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GEORGIA    DIARY  2

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From Diary 1, the harvesting of the Christmas trees continues.
19/9 It is another beautiful morning in the foothills. I head out to find my four teams, but Steffen have nicked "Obelix", and "The Banker" is nowhere to be found. The crew in section 15 have cleared an old timber-road, and are way up the mountain. I give those pickers I find bags, and head back to base-camp to restock diesel and dinner. I could do with some more crews, else I'm getting bored.

It helps, when Steffen wrecks yet another car (or get a flat tire on his RTW). I pick him up in the valley, where he have spotted some fresh pore-prints from a huge Syrian brown bear; Ursus arctos syriacus. Then we head over to another north-facing mountain side. Where I have a hard time finding my crews, Steffen have way too many people in his territory. They are pirates, climbing without safety and breaking huge amounts of branches off. These hold the buds for next year harvest. We send them off, threading with the police, which actually will take action, and give them a heavy fine.

Section two is another type of landscape with older, multi branched trees, plenty of narrow clearings and gentle slopes. At five, we head back to my boys and seal their bags. Back to the barn to receive the bags and do a bit of planning for tomorrow. I get two brigades extra - I hope. And while we are planning; a shopping tour to Ambrolauri to stock rations, as my lunch contained only three kinds of cheese and two type of cucumbers.

20/9 As Steffen is without vehicle this morning, we join forces. It does involve quite some driving, as we have areas on both slopes. His area is quite different, with loads of small meadows and scatted colonies of trees.

After having distributed bags and assured that the brigades are in the right places, we make a short shopping tour to Ambrolauri, 15 kilometres down the valley. Here are several shops, a gas station and even two hotels and restaurants. After the supermarket, we find the bakery, baking the local breads in a stone-oven.

Back in the forest, I find what look like a fossilised bone in the road side. All mountains around here seems to be made by ancient limestone, and so is this bone-like structure. Another place, I get close to one of the frogs, living in the mud holes in the road. As we have see in other places, the soil is real dry, and five centimetre cracks are found in several places.

21/9 We are asked to meet in at eight, and I'm signed out to policing those of our areas, which we don't pick in yet. I find a central spot, and wait for some pirates to try sneaking bye. After four hours and no catch, I start driving around the area. Quite some unfamiliar "roads", most real hard to get through.

I see a bit of wildlife like black squirrels and birds. Among others, here are ravens, Willy wag-tails, stone-chats, woodpeckers, Great Tit; Parus major, Lesser Spotted Eagle; Aquila pomarina, Eurasian Jay; Garrulus glandarius, Common Chaffinch; Fringilla coelebs, quarrels, herons in the valley, fly-catchers, migrating bee-eaters up high and other feathered creatures. In the evenings, small bats tend to find their way into the houses  - but not out.

After lunch, I start sealing bags and supervising my teams. Then I try to find access to some remote areas, and estimate wherever they will be worth the effort. After six, I have made the final round, and head home. During the day, I have collected some soil samples, but I lack the right water to process them. If I'm and every one else is unlucky, I will have some rainwater soon: The wind have shifted from east to a less gentle western wind, and rain might follow.

22/9 The big truck is back, picking up yet another 500 bags of cones. The guys who only work a few hours every evening, receiving the cones, get real busy. I only have one crew this morning - I think. I supply them with bags, and look for other pickers - mine of pirates. Two guys are walking in to "my territory", but I fail to find out why? I call Shota, who's Georgian must be useful. However, we fail to locate the two strangers.

I spend some time measuring light where the young trees grow. Some look fine, others are clearly suffering from the lack of light. I would like to determine where exactly the limit is, but the changing light during the day make is impossible. I make a few photos of the other plants found in the forest, and see a few new insects. The most astonishing about this area is the silence. When I shout down the car, all I can hear are flies - which here are a lot of. No distant chainsaw, truck, cow (never heard one here yet) and only little bird voices. If it wasn't for the flies, it would be soundless.

After lunch, Steffen head down to Ambrolauri to talk with some journalists, and I quick take over his territory. I catch an old man; 75 years, climbing without the safety belt and line. Later, it turns out Steffen have caught him doing the same this morning, and he is finish working for us. I feel a bit sad, considered he had been picking cones for 60 years or more, but our safety precautions must be enforced.

In one part of the forest, I not only find twigs from some pirates harvest, but also huge trees cut down. As the license for cones covers all trees, this is another rubbery. I get the temptation; 25 metres of perfect straight stem, from one to a half meter in diameter. And the locals do need houses.
After a round in Steffen's land, I make one in my own, and then back along with Steffen. Sealing bags and watch the locals caring them up 50% slopes. We find it hard enough without 30 kilos on the bag!

When we return home, clouds are found on all the surounding mountain peaks, and a dark belt draws in form west. It sure look like rain, and the promised temperature drop from 30 to 15C seems likely.
Madonna have prepared roasted potatoes and rice for us, and I spice it up with fried eggs. Steffen head back to the office, and I do the dishes and a bit of cleaning.

23/9 It has not rained during the night, and the sun is up. The rain will prevent the pickers from working, and make the driving considerable harder the following days. Sunny days are so much appreciated! Our third member have arrived late in the evening, but the house is quiet in the morning.
Here are quite some dogs, but they are all so friendly, and hardly ever barks. I guess they are within the house at night, as the people seems to really care for them. Most are huge, and seem to be pure bread, although from several different breeds.

The small cows, found everywhere from the roads in the village, through the valley into the forests, are gentle as well. I still haven't seen one inside an enclosure, and I believe these fenced area is for hay-harvest. They seem to be found in the narrow areas where the ground in rich and flat. The pigs roam around free as well, and quick to find the side of the road, when I approach in the car. The cows just stand starring at the car, and I almost have to push them off.

At nine, I stock bags and seals, and head out to find my brigades. Obelix is back, and I drive around with him, to assure he is in the right place, and have some cones for the following days. He, on the other hand, know some hidden tracks thought the forest. The entrance is overgrown, but then it opens up. I find some pirates, but they are operating right outside our territory.

The owner of the license for harvesting cones and out third member; BÝrge, want to know where we have been harvesting so far. I drive around with him in my areas, and we have a good chat. Then it is back to the groups to seal bags, and just as I head home at six, the first drops hit the windshield. A single shower hits the house, and heavy thunder roles in-between the hill-sides. Steffen appears to have enjoyed the ATW less, as he don't make it back before the shower. I try to catch some rainwater for my soil-testing, but find it hard to get sufficient.

The evening is dominated by rain and heavy thunder. We find a large timber beetle in the house, and sit and talk to way too late.
I upload some photos from these harvesting days in a slideshow.

24/9 The rain might have gone for now, but the water from the night's showers make the trees too wet to be climbed - most brigades claim - and it is after all; Sunday. The barn-area is quiet, and Steffen and I head up to the nearby village of Nikotsminda. Here, St Nicolas Temple is a church, build from 1010 to 1014. It is magnificent stone carvings and inside; even better paintings. A Sunday service is on, but I will return to appreciate the inside.

While we are here, we check the shop. If I've been alone, I would have missed it, thinking it was an abandon house. The cars in town are a strange mix of large, new Mercedes and ancient Volgas. We head home to survey the areas and find more good ones to be harvested.

A single brigade have found the right vehicle for the slippery slope in the forest; an oxen carriage. They left quite some cones last evening, and are eager to continue. The sun have been shining since early morning, and it ought to be safe by now. I guess the other brigades see this as a much wanted excuse to have a rest day.

As we are nearby, Steffen want to show me the cave of Kidobana. As the entire mountains around us are limestone, many caves are found here. There are several nice formations within the cave along with a few tiny bats.

Back in the forest, we see mushrooms, lichen and mosses thrive after the rain. In the lover areas, insects tend to live within the cones, damaging the harvest considerable. The cones are brown, and tend to disintegrate. We find Gigolo working too, and again, I am amassed of the speed he works with. He climb the tree in fast walking pace, and there are up to seven cones in the air, at one time.

In the search for cones, we walk way up in sector 17. Here are cones, but the road is a nightmare. Within the wheel-tracks, a meter deep gorge, all the way to the limestone, is almost as wide as the car. The sides is real slippery clay. In the late afternoon, we find the oxen carriage team and Gigolo again, and seal their bags. The autumn is near, and especially the wild pear trees have turned yellow within the last two days.

BÝrge calls and invites us to dinner in Ambrolauri with one of his clients, and we have a cosy evening with good food - and nearby karaoke. While Steffen and BÝrge discuss the harvest so fare at home, I head to bed.

25/9 I'm up before six to catch-up with diary and yesterday's photos. As we start working, Steffen send me out to his most remote brigade. On top of that, it is a real long walk down - and up - a narrow gorge. When I finally find the crew, their little dog take a bite of my leg. And they only want five bags! I have to get back on him somehow!

I find some other crews in the area, and give them 45 bags and seal some from yesterday. Back to base to restock for my own hard working people. Steffen want to join, and while I wait, I enjoy the sun and head out on the hillside botanising. I find a small lizard, many insects and quite some different fruits and nuts.

Then it is around in my territories to distribute bags. The groups are in new places, and finding them - and driving there, is challenging. Late in the evening, we find a journalist from National Geographic, doing an article about the Christmas Tree seed harvesting. Back at dusk, we seal the last bags at the barn, and head home to a rather depressing empty kitchen. Then we get an invitation to Madonna's house, and things lightens up. Georgian people eat quite a lot vegetarian courses, and I find it easy to maintain my vegetarian diet - even enjoying it.

26/9 Despite the sun is bright from the morning, the previous temperatures of 30C+ is now reduced to around 20C. After the rain next Thursday, it is expected to drop down to uncomfortable 10-12C. It is clear to me; I should have toured the country BEFORE the harvest, not after!

I join forces with Stefan once more, but we only find three brigades in our areas. That leave time to explore the areas deeply, finding access to remote parts. Driving through overgrown ravines, through ferns higher than the car, over arm-thick trees and into creeks is fun - in someone else's car.

We have brought lunch from yesterday's fest, and enjoy it at the lakeside. Then it is into the forest again, where I find a single Cyclamen plant, and under a huge, old tree, a badgers den. I spend the evening waiting for brigades to return with mainly sealed bags, but to close the last ones. None turns up, and the temperature have dropped considerably with the sun. I'm rather cold, when I give in.

Dinner is at Sukran's place again, plenty of leftovers from yesterday. I have ignored his cat, and as usually, it sticks to me. Then I try to pat it, and now it is stuck to me! How do you get rite of a cat??? We manages to sneak home rather early, and catch up on computer works.

27/9 Despite the forecast promised dry weather, it is drizzling from the early morning. The brigades slowly appears, but start the day with a bonfire and early lunch. And ofcause; cha-cha. While I drive through the village, I am offered something from a bottle. It is thick with sugar, and taste quite like good liquor. It is "The Shepherd" who make it himself.

Later, when I catch him and the rest of the team at the bonfire, I am offered it again, but with what assume is water - but turns out to be cha-cha. Despite their efforts, I'm stop at one shot. The other teams are not here yet, and I go exploring deep within the forest, to develop new harvesting sights.

As usual, the water have carved a deep crack into the ground, and while driving through one meter of vegetation, it is tricky to see. And when it branches out, I get two wheels stuck in it. I can't recall ever to get stocked in a 4X4, but now, I have to call for help. Auto pull me free, and I have to join with Steffen and the Eco-monitor, to drive them around the entire area. He seems to be pretty pleased with our efforts.

While we show him the area, we get a ride all the way op to the top of the hillside, at 1750 metres height. Here, the vegetation is quite different, and I spot quite some new species. Another strange feature is the huge sink-holes, which seems to be ancient.

Then I get a tour around to my teams to distribute bags, and seal their early harvest. A second tour around to seal the last bags, and then back to the barn to receive the bags. The rain never stopped, but it was not heavy. To morrow, on the other hand, is expected to reach 40 millimetres, and it seems to be a rest day.

BÝrge invites us to dinner at the hotel in Ambrolauri, and I get a chat with Shota about what to see in Georgia. He have travelled extensively, and have a lot of ideas of what to see. Then we drive back to village, and I start the usual evening work.

The diet seems to be the same in the village and in the hotel: Bread, bread with beans, bread with cheese, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, fried chicken, goulash, eggs, maize bred, mushrooms - and cha-cha. At least, it is easy to be a vegetarian around here.

28/9 The day start dry, but at nine, the rain starts. Steffen is packing, preparing to leave in the early afternoon, and I start analysing my soil-samples. Due to the water, I get some strange readings. I take advances of the washing machine, but drying the cloth causes a problem.

As BÝrge will remain some days, I will go for a drive, and return when he has gone. That causes for a change of tires, and while I'm at it, I clean the car inside. Then I'm invited to lunch at a local house, and after some cha-cha, the afternoon is a bit blurry, and a lot unproductive. Photos from this diary is in More Harvesting
As adventure starts, so do Diary 3

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