Georgia Part 2 – Bakuriani and Kutaisi

Day 135: July 25, 2018

We woke up and had breakfast. Then we drove back south and up to Uplistsikhe, a cave town fortress near Gori. It was a centre of the region during the 4th century BC – 4th century AD. In the 13th century it was taken over by the Mongols. We walked around the fascinating buildings.

Uplistsikhe

Into Gori we ventured where we parked near a post office, but it was closed. We had lunch at a nearby restaurant: dumplings in a clay pot and eggplant salad. Up the street we bought some groceries.

Next we visited Gori Castle. We climbed to the top, but there wasn’t much there except lounging guards trying to escape the heat. Below we walked down to a group of sculptures called “Requiem” dedicated to Georgian warrior heroes. They were very impressive.

Requiem, Gori

We walked up the street through Stalin Park to Stalin Museum. Stalin was born in Gori in 1878. The house he grew up in was in the park.

Stalin’s childhood home, Gori

The museum was much like when it was first constructed immediately following Stalin’s death. It focussed on his life and had very little about the terror of his reign. Danny said it felt a bit like a time capsule.

Stalin’s office furniture, Gori

We drove on to our Airbnb in Bakuriani. The place wasn’t quite as nice as the pictures. The towels were still wet and the bed wasn’t made. The bed was actually just a fold out couch. We also couldn’t get the oven to work and there was no toilet paper. We were both feeling frustrated.

I made pizza for supper and after we ate we both felt a bit better. I called my parents and talked for two hours. They set me on the table while they ate lunch which was nice. My dad has been counting the days since we left and the days until we are home. We are getting close to the halfway point depending on what day in December we return. After the call we went to bed.

Day 136: July 26, 2018

We slept in then made banana pancakes for breakfast. They stuck to the pan so they were more like sweet scrambled eggs.

After breakfast, we drove into town. There seems to always be a lot of people around here, especially children. In a park there was a little fair going on. We went to the grocery store and picked up a couple of things. We also bought a giant sugar cookie and some raspberries on the street.

After we drove back to the Airbnb. I updated our expenses which we have been slightly over budget on everywhere excluding Egypt, Slovenia and Hungary. At least it hasn’t been extremely over budget.

Danny started planning the next couple of days in Georgia. He made cooked supper in a pot because we had no baking dish. It turned out really well: chicken with stuffing, potatoes, carrots and cabbage. He used some ham in place of salt meat.

Cooked supper in a pot

We ate and watched some more World History videos then did a bit of research on Mongolia before bed.

Day 137: July 27, 2018

I was up at 4:30 am because I couldn’t sleep. The couch was not very comfy and we couldn’t keep the window open because it’s so noisy outside so I was too hot as well. I had a shower then had breakfast and a tea while trying to watch 13 Reasons Why, but the internet was too spotty.

I eventually went back to bed for a bit more sleep. We left around 8:00 am and drove to Khertvisi Fortress. The buildings are from the 10th-11th centuries. It was really cool to go through as no one else was there. There were a couple of towers and walls remaining, but not really any rooms.

Khertvisi Fortress

We returned to the car and ate some leftovers for an early lunch. It was only 10:30 am, but I was already starving.

Next stop was Vardzia, a cave monastery and town. The main construction there occurred in the 12th century. Most of what remains are the store rooms of the dwellings as they were the furthest back in the cave. We had to walk up a hill to get to the start and I was drenched by the end. It was soooo hot. Luckily the insides of the caves were nice and cool.

Vardzia

There were lots of rooms to see. We even saw where the wine press was located. We skipped through the last half as the rooms got a bit repetitive and it was so hot.

Back at the parking lot we purchased some freshly squeezed orange juice. The oranges were more watery than the ones in Morocco. We chatted with the seller, but he only spoke a little English. A man on a bike translated a bit for us when we asked what else there was to see in the area. We crossed the river and got a full view of the caves.

View of Vardzia caves

On our way back to our Airbnb, we decided to take a different route. Both ways looked like paved highways on GoogleMaps, but the way we took turned into a gravel road, actually more like a cobbled road in rough shape. It was quite bumpy and we were again grateful for the SUV.

We went passed some small towns and then there were just hills. There were some small huts scattered around what seemed to be for cattle and sheep herders.

Drive back to Bakuriani

We passed one vehicle, a station wagon, with hay piled on top. The man stepped out to check it after going over some bumps and hay came out from inside the car.

Hay transport

We had planned to drive to Tabatskuri Lake tomorrow, but would have had to drive back up the same road. We decided to visit it on the way so we would only have to take the road once.

The road eventually led to Ktsia-Tabatskuri Managed Reserve. Heading towards the lake, we saw a line up of gravel trucks and a police check point. We slowly drove passed unsure if we needed to stop. A policeman carrying an AK47 then yelled at us to stop. We backed up then they took our passports and car registration. We had no idea it would be so formal to get in. One of the gravel truck drivers came to my window and offered some puffed chips. I took a couple and then he handed me the whole bag. I was wondering if that meant we were in for a long wait.

A couple of minutes later the police officer came out and sent us on our way. The road was similar to what we had already experienced. The views were amazing with no towns in sight. Off to the side of the road there were some tarped dwellings with many animals around. A boy was waiting by the road and we thought he was waving so we waved back. He then made more of an urgent, “Stop” motion with his hands. We pulled over and I rolled down my window, only part way, unsure of what he wanted. With dirt coating his face, he demanded, “Chocolate.” We said we had none, but handed him the puffy chips we had received from the truck drive. Then we drove off before he questioned us any further. Both of us burst into laughter. The way the boy requested the chocolate was very amusing.

Our drive continued for another 40 minutes. The view to Tabatskuri Lake was incredible and the pictures do not do it justice. There is a dormant volcano in the background. You could see waves on the lake. A small town below looked like it was in Alaska.

Tabatskuri Lake

We continued down to the town and obtained a little bit more petrol. The roads through town were crazy potholed. This did not stop the locals from bombing around. Actually most of the drivers in town were young boys, some looked much younger than driving age.

In town we weren’t able to get a better view of the lake so we headed back out not quite ready for the amazing experience to end. Luckily, on our way out of town some guys standing on the side of the road motioned for us to stop and share a drink. They shared beer and some salt fish. They were trying to explain something to us and made a motion of killing then pointed to our car. We hadn’t thought the road was that bad! They said, “No”, then one of them baaaed and we understood that they were killing sheep. Then they pointed to us indicating they wanted us to come with them to kill sheep.

We now understand how easy it is to be Georgian kidnapped where you are invited to share a meal with Georgians, then sleep there, then live there because of Georgian hospitality. We both wanted to go to have that experience, but tomorrow we head to a new town and five guys drinking didn’t seem like they were up to any good. They gave us their phone number so we could call to meet up with them tomorrow to go kill a sheep.

We drove away still debating if we should go back, but it wasn’t practical. We drove back and the police officer asked how we liked it and we said it was beautiful. He sent us one our way and we continued down to Bakuriani. We stopped at a restaurant in town for supper. We ordered a bread with red beans, skewered vegetables and some sort of meat. Sadly, it was all rather disappointing. I thought we couldn’t go wrong with any Georgian meal, but I was mistaken.

We returned to our Airbnb and I was less than satisfied. I had some yogurt and berries for dessert and I felt much better. Now bedtime.

Day 138: July 28, 2018

We both slept a bit better last night. We kept the balcony door open and used ear plugs. We had eggs, sausages and veggies for breakfast then packed everything up. We stopped to fill the air in the tires as the front passenger wheel was looking a bit low.

We drove 2.5 hours to Katskhi Column. Along the way we passed many Soviet style apartment buildings. They all looked very run down. Out the window we saw a huge statue so we pulled over to take a look. There was a woman with her arm up and the wind blowing. In front of her was a soldier walking. We believe it was mother Russia pointing a soldier forward. The town seemed to be a centre for mining and was quite busy.

Soviet statue and buildings

Up the highway was Katskhi Column. It is a natural limestone monolith with a church on top. The first documented ascent to the top was in 1944. We stopped and ate our lunch near there then continued our drive to Kutaisi.

Katskhi Column

Groceries were purchased and we found our Airbnb. It was within a hotel, but we had our own private apartment. Danny made a stir fry for supper and we used the tasteless meat from the night before. It tasted much better drenched in soy sauce. We ate and watched Aljazeera which was the only English Channel on the TV. The wifi wasn’t working, but they had called about it. We played a game of Ace to King rummy then went to bed.

Day 139: July 29, 2018

We woke up for breakfast downstairs at 9:00 am. We were given boiled eggs, bread, salty cheese, tomatoes, onion and peppers. Then wieners later on. It was an odd combination.

We had planned on a rest/planning day, but with no wifi we instead decided to venture out. About 20 minutes north of Kutaisi was Sataplia Nature Reserve. We went along with a tour which started in a conservation building. Within were preserved dinosaur footprints.

We continued walking through the park then entered Staplia Cave. We walked 300 m along the 10 m high and 12 m wide cave. The stalagmite in the picture below was 20 million years old.

Staplia Cave

We continued walking through the park and took a break to eat some nectarines. We walked out to a viewpoint that had a glass bridge. The area was interesting because there were tons of new buildings that were falling apart and not used. It made us wonder if the whole project was funded wrongly or corruption was at play.

The walk was nice and easy so we decided to drive another hour north to Okatse Canyon. At the parking lot we were approached and offered a ride to the canyon for 50 GEL ($25 CAD). We said no and went inside to buy tickets then started our walk.

Another guy outside offered us a ride and told us it was a three hour walk to the canyon. We still decided to walk. The path took us through some woods and we stopped there to eat our lunch. Our walk continued down, down, down into the valley where the canyon is located. We were coated in sweat by the time we reached the canyon. I was not looking forward to the walk back up.

We handed our tickets to the attendant to enter the canyon. There was a metal walkway that went further down into the canyon. We walked along, but there was not much to see. We reached a viewpoint and it was nice, but nothing spectacular. Definitely not worth the sweaty walk.

Okatse Canyon

We started walking back up and there was a spot to sit. There was a group of people standing in front of the walkway and we wanted to walk through, but no one moved. I brushed passed one of the girls and said, “Excuse me”. Apparently the entire group then stared at me. Danny gave me a scolding similar to what I would’ve given him.

We stood to leave and there was a new group standing in the way. I scooted around very politely and Danny told me I showed great control. It must be a cultural difference where it isn’t common courtesy to move out of the way.

We walked back to the start of the canyon and were offered a ride back to the parking lot for 10 GEL. We would have been really ripped off at the beginning if we had paid 50 GEL! We decided to walk back to get some more exercise.

In the visitor centre there was wifi so we used that before driving back to our Airbnb. The roads on the way back had lots of pigs in the ditches rolling in the mud. Some were huge.

We drove into town for supper. We had spinach and walnut balls, a pork chop and ham khachapuri. It wasn’t quite enough food so we ordered dessert. We shared a Georgian dessert, pelamushi (grape pudding). It was good, but nothing compared to the chocolate cake we also ordered. We licked that plate clean. The table behind us had ordered the same desert, but hadn’t finished it. We looked over and wanted to take it, but the waitress cleaned it away too quickly. We went out and drove to the main fountain which was cool looking.

Colchis Fountain, Kutaisi

Back at our Airbnb I FaceTimed Caitlin and Danny FaceTimed his parents. We stayed up a bit soaking in the wifi before bed.

Tomorrow we drive up to Svaneti, a mountainous region in Georgia. It was one of the first places we had heard about in Georgia and we are looking forward to the amazing views.

M

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