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Military Road Across Caucasus

[dropcaps color=’#393939′ background_color=” border_color=” type=”]H[/dropcaps]is left index is missing, he has a scar across his eyebrow and his upper teeth are made of gold. But it s not his appearance that is scary, it’s what he says. The road on is closed, he smiles. The svan man waves from behind the wheel of a 4×4, the only type of vehicle that can put up with these dirt roads of Upper Svaneti, in northern Georgia. His kind of car, or a Kamaz, which we have seen plenty, contributing to making this road a stepping stone. What do you mean it’s closed? I ask.
There’s a dander of avalanche, if you want, you can still go, but nobody will come to search for your body in this weather, he smirks back. My plan was to continue up from Ushguli, and then reach Tbilisi, from where we’d head into Russia. We need to think this through: the last few days have taken the best out of us, we are kind of spent, physically and psychologically.
Ana’s DRZ has a crack in the fairing and needs some repairwork, the weather is shit. Its been raining cats and dogs since yesterday, and our host, Tico, looks at teh sky and nods. If you want to go, go now, or in a few days or so. We will not have many dry hours until next week. We are above 2000m altitude, where rain may quickly turn into snow. We must take our chances and go back to Mestia, from where we can rejoin the main road.
Ana is not happy with the new plan, but she has no other way around. Am I going to hate every minute of it because I remember the mud pits, the rocky climbs, the slippery hairpins? she asks. Or is it going to be easier to know that after a certain bridge or a certain river crossing I will reach my destination? I have little to say to comfort her, she just has to suck it up and do it. We pull on the socks that are still wet and while we pack our bags in silence, Hakan & Callum are watching.
They will leave as they came, by 4×4, at least one hour before us. So I have an idea: would they take our spare tires with them, and we’ll collect from Tbilisi? That way we could be lighter, so hopefully faster. And the guys agree: that’s so nice of them! Khaha will have them in his office until we arrive there.Ok, all is set, we get going, past the Ushguli school…

And the way back it does feel easier. We are confident our pace is good and we are optimistic about arriving in Mestia on time. Yet, we cannot help stopping here and there to take in this untamed beauty.

A soft rain keeps the road wet, but the second bouquet of flowers on Ana’s dashboard seems to work its magic. We are riding about twice as fast as before.

The last 10 kms to Mestia, and the last river crossing. I’m so happy to be getting near that I’m in the mood to get some splash up.

We are both quite sorry to return to tarmac. It has been an awesome ride.

In Mestia we need grab a bite: we go to a different joint this time, but the food is still excellent! You know the drill: khachapuri, filled with that deliciously sticky sulguni, salad, and whatever else they can grab from around the kitchen.

Bellies full, we must go. As she changes to third gear, Ana lets out a sigh that reverberates across the Caucasus. By the end of the day we realize that our idea to ride to the same daffodil infested field we have stayed in a couple of days ago is not going to happen. It’s wiser to just pitch and have a rest. The place is sketchy, but it does the job: an abandoned shelter, on the side of the road, about 10 Ks from the daffodils.

The nest day we put more and more kilometers between us and the mighty mountains. We take a hearty breakfast of beef stew in Kutaisi.

We will not ride into the capital before doing a bit the tourist trail. In Jvari we visit the monastery, a UNESCO Heritage site. It sits on top of a hill, overlooking the town of Mtskheta. Because of many undated interventions, the origin and age of this structure is quite controversial; it is generally accepted that the outer layer has been erected in the 6th century.
This place used to be a crucial meeting point for Middle Ages peregrins, and the spatial design is one of the earliest examples of orthodox christian architecture. I will not bore you with the details, I’ll get show you what it looks like inside. It does remind a lot of our own slightly macabre churches. And it looks like theres’ a wedding going on.

In Tbilisi we’re couchsurfing with an Iranian. Bahman is 35. He is working as an expatriate, teaching marketing at the University. We have a chnace to discuss about this country that remains, because of the CpD, off limits. As we start washing the mud of our gear and unpack our stuff, I make an unpleasant discovery. The power adapter for our Mac has died. I try to open it and fix it, but after a few hours of frustration, I give up. Ana rushes to a shop and is lucky to find a new one. For which we pay the hefty price of 100 euro.

In the evening we share with Bahman an iranian dinner of rice and kebap. Pricey again, but delicious. Tbilisi is a swanky capital, where one can find many things, but it all comes at a price. You see, the food in Iran is the best, because food is our entertainment. We can afford to spend two hours over making the perfect rice, says Bahman. Well, I promise myself to one day go there and investigate.

Soon we must leave Tbilisi and its modern and quite daring architecture. And to go to Russia we’ll cross again the Caucasus.

The contemporary designs are tough competition for the many churches scattered across the city.

Otherwise the Georgian capital does not disappoint those who are looking for signs of the socialist past. Grandiose statues and wide boulevards, much like the cities we are coming from. So we have little reason to take photos. We’d rather just look at the buidings, and sigh.

The blogs warn that the Military Road isn’t the safest way to Russia. Of course that the situation has been blown out of proportion, and the road is as quiet as a… donkey?

As an extra incentive to take it, the road passes the region where the tasty Georgian pig dumplings originated. In this street side joint the lady of the house wraps us a few khinkhali, then bakes the most yummy katchapuri. Wow, we’re gonna miss this dishes, or the sweet fruits we have been buying from villagers.

We take a few supplies for the road ahead: nazuki, a type of bread that has honey, vanilla and raisins inside. The baker, Alexey is glad we enjoy his bread.

Another Georgian snack chock full of energy is the churchkhela. Basically it’s nuts wrapped in a grape juice and flour concoction. No artificial ingredients here, all natural.

As we start the climb to the Caucasus, the mountainscape becomes ever the more spectacular. This has long been an important road linking two countries that hate each other with ardor. And since Russia has recognized the autonomy of the de facto republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the bilateral relations have been degrading. But life goes on. Villagers still sell their macrame: traditional hats that show how this has always been a melting pot of cultures. We can see kazakh fur hats, but also the eastern hat of the Azeri people, or the woolen hats of the Svans… a proper mosaic of fashion and tradition.

The trucks with merchandise follow the historical Silk Road route as the caravans once did for centuries. This road has been in continuous use since ancient times, then consolidated by the Russians in the 18th century, only to become a reason for war and separation in our days. It’s no wonder the tarmac is often in bad condition, or even disappears altogether, under a thick layer of mud and boulders. Nevertheless, with the snowcapped mountains in the background, it is much fun to ride on.

We pass through a ski resort, now empty, and we meet two Czech cyclists.

As the road becomes a dirt trail marred by potholes and slides, we are lucky to pass over a few trucks that got stuck. So we can take advantage of the clear way ahead.

Finally we catch a glimpse of mother Russia and the Russians. In Romania we have been taught not to like them. We have some nasty things to remember from the past; but hey, it’s impossible to hold anything against the first Russians we meet. The officers at the border and the passer byes are uber nice to us. They invite us to cut in line, they fill in our papers for us in Russian, they even treat us with a disarming smile. Perhaps having a church at the border has something to do with this good samaritan attitude?

After waving good bye to the sexy lady officers with long legs and gorgeous eyes, we pass by the citizens of Ingushetia who are all out and about. Because it’s a Sunday, their barbecues are smoking, filling up the air with inebrieting smell of roasted meats. I have also a reason to cellebrate: the new number on my dashboard!

As we hit the outskirts of the first town, we spot dozens of suspicious looking recipients. On the label we read: KVAC, which must be the drink that even Dostoievski mentioned in The Idiot. We must sample:

Cvas is a soft drink of caramelized sugar, sometimes fermented for a day or so. As we drink our cup a few youngsters approach. So far we love these people. They seem rather outgoing and friendly, they come to shake out hand and always ask: Otkuda vy? (where are you from?) and eve if we barely can say a few words, our sketchy conversations end invariably with a jolly Sčastlivovo puti! (have a safe road ahead!). After all the bad things we’ve heard about this country, we cannot help but keep our fingers crossed that they were all wrong!

Vizualizaţi 2013 – Georgia pe o hartă mai mare


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