Staying with Scientists, and Volcanos! 

Somewhat hungover, we wandered out of Yerevan in the general direction of Mt. Aragats. It was hot, and we were sluggish, but the hitching was relatively easy. Soon we found ourselves in a small town on the long, winding road leading up to the top.

Storm clouds rolled in, locals stared at us like aliens, and we ate lunch under a small canopy, in a slightly creepy children’s park while a man gave us apples, likely wondering just what the hell we were doing there. 

As the day grew late, one man who picked us up offered us a place to stay. Awesome!… Of course, being us, it wasn’t going to be so normal. This “place to stay” ended up being an abandoned hotel that he was the caretaker of. We politely declined, and only slightly because this was how a horror movie should start… And as storm clouds rolled in yet again, we made for a castle in the distance.

As we approached a valley, the wall of cloud we had been racing to beat was on us. A nearby patch of trees seemed like the best choice to make camp, as going through a valley in the dark, with a storm ripping around, is likely not the smartest choice. Of course the girls still thought we could make it. Little psychos.

The rain hit as we finished putting up our shelters, but the little fire we had coaxed into life persevered. 

Unfortunately, at one point the wind was so strong it tore a hole in my tarp, causing a mild panic attack. I mean, on the side of a mountain, in a rain storm, with a big hole in your shelter = a cause to worry. Generally. By this point the worst of the rain had come and gone, so I simply propped my jacket up in front of said hole and let the wind rock me to sleep in my hammock. Solved! 

The next day we reached the castle, sitting on the edge of a canyon, and slowly but surely crumbling away. As castles do. Standing on top of the main keep, it was hard to imagine the Kings and warlords of centuries ago calling this place home. Back then they were testaments to mans abilities, but today they are just attractions for tourists passing through. I tried to imagine soldiers, wearing their armor and various weapons, standing on the battlements while invaders crept up the very same trail we had followed… 

There was even a bathhouse! And a church, naturally. But as interesting as this was, we had a Volcano to climb. Onwards! 

The next vehicle that stopped mistakenly took us back to the castle. The road we had walked back to connected with a road going to this castle, which we didn’t know about… But we did make it up, eventually. 

Where the road ends, there’s a lake. There is also this strange complex of oddly shaped buildings, towers, observatories, and various rusted machines. While we ate lunch on the side of the lake, some men appeared from one of these buildings and approached us. 

Nice guys. They invited us to come after our hike to talk, eat, and sleep there if we’d like… The mystery and kindness intrigued us. We would be back. 

From the lake to the south summit of Aragats (there are four), it’s only a two and a half hour climb. Doing the whole circuit would be fun, but time was short. The views from the south summit were beautiful enough, however, and we were quite satisfied with what was presented to us. 

The day was growing late so back down we went, with the girls wanting to get back to Yerevan that night. Such rushers. If that was the plan, this was where we would part ways, because this mystery complex was too much to pass up. 

Another rain storm hit as we reached the main building. We walked into a foyer with a big digital clock above a set of once-grand stairs, stained glass clearly from a Soviet time, and… No people.

From one of the many rooms, one of our friends from before emerged. This thin older guy with a roughed up baseball cap was the man in charge, and essentially the only remnant of a once busy and bustling physics research station. Once all the rooms were full of eager young scientists, especially during the days of the USSR. Now most rooms were used for storage, a few for guests, and the hallways are generally quiet and empty. 

We were treated to a big dinner (with vodka), prepared by the one cook, and attended by the one helper guy. Of course, since we were these interesting and strange traveling creatures, we told our friends of our travels, and in return given the history of the place. 

Stalin had ordered the construction of this complex during the second World War. I couldn’t begin to properly explain or understand how their research works, but they study physics. How cosmic rays effect weather patterns on Earth. Apparently it was very important during the cold war, but those details were not explained so much. Most of the buildings themselves remained a mystery, but it would have been great to spend even a week there exploring the place, or just shadowing our new friend. 

The entire place had this post apocalyptic, frogotten-civilization feel around it. The man himself, more or less alone in the main building, amongst so many other empty rooms with empty beds, had a look in his eyes of so much experience and knowledge. He had experienced so much, and been in such an important place in recent history, but now he sits on the edge of a volcano, in a slowly crumbling building, helping out stray dogs like us. Eager to show us pictures of the past and make sure we were comfortable and fed before reluctantly letting us keep on going down the road. 

I was sad to leave. This place had such an attraction about it. Maybe it was the rusted experimental structures, the alien-like landscape up there, or this living piece of history who does all he can to make others happy all of that and more perhaps. 

But we had to go. The girls’ trip was soon to be finishing, and I had to figure out about getting to Iran! So we headed down the mountain the next day, to head back on north. To Georgia! (again) 

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Swimming in Sevan… And Strippers? 

We headed North to Lake Sevan. It was summer you see, so a massive lake seemed like the obvious place to head to. As usual, hitching went smoothly, and after a bit of touristy venturing around the only real touristy location on the lake (arhere’s a church on a little peninsula… That’s about it aside from the lame itself.), we went in search of… Money! We all needed to exchange some cash, so off we went… 

Somehow this turned into sitting outside a small convenience store on the edge of town, also called Sevan, and drinking beer with this thick old cat that I fell in love with for a short time. Of course the locals probably thought we were insane.

Naturally this semi-drunkening turned into us looking for a train down the lake, because a train would be fun. According to my map, there was a station! So again, off we walked. I think we walked up this same main road 4 times over a couple hours. 

As we arrived to a near empty station, still topped with a red star, we were informed there… Was no train. Except on Saturdays… Only on Saturdays. Yea. Alright. We were laughing at everything so we turned around and headed for the road, confusingly repeating the words “only on Saturday…” more than once. 

We did reach a place to camp. We did. After following a mysterious forested road, and being massacred by mosquitoes, we found a place… For a fee. Tired, and seeing it would be hours worth of walking to another place to sleep, we grudgingly accepted. Out of spite, however, we had a fire on the beach. It wasn’t even a big fire but the next day the owner began yelling at us in Armenian and Russian. With all the garbage lying around, what was a pile of ashes? Really. 

Nice sunrise, though

The next day was spent finding a place to have a proper swim, which on the north side was pretty easy. What ISN’T easy is escaping the horrible music that is prevalent in Greece, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia (at the very least)… It’s like this techno-sorta stuff with an overly-synthy voice over, or just some guy shouting in whatever language fits the country… It assaults the ears and I can imagine that this is what awaits me in hell.

But the point is, we had a good swim.

As our next target was now Mt. Aragats, the old Volcano near Yerevan (which we actually found out about thanks to a Canadian couple that picked us up), we decided to head back to the city for the night. 

As evening approached, a trusty old Lada stopped. Perfect. Russian engineering would deliver us to a sheltered place to stay for the night… Except this car kept breaking down. But after several turns pushing it down the road, and the driver tinkering with the fuel hose, we were back in business.

Photo by Katerina

Now this is where things got… Different. Our ride dropped us off 20km from Yerevan, and we were picked up by a transit van with ass-room for one of us. This meant the girls sitting on my lap and one of the Armenians’. Nothing strange. Then we were invited to dinner, because the one guy was very wealthy (he wanted us to know this). Alright. 

We were transferred to a vehicle owned by his personal driver, and taken to a restaurant. Here we were served maybe three courses of food, beginning with salad, transferring to a huge platter of various meats and potatoes, and ending with an Armenian special – crayfish (they say something like “rack,” but to everyone else it’s crayfish/crawfish). It was safe to say we were all full to hurting before the crayfish came along. I mean, our daily diet was bread, cheese, tomato, cucumber, and onion. 

I have no idea what filter I mistakenly murdered this one with… But yea, there’s some food

After enough food to fill us for a few days, and enough beer to properly do us in (I was managing to still be cognizant), we wanted to just head back to our couchsurfers place. What did we do instead? 

We went to a strip club, of course. Now back in the army I had gone to a few, but they were never my thing. Too loud, to expansive, and honestly the girls at these places just don’t do anything for me… But I followed the crowd. 

Inside our wealthy friend had set up elaborate fruit platters for us (you know lassie multi layered good trays that you would see at fancy weddings or something?), and decanters of whiskey. Again, I sipped on mine slowly, as at least one of us should have 20/20 vision. 

I think two hours passed. I am very sure that the boss had gotten every stripper in the place to crawl on top of me, literally raining down money on top of me so that I could slide it under their things. I attempted to look into it out of politeness, but it was in actuality the silliest and most awkward time I’ve had on a while. This is the type of thing an 18 year old fresh into the world might have wet dreams about, but me? A scraggly traveler man who would rather have a scruffy dog and a mountain trail to follow, than the prettiest model straddling my waist? It was another story to tell, sure, but I sure as hell felt outta place. 

At the end, while our couchsurfer was telling us he was now home and we could head to his place, the entire club was dancing. The Czechs were surrounded by patrons and strippers, while I was slowly trying to inch us towards the exit. It came to us just saying sorry, thank you, and “gotta go!” a few million times while climbing into the car. 

The night wound down with bad car-karaoke, singing along to Smoke on the Water and some other nonsense, and actually sleeping at one point. It’s true. 

… To the Volcano! 

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Travels with Czechs

Following a simple “come with us” from the two Czechs, I set off for Tbilisi yet again. I walked and metro’ed my way to the south edge of town where I met them on the highway out. Linda was a little sick, but managed to survive some hours in the sun, breathing in the lovely smell of vehicle fumes… At one point they convinced me to pay a little for a lift 200km or so into Armenia. Grudgingly I accepted… For the sake of the sick one!

To be fair she always looked a little strange

Crammed into the back of a van, we crossed into Armenia… After I filled out paperwork for a visa I didn’t know I needed (research properly, kids!) I think it took us six hours to get to Gyumri… Not only do it take us a long time, the guy didn’t even stop at the road to Yerevan for us! We all agreed that this guy was a bit of a dick. 

Dropped outside this wonderful bar on the edge of Gyumri

At 11 we got dropped off outside Gyumri, ready to find a spot to camp for the night. But why not try half an hour hitching, eh? I couldn’t just… Not try. So I waddled on up to the road, stuck my thumb out, and the first car stopped. It was a guy driving a big van to Yerevan! He even told us to sleep if we wanted. Of course I splayed myself out on the seat and, well, attempted sleep. I failed. I always fail. 

Being driven to our couchsurfers door, we were more than grateful. A good counter experience to out first Armenian experience.

Fireworks go off because of weddings, birthdays, or just because.. So basically every night.

Yerevan became our base for exploring the surrounding areas of the country. First off was Khor Virap, a little monastery off the Turkish border, with a perfect view of Ararat. Ararat being the supposed place where Noah’s Ark finally landed. Khor Virap is like any other monastery (in my eyes) with one extra feature – two pits underneath the complex that supposedly housed a well non monk for many years. Kinda cool.

Turkish border is really just over the hill from the monastery

Next up, on the tourist route, we made our way to Geghard monastery. Cool monastery, but of course the best times are made off the beaten track… Which is what we did next!

On the outskirts of Garni, sits an old pagan temple. We set up camp across the river from there. A starlit sky, silhouette of an ancient temple, and a little fire for some ambience. Behind us was the Khosrov nature reserve, and our target for the next day.

We arent the type to take taxis, so we walk to the reserve. Hours in the boiling sun, down roads literally no cars are using, we made it to a gate. A sleepy guard awoke, probably not expecting a few backpackers to this quiet place. The price per person was something like $10, which covered your entire stay I believe… After checking out maps and figuring it would be wasted time to simply turn around, we decided to go for it.

He really wanted my bread

Linda preparing for the outing

He followed us a little ways from the gate, but was smart enough to turn back

The pictures promised us so much green. What we had was mostly desert-like conditions for some hours as we made our way along empty old roads, in search of waterfalls. Here and there were old empty houses, a couple apparently active farms, but no wildlife and barely any green.

It came to the point where we were going from water source to water source as the sub beat down on us, and the road got more and more desolate. We began questioning our choices, because it seemed like we were just hiking into oblivion. Of course, “just a little farther,” became our thing. 

A bit sick of the sun, or just timed the picture perfectly? Who knows.

The girls had it dead set in their minds to cross over a mountain to a waterfall, and my maps app that had so far proven very useful and accurate for me told us we were on the right path. It was late afternoon, and maybe it wasn’t the wisest choice, but we kept going. 

Good pictures along the way, though

Around 3/4 up from this mountain, we ran into a Shepard, heading on home with his sheep. His puzzled look and erratic hand movements likewise puzzled us… We soon got it that apparently this was no way to a waterfall, and in fact it would be many many kms before we reached anything at all… Alright. Only wolves and bears and death awaited us. I’m not the type to argue with a man of the land, so after he invited us back to his farm for the night, we slowly agreed. 

I think he was lecturing us all the way down

Before long we were setting up our beds on a stack of hay bales and eating fresh cheese, bread, milk, and some kind of pasta. The Czechs spoke Russian, so for a large part of the evening I was off in my own world, trying to read people’s faces, or just eating while everyone else talked. Language barriers can be a bitch. Being an introvert, however, I don’t want to always be chatting up a storm anyway. Sometimes I like how conversations are impossible, truth be told.

Farm doggy

The next day we were woken up at the break of dawn by our friend, making sure we had time to go see the local waterfalls before he would drive us back to town. His son would show us the way… Sounds like a nice little morning stroll, right?

Two hours of bushwacking later, two pissed off Czech girls, and we had arrived at a rather nice waterfall. Freezing water, but I tore off my clothes and got in ASAP. Two hours of up and down thick bushy hills wouldn’t end in simply turning back. After hardship, a good thing feels a lot better. 

With only half an hour to spare, we scrambled back towards the farm. Of course we were invited to breakfast at another. Can’t say no, right? Riiiight? So we stuffed our faces with coffee, bread, cheese, and this really tasty cream, before catching the Shepard man’s truck as he was starting off down the road.

As we rumbled away in the back of this old farm truck, watching light touch the valley we were descending into, we couldn’t hide big dumb smiles. These are the moments you spend lonely or somewhat miserable moments whirl traveling for. These are the times that make it all worthwhile. These are times that I’ll remember many years from now.

But things would get weirder on Armenia. I began to think these girls had some strange magic about them that attracted such situations…

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Goin’ to Gori 

I had to say bye to free mountain air and snow-capped peaks of Svaneti, as the adventure had to continue East. So reluctantly I hit the road. Hitching out was easier than I had thought and I was in Zugdidi in no time. 

As I wandered through town, a police car stopped. This was the same town I got a lift from police before. Maybe the same guys saw me and radioed me in? Apparently the guy who picked me up had been looking around town. I jumped in to find two Czech girls sitting in the back. More lucky adventurers.

Again we were passed from car to car, until we reached Samtredia, where an old bus full of slowly old women stopped. We of course did the old “no money” routine, but they still told us to climb in. With a storm coming our way, we weren’t about to argue. Climbing over random boxes, and getting dirty looks from old women, we crammed into the back of this old thing…

We drove East, into the rain, while shitty Russian pop music, followed by shitty Russian crime dramas assaulted our ears and eyes.

We parted ways outside of Gori, as they were destined for the big city. A taxi driver invited me into his car as the rain picked up again, and I was able to contact Zura, who drove out at around 11pm to get me. 

He took me to his home to meet his wife and two lovely dogs, who I befriended immediately. Of course I was stuffed with food, beer, and he even gave me his own bedroom. Georgian hospitality, man. He did everything for make sure I was not only comfortable, but that my stomach was as full as it could be.

Gori is Stalins hometown, making it the reason people go there, aside from the nearby caves. It was also invaded in 2008 during the South Ossetia conflict. Zuras’ own flat block was bombed and shelled, as the military hospital is almost next door. Yea, they targeted the hospital. He showed me videos of the various surrounding buildings burning, with one video even showing his friend dying… Outside, next to the playground, is a monument called “The Tree of Life,” which was constructed from Russian artillery shells used in the assault on Gori. Hard to comprehend all these things, coming from a more or less peaceful bastion like Canada.

Stalins home

“tree of life” sculpture, made from artillery shells

Zura had me stay another day, wanting to show me more, and I suppose just getting to know a foreigner. I suppose the one strange and sad part about my trip in Gori is when he took me to thelcal zoo,situated in the middle of one of the city parks. Inside small cages were birds, monkeys, and even bears. Their faces looked worn and done-in. To Zura it was something cool to show to me. It was hard to smile… 

The two Czechs had messaged me as well, inviting me to go to Armenia with them. After a little debate I had decided that generally, in these situations, you should follow these sorts of invitations. I mean, I was planning on going there anyways. 
My sights had turned from the far North of Georgia to very much the opposite direction.



These changes, as I’m sure I have said before, are the fabric to this style of traveling. You don’t have to follow these random prompts, but from myself, they always lead to the kind of experiences you will remember for the rest of your life.  

I was to team up with two little Czechs, and I believe I can say the experiences got stranger…


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Mestia to Ushguli

I had just written a post about the trip between Kutaisi and Mestia. . . And I think WordPress decided it wasn’t worth saving. Damnit all. Screw it, then. 

SO, settled in Mestia, having completed a few day hikes to a nearby glacier, and up to the top of a neighboring mountain, it was time to do the big trek (big for regular hikers/trekkers but likely amateur for you experienced folk).

The route from Mestia to Ushguli takes around three or four days for most, but can be as little as two if you really want to zip through it all. Why people want to do that is beyond me. So I set off alone from Mestia, dying from the heat on the first hill out of town. Great start.

The first climb gives you wonderful views of the valley, on down to the glacier. Cows wander on by, and besides the incline, it’s a great way to get into the hiking mood.

After this I descended into the last bundle of villages before its basically just me and the trail. I passed a couple Israelis who I walked with for an hour or so but they were too slow and went on ahead… I’d see them again at some point. 

Around Zabeshi is where most stop for the night. It was only six, so I decided to climb the next mountain and camp with a view! So huffing and puffing I began, singing and talking to myself, as I do. There were so many possible camping spots it was hard to choose, until I almost got to the top at around 2400m. So I chose a location with enough wood for a fire, and settled down for the night. Just me and the mountains. That feeling of being surrounded by primal nature is a powerful one. Invigorating, calming, and just… Feeling right. 

Day two I passed a ski hill under construction, and descended to Adishi. On the way I met a Czech and a Slovak, who I ended up meeting while I was collecting water and photographing fee crazy amount of butterflies in the area.

We stopped in Adishi to resupply either bread, cheese, and khachapuri.. The best I have had in Georgia. Again, most people stop here on day two, but it was only 2pm! Onwards to the river crossing.

Rushing from a massive glacier, reminding me of “The Wall” from Game of Thrones, the river was moving fast. Ideally one would cross in the early morning, before the heat for the day caused more water to melt and thus cause the river to be more or less impassable.

After testing out various places for cross, and seeing a couple on the other side also failing, we opted to camp for the night. Dark clouds were also moving in. We hid under some trees, made a nice little fire, and rode out the rain and the night, talking the philosophy talk in the mountain rain.

We crossed the next day at seven. Others crossed while holding hands and wearing all their gear… The water was still fast and high. So we ripped our pants, and I plodded know first, pulling along the heavily-laden Slovak as icy water shrunk my manly bits. It was great. I was laughing as Russians watched us like we were so strange

As we dressed, we downed a shot of chacha and continued up the next incline, getting the best view of The Wall. The clouds were parting, and we eagerly continued.

Down the next path the clouds came back as quickly as they had left us… A great wall of grey and haze coming up the valley. Luckily there were a few old cottages nearby and we rode out at least some of the storm, while many joined us and others were so wet they just kept on going… There is a point where you get so wet that stopping is meaningless (unless there’s a nice hot fire!)… Of course the rain didn’t stop and we continued anyway. It only took an hour to be soaking wet.

On reaching the main road, we ran into a man who we had all hitched with at one point, and just happened to be resting outside his guesthouse. Funny how that works. Naturally we spent the night there, listening to his stories of finding exotic prostitutes in Dubai. 

So, day four had us walking up the main road to Ushguli. They were under time constraints so we parted ways when a local bus came along. On I continued alone, as I do. 

I met others on the way, but not long enough to develop such deep relationships! It was only a couple hours to reach Ushguli. 

Rain trickled down on the final walk up. Another small village out of sight and out of mind in the mountains. One thing I noticed was how many vehicles were viking and going from here. Tourist vehicles. Hoards of them. Ushguli itself , once you looked at what was there, was a tourist stop. So many cafes, guest houses, horse tours, etc. It didn’t feel right.

I sat up on the highest hill in town, under a black tower (something to do either a queen, I think?), and tried for avoid all these things, and focus on the nature. The hike up to this point was beautiful, and thoroughly enjoyed my time. But the end point, well, wasn’t the highlight! 

I hitched on back to Mestia, spending another day there while hiding from the rain. For these couple nights I had the honor of having a street dog spend his nights under my tarp, leaving after breakfast, naturally.

Having felt satisfied in Mestia, I aimed for Gori, to see the friend I had made on my way here… I wrote about him in the previous deleted post, which I hope I can recover.

PS. I’m actually writing this as I freeze in Western Kazakhstan. I’m horribly late with these posts. Most of that is due to doing all of this on a phone. The lack of keyboard, as well as the poor photo uploading to mobile WordPress, makes this more of a chore than a delight. Unfortunately. I will catch up, however . There’s a lot to say between this post and where I actually am now! 

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Winding old roads and Farewell to Friends 

Bypassing cities is always my first choice, and this is what we did. Skirting around the North end of Chinti, we made our way East through the foothills, along gravel and dirt roads,  through villages only Georgians would find any interest in, to Tianeti. Here one of our drivers basically forced us to his home, where the entire family took us in for lunch.

Grandma, mum and dad, some of the neighbors, and four children all gathered around a table to look at us and ask questions about what we were doing. We were fed beer and the Georgian dumplings known as khinkali, which is basically like the well-known perogi, but slightly different. Tasty stuff. This was my first taste of Georgian hospitality (not my last), and after some hours of food, beer, coffee, more food, and more beer, we had to get going! 

The children and the father drove us to the opposite side of town, and they all waved us goodbye, giving us phone numbers in case we got in trouble and needed help. Not long after an older guy was watching us slowly make our way out of town, then waved us over. He decided we could use a bit for help and drove a few km’s out of his way to talk us down the road. It turns out Tianeti is full of some awesome people.

Off we hiked through snaking roads, surrounded by rolling hills of cow-grazed grass and pretty much complete silence. At least a couple hours passed before an old Mercedes came roaring along, and picked us up. The two passengers said nothing, just pointed to the back seat, we got in, and off we went. 

At one point we broke down, and the two men worked in silence to fix their car while Katharina and I picked blackberries and wandered around the road… The car was fixed, and again we set off. 

Eventually we reached Akhmeta, after what seemed an eternity. Our friends dropped us off with a smile and took off down a side road, and off we walked. Soon enough we had our own escort of more than likely the entire towns population of stray dogs, woofing and barking without end. I’m sure we were quite the show for the locals. 

As night fell a U.N. Landover gave us a lift to Telavi. No idea what they were doing in the area, and communicating was difficult. 

Telavi is a different sort of Georgian town. Spacious, clean, and feeling more Western than other places I had been to. The highlight was the 1000 year old tree that Katharina got stuck in, and the friendly dogs (naturally).

Only a night was spent here before we had to head back to Kutaisi, for Katharina’s flight home. As usual from us, rides came fast and we were at the Eastern outskirts of Tbilisi in no time. 

Our next ride was with a very friendly Turkish trucker. I jumped up on the back bed and Kat got the passenger seat, which was equipped with a massager. I passed out for a little while and she got a massage, and eventually we switched it up…. It was a long journey to Kutaisi.

Outside Zestaphoni (near where we had our adventure with that crazy guy we had to run away from), police were stopping all truck traffic. Sadly we parted ways with our friend we had gotten so used to after these five or so hours. 

Hitching on a dark road at night isn’t so fun, but we managed. If Kat wasn’t with me I may have spent the night in a bush. 

Our driver took us right to our hostel, before giving us a “God bless” and disappearing into the night. Our hostel being more of a house with a few extra rooms. Odd place. So we had one more day before she departed for Austria. It felt strange. After only ten days it had felt like we had been traveling so much longer. We were so used to each other’s company, but just like that she was back to home-life, work, and university, and I was back to being that scruffy lone hobo wandering the roads. It was one for those bitter-sweet moments where she picked up her bag at 3am and headed out the door, ending our little adventure. Then it was back to a dark room all by myself. Luckily I’m fast at adapting to new situations (thank you army), and after I awoke to a new day, it felt as if I had always been alone. 

Funny how life can change so suddenly, and how people, places, or events can completely change everything, even if it was just for a little while. Everything  is transient and impermanent. I enjoy what i receive, but always try and remember that nothing lasts forever…

But that impermanence is what makes everything meaningful. 

(Check out Kats video on her trip in Georgia!) 

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Mining towns, Monasteries, and Hippie Happenings 

Our escape from unknown misfortune took us into the rolling hills of Central Georgia. Our destination was Chiatura, due to hearing people say it was worth seeing. Foreigners said this. Georgians wondered why the hell we wanted to go there. 

It’s an old Soviet mining town. The images you think up are probably pretty accurate. The river is almost black, the buildings gray and haggard, the people just regular Georgians (regular being not so smiley and always staring), but the interesting aspect being the many cables stretched between cliffs above.

Chiatura revolves around the manganese mines which are apparently responsible for around half the global supply. Mines dot the tops of cliffs through the valley here, with cable car lines criss-crossing between them, carrying men and minerals. One of the touristic things to do is take one of the decades old mining cars to the top of one of the cliffs and watch the miners do their thing. A couple hours worth of stuff, really. Something to see on your way to the East or West. 

The next day we arrived in Tbilisi, getting dropped off on the Northern outskirts. We hiked along the side of a mountain to our couchsurfing hosts place, probably taking the most difficult route possible (as is tradition for me, it seems!). Around 11pm we had a strong desire for cheese, so she introduced me to the famed khachapuri. Essentially an oval-shaped bread bowl filled with a tonne of melted cheese, topped with an egg and slice of butter… You can see why I had to try it. Neither do us could finish the medium size. Katherina maybe ate a quarter, and I managed half… But man, it was so much damn cheese. Topping it off with a thick slice of butter? It is an incarnation of Georgia’s insanity.

Post khachapuri

Anyways, that was the highlight of Tbilisi (this time). The next day we took a bus to the David Gareji monastery on the Azerbaijan border. It’s built into the side of a mountain, in the middle of nowhere. Older and more in-pieces cave churches sit just over the Azeri side, which are accessible if there doesn’t happen to be border guards hanging out there at that particular time. It was no Cappadocia, but I love caves and monasteries so worth the visit. 

Road to the monastery

Back to Tbilisi for a night, then North towards the rainbow gathering! Did I say I was headed there?… Honestly I forget these things.Well, I convinced Katharina that she had to try out one of these gatherings. She cautiously agreed. Hehe. 

It was only a dollar bus ride to get 20-30kms north of the city, so while I usually wouldn’t do such a thing, I hate hitching from cities. It was worth it to avoid the hastle. From Chinti, we bought two huge loaves of bread (man the bread is good here), we walked until we hit a gravel road, and walked some more. Eventually we got picked up by a family in a Lada 4×4, finally! I always wanted a ride in one of those things. They were pretty confused that we wanted to get out at the entrance to an old forest road, and reluctantly let us go (after telling us to go to their village). We were on a hippie quest, however, and began our hike up the mountain… Well, as soon as we began our hike a near-naked hippie crept out from the bushes and escorted us up. 

Swimmin’ hole

Passing people leaving (the gathering was just about over), we arrived to a small clearing with greetings of “welcome family!” and hugs. There were still maybe 40 people around, with tents all over the place, clothes and sleeping bags drying in the sun after a few days of rain.

(Being that rainbow gatherings prohibit technology, I didn’t take any pictures of the camp or people) 

We stayed for a couple of days, and I got to see Katharinas look of fear or confusion at the “food circles,” where everyone gathers to hold hands and sing before a communally prepared meal is served. The random howls that echoed through the forest every so often, that to me are not so strange, had her wondering what kinds of drugs were being taken (unfortunately none of which were offered to me). I just loved seeing her try to accept it all. Cute, really. 

Attempt at a night shot of our camp.. Alright I took one picture.

On our final day we went for a swim. Standard stuff when near a lake… Until old Georgian guys show up, of course. Which isn’t unusual in rural Georgia. Singing, playing accordian, they invited us over for cheese, bread, tomatoes, and cucumber. Being that rainbow gatherings don’t generally provide much food, we weren’t going to say no. 

Then the cha cha came out, which is the national moonshine-like drink (a lot better tasting than moonshine), usually made out of grapes. Great. Then one of the old guys starts getting friendly with Katharina. We have experienced this many times by this point. But he tries to get her to go swimming with him, to “go for a walk,” which then turned into “leave your man and come live with me.” I believe there were stranger things said, but it was all Russian and I was just watching facial expressions. Not surprised, but obviously uncomfortable, we slowly inched away from the guys, and once a crowd of rainbow hippies arrived, we made our escape.

Austrian in the trees!

The next day we were setting off for Telavi,the supposed wine capital. Our aim was to take mountain roads, which we decided would be more adventurous. 

It was. 

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Strange People, Dangerous Drivers 

In Sarpi, the border town, I met my new travel partner for a couple of weeks. Katherina the Austrian, who had already soaked up some of Georgia’s interesting ways before I had arrived. We camped out on some beach chairs, falling asleep with the sounds of kms of passing Trucks overhead, and that horrible, overly electronic music that seems to infest this part of the world. 

The next day it was up through Batumi, and North, to find just one decent beach to camp out on… This is where we met Goga (something like that). 

Hitching out from the main road North, Goga appeared. The usual “Where are you from,” changed to “I’ll come with you!” an old man decided to join us, who actually stole our ride (maybe without even realizing it?)… But after a few strange rides we got to a place called Kobuleti. 

I don’t think there was one spot on Georgia’s black Sea coast that was human free. But free enough for a night. After an awkward escalation in Gogas’ painful flirting attempts with Katherina, he randomly and suddenly disappeared. As mysteriously and strangely as he appeared, he vanished… This was also one of the more tame men to have gone after my poor friend.

The next day we headed to Kutaisi, or rather the mountains north of there. Oakatse canyon was our goal, to the big ‘ol waterfall it was well known for. The rides were more or less uneventful, although I did get my first true glimpse of just how many cows love to block the roads in this country… 

In the foothills of these mountains we passed through some large abandoned Soviet complexes (the biggest being an old wellness center based around mineral water, I think?) and sweated our asses off walking the final few kilometers to the falls. Luckily, at this time, most people were leaving. It was a perfect way to end a humid, sweltering hot traveling day – staring off at hillside cottages with a massive waterfall beside us as sunlight died away. 

We stayed for another night as rain basically trapped us up there, but it’s hard to complain about being “stuck” in such a spot, right? 

The next day it was off to Tbilisi… Kinda. We were making good time from the mountain, even after being stopped by local hill folk and force fed bread, cheese, and very strong wine… But then we met my sketchiest hitchhiking ride yet. 

Off Kutaisi’s southern edge we were picked up by three guys. They were more or less going our way, at least to the main road East. Cool. Except, when we got to the main road, they wanted to take us South. After some confusion, Katherina spoke to a friend of theirs over the phone (she speaks Russian, thankfully), who made it sound like they would eventually take us close to our next destination, Chiatura. We felt a bit off but kept seated, and away we went. 

We stopped near some small nowhere village, the guys greeted some locals, and we proceeded down a dirt road. Questioning this direction, the driver assured us that two of the Georgian passengers were just being dropped off… Alright. Of course the muffler got smashed off by a rock and half an hour of waiting out in the farmlands commenced. The guys were giving my friend disturbing looks, and that voice saying “leave” kept haunting me… But once fixed, we got back in the car. 

Eventually two of the passengers left, thankfully, and it was just us three. Off to Chiatura!… Or not. 

Another two hours were spent locating a mechanic, picking up a seemingly random old man, and questions concerning mine and Katherinas relationship came up more than once (we agreed to be married for this trip to attempt to save awkward situations).

Right before we decided to just drop it all and leave, the car was fixed and we hit the road again, this time to Chiatura. We were so happy. Were

Cruising through small roads we stopped at a gas station. They asked for gas money (we collectively sighed). Of course we tried to explain we were hitchhiking, that we don’t pay for gas, this is how we afford to travel. Locals began to gather, curious as to what was going on…. Again, we were about to leave when they told us to just sit down and we would go… Why we both ignored our instincts, still, I don’t know. 

Not far back on the road, they turned off towards another small village. Fuck this. “OK, here is good, we go.” They didn’t even look at us or flinch, but went a little faster. “Hey man, STOP. We go Chiatura, other way.” Still nothing. Katherina yells “stop the fucking car!” We obviously pick up speed this time. We’re almost away from any houses by this point. 

Katherina turned to me. “I’m gonna jump,” she says. I say wait, and yell at the damn guy to stop. Nothing. So she opens the door, and I grab the handle of my pocket knife. I don’t want to escalate this but the situation was getting really out of hand. Luckily, as soon as she opened the door, our driver suddenly clued into reality and slammed on the break. 

As she got out and unloaded our bags, I kept talking to the guy until it was clear. We said thanks, backed away, and almost ran back to the main road, laughing and swearing at the absurdity of what just happened. Luckily, a transport van stopped almost immediately, and we were outta there. 

For at least an hour, “fuck” was our main word. What happened? Were they so suddenly deaf? Were they going to rob us? Kill me, rape her? We were hitting ourselves for having not listened to our instincts, to those little voices saying “this is wrong, something isn’t right.” The looks the driver was giving us through his rear-view mirror suddenly seemed so dark… And that unchanging face when he so clearly ignored us seemed so concentrated, so dead set on something. And why did he stop? Was he scared that the locals would be alerted so he decided to cut his losses? Would he have stopped if there was no one else around?.. We shall never know! 

Onwards we went, thankful we had each other, and that we got away with an odd story, and nothing more.

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Turkish Truckers, Long Days

My checklist for Turkey complete (not that I really have checklists), I hefted up my pack and aimed for Georgia. 

I aimed for Sivas, with one ride handing me a handful of cigarettes as we parted ways in the middle of nowhere, while a group of students showed me their hometown of Kayseri before packing me on a tram out of the city center. Turkish rides are usually pretty eventful I’ve found, especially when some are constantly making sexual signs with their hands as they drive you three hours down the road. Wonderful stuff. 

Outside Sivas I spent a good few hours into the night, talking go random streets dogs as cars just kept going by, and certain songs playing through my headphones that reminded me of hanging out in front of the Playstation with my brothers. So long ago, and look where I am now, outside a dusty Turkish gas station in in the middle of nowhere (could almost describe every day, really)

That night I spent in an adjacent parking lot, hiding half-under an abandoned truck. 

The next day, after being woken up from a huge but friend and curious sheepdog, I made a lot of miles. I was picked up by a trucker bound for Iran, and the next five hours would see us becoming friends over the mountainous roads on the way to Erzurum. 

The nicest big dog around

It’s a beautiful road, really. Many ups and downs, relatively unspoiled nature, and you get to see how the Jandarma headquarters go from regular government buildings into something resembling a forward operating base in Afghanistan (due to conflicts with Kurdish militant groups). 

Imagine a fortified police station in Canada :/

I suppose the highlight was Having lunch in a mountain pass, as he used the trucks air gun to “fan” the coal to cook some meat. The scene described Turks pretty well. 

He was pretty happy with himself

Evening had me on the outskirts of Erzurum. I zipped right through and headed North, towards Hopa. Yet another beautiful road, of course I ended up camping in a horribly mosquito-infested clearing off the main road and across a somewhat trusty looking old bridge.

Flatness of Erzurum

Actually I had wished for a bridge literally before I found this one… Gift from Allah?

Continuing the next day with probably the giggliest Iranian trucker, I spent yet another half day going up and down through canyons, tunnels, around dams, and just generally taking a long time… Again, beautiful drive, though.

Bit of a cliche sorta picture, I know.

Happiest trucker everywhere (picture doesn’t do him justice!)

Beautiful Erzurum-Artvin road

A workers camp for the dams… I think?

In Artvin, a strange looking town built up the side of a mountain, I switched to again of my faster rides in recent memory. Another palms-soaked-with-sweat sort of ride as a young fellow took every corner with a “drift,” sometimes laughing like a crazy man when I was visibly having the “is this where I die?” face on. At one point he aimed straight for an oncoming truck, swerved out at the last second, smiled and me and casually said “friend” in Turkish. Reassuring, of course. 

The little psychotic driver himself


I did make it to Hopa alive, however, and just 10km or so from the border! Unfortunately I had to compete with an increasing amount of hippies arriving on their way to the Georgian rainbow gathering. Three people and a dog got picked up before me, somehow… Not sure how that happens. 

Maybe an hour or two later I was crossing the border into Georgia. Two months of Turkish magic was now giving way to the mystery of Georgia… Now that I write weeks after these events, I would be laughing at myself had I known what I know now! 

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Cappadocian Caves

Konya to Cappadocia was more or less flat and full of nothing. Besides one ride with a cocaine dealer (whose speed had my hands sweating a bit more than I’d like), I arrived in Cappadocia.

The area looks like nothing special at first. Some hills, lots of nothing, but when the road turns down towards Goreme, the central town, a few small caves turn into a sprawling network of caves and “fairy chimneys” that soon enough surround you. I can’t say I’ve seen anything like it before. It’s like a less green version of Hobbiton.

I spent the next few days living out of a cave hostel (it would be easy as hell to wild camp, but the prices are also incredibly cheap, due to recent issues no doubt), and wandering up various canyons, and sneaking into some of the hollowed out pillars of rock that had been mainly converted to storage of various kinds.

Many of the caves are noticeably too small for humans, with holes the right size for… Birds. Apparently, due to lack of decent soil for working, locals had decided to attract pigeons to the area and built some elaborate homes for them out of the easily workable rock. The birds’ leftovers would help fertilize the soil.

As I made my way through some of the canyons, it didn’t matter if I walked off the beaten path, or followed a tunnel made by water, there was always the mark of humans. Someone somewhere had called just about every corner of this place home for at least a little while. But this doesn’t surprise me. It was hard not to imagine making my own elaborate cave system to live in.

As impressive as Cappadocia is above ground, it’s even more spectacular as you go into one of the underground cities outside the Goreme area. This is what I discovered when I hitched over to Kaymakli, the little brother of Derinkuyu (the more touristy one).

It really is mind boggling to walk through these levels upon levels of caves and try to think of people actually living there. Generally they weren’t longterm dwellings, but more for protection during the many conflicts that the area had exoerienced. Massive circular rock doors could be rolled into place at entranceways, while massive vertical tunnels acted as ventilation shafts (one of which I dropped a coin down… It was deep). At some points the lights were burnt out, and I kept going with a flashlight, only to be too scared to continue when the tunnels grew smaller and smaller. While many tourists were in this place, it wasn’t hard to go so deep that you could be alone in the darkness.

One interesting little fact about the Christian areas, the car churches, is that most of the icons painted on the walls were missing their faces. This is because in Islam it is against the teachings to depict holy figures. So it was common practice to throw stones at these centuries-old paintings… Religions can be pretty silly… 

After only a few days, however, I had to make my way towards Georgia to meet up with my Austrian friend. I don’t doubt I could spend more time in that place, though. I didn’t think I would be as impressed and taken in as I was, especially with how touristy it is… But I was pleasantly surprised.

The road pointed me towards Sivas, Erzurum, and on to Georgia. It wasn’t really getting cooler, but at least it wasn’t as humid at this point.. Gotta think on the bright side. 

Here’s a few Cappadocian animals:

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