Omalo To Vanadzor

Sorry its been several months getting this posted; obviously I made it out of the mountains and back home. In fact, Im getting ready to leave for Colombia. But last time you read, we were in the mountains of Omalo, Georgia, eating good food and seeing beautiful mountains.

The next day we set out for a place even more remote and farther into the mountains, a village called Dartlo. It was an hour jeep ride and perched on the bank of a river a little village of stone castles, which are very common here. The people who lived here 300 years ago were constantly at war with the people across the mountains in Dagestan, and so they built castles out of the plentiful slate stone for defence; castle isnt quite the right word, mostly they are a single turret about 20 feet square and perhaps 50 feet tall. Regardless, there was an unbroken network of these stretching across the mountains for many miles. This way they could warn one another if the evil Dagestanis came pillaging. I don t know if the Dagestanis had some similar defensive measure against the evil Tushetians or not.

There was a new hostel there which was not too cheap but not too expensive, and it was perched on the edge of the river with a fine view of the narrow valley. We spent first one day there, then decided to just stay there and be for a few days. The first day we ate the food, which was good, but not as good as other places wed been. The room was half the price with no meals, so we arranged to have no meals but get 6 liters of milk a day and do the milk diet for a few days. The milk here tested between 10-12 brix depending on the milking, so it was plenty good enough for the purpose.

We had difficulty conveying this idea to them however, since they spoke little English and we spoke even less Russian. They still made us lunch the next day, after we told them not to. Then they wanted to make us dinner, and we again said that no, we only wanted milk. We did this for several days until they finally realized that we werent going to eat anything but milk, which they didnt mind telling us, they thought was a little odd.

The milk diet was quite popular in the USA a hundred years ago and was widely used to treat and cure many diseases, usually by living on nothing but milk for six weeks or so. Always raw milk, unpasteurized. While we were doing this, we met a backpacker from the UK who told us about a group called the Molokani, a Russian word meaning milk drinkers. They apparently live in an enclave in Fioletovo, a village in northern Armenia where we were planning to go anyway, so we decided wed definitely hit that on the way home.

He helped us by translating some phrases into Russian to talk to them when we got there, and then left for farther up the valley. All in all, it was a peaceful way to spend several days. I have a 12-hour battery and a 5-hour battery for my laptop, both of which were full on arrival. We got about 2 hours of charging each night from the generator, which with my usage during the day meant I gradually lost more and more power each night – but it came out perfectly with us leaving for Omalo on the day I was finally completely drained of power!

We returned to Omalo with the intent to catch the plane the next morning. Unfortunately, the plane wasnt going to run again for another week, despite being scheduled for the next day. I never figured out exactly why. But we were stuck going back down the mountain again by Jeep.

We spent the day in Omalo with the homestay wed stayed at on the way up, who were getting ready to leave the mountains for the winter and go back to their home in Alvani, in the valley. So they fed us breakfast, then invited us to their going-away lunch party with their friends, which was an interesting experience. The food was good, as always, and the people were nice. This was the first time wed actually eaten *with* the locals – up to here, they had always served us in our own table by ourselves. But it was interesting to watch them eat and interact.

They have this thing about cold bread here. The local bread comes in two forms; lavash, which is basically a 2×1 flour tortilla, and something like a giant 2 long croissant. At every meal, they have this croissant cut up into 2 squares, and it is always served cold. I dont understand why, but its never toasted, never served hot, and seldom even used as a dipping agent – usually just eaten plain, cold, chewy and all. No butter on it, nothing. I tasted a bit to see if it was something special, and it was just like youd expect day-old bread to taste – nasty. But they consume a great deal of it here, and had trouble understanding why we didnt.

They made corn Khachapuri here, which means a corn quesadilla. They were fairly good, although being used to Mexican foods, I felt they needed salsa and some guacamole on top, but oh well :)

Speaking of which, they dont use spice at all. I mean spicy foods like peppers and such. I think I only had black pepper in a dish once. Most everything else is prepared very simply. They put a type of sweet basil here in a lot of things – it is a *very* sweet basil, almost like eating stevia. They use a few other spices of that nature, but mostly they let the foods speak for themselves, which they do quite well.

There wasnt much else to relate about Tusheti as a region, it was pretty, but heavily overgrazed by sheep thanks to Soviet planning and so erosion was pretty heavy in some spots and mountains that would otherwise be bright green were thin and sparse. Mostly we just relaxed and enjoyed the milk.

During our ride down the mountain with the taxi driver Gogi and his family, one thing happened which, to me, still doesnt seem funny but it was apparently very funny to the others. As we were going down a very dusty hill and turning a corner, with the windows rolled down, the wind picked up and blew all the dust wed just kicked up right through the car, especially the front seat where I was riding shotgun. Coughing and sputtering, I muttered Karasho, which means Good in Russian. I dont know why, it just seemed like the thing to say at the time. Well, the rest of the car went into an uproar over that. It still doesnt sound funny to me. But then about 10 minutes later, our driver playfully drove into another cloud of dust and announced Karasho!. That, I concede, was funny.

We arrived at the bottom of the mountain after dark; just after pulling into the town where Gogi lived, the jeep had a flat tire. Better here than some of the places wed been earlier! So it took a few minutes to change that, by which time the homestay where we were staying, 40 minutes away, had been notified to come pick us up. Gogi and his family insisted on waiting with us in the middle of town, even though it was about 9 PM, and I told them wed be fine, but they were firm that they didnt leave until we had a ride. Which was rather touching, I thought.

Anyway, we said goodbye to them and went to the homestay in Telavi, spent a night there, left the next morning by Marshrutka for Tbilisi, where we immediately caught another Marshrutka for Vanadzor. We were planning to find a place to stay in Fioletovo, a beautiful area just west of Vanadzor, where the Molokani lived.

So we went to the market, checked Email for the first time in a week, then caught a taxi to Fioletovo. I knew from the start it wasnt going to go well because the taxi driver was intense, impatient, and didnt seem to know the area at all. Plus of course, he spoke no English. But we conveyed we wanted to go to Fioletovo and find a hotel, and we went and then he couldnt find one; he asked some people, impatiently, with the tone of these stupid Americans dont know where a hotel is, DO YOU??? – well, to make a long story short we spent about a half-hour looking for one with him getting more and more impatient – the taxi was on a meter, so it wasnt like he wasnt being paid – but finally I realized this wasnt going to work and conceded defeat for the night. We went back to Vanadzor and stayed in a B&B I found in the guidebook, and the story will properly pick up there next time.

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Posted on December 5th, 2010 by Natnee and filed under Georgia/Armenia |

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