Sunday, 5 July 2015

4 July

Day 1 - So far, so good. After flying through the night and quite some hassle during transit (nobody seemed to be able to tell us where departures was), we landed, exhausted, in Trabzon (Turkey), where we met up with dad and the BFG. In my imagination, Turkey had always been a middle eastern country, so I was on first impression very surprised to see that it was so green. This area of Turkey used to be the poorest in the country, so to provide people with a livelihood, they started growing tea, hence the green. It was of course also very helpful that it rains a lot, creating the ideal climate for tea-growing. I don't know about you, but I've never really come across Turkish tea. Apparently, and unfortunately for them, the tea that is produced here only really makes it as far as the border of Turkey, because, to put it bluntly, it's just not very good. This may have something to do with the fact that most of the tea here is machine-harvested, and therefore misses out on the most important rule of tea picking; two leaves and a bud. 
braving some Turkish tea

Despite this, we headed to Rize, the tea capital of Turkey, to try some at the Tea Research and Development Centre. There we were offered 5 glasses of intimidatingly dark tea, which upon later tasting would put even the British to shame when it comes to strength. Nonetheless, we put the complimentary bucket of sugar to good use, so that our pitifully sensitive Dutch tastebuds could handle the flavour. I can still feel the tea pounding behind my eyeballs as I write this. 

Bye Attaturk!
2pm and we were out of Turkey and into Georgia, with a stern looking goodbye from Attaturk, who had so far been following us everywhere, we were on our way Eastbound to set up camp. We topped up on diesel at a petrol station called "Shelf" (not a typo), and then took further inland. Here the landscape became even more lush and tropical, and with an eerie mist hanging over the mountains surrounding the valley, it resembled a scene that one could find in Jurassic Park. I really wouldn't have been surprised to see a pterodactyl swooping down to the pastel-turquoise water. Only the occasional patchy concrete house and wandering car or child broke the illusion. 

At this point I was thoroughly confused about Georgia. We'd come from Turkey, a mostly green version of the middle eastern countries that I'd spent some of my life growing up in, to a place that was a mix of the latter, and its former USSR influence. It was something I had never really seen before. Austrian landscape with Arabian market stalls selling Russian vodka. Considering history this makes sense, the Georgians have been ruled by the Byzantine Empire, the Persians, the Arabs, the Ottomans, the Mongols, and finally the USSR, before becoming independent in 1991. So on top of that, they're quite a young country, whose people probably haven't had much time to establish themselves. 

This was becoming difficult to think about as we were now driving on a "highway" along the Acharistskali River that contained the occasional heavenly patch of concrete amongst huge holes that had since filled with innocent looking puddles and a surface that grew gradually less flat. We came across some foreign bird enthusiasts at a disused military site, who told us that once we'd passed the Goderdzi Pass, we would be able to see the sun. We took their advice and went up, reaching the peak at 2025m with visibility zero. I can guess that their must be a good view up there, but who really knows? The mist did add a mist-ical (sorry) touch, and it wasn't as cold as it looked, so it was quite nice. This was nothing compared to the way down though, dotted with sun and beautiful little villages of wooden mountain homes that looked precariously put together. The colourful washing was hung out to dry and the kids ran up to greet us with excited Hello!'s and ByeBye!'s. 

Pepijn on Goderdzi Pass

Godzerti Pass

It was somewhere down this route that we took a left onto some empty looking grassland and pitched our tents. Then came the plague. Of mosquitoes. If I have one bit of advice for anyone coming this way, it would be to dress like a turtle and bring litres of repellent. Seeing as we were only partially equipped to deal with such a disaster, we had a very quick soup dinner and then scrammed into our tents for a blissful mosquito-free night. 

in for the night!

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