A Travellerspoint blog

June 2012

What a day!

3 borders and an encounter with the Georgian military

sunny 27 °C

We went off hiking again, one last time in Georgia, high up into the Caucasus, in Lago Dekhi National Park. A three day hike beside the border of Georgia and Azerbaijan, culminating at Black Lake, which itself is cut in half by an invisible border between Georgia and Dagestan (or Russia, depending on whose side you are on). There were all these borders, and a military outpost in the wilderness guarding them, so we were told we must take a local guide. And so we set off. Climbing 2,000m the first day over a mere 8.8km. If you are not familiar with things like elevation and walking, that's a hell of a lot of up over a very short distance making for a difficult steep 6 hours walk. Seems to be the only way into the Caucasus - up, up, up - no gentle foothills.

After a night cooking over the fire and sleeping in the tent we set off early to Black Lake. It was a hefty distance of 30km there and back. After another big climb we had an excellent vantage point down the valley to the plains below - Azerbaijan to the left, Georgia to the right.

Invisible boundaries - Azerbaijan to the left, Georgia to the right

Invisible boundaries - Azerbaijan to the left, Georgia to the right

A few hours later and we spotted two lonely green tents in the vast grassy mountains in the distance, with a Georgian flag flapping in the wind. Arriving at the military base we were immediately offered a seat as well as tea and coffee by the friendly Major (who reminded me a little of Colonel Potter), and given a bowl of dates to munch on. They took our passports and went about whatever it was they had to do while we sat and watched the small base (c. 10 guys) go about their business. A four man border patrol come back to base and disarmed, water was collected, food was made etc. Having never been anywhere near a military base, all this was rather fascinating. They were super friendly and interested in us, and it was another frustrating scenario where you want to be able to speak every language in the world so you can talk to everyone. I was suitably impressed by their hospitality and my luck of experiencing such an environment. Little did I know there was more to come.

We set off to the lake, marching with our 2 person military escort, one soldier in front, Dan and I in the middle and another soldier to the rear, plus the guide. Turns out the Georgian military wouldn't put it past Russia to take out a tourist in Georgia just to piss the country off and wreck their tourist industry. We could believe it too, so were grateful for them being there. Reaching the lake in its beautiful setting it was difficult to imagine that at the other end was Dagestan - human borders really don't show up in nature. At 3,000m I decided not to swim, but Dan decided to make a break for it. Half way across the lake however he decided it was too cold, so swam back.

Dan makes a break for Dagestan

Dan makes a break for Dagestan

Back to base, it was 3pm, and with at least 3 hours walking ahead of us we were keen to get going. But instead we were sat down, offered tea and coffee and had no idea what was going on and what was taking so long. Within half an hour a table had been placed before us and set for 7. And slowly the food began to be brought out. We were to dine with the men at base, including the 2 commanding offices. Wow. Quite an unexpected encounter. We really felt quite honoured, and surprised, to the point where we both ate meat as there had been no chance to communicate we were vegetarians, nor did we want to seem ungrateful for such a treat. But also, in context, these guys must get so bored up there day on day, month on month, it must be great to have a distraction. As well as feasting we managed to polish off a large bottle of chacha (grappa like spirit, usually homemade, 50-ish% proof) over many toasts, mostly involving something to do with Georgian and NZ military, borders, women or peace. Before stumbling down the mountain and back to our tent just before the dark set in.

Sunset in the Caucasus

Sunset in the Caucasus

Posted by chrisgulik 23:09 Archived in Georgia Comments (2)

No trip on the Silk Road would be complete without...

sunny 25 °C

So we made it into Azerbaijan, and contrary to popular reports, the people here are just as friendly, if not more so than the rest of the Caucasus.

Ok, so we've only been to one town, but so far so good. We didn't even have to pay a bribe at the border crossing, and they didn't get mad that we have visiting their neighbour and sworn enemy, Armenia.

So that one town is Shaki, and as no trip on the silk route would be complete without staying in a Caravanessi, we are doing that right now.


These are old forts that were provided by local rulers for merchant caravans to stay in while they were visiting town. I've seen many all over the world, some piles of dust, some filled with tradesmen grinding and banging away on metalwork, some touristified with craftsmen polishing copper souvineers, and now i've stayed the night in one.

Shaki family visiting from Baku

Shaki family visiting from Baku

On our stay here we've also had the opportunity to practise our english with the local school children and their families

Tomorrow we are off to the oil boom town capital Baku.

Posted by dantheperson 00:45 Archived in Azerbaijan Comments (2)

'You have loud feet'

sunny 32 °C

That's what our guest house owner told us the other night and for a moment we thought we had been walking around noisely. But what she meant was that when we arrived there was no one staying here, but since we arrived more and more people have too. The tourists have been listening and following our loud feet.


We are back in Georgia and have been enjoying a few days of relaxing and drinking wine in Kakheti, the lush, fruit tree rich, wine region of the country. After close to two weeks in Hayastan. That's right, we got one more Stan than we had bargained on, Hayastan aka Armenia.

Armenia was great. We didn't see all of the country, but concentrated our time in the capital and the northeast, a hilly, forested very rural part of the country. Arriving in Yerevan we were struck by how Turkish/Arab the people looked, quite a different look to the Georgians. The country has had a rough history, often occupied by one of its neighbours, as well as the genocide of Armenians living in what is now Eastern Turkey back in 1918, and hence there is a strong hatred for the Turks. But so many similarities between them, for example their looks, their music and particularly the food - plates of herbs are a common addition to both countries meals, and 'Turkish coffee' becomes 'Armenian coffee' - espresso sized cups with the coffee grains creating a think sediment in the bottom. Even similar attitudes - we met an Armenian (Christian man) who said he 'won't let' his wife work because some men might see her and talk to her - not so unlike his Muslim neighbours who have their women cover themselves so men don't have to deal with always being aroused.


Meanwhile, beautiful scenery. Some camping by a river which was freezing but still worth a dip in, many a scenically located monastry - Armenia was the first country to take on Christianity in the 3rd century. While sitting around a small town apparently looking like tourists who like hiking, we were approached by Ando who has a fledgling hiking business based just out of Ijevan. He sold us on a 2 day hike with him, after first staying at his guest house with magical views of the mountains. We walked in intense heat for 2 days, mostly uphill and mostly through grassland covered in wild flowers. The highlights were our encounters with shepherds who take their herds into the hills for the summer to feed on said rich grasslands. We were endlessly invited into their shacks for food, given a pot of fresh hot milk for breakfast, and while staying in one of these little encampments one night were kept awake by ceaseless mooing.


Generally the weather has been hot and clear, roughly 30 degrees, but we have had some really great and intense storms, with crashing thunder, much lightning, and one where the hail stones were as big as golf balls, falling like crazy for at least half an hour, turning the street white and making a racket on the corrugated iron roof. The guest house owner was so excited he came running up to our room yelling, 'New Zealand New Zealand, look!' with several hail stones in his hand.


Today we are off to Lagodeki in northeast Georgia for some hiking with lakes and waterfalls, which I hope we get to swim. Then we head to Azerbaijan, a country for which we had to pay for a ridiculous expensive process to get the visa - hope it's good!

I have added a few extra photos in the photo gallery. I haven't quite figured out how to get the captions to carry over into the blog yet, so if you want to know what's going on in a photo, the gallery is the place where you can read the captions.

Posted by chrisgulik 00:10 Archived in Georgia Comments (1)

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