A Travellerspoint blog

The Road To Mestia

up in the mountains - does contain passing reference to a toilet.

all seasons in one day 28 °C
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JOURNEY UP TO MESTIA

Arrive at the Mashrutka stop at 8.30. A reminder - Mashrutkas are Transit mini buses that go from one fixed stop to another, only leaving when they are full of people or goods.

See the van is empty so order a coffee - Turkish Coffee in Georgia is not only more available, but better than in Turkey - and you get a much bigger cup.

Go off to buy food from the market for the trip while waiting for the coffee. Although I'd like to say I'm such a relaxed traveller that I casually strolled around the market, knowing there would be some time before we leave, in actuality, I rush as quickly as possible, just incase.

About 9.30 we sit and eat breakfast and drink the coffee at the only table for miles, we have food so we are a table priority! (see previous blog)

Watch people arrive, some dodgy looking men in black and sunglasses sit in a van loking menacing. An Englsih -speaking Archeaologist from Tbilisi tells us that we have already been assigned to a "Homestay"in Mestia with Nino ( we took a card with her name on) and she is unable to arrange a cheaper place for us to stay and goes away again, leaving us a bit puzzled. A group arrives which includes an old lady, a young teenage girl, an older teenage boy and a drunk man in his 30's.

A lot of boxes and goods arrive. An older Israeli couple arrive and its looking like the bus might be going that day. We are told to get on the bus. The drunk man tries to fight the bus driver, but they are both held back by others and at 11.30 we finally leave.

We drive through small towns and villages for about an hour. The houses all have verandas and wrought iron gates, mostly peeling paint. The veranda have a variety of stairways, some plain and some round and sweeping. There are free-range pigs and cows in the road and gardens, which have vines, fruit trees, nut-growing palms and sweet corn. Eventually the road climbs upwards and we reach a beautiful milky turquoise resevoir which is fed by a fast-flowing river.

The older teenage boy can speak English and translates for us. I swop Mp3's with him for a while as he likes lots of different music. The road begins to get a lot bumpier. He says the drunk man is his neighbour and that he wants us to know that he drinks because his wife died.

We stop at a roadside cafe, overlooking the resevoir. The toilet is just a shed with a hole which drops into the strream below. A lot of people have missed the hole and its not smelling too good. We all drink and eat and everyone starts to look a lot happier. The boy returns my IPod and presents me with a flower he's just picked.

When we get back on the bus, everyone is much more talkative and friendly. The drunk man has a bottle of Vodka and a bottle of beer now, but only drinks the beer. The road carries on up and the sides get steeper - upwards and downwards, keeping the resevoir on the side.

Suddenly the bus stops and reverses to a small shrine on the roadside, overlooking the resevoir. . Everyone gets out. The shrine has shelves with glass doors with flowers and glasses in them, there is a black tombstone with two men and a car etched into it.. The old lady hangs on to the back of the shrine and starts to wail and cry uncontrollably, held by the girl. The boy stands and cries. The drunk man gets out the bottle of Vodka and starts to orate - its called toasting - he pours a large amount of Vodka on the ground, takes a gulp and passes it on. All the other men take it in turns to do the same, so elequently, if only I could have understood what they were saying! The boy and the old lady continue to cry and the rest of the women look on and cry as well, me included. A car had gone over the edge a few years before and two men had been killed, one of them the boy's father and the old lady's son. Eventually the driver goes back to the bus and the small group are left by themselves at the shrine, while we get back on the bus. Soon they come back on the bus and it pulls away. The boy casually gets out his MP3 and starts to listen to his music and everyone carries on as before.

The road goes up and up, getting bumpier and bumpier, until there's no tarmac left, though later on the road turned into a proper one briefly before getting much worse again. The mountains get higher and the resevoir turns into a fast-flowing river. The boy translates for us, they tell us that there are bears and wolves in the mountains, but no-one hears or sees them, except maybe in the winter when they are hungry. I'm quite disapointed but not really surprised. He tell us the drunk man is a good hunter and that they stay away. "He's a rich man!" the boy tells us.

After a few hours we stop again at a bridge. People get out with bottles and we're led down to fill our bottle. What a surprise when I realised it was fizzy - the best water I've ever tasted! The drunk man points to a mountain futher on and tells us that its his mountain. ""Our mountain" the boy says. The drunk man tries to pull me further down the path, but I go on back to the bus.
We carry on futher up and up, it starts to rain - something I haven't seen since Istanbul. The drunk man invites us to visit his house and says he will take us to Mestia later. We decline his offer and he gives us his name and phone number. I show him my name written I've been practising writing in the Georgian script and he takes it, saying he'll sleep with it next to his heart and I'm glad we declined his offer to go to his house. Soon they are dropped off in the rain on the side of the mountain and we get out and look at their houses, which we can just make out.

The bus goes on upwards for another hour, until I think that its not possible to go up for any longer! The rain stops and the mountains look beautiful and fresh.

At about 7 pm the bus arrives in Mestia and we get dropped off at a house. "This is Nino's" said the driver and we went in.

View from roof of Svan Tower

View from roof of Svan Tower

Posted by sue deegan 12:58 Archived in Georgia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Batumi

Making sense of Georgia.

sunny 38 °C
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After arriving in Batumi, we tried to find a cheap Hotel to stay. The first one we went to was several times to amount of our budget, but the girl behind the desk said she knew of a "Homestay" for a lot less and one confused taxi ride later - I think the driver was looking for a Hotel, we found ourselves outside a ramshackled looking old soviet block of flats with a derelict entrance. Yes this was our new salubrious home! The stairway was just an empty hole with stair with no rails going up them and concrete rubble everywhere, electric wiring hanging precariously over the top of everything. Soon a small group had formed around with everyone debating where we were meant to be going and everyone callng out "Manana!"" The name of our host. There ws no Enlish spoken here so my 6 words of Russian were used repetatively and eventually Manana was found at the top of the flats, a friendly grey-haired woman, who spoke no Englsh and she ushered us upstairs.

View_from_.._Batumi.jpg

The flat, like so much in Georgia, was considerably more comfortable inside than it looked outside and our room had air-conditioning - or rather shared it with the room next door - very clever. The climate in Batumi is also very humid and hot in the summer so air conditioning is a welcome relief, but you pay the price when you go outside as its like walking into a steam room and you have to acclimatise to it all over again. Its a bit lijke chocolate, you want it but you know you'd be better off without it and when its gone you want more!

We went out to find some food and see the sea, which was only a few minutes walk away. Georgia is famous for its food, which is as they claim, delicious, but incredibly high in calories. I know I'm obsessed with food ( I did just liken air-conditioning to chocolate) but even thin Rob was impressed by how many calories and saturated fats were crammed into one dish. We had Katchapuri, which is one of the staple dishes. Its a large - about the size of a dinner plate, boat of rich puff pastry, onto which is put an eggy, cheesey mixture, which is melty and dippy. Rob's one had an egg cooked into as well. Incase this isn't runny enough, there is 1/4 pound of butter placed on to of it. I hate to admit defeat regarding food, but it had me totally beat! We'd heard that this was a small snack, but couldn't believe that was possible, however, later we discovered that there are different, smaller versions. As you can see the Georgians do take food seriously, but in a different way to the Turkish. There is much less of a cafe culture, though they do like to eat out., but cafes are much harder to find. There is a big respect for food, for which people make a point of eat sitting down for (there seems to be little snacking going on except for the small Katchapuri - see next photo) . We've had tables and chairs found for us, not out of any concern for us, but purely because we had food we wanted to eat. I've watched people sitting down at cafes, again, people rarely eat seperately, and they look morose and quiet. Then the food and drink arrives and all of a sudden they are happy, lively and animated.

Katchapuri.._Batumi.jpg

We waddled down to the sea and the surroundings got a lot posher with palm trees and shady areas. The beach is just massive pebbles, but so warm that you don't have to hesitate even a millisecond before you walk into it, though once you're in you realise its not the cleanest sea in the world (but not the dirtiest either).

After our first bit of English, there wasn't much spoken in Batumi. I had wondered about trying to speak Russian in a country that has not long been at war with Russia, but on the surface there is no resentment. The Georgians are remarkable in their desire to get on with everybody, considering their long history of being taken over by one power or another. They are certainly not a soft people, but they are easy going and like to enjoy themsleves, which makes travelling here usually easier. The men love to get their bellies out and it was surprising to see men with their t-shirts pulled right up leaning against a tree in what appeared to me to be a quite effeminate stance. Unfortunately every time I photo'd anyone they'd pull their shirts down!

Gambling_Man__Batumi.jpg

Sunday_Aft.._Batumi.jpg

The Georgian language has absolutely no connection with any other language in the world and there are very few words - except foreign ones brought in- that have any relationship to any other language I've heard. The alphabet is made up of 37 letters, most of which are unpronouncable consonants that appear in no other language. These consonants are often strung together without any vowels to help at all. Apparently the longest string of them is 8 at the start of a word. This language is written in an alphabet, which also bears no relationship to any other alphabet. Some of the letters do resemble some of ours, sort of, but they are always pronounced totally differantly. So the one that look like M are actually O and R. There are a lot that look like 3s with different bits added on to them. Before I left I printed out the alphabet from the internet and now, very dog-eared and used, I never go anywhere without it. I can read most of the letters now, though often can't pronounce them, but it was hard work as you think you had it and then one you couldn't ever remember seeing before would pop up! I still only know about 5 words, but my Russian is slightly better.

There were constant power cuts and the water only came on once a day. but we realised that most of this was to do with re-building work and sewerage pipes being dug up on the street we were staying in. However the pavement, where there are any, everywhere are buckled and there are big holes and ditches in the roads, all this just 2 roads from the salubrious sea-front. The general air is of falling apart Soviet grimness, and sometimes grandeur.

Watermelons__Batumi.jpg

Batumi_street.jpg

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Its taken me a while to understand why Georgian people would see an area as being quite up-market, even though it included such bad streets and run down buildings, but they are so used to seeing these things that they don't notice them, they notice the new and shiney. I'm used to the new and notice the run down and rubble.

After a few days of getting used to it in Batumi we decide to head up for the mountains and catch a Mashrutka to Zugdidi, from where its an apparently bumpy ride to Svaneti.

Posted by sue deegan 02:58 Archived in Georgia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

riza to georgian border

contains only one small relevant referance to a toilet

sunny 28 °C
View Mıddle East and Caucusus on sue deegan's travel map.

I forgot to tell you the most important part of my stay in Riza. Ever since getting to Turkey I've been dying to play Backgammon with one of the showy, "slap the pieces down as hard as you can" men. Women don't play - at least in public, so it took a while to get a game. The chance finally came in a cafe where one of the showiest players noticed me watching and patronisingly offered to play me - big mistake. 5 embarrisingly thrashed games later he gave up and we left before his pride got the better of him! I tried to be as modest and lady-like as I could but inside I was dancing around and sticking my toungue out at him!

We left humid Riza and caught a Dolmus bus to the mountains. We'd heard that the village we were going to was very beautiful. After following the Black Sea Coast we climbed quickly into the Kackar Mountains and arrived a what looked like another back-packer's paradise, with an internet cafe and cafe in the square, on the side of a mountain. However, it son became obvious that this was a tourist spot for Turkish holidaymakers.

men_on_bal..__Ayder.jpg

It's funny that mountain places always remind me of Switzerland - even though I've never actualy been there. There were a lot of wooden houses built along the hill-side, some of which had hand turned lifts to take the baggage up. The scenery certainly looked Alpine and there was the constant sound of waterfalls and a fast-flowing river.

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We managed to find a great place - pretty basic, but cheap and run by a friendly, quirky woman. A small mix-up with the room led to an English speaking man to be found and immediately broke the ice and led to much hugging and meeting the other guests and extended family. Later in the week one of the women called me over and stroked my arms while simultaneously fanning the flies away from me and feeding me peeled pears! We were right next to the hot springs hammam - which made up for the shared dilapidated squat toilet and cold water sink. It was even closer to the Mosque- infact joined on to it.

woman_of_t..__ayder.jpg

Before I left Englad I listened to a radio programme about tunes and music that had the most effect on the human brain. About 3rd on the list was the call to prayer. The sound of this has always had unexplained effect on me. Not religious and not usually evocative of any particular place, but something inside me stirs when I hear the beautiful melodic call. Not this one! It was the only one (including the wobbly tape recording in Sinai) that had no effect on me as it sounded completely different to any I'd heard before and at 5 in the morning sounded even worse.

It was great fun watching the Turkish holidaying. There was even more eating going on than usual. The Turkish seem to enjoy places by eating in them - families with big picnics and eating out is a matter of course for even poorish people. This ofcourse strikes a chird close to my heart, but even I was out-eaten by the Turkish tourists. At least I walked up the mountain and then ate loads! They just seem to drive around from one eating place to another and then spent the evening eating and drinking. There were the Turkish equivalent of "Kiss-me-quick" hats. The women all wore ethnic scarves with dangly bits and the men wore cowboy hats. At first I kept thinking that the Istanbul tourist were foreigners they were much lighter skinned and dressed so differently from the Turkish people we had got used to.

The local people had a definate hardy mountan look about them and obviously loved their home. One teenage girl (one of the few English speakers we came across) told me happily " I was born here and I will die here one day." One of the things they were proud of was the traditional music and dance called the "Huron". This was the attraction of the evening as a piper arrived with a few local people and started it up. It sounded very much like Breton music to me and the dance looked the same, with people holding hands and dancing in a circle with a few shouts thrown in - great stuff! Soon a huge group of holidaymakers were joining in.

turkish_to..e_Huron.jpg

The thermal baths were a fantastic experience, a sort of cross between a Hammam and swimming pool. The men and womens sections were, ofcourse, totally separate. Like a hammam this place was seen as a great local social opportunity. It seemed strange to see the women stripped of their scarves and baggy clothing. It was obvious I was a foreigner as I had a swimming costume on instead of the strange combination of cloths they used, though later some Istanbul women arrived with their brazen swimming costumes and brown shoulders! It was a bit odd at first to be alone amongst the chatter that I couldn't understand; here everyone seemed to have a friend to wash their back, but the heat of the place soon relaxed me and I just sat back and enjoyed watching everyone.

After the woman's entrance you went into the changing room, similar to at a swimming pool, then there was the washing room. This was marble tiled and had marble sinks and taps fixed around the marble seating area. The thermal spring water that came out was pretty hot and there were bowls around for pouring it over you. Then you just sat there and washed. And washed. You could employ a proffesional washer if you wanted. There was one women who did and she was washed everywhere for about 20 minutes - I didn't think it was possible to wash for that long! Then you go in the thermal pool for as ong as you can bear, come out and wash, have a cold shower go back in wash for a bit more etc etc. All I can say is I felt pretty exotic as I sat there scrubbing with my jaunty pink and black polka dot Wilkinson's exfoliator mitt. The first ever one in Ayder!

From Ayder to the border was a shortish trip. We changed buses and found ourselves very quickly in one bound for Batumi, the first major town in Georgia. The bus dropped us off all at the border, apparently to pick us up at the other side. There was a sudden rush for the first part and we all queued and pushed and queued in the heat. All of a sudden everyone looked and sounded very different and slightly dodgy! We went through various processes with officials sitting in air-conditioned kiosks while we all sweated outside. It was all slightly confusing and we were questioned about our stay very politely by the Turkish officials. We eventually got through and after waiting about an hour for our bus, realised it hadn't waited for us!

The change across the border was immediate - the signs, the people, the food, the ex-soviet feel was all slightly unearving. We had been told that very few people spoke English in Georgia and that it was not always a safe place. When I was travelling before I got used to the people in one country telling me that the next one wasn't a good place to go, but its always exciting and a bit strange to go into a new country.

We got on the first mashroutka (transit mini-bus that goes from a set place to another, when its full - and I mean full!) to Batumi. As we sat down a girl leaned across and said "Welcome to Georgia, I hope you enjoy your stay in our beautiful country." Then chatted in English until she got off with her mother after a few miles. The mother said "I will pay your fares for you as a welcome gift" and would accept no argument. The bus travelled through some beautiful and dilapidted soviet style small towns and we got off at a confusingly busy bus station, which was decorated by a sleeping drunk man lying in the entrance.

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Posted by sue deegan 05:44 Archived in Turkey Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Kayseri to Rize

fairy land and beyond

sunny 37 °C
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We arrived in Goreme with very little problem and I could see why so many people go there. Yes, it was a backpackers Mecca and it was inceredibly toursistic, but it did it with such good grace and the town stunning. There will be photos shortly, but this is the first chance for internet in days and soon want to at least be in the same country as my blog!

The town is very old and the old part consists of strange rock formations which look like fairy chimmnies - there is no other description possible and these fairy chimmneys were turned into houses.

Fairy Chimney House, Goreme

Fairy Chimney House, Goreme

Fairy_Chim..oreme_2.jpg

The countryside all around is scattered with these formations, a lot of them still houses but most abandoned. There are valleys all around the town and its possible to walk along them yourselfor with guides. Ofcourse I did what I promised myself I wouldn't do (because of the 37 degree heat - dry so a lot more comfortable but still very intense) and set out to on a walk in the late morning along an unknown route. It was beautiful with shady groves and lots of fair chimneys along the way but the way back was very hot and exposed.

CANYON GOREME

CANYON GOREME

Later that day I had my only case of sunburn and had to hide from the sun. The hostel we are in has a small swimming pool! And it still only costed about 6 pounds a night! Unfortunately the food cost a lot all over the town, which seems to be the way - when the food is cheap the accomadation costs more and visa versa. It was intresting to see that the town was run mainly by men and younger, unmarried women and the married women nearly all kept a very low profile.

inside fairy chimney

inside fairy chimney

balloon over goreme

balloon over goreme

It was very tempting to stay for longer there, but we were concious that our visas for Azerbaijan were limited to the end of September and moved on.

The next town we went to was called Sivas and although it was pleasant, it was just a stopping place on our trip back up towards the Black Sea Coast (which we had intended to travel along). It was an 6 hour bus trip away. Those who are squeamish might want to stop at this point as I have to briefly discuss my bowels - it is pertinent to the trip and I do want to give an idea of what becomes the most important things when you are travelling. Although I pride myself on being able to eat and drink anything when I'm travelling, I do get irritable bowels and on this trip they suddenly became downright furious. After about half an hour of being doubled with cramps I had to get the bus to stop - luckily at a petrol station and with the whole bus watching, ran to the toilet. I sat very still for the rest of the trip.

The next day was meant to be a 12 hour journey (although it turned out to be 15!) and I was scared! Obviously my bowels had decided that bus journeys were the time to have fun with me. I'd brought some emergency tablets with me but they had run out and the local chemist only had something totally different, which they insisted would work but I had never heard of before, so I decided to risk the trip. Dressed in 2 pairs of pants padded with sanitary towels and a pair of leggings under my clothes - still in 37 degrees heat - I waddled onto the bus carefully. Well the tablets did work you'll be pleased to hear, but I sat very quietly for a long time!

INTERESTING THINGS SEEN (MAINLY) ON TURKISH BUS JOURNEYS

  • The roofs on nearly all the houses have a large water tank connected to a solar panel and a sattelite dish on the side.
  • Lots of fields with minature combine harvesters - very old and like dolls ones.
  • 2 very small boys driving a small red tractor.
  • Real haystacks in a haystack shape
  • An open box van with a new fridgefreezer on the back being held onto by a man standing next to it with a broken arm goingpretty fast on a main road.
  • tea bushes growing on roadsides.
  • Blocks of flats with a built-in kebab oven on each balcony.
  • 2 medium boys driving cars to their father's car wash in a busy city street.
  • A wedding party going around town beeping and then everyone stopping at the photography shop to have their photos taken.
  • Groups of men and children swimming with fully clothed women looking on.

Having decided never to arrive late at night again, we got to Riza on the Black Sea Coast at about 4 in the morning! Luckily we found somewhere quite quickly and then changed to somewhere cheaper the next day. The weather had become very humid again by the sea. This is the main tea growing area of Turkey and it was everywhere - it also tasted pretty good. Not that many foreign tourist travel in this area and people generally don't speak Englsih so our Turkish - or lack of it was severely tested. It was pleasant by the sea but it was walled off aand there was definately no swimming here, especially for women, which seemed quite a shame. I longed to be out of the city and Rob wanted to do some white water rafter and so we headed off for the kackar mountains close to the border with georgia>

Posted by sue deegan 23:34 Archived in Turkey Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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