There is no other option than to take the same road back again to Zugdidi. The more direct mountain route to the south, to the city of Kutaisi, is closed for the greater part of the year due to too much snowfall. Only in june, july and august the high pass is snow-free.
The last few days it has not rained so the road is mostly dry and the mud passages cause less delay.
After a long search for a suitable camping site, I finally find a clearing in a village next to a cemetery. It does not take long before I get a visit from the security police. The officer drives a private car, calls something unintelligible out of the window and gets out because I do not understand him. He carries an automatic weapon over his shoulder and shows me his police card. I understand from his sign language that I cannot stay here. Very annoying, I think, because I am fully installed now and am already busy preparing my dinner. By sign language I try to make it clear that I am a peaceful person and that I only want to stay here one night as I want to continue to Kutaisi tomorrow morning. My Georgian and his English have a communication rating of zero. “Don’t understand” proves to be effective. The man finally leaves after fifteen minutes.
Laying in my bed at 23:00 I hear people talking outside. There is a knock on the cabin. I see red and blue flashing lights in the dark. The police drives day and night with their flashing lights on. When I open my door in my underwear, I aim my flashlight right into the eyes of the three men standing there to dazzle them. One never knows. A policeman in uniform and 2 others make it clear that I have to leave. But again there is a big language barrier. One of the men calls someone and hands me his phone. A man who speaks English tells me that I cannot stay and explains that it is dangerous here because wolves are walking around. Not such a good excuse because my little house on wheels looks like an atomic bunker. He cannot give me another reason. Therefore I give the phone back to the owner and make it clear that I am going to go to sleep and will leave early for Kutaisi in the morning. I lock the door again and go back to sleep. At least, that’s what I try to do. Outside, the men are still talking and arguing loudly next to Piggy,while the red/blue flashlights stay visible for another hour before the police car finally leaves.
I notice that the Mercedes of the officer of this afternoon is standing right next to Piggy. So I have a private security guard.
Of course the whole event is bizarre , reminding me of a similar event that happened a week ago when I was camping close to the border of the controversial Republic of Abkhazia. Then, at 2 o’clock in the night, there was a loud knock on the door. A nicely dressed man in his thirties asked in Georgian if everything was OK or if there were “problems”. After my denial there followed a deluge of Georgian words that I did not understand. This time also I was given a phone and heard a woman’s voice asking in excellent English if everything was OK or if I was having problems . When I told her everything was allright, she apologized for disturbing me at this time of the day. After I returned the phone to the man he invited me to share a bottle of vodka. But, at that time of the day I was more interested in continuing my dreams.
Some days later I am told that there are still a lot of border disputes between Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Georgia. I now realize that Georgia wants to protect its foreign guests who are in the vicinity of these borders.
Saakasjvili has tried to move the capital from Tbilisi to Kutaisi. A super modern and expensive parliament building has been erected in the middle of a large open area, planned to house more government buildings. But now with another government, there are rumours to bring the parliament back to Tbilisi. I wonder what will happen to this beautiful building after that.
I am eager to see the interior of this special building. I managed to get a visitor’s pass and get a private tour. At 2 o’clock, the parliament should have a meeting on tensions at the border with South Ossetia. It is already half past three, but “This is Georgia” my guide says with a smile. He explains that an officer was killed at the border last week and that there was another military casualty a few weeks ago. Occasionally, South Ossetia tries to expand her borders and sometimes citizens are kidnapped as a means of pressure. Before the meeting starts we leave the public tribune. I would not have understood a word about it anyway.
Further to the east lies the town of Gori. The birthplace of Joseph Stalin. At the end of the Stalinpark you will find his birthhouse and the large Stalin Museum with a collection of personal belongings, furniture and lots of photo material. After the war with South Ossetia in 2008, a banner was hung over the entrance with the text: “This museum shows a falsification of history.” It is a typical example of Soviet propaganda, that tries to legitimize the bloodiest regime in history “. In 2017 the banner was removed.
Next to the big square in front of the large town hall I drink a beer and try to imagine how ten years ago during the war with South Ossetia a Russian cluster bomb exploded here and wounded some people and killed five, including the Dutch cameraman Stan Storimans.
Georgia is known for its orthodox churches and monasteries. On the way to the capital Tbilisi I visit about five of them. Each one beautiful and imposing with beautiful frescoes, often in stunning locations.
OK. After this I have seen enough for now.
The center of the capital Tbilisi has been nicely renovated. There are cozy restaurants and terraces. A cable car goes to the old fort on the hilltop and Saakashvili has added quite a number of expensive futuristic buildings and bridges. I stay there for a few days to relax and then leave for a short trip to the High Caucasus in the North.
To get to Kasbegi (Stepantsminda) you have to follow the Georgian Military Road. After Ananuri the road climbs and leads through a beautiful mountain landscape. With the increasing height you are more and more between the white mountains.
Gudauri is the most important ski center of Georgia and lies at an altitude of 2200 meters. There is still a lot of skiing going on but the ambiance and atmosphere is unfortunately, but understandably, far below the level of that in the Alps. It makes me decide not to go skiing for a day. The next day I continue north to Kasbegi, not far from the Russian border. But first I have to cross the Jvari pass of 2379 meters. It starts to snow and the visibility is getting less . Return or continue ? I choose the latter and switch to four-wheel drive. It turns out not to be too difficult. The road is not too narrow, but at the top it appears that a number of cars cannot go any further. No winter tires or snow chains, and probably not enough profile on the tires. I tow a car uphill. At the other end of the pass a truck with trailer has landed next to the road. The winch in front of Piggy gives the driver hope, but after a short towing attempt it turns out that I pull myself to the truck instead of the other way around. Unfortunately, I have to disappoint him. Meanwhile, a snow plow and the police have arrived. I will leave the job to them. The images can be viewed by clicking on the “photo” link at the bottom of this page.
In Kasbegi I park Piggy on the central square of the town. The surrounding area is supposed to be a Mecca for alpinists and hikers. The villages around are still authentic and the original culture still lives on. However, it rains cats and dogs and the view is hidden by a dense fog. The snowy mountains cannot be seen.
Two weeks ago I booked a flight to the Netherlands. There are a number of things to do, including arranging a Russian visa and of course it is always nice to be back in your old, familiar environment. There are a few days left before the departure so that I return to Tbilisi via the same Jvari pass the next day. But, oh what a miracle, the sun shows itself regularly and offers me an unforgettable view of the snowy mountains around me. Only for this reason I did not want to miss this tour.
Next to the airport of Tbilisi I find a hotel where I spend the night and where I can leave Piggy safely for a few weeks. The friendly owner brings me to the airport at 02:00 AM the next morning ………
Depending on the date of my Russian visa, the trip will either continue first to Armenia and then via Georgia to Russia or else from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, by ferry to Kazakhstan. Then on to Mongolia.
From now on I will make more miles in a more straight line. in the coming months. It will be time for new adventures after three weeks in the Netherlands.
TAKE A LOOK AT THE IMAGERY AND FOOTAGE OF TURKEY & CAUCASUS