out we were in fact staying in those tiny treehouses we saw before. Exhausted from our long day, I climbed up the ladder with Ellen, my treehouse roommate for the night, to a 5×4 bedroom and comfortably fell asleep with my feet fully outside the treehouse door.
Our next morning, we woke up relatively early, put on our bathing suits, and headed to the waterfall. Dipping our toes in, we realized the water was absolutely freezing, but that didn’t stop us. One by one we all jumped into the ice-cold water to cleanse ourselves of the filth we had accumulated throughout the weekend. Jumping into that water was a freeing, spiritual experience. Although I hadn’t showered in days, I had never felt so clean.
It was an almost otherworldly experience spending my birthday in a place without any cell service, toilets, or running water (other than the waterfall), but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one of the greatest birthdays ever. I felt blessed to be able to spend my first days as a 20-year-old with some of the greatest people I have ever met.