For my last weekend in Al Ain I could think of nothing more fitting than a drive up to Jebel Hafeet. Over the last two-and-a-half years, escaping to the top of the limestone range has been my favorite pastime. I even chose my apartment because of its mountain view and I will always remember standing out on my balcony on winter mornings waiting for cloud-cover to rise and reveal the city’s iconic peak.
The view from the top of Jebel Hafeet can often be hazy, maybe as a consequence of the quarrying and cement factories that dot the area. But for me, the beauty has always been in the serpentine journey through hairpin turns, as I play hide and seek with the sun.
In November of 2017, I moved to the Garden City reluctantly as my head and heart continued to combat each other, trying to figure out how to coexist in unison. But the slower pace of life, small town vibes and simple routines grew on me sooner than I thought they would. My rhythm adjusted and the people I met solidified my feelings for my temporary home. Each person had a feel of calm and deep investment in making quiet connections…some private and some to share.
As we drove up to the top this morning, I could not help but marvel at how life plays out, pushing us in the directions that lead us to where we need to be. Thirty minutes into the journey we were making our way to the over-priced café and hoping to catch the sunrise one last time. God’s early morning, egg-yolk exposition did not disappoint.
I hope to return and see the sweeping views of Oman and Al Ain again someday but for me the drive and the anticipation of making it to the top will always be what makes this journey a beautiful experience. It is never about the destination but the journey itself. Just like life.
We are in a white Honda Civic, driving through a snow covered stretch of what seems to be no man’s land. Daylight has dawned and the signs of devastations that followed the end of the soviet era are scattered all over the place. I stare out of the window, beyond brown rooftops, at a white wilderness. Mt. Ararat looms over the horizon – the only sign of our location – we are traveling somewhere along the Turkish border.
Amidst the rhythmic tremble of the Honda, is the clicking noises from my phone’s camera. The subject it would like to capture is the natural beauty that runs through the Turkish-Armenian frontier but instead, the photos reveal hazy silhouettes of giant Oaks and Pines; reminding me that the real is always best remembered in my mind’s eye.
Autumn and winter are colliding during my trip to Armenia. New Cherry blossoms are budding in the capital city Yerevan; while the mountains still look like a winter wonderland. Suddenly, the car jerks to a halt and I am stirred from my morning reverie. We have reached our destination – the beautiful Tsaghkadzor woodlands along the slopes of the Tegenis.
I step out and take in the breathtaking vistas of the majestic Caucasus Mountains. I can stare for hours but my guide Shushan motions for me to catch up with her. I slip my phone into my jeans and count the number of crunches my Nike’s make in the snow before I reach where she is. Back when Armenia was part of the USSR, Soviet athletes came to Tsaghkadzor (Gorge of flowers) to train for the Winter Olympics. In-between her narrations Shushan ensures that I begin to understand the intricate historical and cultural fabric of the country and the values of the Armenian people. It is clear that she does not want me to leave without understanding those whom she represents and so a common theme runs through her narratives – resilience. Resilience in the face of changing ideologies, resilience in the face of a macabre genocide and resilience as the country walks a tightrope between tradition and modernity.
Odds are, if you are a traveler, you have met some pretty interesting people over the years. Some memories of them are fleeting while others recur. Many times, when reminiscing, the memory of the people that I have met along the way will outweigh the memories of the destination itself.
My travel personality is a polar opposite to my regular one. When I am traveling I find myself to be outgoing, lively and social; when I am confined by routine, I am reserved, quiet, and introverted. Isn’t that strange? That said, I love to engage with people during my travels, meeting new people and traveling go hand in hand and any interaction, good or unpleasant, adds depth to my experience.
My first impression of travel in the Caucasus region was a lovely one, arriving in sunny Tbilisi in 2016, to an enthusiastic welcome from the immigration officers. A couple of nights later, I was on a coach to Batumi, drinking wine from a Styrofoam cup with three new friends who were part of my tour group. That experience still stands out for me but was only a little taste of what was to come as the people of Georgia, Azerbaijan (2016) and Armenia (2019) are some of the most warm and welcoming I have met anywhere in the world.
I quickly scribble some of these thoughts in my diary (so that I remember them when I am staring at my computer screen later), pull my gloves back on and look around for my guide. Shushan has already reached the top of the slope and is and is signaling me towards a narrow uphill path shaped in the shrubbery by the footsteps of previous climbers. I sigh dramatically and prepare myself for my second hike in 34 years. ‘Resilience’ I remind myself and make my way up the slope. It will be a while before I reach the top.
Some people have a way of making a permanent space for themselves in our memories, don’t they?
I will never forget the people I have met during my visit, Narine, Marina, Hovo, Amir, Narkek, Shelby, Shushan’s mother’s freshly baked Gata or my time in Armenia, even if I try.