The home stay, although a bit chilly, was something of an experience. From the outside it could be mistaken for a 1950’s council house in the UK. The inside was very different. As you entered the front door you were confronted with a sweeping wooden staircase up to the first floor. The wood in the house – and there was a lot of it – was highly polished and inlaid with dark and light shades. Downstairs the walls were all elaborate wooden panelling. Upstairs the walls were papered but the ceiling had ornate plasterwork and a large chandelier. Silk rugs hung over the banisters.
The long table where we had a feast for supper, was equally heavily laden for breakfast and steaming cheese dumplings were added to the dishes already in place when we sat down. The home made yoghurt was great.
After this substantial repast we set off for the town of Tevali to get supplies. The great news of the day is that Wendy and Sarah who had been ill, were to join us on route. It was fantastic news. Tevali was a fairly typical small Georgian town. Most people seem to buy their vegetables in the markets on a daily basis – we have seen no signs of supermarkets or out of town shopping for literally months!
While Emma and Simon went off to do the catering for the day, we had a scamper round the market ourselves. Despite having just eaten an excellent breakfast we succumbed to a wonderful cheese in flaky pastry turnover which seems one of the specialties and very yummy it is too!
I will draw a delicate veil over Keith and Helen’s hilarious purchase of new undies from two ladies in the market……the ladies were tickled pink and overcharged them mercilessly, but it was worth it for the entertainment value!
After all this excitement it was back in the truck to get some substantial miles under our belt to position us near to the border by nightfall so that we can cross into Armenia early on Tuesday. Our route initially took us across wooded hills magnificent in their Autumn colours. There were houses dotted amongst the trees. The road began to climb until we had reached 16,000 metres above sea level. While we are doing some metrics, we have now travelled 12,700 miles since we left Beijing, not counting the Caspian Sea crossing.
We travelled on, descending once more into a valley and eventually travelling through a sort of grassy desert landscape. There was no sign of cattle or sheep grazing and no trees or shrubs. Just short grass. During Russian times it was apparently used as an army training area. It was vast and very unfriendly looking.
Occasionally we saw abandoned watch towers on the horizon. It was a very remote area and very close to the border with Armenia. Just before lunch we arrived at the site where at one time there were 15 different monasteries dating back to the 6th century. Most have been abandoned and all were either destroyed or vandalised during the Russian military occupation of the area.
The one that we visited was the Davidgareja Monastery and was built into the hill – an almost troglodyte establishment. It was reconsecrated in 1989 and has close associations with Zaza (I understand this is the correct spelling of his name, although I think my approach was much more fun!) our guide. His brother had been a monk there, Zaza got married in the church (called the Church of the Transfiguration) and his children were baptised there. It is a place of such consequence to the Georgian’s that 3 visits are said to be equivalent to one trip to Jerusalem! The actual church was half built into the hill and half outside. It was beautiful in its simplicity. The site has still got archeological significance and Zaza is due to do a dig there in November.
Shortly after Davidgareja we were held up by a soldier in a camouflage outfit. After about ten minutes we were allowed to move on. We were so close to the border and its military accompaniment that we could hear the soldiers and their rifle practice. It was a bit sinister.
We pulled away from the border and over the brow of the hill came to the first settlement we had seen for many miles. The only buildings we had seen in the ‘no mans land’ we had passed through was an abandoned isolated Russian farm. We had been following a road that was little more than a dirt track for some miles, but this suddenly became a proper road as we neared the town. Trees appeared that had missing for hours in the near desert. Fences started to enclose land and surround houses. The Russian concrete, now deteriorating badly, was back in evidence. Emerging out of the other side of the town, there was a big power station and a rather bleak looking prison.
The weather had also been bleak for most of the day but the sun came out as we passed through another town, this time with high rise apartment blocks with brightly coloured washing waving like flags along the face of the buildings, relieving the drabness of the grey cement walls. Every time we pass through one of these places I think how lucky we are to live where we do.
A highway sped us on out into pastureland again with mountains in the distance. The odd monastery was sighted on the horizon and we turned off the road to set up our bushcamp at about 6.00 pm. After supper we had a drink to the girls return and adjourned to our tent, just as it started to rain. It rained on and off all night…..