Yes, we do owe you a couple of stories about Central Asia, but internet is limited and the mountains are calling...We are off to the Pamirs tomorrow, our BIG dream. All is well and after a few car bazar visits, Willem is not so bad either. More news will follow soon...
We crossed the border to Azerbaijan without many problems (except for a few marriage proposals and “I love you’s”) and stopped for a big birthday lunch. We tried to figure out which menu option was beef, chicken or lamb. The waiter simply thought that we wanted to order all of the above. The tendir chef looked so proud of his big lambchops and we were proud that we could finish most of it.
Azerbaijan is a muslim country so we were surprised to see everybody drinking tea and having lunch at this time of Ramadan. Life just seems to continue normally and the supermarkets even sell porc here. Must be the Russian influence. We actually saw more similarities with Turkey than with Georgia or Armenia. We felt at home straight away.
We visited the town of Seki, famous for its sweets. We got Tomek’s trousers fixed by the sweetest old man and his fossile sewing machine. We could hit the road again with some sweet cake and hole-less trousers.
We read about the village of Lahic, a place with lots of coppersmiths. We drove through an amazing valley, passed through the tiny cobbled streets of the town and headed up to the hills to find a nice camping spot. The farmers were just loading hey on their horses to head back home. It was a funny sight, these walking heystacks. The farmers helped to collect wood for the fire. A lot of them have served time in the army in Poland and Tomek can kind of get away with his “tjut tjut” of Russian words. It’s really nice to be able to have a small conversation and to see the eyes getting bigger and bigger when we show the map of our journey.
On our way back to the village the next day, we met Beth and Steve. The loveliest American couple who were on a weekend trip with their family. When they heard we were heading to Baku, they invited us to stay at their home there. We spent such a nice time with them and the kids which made it hard to leave Baku...Thanks again for everything and really hope to welcome you guys in Poland or The Netherlands one day!
In the meantime...
We met lots of Mongol Rally participants in their tiny cars. In this rally you take a car (maximum 1.2L) from Europe to Mongolia in about 5-8 weeks. Then you leave the car there for people to use and fly back home. It’s great to see all their crazy cars full of stickers, bathtubs and giant teddybears on the roofs.
We had a splash in a 320 year old hamam!
We got our Uzbek visa from the funniest consul in Baku! We thanked him with a happy dance in his office. Central Asia, here we come!
Our visit to Armenia seems such a long time ago...but we have some good memories of our visit there. The border customs were not so happy to see the Azeri visa in our passports, but after some questions they let us in.
Luckily, because we wouldn’t have wanted to miss all the beautiful churches, landscapes and people. The highlights certainly being the Anapat bush camp and the Unesco monasteries of Sanahin and Haghpat.
The Bush Camp Brothers
We followed a Lonely Planet tip to find this amazing place; a bush camp with tree houses right next to a waterfall in a canyon...The family of the owners were celebrating the last night of their visit there and asked us to join them for their goat stew feast. After many elaborate toasts with homemade raspberry vodka our Armenian language skills got better and better...
The story about the stone crosses
We followed the Debed canyon road in the north of Armenia to get to the most beautiful monasteries we have ever seen. Especially Haghpat, a monastery which is constructed against a hillside and overgrown with grass. All the buildings are characterized by lack of decoration except for the stone crosses on the walls. We met a priest there who explained that when the churches were built in the 11th and 12th century, families wanted to be a part of the process. They hired a stone carver to create a stone with crosses representing each member of the family. The stones were then used for the foundation of the church.
A midnight encounter at Tblisi airport
Our friends Ellen en Wiebke came over! We managed to squeeze both of them into the single back seat and we had a great time discovering Eastern Georgia.
After a little nap and swim at the Tblisi sea, we headed north. We spotted a Carrefour sign by the side of the road. We only realized how much we’d missed “our” cheese and sausages and all other things French/European when we walked through the aisles of Carrefour heaven...including wine sampling at 10 in the morning. We were happy to share this moment with Ellen and Wiebke who both know how to appreciate a nice glass of wine in the morning. We got all we needed for a big BBQ feast and celebrated their visit by the side of the river.
Kazbegi; the invisible Mount Chaukhi
We took the militairy highway to get to the Kazbegi mountains. We arrived in the pouring rain and were forced to sample local beer accompanied by hefty mountain food served by our new friend Rudolph.
The next day we set off for the tiny village of Juta, got our sleepingbags and cantharelles and hiked to a pretty mountain lodge right at the edge of the Chaukhi valley. The mountains around were completely covered in a big cloud and we spent the cold evening in our sleepingbags, only coming out for Tomek’s wonderful pasta with cantharelles.
After a cold, cold night, we woke up to a beautiful clear view of Mount Chaukhi and the valley was getting prettier by the minute in the light of the rising sun. We de-frosted Wiebke and went for a spectacular hike. It was more than worth the rainy wait!
The hunt for good Georgian wine
Georgia has a big wine reputation, so we headed off to the vineyard area Kakheti for some tasting. But it wasn’t so easy to find something of our taste...the wines are quite acidy and after several attempts we decided a beer would be a good idea. We sat down in a restaurant where a group of friends were having a dinner party. Guitars were brought in and some of the girls started singing the most beautiful Georgian songs. Even the owner and his son sang a couple of songs, and before we knew it, tables were pushed aside and everybody got on to the dancefloor!
We stayed in the ethnographic park, right next to a restaurant. The local police officer and sheriff were having an elaborate alcohol tainted lunch and of course we had to join them. Wieb and Ellen even got them to take their guns out so the girls could pose with them for a picture. Unfortunately the Polaroid evidence was confiscated directly afterwards and the police officer in question pretended nothing ever happen when we bumped into him later in front of the police station in town...but it was a fun afternoon!
Sulphur baths and a garden dinner
We spent our last day with the girls in Tblisi, wandering through the old town, drinking tea and having a nice dip in the Royal Sulphur Bath. After a great dinner in a courtyard garden, it was time to say goodbye at the airport...Thanks guys, it was an amazing week!! And great to have a professional photographer with you when there is so much beauty to be seen, thanks Wieb!
Suus ’s birthday at the garage
Our car looked so empty without the girls, their backpacks and flying bikini’s...Time to head to the garage for some Willem-service. The guys at the Mitsubishi service said our car was too old and they wouldn’t have fitting parts for it anyway (while half of Georgia is cruising around in Pajero’s). So they directed us to a sort of dusty terrain off the main road. It appeared to be a normal garage, until we met the Russian owner Bagim who guided us through his factory. He had every machine that you could think of to make car parts from scratch. And if he didn’t have the machine to do something he wanted, he just built it by himself. He is also customizing a Volkswagen van for a big trip to Nepal, so we had lots to talk about. We stayed the night next to the garage and could even use the mechanics shower the next day (ever seen the movie “Saw”? Well, a shower room just like that).
We got a birthday eclair at Carrefour and had breakfast with the mechanics. When they found out it was my birthday, the beers and cognac came out and lots of toast were made.
In the meantime...
We learnt that river swimming in the golden hour is the best time to spot mud monsters:
We discovered Armenians love Cantharelles and fresh herbs, and so do we !!
We are wondering how a Dutch T-shirt ended up on a Georgian cowboy?!