Day 11: Akhaltsikhe written in Georgian (Akhaltsikhe)

Continue reading: →Day 12: Kars

Kazbek
Only for early birds: The majestic Mt Kazbek
The day before, many travelers told us, that only early birds will be able to see Mt Kazbek. It was a long way to Kazbegi, and I don't want to leave without seeing this extinct volcano. And so we get up at 7 in the morning - along with the others. While I'm waiting for a chance to get into the bathroom, I open the backdoor of the house and get a first impression of white Mt Kazbek (see picture on the left). It's also possible to climb the mountain, but as far as I've heard, one needs a local guide. And so the pleasure costs around € 100. The most common route crosses Russian territory, and according to some people who have climbed the mountain, there's even a Russian officer somewhere halfway, asking for a fee to permit the crossing.

The term "bathroom" is slightly exaggerated. Actually it's a small and dark chamber with two tubs of ice-cold water, which is just enough for the people staying there. We pack our things and go downstairs, where we can have a small breakfast. Vano says hello and passes me two sheets of papers, with extensive explanations on both sides of the papers. In the evening, we were talking a lot about several languages. I told him about the advantages of the very logical Korean writing system (see →Korean & Hangul) and taught him how to write it - at least this language he didn't know. I guess he's fluent now... He on the other hand told me about Farsi (Persian) and the difference to Arabian etc. He must have spent some hours during the night writing down a basic grammar summary and the Farsi alphabet - in red and black, easy to understand. That's just incredible.

Someone has told us that there would be a marshrutka to Tbilisi, departing around 9 am. While we are walking to the bus station, Vano is beckoning to us until we can't see him. Thanks to him and his family, we really had an unforgettable stay un Kazbegi. Some other travelers leave the house at the same time. Most of them are heading to a glacier, which is around 3 hours away. I would have loved to joined them, but unfortunately we don't have appropriate shoes. And we have to fly back to Germany from Istanbul in six days, which means that we simply don't have the time to stay much longer. Which is really a pity. We spend the time waiting for the marshrutka admiring Mt Kazbek, which is by now surrounded by a few clouds, shimmering in the red, warm morning sun. We can even enjoy the scenery longer than expected, because there seems to be no marhsrutka. A suspiciously looking old man approaches and tells us, that he would bring us to Tbilisi with his old Lada (Russian car) for 40 Lari. With the marshrutka, it would be 16. The price might be okay, but we don't want to pay so much money, and so we refuse. We keep on talking with the man. He tells us, that 40 Lari is the price for the car, no matter how many passengers we are. Which means that we would just have to find two more passengers. Surprisingly, we can find more passengers after a few minutes. It's an older woman and a younger woman with her little boy. We squeeze into the small car and head off. There's no space at all in the car, but still it's better than the bus.

Mt Kazbek & Sameba Church
Mt Kazbek (5,047m), and Sameba Tsminda (=church)
It's going to be a seesawing ride. Seesaw or not - the little boy doesn't seem to like it. As a matter of fact, he's constantly throwing up, only interrupted by crying and screaming fits. While the boy is throwing up, I'm thinking of whether I should get sick as well or not. But the boy does a good job, so I don't need to join him. Thanks to him, we stop three times on our way to the capital - one time at the beautiful water reservoir. But that's the one and only merit. We already got used to the permanent vomitting, but the endless whining and grouching is really exhausting. I thought, that it would be faster to get to Tbilisi by car, but this proved to be wrong. Actually it even took a little bit longer, which is probably due to the kid. Around half past two we finally arrive at the bus terminal Didube in Tbilisi. We pay 20 Lari to the driver and start looking for a restaurant or something similar. We find something similar - some kind of canteen. There, we order something that looks like a hamburger, without the bread, am undefinable stew and two bottles of a lemonade, which we have already seen several times. The lemonade is unbearably sweet and tastes very strange. Including coffee, we don't even pay 6 Lari for the meal.

Next to the food stall is a toilet, where people are charged 20 Tetri. The woman working there is extremely hyperactive. I want to give her 0.4 Lari for the two of us, but she refuses to take the money. "In Georgia, guests are treated as guests, which means that they don't have to pay". What a contrast to all the beggars! I'm sure that she doesn't make a fortune with the toilets. It's almost impossible to reach a normal living standard with this job. But she's proud, she keeps on refusing. I can't help it - I want to put the coins on table while she's looking to another direction, but she noticed that and is almost getting angry. I would love to give her the money, not for cleaning the toilet but for her strength and pride.

Today, we want to continue to Akhaltsikhe, which is a small town near the border to Turkey. Soon we find a marshrutka, but it wouldn't leave before 3 pm, and so we have a lot of time left for a walk through the vibrant market. The marshrutka itself is a rather new Ford microbus, with an advertisement for a small German construction company. Now, how did this vehicle find its way to Georgia!? The driver asks me where I'm from, and he's happy as a child to hear that I come from the same country as his beloved bus. Thumbs up! We are speeding away from the bus terminal. Still within the city limits, the police stops the bus, although the speed at that time was quite normal. The conductor jumps out, runs to the patrol car - and hands over some money without saying a word. That's it! That's what I call a simplified bribing procedure.

Traditional houses in Akhaltsikhe
Traditional houses in Akhaltsikhe
In other countries, people at least ask why they would have to bribe an official. On the bus, I read a newspaper called "Georgian Times", the one and only English weekly publication in Georgia. And the first newspaper I can get my hands on after more than a week. "When you buy the Georgian Times, you support the free press of Georgia" it says. What a joke! Most articles start like "As our president Shevardnadze said..." and so on. When you read this journal, you might think that Georgia is the happiest place on earth.

However, reading in this bus is quite a challenge. The road runs along a wide valley, passing towns like Kaspi and Gori. The road itself is in a surprisingly good condition, but it only has two lanes. The driver is speeding kamikaze-style, passing by cars and trucks without noticing other cars coming from ahead. After a while, we leave the valley and enter the mountains again. We pass Borjomi, a famous spa, in which excellent mineral water is produced. We've heard, that it would take around 4 hours to get from Tbilisi to Akhaltsikhe. But thanks to the maniac Georgian driver and a German vehicle produced in America, it only takes around three hours. Shortly before Akhaltsike we experience torrential rain, but the rain seemed to have stopped a few minutes before we arrive in Akhaltsikhe. Halfway, a man who wanted to go to Akhaltsikhe as well, stopped the marshrutka. Shortly before we arrive, the conductor demands two Lari from the man, but he's only willing to pay one Lari. And so a debate started. The debate finally resulted in a bareknuckle fight outside the car at the bus stop in Akhaltsikhe.

Not far from the bus station in Akhaltsikhe, the remainings of a fortress can be seen. Except for the fortress, there doesn't seem to be much to see in rural Akhaltsikhe. On our way to the hotel, we run into an American woman, greeting us heartily. She says that she's been living in Akhaltsikhe for quite a while, which is quite a surprise. She's working for the Peace Corps, teaching English. We've already met other members of the Peace Corps in Kazbegi. Thanks to her explanation, we can soon find a hotel in the centre of town. The hotel is quite big, old and cheap, the rooms inside are spotless clean but there's no shower. But there's a modern bath in the courtyard. The reception tells us that we should let them know in advance when we want to have a shower or a bath. We are definitely ready for a shower. And so the "master of the bath" puts coal on the fire. Thirty minutes later everything's prepared and we can enjoy a shower - with hot water! The first really hot shower after 10 days or so. It's almost around sundown when we go out again to have a walk through the town.

In a hidden side-road, we find a couple of traditioal wooden houses (see picture). Not far from that, we spot a nice church on the top of a hill. Halfway, a car with four young men stops. They're asking where we want to go and tell us, that they would like to show us the church. And that they would wait there for us. But the area around the church is quite deserted and there are no other people around. Four young men showing us a church!? We better walk off and return to the centre. There, we have dinner in a strange bar. We are the one and only guests. The food there is the usual Georgian stuff, but it tastes good and is extremely cheap. While walking back to the hotel, a pretty drunk is following us, shouting aggressively and making attempts to attack us. Luckily, there's another bar just a few metres away, and so we go in and wait for a while. Akhaltsikhe doesn't seem to be a good place to walk around at night. Most people were staring at us suspiciously - probably due to the lack of other travelers in this area.

Continue reading: →Day 12: Kars

 

 

  • For information on marshrutaks running between Tbilisi and Kazbegi see the previous day. An alternative is to go their by private transport. Occasionally, drivers show up at the bus station, offering their service. The price for the whole car is 40 Lari to Tbilisi - the more passengers, the cheaper the fare. They usually go to Didube bus station, but I guess they can take you everywhere in Tbilisi upon request.
  • Buses and marshrutkas to Akhaltsikhe run from Didube as well. The fare for the marshrutka is 7 Lari per person, the ride takes around 7 hours.
  • There's a border crossing to Turkey not far from Akhaltsikhe. For detailed information on the border crossing, see next day.

 

 

  • There aren't many places to stay in town. As a matter of fact, there seems to be only one hotel. The Meskheti hotel is right in the middle of town (but don't expect too much from this provincial centre), with some small restaurants and bars nearby. I double room costs 15 Lari, the modern bath and shower is in the courtyard. There's an extra fee for the bath - 2 Lari per person. But it's worth the money. Address: Kostavas Kucha, Tel.: 20420. On foot, it takes around 10 minutes from the bus terminal and the adjacent train station.

 

 

 

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