From the cone picking in
Diary 2, it is now time to explore the
29/9 It is a real nice day, and I get most of my things packed, and head out on adventure. I only bring a light bag, but have high hops for big adventure. I head north, into the mighty Caucasus mountains. The first 100 kilometres is sealed, but take quite some time, and the views are fantastic. First, I drive through the famous vine-fields of Ambrolauri. The it turns significantly wilder, and the road follows huge rivers most of the time. The first part is limestone, and the cows does not get up for a approaching car.
In some places, the road go through real narrow gorges, in other places, it is under half-tunnels. Cows seems to be everywhere - except in the fields. I pass some old forts or churches on minor hilltops, but they are really disintegrated. The few villages seems to be more or less abandon, and houses are falling apart as well. Over one valley, a giant Griffon Vulture; Gyps fulvus glides around, while Willy-wagtails stick to the roadside.
I enter the Lentekhi district, and see the first restaurant-ish place. They do serve food, and I get a traditional bread with cheese, baked while I wait. As I continues, the sealing ends, and the road turn challenging right after. In the narrow gab in-between mountains, even bigger peaks emerges. Some even have snow on, left from last winter. Narrow waterfalls meet the river, and some crosses the road.
The villages are getting fewer and even more abandon. In one, the road is blocked by some workers, but I spend the time finding motives in the surounding mountains and the local pigs. It turns out to be the last village on the road for 60 kilometres, and I am apparently the only person here. The snow-coned mountains are getting closer, and birch starts growing here. Higher up, the conifers dominates.
Despite the difficult road, I enjoy the tour immensely. The bright sunshine just add to the scenery. The limestone shift to slate, then granite. The road turns real rough, and without the ground clearance of a 4X4, it would be impossible to continue. I pass a pass of 2610 metres, and in some places, I look down on the snow. It might not have the grandness of Argentina and Chile, but it sure have the beauty.
After the 60 kilometres of desolation, I reach a small village; Ushguli. It is dominated by the famous towers, and I have to stop the car, and do a walk in the narrow alleys. Cows, pigs and dogs are everywhere, where the people are harder to spot. Here are so many great motives, and I think I get the entire village covered.
One man is brining in firewood with an oxen driven sledge, while the rest seems to be doing absolutely nothing. One have been smart enough to carve some small models of the towers, and I have to get one. A few cafes and guesthouses are found here, and I guess quite some people find their way here in summer time.
The bad road continues, and so do I. Then it turns into a brilliant concrete road all the way to Mestia. I get here before dark, and drive through. It is famous for its towers, but after the little village, it is disappointing - but easy accessible by normal car. Here are a line of guesthouses and little more. I head back through town, and pick the nicest looking place. 25 GEL for the nice room with hot shower and heater, 25 GEL for dinner and breakfast. I do not need to stay in a tower, have a latrine in the yard and a bucket of cold water to wash in.
The dinner is a delicious hot dish with spiced
eggplant, some carrots with dressing, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and sweet
30/9 The breakfast can only be served after nine, which is two hours too late for me. But, how busy am I? I get up at seven anyway, and do some catch-up on work. The Abkhazia adventure do cause me problems. As it is not really Georgia any more, there is strict border control, and people here tells me; you can't cross. And no chance you get the car through. Further more, Abkhazia is the land of Russian bandits - uniform or not.
I start the long drive down the Caucasus high mountains towards the Black Sea. It is yet another astonishing ride, through narrow gorges, pass naked peaks and snow in the distance. Cows are lead out on grazing, turkeys, geese, ducks, grapes are ready to be picked and people are relaxing.
Some of the gorges lay in shadow, due to their depth. Waterfalls find the big river, tunnels connect valleys, and I have to force my self driving on. A turquoise blue river is packed with timber in one place, but the rest is just so much out of this world.
In the few villages, it is hard to tell which houses are abandon and which are not. The Soviet building stile may have included quite some concrete, but little cement! Only the pigs and laundry give them away. When the landscape flattens out, larger settlements starts. The typical house is bungalow-like, the garden a lawn - sometimes with cows or pigs.
A large castle occupies a hill, but I only make a breath stop. Then I find the Georgian-Abkhazian border. Here are lots of cars parked, and people are walking across. I approaches the police boot, and after some time, they find the guy speaking English. Apparently, I can not continue without an Abkhazian visa, which should be obtained on-line. The only information I found on-line was; visa can easily be obtained at the border. But how, if you can't go there?
Anyway, considering the road to Sokhumi probably will be as dull at the lowlands I just passed, I just find another botanical garden. Just around the corner, Khobi is found. It is a larger town, and I find the centre with Soviet buildings and a market/bazaar-like area.
I walk around, seeing the tiny shops and even find dinner: Tuc-Tucs and bananas. A nice change from the usual food, which tend to be the same four courses. I even manages to find a car-charger for the GPS. Every one are so smiling and laughing.
A bit further on, the road meets the Black Sea. The sand is real dark, and it have a feeling of sea with shells and all. Unfortunately, plastic is the most common object on the beach, and I head on without a dip - except a index finger. The road is new and wide, but cows are still sleeping on it.
Then the road passes a huge marsh area, and low hills emerges in the horizon. Then I pass what sure look like a tea plantation, although it is near sea level. Some of the cows have changed into water buffalos. A sign show of to Petra, which is a castle from 527-567. Here are not that much left, but the palms and bananas, along with the temperature, is nice.
I reach the outskirts of the large Batumi, and drive straight to the Batumi Botanical Garden. It is next to the sea, on a steep slope, and quite big. Unfortunately, it is way more a arboretum than an actual botanical garden, and I hardly find any plants, interesting to me. A few greenhouses are more or less abandon, and it have a feeling of "once was". The few flowering plants are the usual annual suspects.
After two hours of walking, I have had it, and head towards the city. On the way, I find a clean hotel, drop the bag, and hit on. The huge modern houses are architecture interesting, but I prefer the old centre. It is next to the industrial harbour. The sun have gone, but I try to capture some of the atmosphere anyway.
People are fishing on the docks, and the colonial-like buildings are swarming with shops and customers. Wines vine are everywhere, crossing the streets and covering the houses. Here are plenty of fresh fruits, bars and restaurants along with the usual "anything goes" shops. Here are even souvenir shops for the Russians, who are numerous. All I find is a pair of reading glasses, as I broke the frame on the other air last afternoon.
I think my combination of little Russian, but not being Russian, give me quite some credit. Anyway, I only meet vide smiles everywhere. I walk the streets and alleys until the light has gone, and the rain starts. Finding vegetarian supper turns out to be slightly difficult, and I end up with a traditional open bread with cheese - way to salty.
Due to yet another day with way too many photos, I make Western Georgia.
1/10 There are none in the reception, and I wait for quite some time. Then I leave the key and the payment at the counter, and head on. It is drizzling, and I skip the planned Mtirala National Park, which is not a hot-spot anyway. The Inland Adjara, on the other hand, should lead into some lower mountains, containing different vegetation. And, I hope, sun and adventure.
Getting out of Batumi take some time, as it is a big city. Then the road opens up, and I have it almost to my self. I get out in the foothills, covered in small clouds. Again, the road follow the river, and winds its way parallel with it. I don't seem to avoid the drizzle, but the fantastic nature makes up for it.
At one point, the road is filled with goats, the first I have seen. Cows are so common on the roads I guess the out-numbers the cars. In Zestropeli, the church seems to be build, only to crash into the river. Here are so many motives, but the lack of sun - and drizzling - prevents me from catching the usual amount.
The hills are covered in broadleaved- and confer trees, and only along the river, some barren ground are found. Here are several fortress along the road - or river, and I stop at a few. Kaviani is one, but here are not much left. In the first part of the road, several villages are found. I stop at one, to try to withdraw cash - and fails.
The mountains are getting rougher, but the moist won't let go. After 60 kilometres, the sealing stops, and the road narrows down considerable, although here were no "end village". The melting water, frost and wear-and-tare, have eroded the road to almost nature, but my trusty Toyota struggles on. The next 50 kilometres is without cows and houses, and only two narrow wheel tracks in long, rugged stretch. If it wasn't for the GPS, I would be sure, I was lost!
My goal is to reach The Green Lake; a site recommended to me by Shota, a local 4X4 freak. In around 2000 metres height, some barn-like houses appears in the grassy highland. Despite here are numerous houses, I don't see a single cow or person. Could they have abandoned it for the winter?
It is a bit eerie to drive through these scatted houses, not seeing anyone, and so fare from others. The trail splits up, and departs to single barns, and I have a hard time picking it up on the other side of the river. Then I finally reach the Green Lake, which is a disappointment in the drizzle and mist. I do find a few huge snails and flowering bulbs without leaves. However, the barns was a brilliant experience, although I'm not sure I understand the purpose. Can it be for grazing cattle and harvesting hay only?
I head on towards Inland Adjara, and the GPS suggest a road further on, over at pass; 2120 m, and into unknown territories. Besides from the fact I will be utterly lost, should the car brake down, it sounds like a great idea, and I go for it. More barns fill the soft slopes, but not even a bit of chimney smoke can be seen. It somehow feel more desolate due to the buildings.
After additional 40 kilometres of former trails, I reach a village and sealed road. I stock lunch to be eaten on the road, and head towards the southern high plateau, 190 km south-east. First, I reach the rather boring lowlands with its worn-down settlements and lazy rivers.
Soon after, the road narrows down, and the gentle hills gain height. They are covered in yellow grass, and the settlements are scares. A single castle; Rabati Castle seems to have gone through time unchanged, but it is more likely restored recently. I think I'm in the larger Akhaltsikhe city, but I only stop to fill the car.
While the soft slopes are yellow, the river is flanked with green trees. The sun start to break trough, and lightens up the barren rocks. The road is pretty good, except the places where the sealing have gone, or where sink-holes can hold small cars. The landscape is fantastic, but too large for my camera.
I pass another large fortress, and the steep fields along the river for kilometres have high walls: Winegrowing? Then I reach a larger village in the plateau. I do a walk around the centre with its market, but it is getting too late to find the monastery and cave, I've been told about. I have to return to work, 250 km north of here.
As I decent from the heights, I pass a couple of hitchhikers again. This time the right way to pick them up. They are from Poland, and on their way to Akhaltsike. I planned to go a shorter, but more challenging way, but I re-plan for their sake.
We have not gone fare, before the road is filled with mist. Unfortunately, it originates from the car's radiator, and I have to pull over. I can't locate the hole; hose or radiator, but refill the car with river water. That keeps us going to the outskirts of Akhaltsike, and the first garage. The Polish head on, and the mechanic take the car apart.
It is the radiator, and he know someone who can welt the aluminium. He can remove the radiator and have it fixed in two hours. Well, that will be after dark, and I still have 210 km to go. The muffler have been loose all the time, although metres of wire have been used on several occasions, and now it is broken. I ask him to fix it, while I'm here.
On the other side of the road is a restaurant and a hotel - and nothing else in sight. I book a room, and head for the restaurant. It is combined with the bar, and the music is loud. My Danish boss calls, and I have to step outside to hear him. When I return, my food have gone, and they thought I dodged the bill. I get another cup of tea and pay.
At half pass eight, it knocks at my door: It is the mechanic, finish with
the car. He have not welded the radiator, just fitted it with some
two-component material. But the muffler is fitted correctly, and hardly
rattles. I pay him 100 lari, and hope for the best: I have more challenges
for the car in the future!
2/9 I am lucky enough to get served breakfast in a vacant room at eight; else I would have been waiting until ten. As I am heading back to work, the most exiting thing will be; do the car last? It is 213 kilometres through relative flat lowland, and the rain and clouds are present.
I do a single stop to botanise a bit. Some pillow-like bushes entreats me, and so do the almost white succulents. Besides from that, here are not that much interesting this time of year. The ancient castles are there, but time and rain prevents me from exploring them. I do a breath stop in Borjomi to buy new reading glasses, milk and lunch for the road. The car is still working fine, and I start pushing it more.
Somehow, I kind of arrival from what I thought was the back road: Nikotsminda. While I'm here, I might as well admire the inside of St Nicolas Temple. It is truly astonishing. Carvings and paintings all over, but only one chair, taken by a kitten.
I'm back at work little pass lunch, and Levan bring me up to speed. Then I ride with Shota to some of the working brigades. It is cold, and there are rain in the air. Some teams are about to call it a day, but I get them to continue, considering the amount of rain tomorrow will bring. I pass the office, and then out to other groups, to seal bags.
One team is working the highest areas, and bring down their cones by horse.
We meet them at dusk, then we head back for a quick bite before weighting in
the cones. Back at the office, we discus strategies, and form a plan for the
remaining harvest. I'm home way too late, but end up chatting with my host
even later. Then it is packing for the next days of adventure - as it is
going to rain, and no work will be done around here. Then diary and photos.
The temperature have dropped, and the unheated house is a chilly
experience. It take me three hours to warm up my toes, and then be able to
fall a sleep.
Another adventure awaits in Diary 4