"Oh, I've been bitten," he says simply, "but I lived. No problem!" He explains how he cut himself quickly and drained the venom.
I ask when snakes are the most active. "When they are getting married," he smiles. "Springtime." His grin widens as he glances at the nearby tree, its buds just bursting open. "Now don't worry, all will be fine."
As the car bumps and jostles down toward the Azeri border I curse, suddenly remembering I'd left my pen-knife at home. But gradually anxiety dissipates, absorbed by a new landscape the luscious green plateau of rolling hills, with only the occasional wooly spread of sheep and their shepherds. With it comes thoughts of the Syrian monk, David Gareja, who took this route back in the 6th century to found his monastery at Lavra. The journey inspired many thousands of monks later to follow his footsteps. By the 12th century they had created a 50 square kilometer complex of cells, monasteries and chapels, where over 2,000 monks lived. "David Gareja is our Francis of Assisi," Zaza notes.
The car draws to a halt beside a valley of fabulously colored sandstone. Red, yellow, white, black ridges extend away southward.