Trying To Travel To Tusheti

So we waited all afternoon for the road to open. After an hour or two, Gogi, our driver took us back to his house and fed us watermelon and then about noon said the road was not going to open today. So we went back to the square to pick up a marshrutka back to Telavi when Crystal said “Hey! I see backpackers!”

Naturally I walked over to investigate, and asked if they’d heard the road was closed. They hadn’t, so they asked someone else who said the road should be open by 2 o’clock. By this time, Crystal had our bags in the Marshrutka and was calling me to come on, it was ready to leave, so I made the decision to stick around and give this another shot.

We waited with the other backpackers, who were Israelis, for a few hours. I juggled to amuse myself and them, and we kept asking about the road. Finally, about 3 o’clock we gave up and sought other plans. We decided that four of us would go back to Telavi where I had stayed the night before, and two would go on to Sighnagi, a town I still can’t spell, for the weekend.

We managed to cram 6 backpackers, a driver, and all their  unnecessarily-large bags into a VERY small taxi. I would have taken a picture but there is no way it would have done justice to the image which you can see in your mind. On the upside, it was cheap splitting taxi fare 6 ways!

Halfway back to Telavi the two girls who were traveling together and going on into Sighnagi asked if Crystal and I would like to go on to Sighnagi with them so we could share taxi fare back; this sounded like a good plan, since I wasn’t looking forward to spending the weekend in a place I’d already been.

So we dropped off the two backpackers who were going to try the next day, and four of us went on to Sighnagi, 70km away. Sighnagi was a very pretty town, looks a lot like pictures you see of Tuscany, red-roofed houses with grapevines growing everywhere, cobblestone streets, and so on.

We found a guesthouse which cost 15$ per person per night with 2 meals. The first night was Friday night, and the guesthouse was owned by Georgian Jews (I think) and most of the guests were Israeli, and as we were the only gentiles present we ate at our own table.

We had a huge dinner; 10 plates piled high with food to choose from. Tomato wedges and cucumber slices, fried eggplant (which was really exquisite, and I don’t like eggplant), stewed eggplant, sliced local cheese, a huge pile of the local bread standard (which, being white bread, we didn’t eat), a carafe – probably a half-gallon – of homemade wine.

Then she brought Khachapuri, which is a local staple very much like a quesadilla, after which I said stop, no more! and then she brought Khinchala which is a homemade beef dumpling, and their local version of potato salad which is quite different from the American variety,  and I can’t remember all the plates now. But they just kept coming, and we ate all we could and the hostess kept saying “maybe you want more wine?” and the few dishes we managed to empty, she refilled and brought back to us! You could have fed an army off that table.

I’m not much of a wine drinker, but I think I had about 12 ounces that night. Which for me was a lot. It was pretty good, and even Crystal, who hates wine, likes the wine here. Well, we walked around the next day a bit, took a few pictures, walked down the old city wall built 400 years ago, and then went back to the room to chill. Our guesthouse, which we shared with a family and two other guests, had a balcony looking out over the valley, which probably was 50 miles across and stretched all the way to Dagestan.

Well, I had made the mistake of drinking tap water the night before, and about 2pm my belly started complaining, and by 6pm I was throwing up, and I spent a rather unpleasant night and was very week the next morning, so we didn’t leave Sunday as planned. We wound up staying until Monday, by which time I was sufficiently recovered to try for the mountains again.

We took a Marshrutka back to Telavi, ate beef soup with “fried potatoes” (which turned out to be French fries served with tomato soup as ketchup) for lunch in a restaurant there, which was actually our first restaurant meal in either country, thus far having eaten at the markets or homestays/hotels. Then a Taxi to Alvani, where the Jeeps waited to take people up the mountain to Omalo, in the region of Tusheti, our destination.

The road was open this time, but there was no one to share the 110$ jeep fare (rather steep, I thought), so we waited hoping other travelers would show up. After an hour and a half, with the day waning, I decided to try to bargain it a bit and we agreed on 75$. It was a 4 hour trip up the mountains to Omalo, quite beautiful with waterfalls and flowers and trees, up the only road to Tusheti which wasn’t built until 1979, which gives you an idea how remote this place is.

We arrived an hour before dark at the homestay of, as it turned out, Gogi! Who had come up here the day before bringing the Israeli girls we were traveling with. For some reason which not being able to speak the language I can’t determine, they left the same day we arrived by plane. We were planning to leave the same way in a few days, as plane fare was 35$ p/p all the way back to Tbilisi, while taxi down the mountain alone would be another 75$. Plus taxis, Marshrutkas, and days of travel. You do the math!

Our homestay here was 15$ p/p with dinner and breakfast, and it was the best meal we’d had in Georgia, and again, HUGE. You don’t leave a Georgian dinner table hungry, I can tell you that. This time it was soup, bread, cheese, another homemade soft cheese, and… well, here, I’ll show you…


And this is the same table after we were stuffed to the full…


Kinda hard to see a difference, huh?

After dinner she brought in a plate full of herbs, which I sniffed, she then said they were for tea, which I understood, then asked if I wanted some, which I didn’t understand, but said “yes”, thinking she said they smelled good. Before I knew it Crystal and I had tea to go with our already huge meal. And wine – never forget the wine which flows like water here.

The tea was vaguely minty, but it must be some herb I’ve never had before. She served it with some jam on the side – something rather like a cherry, but definitely not a cherry. I didn’t really like it, and Crystal – when I finally got her to try it – hated it. She had a bad experience with cough syrup as a kid, so her and cherries don’t mix.

The hostess also gave us butter at the same time she gave us the tea, and I thought perhaps it was used in the tea – I’ve heard of that before. So I asked her if the butter was for the tea and she broke out laughing, managed to sputter no, then went out to tell her friends about the silly gringos who thought you put butter in tea! Dorks!

Well, we’ve been the topic of jokes before. Moving on, the beds left something to be desired, but the hospitality was ample. There is no electricity anywhere in this region, so she runs a generator for a few hours at dark for light and we charged our camera and computer then.I n case you thought they only served big meals for dinnerthis was breakfast:


We have an outhouse, a pit outhouse at that, and cold water outside. So it isn’t exactly pampering, but the scenery is beautiful and it is peaceful and there aren’t many tourists here, and not many Americans ever make it this far.

In fact, so far we haven’t seen any Americans. We heard about a couple once, but haven’t met any. A few Czechs, a few Poles, a Frenchman, and everyone else has been Israeli. Apparently this is the “in” place to go for Israelis. It’s beautiful, cheap and close for them so I guess it’s a logical place. We must have seen 30-40 Israelis backpacking thus far.

Breakfast the next morning was equally good and huge, consisting of fried potatoes, omelet, cheese, and tea. I asked for milk, and she said there wasn’t any now but we could get some that evening.

After breakfast we made sure we understood when the plane left so we could plan accordingly, and then looked into horses so we could go for a ride someplace. Two horses, a guide, and a 7-hour round-trip trek into the mountains cost 50$. We arranged it, and took this set of photos along the way:

We stopped for lunch, spent an hour resting, then I walked on ahead downhill to catch a few pictures I hadn’t had time for earlier. When the guide and Crystal caught up with me, we discovered that we had to walk the horses downhill most of the way – something we hadn’t counted on, since she has a bum knee and I just got over being sick. But there wasn’t anything we could do about it.

I did tell the guide that we had to ride at least most of the way down (15 km, about 8 miles), and he agreed. But we had at least 2 miles of downhill walking leading the horse, which really was hard on the knees after “posting” while trotting a good portion of the morning. Posting is what you do when the horse is trotting, a sort of half-stand to take the otherwise inhuman jarring out of the ride. Basically using your knees as springs.

Well, we made it. The saddle was homemade out of rough twine and such, and so a lot of it rubbed against my bare legs and the insides of my legs were both pretty sore after the end of the day. But we finally trudged back into town, stiff and sore, but it had been a great ride. The hostess found it greatly amusing how sore we were. Dinner was again superb, and afterwards we went to get the milk.

This involved actually going to the barn and watching the woman milk the cow, strain the milk, and hand it to us. So I am sure exactly where this milk came from. I tested it with my refractometer and it was a fuzzy 12 – the highest I’ve ever tested milk. Milk is difficult to test because the sugar content – measured by the brix – can be inflated by feeding grain or molasses, without increasing the mineral content.

But in this case, I have seen no grain anywhere in town, the cow was not fed grain while milking, and so I’m thinking this is probably completely grass-fed milk. That being the case, milk that brixes at 10 while on grain is poor; milk that brixes at 10 on pure grass is probably very good. Because it means that the grass it’s eating is able to produce a great deal of sugar, something only possible if the grass is very high in minerals. And this was a 12.

So we decided not to continue on to Svaneti, since the numbers don’t work out very good for us to get there. We decided it would be better to relax and enjoy the good food and beautiful scenery of one place, than to rush around and see a little bit of both places and waste almost a week traveling to get there, which could easily happen. So we decided to stay here, without power or internet, with practically no tourists, and good food and great milk, and live the good life for ten days or so until our time runs out.

So that’s where we are now. Of course, by the time you read this we’ve obviously made it back to civilization, so technically it’s where we were then, but… you know what I mean.

2 Responses

  1. Bobby Ludwig (Luis) Says:

    As always, great pictures! Are you sure you did not major in photography in college? If you say yes, Id believe so.

  2. Bobby Ludwig (Luis) Says:

    Muy buenas fotos! Sehr gut! :)

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Posted on September 13th, 2010 by Natnee and filed under Georgia/Armenia |



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