From work and western Georgia in
Diary 3, I now enters the eastern parts.
3/10 The day start with a glimpse of sun, but before Auto have checked my car, a light drizzle takes over. My host; Pata want a lift to Tbilisi, and we have a good chat in English, the long way down to the capital. Or near it. It is almost two before we get to the Ananuri Highway, locally known as the military road. It leads into Russia, and is well maintained. I dump Pata outside Tbilisi, and turn into the northern highway.
It was recommended to me, but I can't see the charm. The rain does not help, but the first 100 kilometres are lowland along a river. Only the autumn colours make a motive. I do a breath stop at the Kazbegi Fortress and have a look inside the church. Outside the fortress, numerous souvenir stands offers the same machine-produced junk and knitted socks.
The road finally gain height, and meet the clouds. The colourful bushes turn into grass, and it begins to snow! Then the skiing resorts make sense. A poor Russian family have a car-breakdown, and I pull them over the pass. Jvari Pass; 2395 metres might offer a great view on a clear day, but all I can see now, is the nearest snow covered mountains. In a few places, springs bring up limestone deposit, and covers huge areas with yellow material.
I planned to spend the night here, but the cold and fear of being trapped in-between a snow blocked pass and the Russian border make me drive down right away. Heavy trucks from Russia is climbing slowly down, and I make quite some fast overtakings.
I reach Tbilisi at six, and try to find a hotel. The first couple are full, then I reach another area. Here, the hotels are by the hour, or include a nice looking girl. I decide I better spend the evening crossing the huge, modern and jammed Tbilisi in the evening, than in the morning, and head right on through both the old and new centre. On, what I hope is the other side of the capital, I find a nice hotel and a nearby restaurant.
4/10 The rain is still falling, and I get a slow start. I am heading as eastern as I can go, but the rain and flat landscape does not offer that much. It is one endless line of villages or single houses the first part. Then wine fields starts, and the a few wheat or maize fields, which have been harvested.
I turn of the big Highway 5, and turn into the low mountains. Through the clouds and into the recommended Sighnagsi town. Again, I'm sure it will do better in sun, than in mist. The GPS have a tricky shortcut, leading deep down what turn out to be a blind road. The car sink deep into the new gravel, and backing up through the mist challenges me. Then I find my own way to the little town. I park the car in a central place, and do a walk around in the mist and drizzle. A cafe opens, and I get an overpriced cup of tea.
The town have some charming old houses, some colonial-like and a few new but tasteful larger buildings. I fail to find anything real interesting, and I'm for sure not going to spend the day and night here. I might as well see where the Highway 5 leads, while I'm here.
Along the road, many fruit baring bushes are found. One is the pomegranate, which seems to be left for the birds. On the lower slopes, honey are what are offered along the road. I have seen many beehives, stacked on huge trailers. Then I'm down in a flat, farmed area, and soon after in a scattered village with old houses.
Then a big blue sign say: Azerbaijan Border, Good Luck. I find that a bit eerie, and considering the many disputes about land in this part of the world, I turn back. Pata mentioned; he had been excavating some ancient constructions north of here, and the landscape was significantly different, almost desert-like.
I find some waypoints, and head into the smaller roads. The landscape are dominated by huge rivers and wine fields. Then a surprisingly modern little town, and then more farmland. A group of hills are truly dry, but apparently, they are not all the time. The soil which first appeared barren, is filled with centimetre long seed sproughts.
I fail to find what I would describe as a desert, but the roads leads me by the well preserved Gremi Royal Fort. Here, one of the ancient Georgian kings resided; Giorgi I, 1466-1476. He also ruled Jerusalem, and must have been one of the first crusaders. Looking at my pictures, two jumps out; the ancient royal toilet, and the present. Nether are impressive.
On a big loop back towards Tbilisi, bye the northern part of the east, I pass through the rather modern Telavi. I see the centre, and find the market. Here are everything from horse shoos over fresh fish to USB chargers. I try to capture not only the goods, but also the people. They don't mind, but tend to look away.
I'm still over 100 km from Tbilisi, but since I', going to attend a meeting at 11;00 in the morning, I recon I better sleep in the capital. The sun have finally broken through, although partly interrupted by rain. As I head up from the plain, the road leads through a rather large, green beech forest, so much like a Danish.
I reach my former hotel
in Tbilisi at dusk, but they have
no room for me tonight. I find a hotel 30 metres down the street,
but have to walk a bit further to find anything else, than the usual
dishes. A pizzeria offers a vegetarian, only 50% more expensive than
the meat-filled?! At ten it is back to do the usual work.
5/10 I'm up early to take advantages of the next door bakery - unfortunately, they are not. Levin should have passed bye at 9;30, but I have to wait for an hour in the car, before he find his way through the morning traffic. I follow him in my car, through centre of Tbilisi in the morning rush-hour. I got a feeling of; he try to shake me off, zigzagging rapidly through the rest of the traffic, but I stick on like a trailer. Driving a real dirty, large, scrappy 4X4 have some advantages!
We are a bit late for the meeting with the Russian ISO surveyors, but they take it nice. I had only expected to attend the meeting as an observer, but it turns out; they have quite some questions for me. I answer as well as I can, then it is Nino's and Levan's tour to be roasted.
Before we are through with everything, we have to leave the meeting to catch our flight to Ambrolauri. We have delivered two cars back to Tbilisi, and we should save some time and petrol by flying back. The tickets are only 50 lari, goods know why? We get a long lift to the central Tbilisi, but have to wait 50 minutes for a shuttle to the national airport. We were real close to the international.
It is an additional 20 kilometre drive, and then we have well over an hour to the flight. We wait in the tiny, but modern airport along with six other passengers. Security check and all, and then the same shuttlebus drives us out to a 15 passengers airplane. The co-pilot turns around in his seat, and give the security speech in English, and we are off.
At first, we flight over a bone dry plane. The green hill emerges, and far out in the horizon; a long line of snow coned mountains. While we pass over clouds, a strange shadow of the plain with a round rainbow, is seen next to us. The in-flight reveals our lake and hillside, and Levan claims he saw Chabuca! We might not have saved any time, but the flight over the sunny Georgia was fantastic, and way more relaxing than driving.
We walk the short distance to Ambrolauri town, to buy airtime for me and some food for the next days. Then we are picked up by one of the elder in the village in, what look like a brand new, large Mercedes. I wonder where he hide that? I get ten minutes to change cloths and eat, then Levan and I head into the forest. It is now a nice but cold sunny day, and the pickers have been busy.
Me meet with Shota, and I change car. We head back at seven, and in a few minutes, the remote mountains are in the sun, while the near hills are not. I start on diary and photos, until the boys call: Dinner is ready. Shota have created a delicious beansoup, spiced with fresh herbs. I catch up with the news, and especially the five wolves Auto saw at the bridge, sound interesting. That does explain the high metal fences around every lot. And give me something to think about, walking home through the black, empty trails with only my forehead-lamp.
6/10 It is a crisp morning, with icing on the grass. The house feel even colder, and the stretch from the bed to the hot shower; longer than usual. I meet up with Shota, and we start exploring new possibilities for harvesting. Forgotten trails, accessible unknown territory and left-overs.
At one point, we are high up in area 14, known for its huge, old trees. I find one, which is two metres wide at the chest, it must be over 200 years old! The same area have just as big beech trees, and there are a special atmosphere among these giants.
I spot some eaten bogs, but I need Shota to tell me; we have found a bears breakfast. Glad it wasn't us! We locate some good areas, which will be worked on the next days. The autumn is near, and before long, the cones will open and smoulder, which will be the end of the season - unless the snow get here first.
While Shota prepare lunch for the others, I fix some quick to my self, and then go plundering one of the numerous walnut trees in the area. After lunch, we seal some bags, and head out on new adventures. It have defiantly not been a good year for the harvest, as the insects have gotten to the lower parts, and the spring's frost, to the higher.
At first, I'm puzzled over why an old tractor sits on a small mound in the lumberjack's yard. But of cause; it it the starter! Most of the cars the teams are using are always parked on a slope. At dusk, we seal the last bags, high up on the slope. Here, the pickers are using oxen and a horse to bring out the cone-bags. It make tracking them a bit harder, although a Lada Niva on slicks are hard enough! We end the evening at one of the stations, and in the pitch black, we head home - on a detour, hoping for wolves on the plain. No such luck, but the huge full moon, arising over the snow coned mountains make a good replacement.
I'm not invited anywhere for dinner, nor have any one mysterious placed anything hot in the kitchen, but I am prepared. First a flashlight, to the fuse pop. Then hot water in the kettle, then some for tea, some for the stow. Noodles, butter, paprika fruits, tomato purée, cheese but no eggs, still make a great dish. It is fare from as cold as last evening, partly because of my skiing underwear, I guess. Over the phone, I plan the following days strategy with the local boss, accordantly to my Danish boss' wishes - and the actual facts.
7/10 It is not this cold a morning, and I plunder yet another walnut tree, while I wait for Shota to get ready. We wait a long time for the brigades to arrival, and meanwhile, we play backgammon. I get utterly beaten! Then it turns out most of out pickers won't turn up. One is using this great sunny day to work on his house, one have duty at the ambulance service, one is fixing his front axel on his Lada, one is harvesting with his family and so on.
When we finally find a team, they are in the wrong sector, and are not using the safety gear; home they go. And we need cones badly by now, but I can't figure how to motivate them. They have earned enough by now, perhaps?
Shota know another cave; Sakishore, within our area, and we go in. Here are sleeping bats, some odd snails and cave crickets with huge antennas. I actually get some good photos of the bats with the light from my iPhone.
Back at base-camp, I try to plan my escape. I have a flight on the 11th, but at four in the morning - not my booking! That means I have to leave here on the 10th the latest. No flights, no truck and I try avoiding numerous small white busses, my suitcase considered. As the season has come to an end, only a few teams are working, and we agree; I can go with the truck, picking up our cones, Sunday afternoon.
I offer dinner - given Shota will prepare it, while I write diary. Pretty much the same as yesterday, but Shota spices it up with a few additional things. It is really nice to be in a country where the locals are custom to eat vegetarian. He cook it after my instructions, and I sure hope it works out well! Well, eaten it is. After ten, we discuss the strategy for the last few days, and how to improve in the future, then I head home to my dark and cold house.
8/10 Yet another crispy but sunny morning. I pack my stuff and prepare for two more days of adventure, before I head home. Then a short day at "the office", sucking in the last of this areas beauty. The mellow valley, the deep forest, the snow coned mountains, the gentle cows, the smiling locals and the silence.
The workers that use to load the big truck with 15 tone of cones have left, and I give a hand: That is truly tough work! When we are finish at the main station, we head out to two others. Here, I let the locals have their work, while I enjoy the nature and the sun.
When the truck is fully loaded, and we are ready to go, a back-tire explodes. It was the last layer of cotton, and it turns out that it actually WAS the spare tire, as he had another puncture going up here. Finding a sufficient tire around here is a challenge, and Auto try in Ambrolauri. Anyway, we will be reaching Tbilisi real late - or early! Levan have made a reservation in my former hotel, and I just hope for the best. The plan is to go with the truck to the factory, and pinch a Toyota, before I find the hotel.
Auto returns from Ambrolauri with a real shitty tire. The grip is there, but is have a long crack, most way around. Then Auto, the truckdriver; Auto and I head further on to a bigger town for a minibus for me and a tire for Truck-Auto. 70 km down the mountains, we reach the highway outside Stepansminda. Twelve minibuses passes, all filled with weekend visitors to their peasant family.
A large luxury bus passes by, and Auto catch-up with it in the city. It is almost vacant, although here are only three seats beside. I get one seat I can flip back, and doze off for two hours. Then I shift to one, where I can work. This big bus is not as fast as the minis, but is does not stop all the time, it goes all the way, and way more comfortable. And it is still a 200 kilometre drive from Stepansminda. I'm not sure if anyone paid, but the driver refuses to take my money.
I walk the two and a half kilometre with my
suitcase - in protest to the taxidriver, who thought he was going to
give me the scenic tour - and price. I'm at the hotel at eleven, get
a huge room and ask for a cup of tea, to go with my Danish chocolate
biscuits, which will be dinner.
As I go back to adventure, we head into the last diary; 5.