Cruising the Caucasus, Georgia & Armenia

Border crossing experience entering Georgia:  “Passports please”…..WHACK! STAMP! “Welcome to Georgia.”  No visa, no questions, no money…Almost felt too good to be true.  We entered Georgia with high expectations.  Most of the overlanders we had crossed paths with while in The Stans who were coming from West to East had passed through Georgia and they all told us we were in for a treat…nice people, amazing scenery, rich culture, and good food.  What did we find in Georgia?  Keep reading to find out.

Our route. From Azerbaijan into Georgia, into Armenia, and back into Georgia. Just shy of 2000k (1250 miles)

 

We entered our first Christian country in 8 months – I ate a ham sandwich and washed it down with a gulp of red wine.

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With our Couchsurfing host Zaza eating Kinkali

We spent more than a week in Tbilisi (Capital of Georgia), hogging out on Georgian food, kinkali (meat filled dumplings), lobio (bean soup) Abkhazian (garlic and walnut paste spread onto fried egglplant), and Katchapuri (warm buttery bread stuffed with cheese). We wondered if we liked it all so much because it really was actually good or just because the Central Asian food we left behind was just that bad.

We made friends with a funny Georgian mechanic named Nico in Tibilisi who helped us located some parts for Bala.

We watched couples lined up one after another to get married by long-bearded Orthodox priests in the main cathedral of Tbilisi

Georgia & Armenia BEST1-15

One day I went into a small shop looking for a tool to fix Bala, the man behind the counter seemed gruff.  He seemed to have no patience for my attempts at using Russian.  I had already judged him as unfriendly.  He didn’t have the tool I needed so I left and sat on the curb nearby to wait for Magdalena who was around the corner.  A few minutes later the man from the store passed by, and without a word, he simply flashed a smile that seemed so impossibly unnatural on his rough featured face, and he handed me a loaf of bread still warm from the bakers oven and walked off

We fixed Bala!!!  (Well not entirely running great but at least better than she had been running the last 6,000k)

We made a detour into Armenia.  Impressions/Experiences-

We found there to be an endless supply of half -ruined but beautiful old churches built around 1000 AD (Armenia was actually the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as the official religion in 301 AD)

We saw entire towns that had been completely abandoned.  Factories, shops, churches and homes with smashed windows and trees growing out of them.

We woke up next to a big crystal clear lake
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We woke up to a 100 cows trampling past our “bed”

We woke up on the steps of a old abandoned church surrounded by an abandoned town.

We missed Georgian food

We found the people to be incredibly friendly.  See next line.

We got a flat tire near an old church. First a priest shows up and offered his help holding Bala on her side so I can work off the tire.  Little while later he returns with two cold drinks.  Then another guy shows up and offers us a tire pump. Then the priest returned again with 3 ice creams, I took a break from the bike and the three of us ate them together. He takes off again.  Then another guy comes over with a bag of plumbs from his garden, around the same time the priest returns with two peaches, and the bike pump guy also returns…this time with a few handfuls of mulberries. Somewhere in between all this a couple also showed up in a car and offered to invite us for a beer. Finally the priest returned one more time with soap to wash our greasy hands.

Our tent, parked in front of an abandoned church in an abandoned town.
Our tent, parked in front of an abandoned church in an abandoned town.

Back in Georgia…

In a small town we met a team of archaeologists digging up evidence of animal domestication from 8,000 years ago.  We shared a big Georgian feast with them at the local restaurant. They picked up the tab.  Thanks 🙂

In front of an 800 year old ruined fortress off a small highway in Southwestern Georgia some 150 kilometers from Tbilisi, by complete coincidence we bumped into Nico, our mechanic friend who we had said goodbye to a week before.  We formed a little motorcycle gang and spent the next few days traveling together and enjoying each others company.

With Nico, camping somewhere in Georgia
With Nico, camping somewhere in Georgia

I learned that archaeologists always throw something into the remains of a dig when they are finished…a handful of coins with current dates on them, a plastic toy, or any other anachronistic item that would alert future scientists that the site has already been examined.  Our new archaeologist friends humored me with a small request…. and now, a part from Bala’s carburetor rests next to what was once an 8,000 year old human dwelling.

We spent two days with a guy who had spent years in prison for murdering another man

We explored a 900 year old monastery that was carved into the side of a mountain overlooking a beautiful valley with a river winding through it.  Imagine a small town consisting solely of hand carved caves, over 400 rooms total that once included a bakery, a pharmacy, 25 wine cellars, and 12 chapels complete with beautiful frescoes painted on the walls.

Vardzia, the cave dwelling monestery
Vardzia, the cave dwelling monastery

We learned that Georgia is where it all began…the earliest archaeological evidence of grapes cultivated for the production of wine that was ever found was in Georgia and dated to around 6000 BC.

We met a guy who recruited the help of several of his friends and drove us all around town to help us fix a part on Bala that had broke, he wanted no money for it.

Once when Bala broke-down, a man invited us into his home, we spent the night at his house, he treated us to lunch and then to dinner, offering to pay was not an option. The next morning we woke up at his home to a huge breakfast that he had prepared and served to us on a tray.

We met a man who closed down his small air-condition repair shop for the day so that he could take us to a nearby thousand old church and monastery and give us a full tour.

We met a man who has dedicated the last 8 years of his life to the church, who has aspirations of becoming a monk.  He believed in being kind to strangers.

We spent some “vacation” days in the resort town of Batumi on the Black sea.  We gambled in a casino and treated ourselves to a fancy dinner.  We started chatting with a man next to us, he was interested in our story.  It later came out that he was the owner of the restaurant and after he excused himself to go back to his table of friends the waiter came over with two glasses of wine on the house.

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Driving along one day in the middle of nowhere our carburetor manifold breaks.  End game, no way to fix this…we need an original part from India.  We walk Bala over to a farmhouse we had passed a while back.  There, the old man who runs the farm lets us leave Bala in his garden while we wait for the part to arrive from India in 10 days. Before we leave him he gives us a bag of fruit and a big smile

We got into a shared car to get to a remote mountain region in the north of Georgia. The driver insisted we come first to his home before hitting the road, where we were served food and he served himself a few shots of vodka before we hit the road.

We fell in love with the Georgian alphabet.  აქვს ლამაზი დღე ჩემი მეგობარი  I just wished you a nice day…in Georgian.

Remember the guy we hung out with for a couple days who had spent years in prison for murder?  That is the same guy who helped us fix the part for Bala, who invited us into his home, served us breakfast and treated us with the utmost kindness, the same guy who closed down his shop so that he could give us a tour of the nearby historical churches and monasteries, who has dedicated himself to becoming a monk. His name is Shalva, we will never forget him.

Shalva :)
Shalva 🙂

We fell in love with Svaneti, an isolated mountainous region in the north of Georgia, one of the last living medieval cultures left in the world.  It is wild, untamed, mysterious, and stunningly beautiful.

We hiked and hitchhiked for several days through Svaneti, from Metzia to Ushguli. We stayed with a family in old stone villages surrounded by 5,000 meter (17,000ft) peaks and dotted with ancient defense towers,  we camped next to glaciers, we camped next to ruined old stone structures, we crossed rivers on horseback, we saw and photographed more than 40 different wildflowers, we made friends with cows and dogs, we drank vodka in our tent as we listened to the sound of a raging glacial river, we hitched rides from policemen, road workers, and polish tourists, we didn’t want to leave.

Ushguli georgia svanteti svan caucus historic photo

Collection of the photos we took of all the different wildflowers we saw along the way
Collection of the photos we took of all the different wildflowers we saw along the way

Ushguli georgia svanteti svan caucus historic photo

Ushguli georgia svanteti svan caucus historic photo

Ushguli georgia svanteti svan caucus historic photo

Ushguli georgia svanteti svan caucus historic photo

Luckily our part finally arrived from India, thanks once more to the guys a Vintage Rides, and so we were able to shove off, towards our next destination, to cross yet another border…to see what adventures await us in Turkey.

WANT MORE PHOTOS?  

There’s lots more to see!!!  CLICK HERE to be taken to an album where you can see many more photos and also read the captions next to them for some more stories.

Have a friend’s birthday coming up?  Consider donating to a charity in their name.  My charity fundraiser makes it easy to do and I will even send a “Thank You” or “Happy Birthday” postcard.  To learn more about how it works CLICK HERE

 

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