Day 3-4, Karabakh, Shushi

Day 3, July 10th, Fri, Tsav-Stepanakert (Karabakh, Nagorno-Karabakh)

02Before I continued, I went swimming and then I had to wait again until a car was going to Kapan. The car the Miro organized for me turned out to be a taxi. But since I played silly and pretended not to understand Russian and the driver couldn’t say the number in English, plus Miro said, it would be free, I was just dropped of in the centre of Kapan.
From there to Goris I was taken in a new Mercedes and was told by the driver, that officers employed by the government can only have a kind of ok life with taking bribes.
In Goris I had to wait quite a time again and somehow the feeling, that some people wouldn’t understand my “Stepanakert” sign by 100%, although it was completely correct. Anyway with three further rides I arrived in Stepanakert, the capital of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh.
The problem of travelling to Karabakh is when letting them stick the visa in your passport you are denied entry to Azerbaijan – lifelong. Even writing such a post may provoke ending up on their blacklist. It was the first of two of these notorious breakaway Caucasus Republic that I would visit. After the fall of Soviet Union, Karabakh (having had autonomy inside Azerbaijan SSR) with its Armenian majority declared its independence in September 1991. Of course Azerbaijan didn’t recognize it and since May 1994 war broke out. Since that date a more or less stable ceasefire.
Crossing the border is no problem: You give your passport to the registration and get a sheet of paper with the address of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where one had to buy the visa the next of following day (3000 Dram, ~6 EUR).
In Stepanakert I met with U., took my stuff to a hotel and strolled with U., her sister and cousin a bit through the centre. It was very busy, it seemed the whole city was there. People were gathering on all the squares around the Presidential Palace – a nice atmosphere.

Day 4, July 11th, Sat, Shushi (Susa)

The next day U. and her sister went with me to Shushi, that is famous for its many beautiful churches. Then we walked to a nice mountains meadow for a picnic.
Back in Stepanakert I walked a bit through the town, bought my visa. In the evening I was not feeling so good and tried all night getting into a better shape.

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Day 1-2, Tehran – Armenia

Day 1, July 8th, Wed, Tehran – Julfa (Iranian-Azerbaijan border, Nakhchivan)

Tehran-Julfa-TsavInitially I wanted to start my journey some days earlier. But since July 7th is a national holiday in Iran, no trains were running.
However I was happy being able to finally start. At 5.20pm the trains left and I shared the 6-berth compartment with only one other passenger. His name was Jafar and unfortunately he was too proud of staying with a German guy and acted like a king.

Day 2, July 9th, Thu, Julfa – Tsav (Armenia)

After having arrived in Julfa, I went on foot to the edge of the town. While walking I was stopped by police. But from other encounters I learned that it’s best to pretend not to speak Farsi, but only English. But these two weren’t capable of speaking English, so it was just “Hello” then silence and then “Good-bye”.
At first I hesitated to hitchhike. Maybe because I knew what kind of question would wait: about the super open European life-style and how easy it apparently is for every man to seduce women…
Under the burning sun I was walking for a bit, but I couldn’t continue like that the 60km to the border and after some minutes of trying, I got a lift to Nordooz, the border between Armenia and Iran.
There I met one of the notorious people that go by bike from Europe to China. We chatted for an hour or so, but I really wanted to leave Iran.
This border is controlled by Russian soldiers on the Armenian side. And I’ve never seen anyone checking my passport so long – not even in Russia. During its examination I talked with a young soldier from near Vladivostok.
From the border town of Agarak there are two roads northbound to Kapan and the main one was passing Kajaran. Obviously I didn’t chose that one. Therefore I had to walk most of the distance to the next village which was called Shvanidzor.
Hence I was given the possibility to check out the border region: There were many abandoned buildings and industrial sites from the Soviet times.
I wanted to spent the night in Shvanidzor, since for a long time there were no cars going further. But right after I refilled my water, I caught a drive. The road curled through the mountains and the air was so refreshingly fresh; what a great pleasure after three months of smog in Tehran.
Having arrived in Tsav I was forced to stay the night at Miro and his family and to eat dinner with them. And in addition the mother even made a footbath for me, which was really nice.

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Day 21-22, Svaneti

Day 21, July 28th, Tue, Tskaltubo-Ushguli

SvanetiIn the morning I tried to get to Svaneti that had been recommended to me by 90% of the people I met. But they also said it was impossible to hitchhike there. But I mean honestly it doesn’t mean anything, since none of them tried – and who would believe it? It worked of course…partly. Till Lentechi it went ok. I met two cool Polish hitchhikers who went in the same direction. They had smaller backpacks so they were walking. But I was more in the mood to sit under a tree and read until a car would pass. Cars from the other direction came from time to time and the after some hours a jeep in my direction as well. A Russian girl and her boyfriend from Oman were sitting inside and some 30 minutes later we the two Polish fellows. Since people cruise through the mountains in Oman as well, it was an awesome ride. The road was even less a road then the one to Shatili and the landscape – just amazing once again. After sunset we arrived in Ushguli, the Russian and her bf went to some hotel and of course the Polish and me pitched our tent on a mountain and ate a small dinner in their tent, because it was quite cold outside.

Day 22, July 29th, Wed, Ushguli-Mestia

I got up early to watch the sunrise, but it was too early the sun didn’t hurry. But by the time I shot about a hundred photos.
Then we were waiting for the Russian and the Omani because initially we wanted to go with them especially because I forgot my map in their car. But they didn’t show up and I didn’t see the car in the village. Other cars weren’t going as well so we decided to go by taxi. But we didn’t pay the normal price, but a third. We went to Mestia to a dirty cheap camping ground, enjoyed a fresh shower, ate together and played cards. It was a nice change to the daily travel.

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Day 19-20, Chargali – Shatili – Tskaltubo

Day 19, July 26ht, Sun, Chargali-Shatili

Chargali-Shatili-TskaltuboI didn’t know the reason why I wanted to go to Shatili or how I got to know that special village. But it was fantastic and I haven’t seen something like this before. Georgia can be a really magical country. The street from Chargali to Shatili is more or less just a dirt road that curls over the 2676m high Datvisjvari Pass. I was super lucky to hitch a ride by a truck that even went further to deliver wood. Till the pass we had the Kazbeg in our backs, surrounded by dark clouds. After the pass the rainy clouds caught us and we were surrounded my hundreds of sheep crossing the road for several times, Due to the rain the road because from dirty to very dirty and a bit slippery and the truck was wide whereas the road was narrow. At some points there were slopes to a river on one side and on the other side sharp rubble from above. One time I had to pilot the truck through the rubble – in sandals that I was wearing cleverly.
At some point we bended and there was Shatili. Ich didn’t know how it would look like and was speechless. On the photos that I posted one can imagine a bit. It was raining and I tried to get onto the mountain apartments in sandals. After some minutes a man whose name I forgot shouted at me I should come to his place. He was coach of a box club that is meeting once a year there for some kind of camp. There was no running water, well actually there nothing – just a space on the floor under a roof, but it was enough for me, I was very happy. We drank wine and beer and ate bread with cheese.

Day 20, July 27th, Mon, Shatili-Tskaltubo

In the morning the weather was better. While the boxers were sleeping and strolled through the village, enjoyed the beautiful landscape and then started to go to Svaneti. I thought that it would take long time, to get out of Shatili, but only after like 30 minutes I got a ride to Tbilisi and from there I went to Kutaisi. In one town I could finally get some money as well after having spent four whole days without any money. Two times I caught rides with drunk people, of whom the last ones missed the exit to Kutaisi permanently which made me quite angry. In the end a grandfather with his granddaughter, who is going to Germany for school, took me to Tskaltubo where I slept in the yard of an abandoned school camp building.

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Day 16-18 , Noyemberyan (Armenia) – Chargali (Georgia)

Day 16, July 23rd, Thu, Noyemberyan – Sno (Georgia)

Noyemberyan-Juta-ChargaliOn Thursday it was time to go to Georgia. To the border it went smooth but then slower.
Alex gave me some hints where I should go in Georgia: the region north of Tbilisi (at the border to North Ossetia, Ingushetia and Chechnya) and Svaneti.
My first stop should be the village Juta in Greater Caucasus, near Kazbeg and Stepantsminda.
I caught a ride from the border to Tbilisi where I had to walk and wait but finally after some detours I was on the Georgian Military Road that leads to the Russian border. Multiple times I was told that especially Svaneti is a stunning region and features the best landscape in Georgia. At 11pm I arrived in Sno where the way to Juta starts. I wanted to walk but two times the very friendly police came and told me not to go, but stay in my tent for the night, because of wolves. There was a church nearby and they told me to sleep on its ground.

Day 17, July 24th, Fri, Sno-Juta

I was hit when I got up in the morning. The view, that I couldn’t enjoy during night-time – apart from the crystal clear sky – was gigantic. Few clouds covered the sky, in the background of the church the more than 5000m snow-covered Kazbeg grew into the sky and the air was refreshingly cold.
I didn’t take long time and a food delivery guy took me to Juta where I met with U. and her boyfriend Gela. He was building a hut that is finished by now: Fifth Season Juta.
Since I arrived in the morning I got rid of my stuff, was invited for breakfast with Gela and his co-worker and went for a hike. When I came back four other friends of U. have arrived and the evening was filled with chacha. We were sitting on the table, cheering without breaks and refill happened from 5 litre bottles. Poems have been read and it was discussed about the unity of Georgia (in reference to South Ossetia and Abkhazia). Due to my stay in Iran I was not used to these amounts of alcohol and since we were only sitting I kind of didn’t feel the effect until I had to go to toilet (at that time it was the slope behind the hut).

Day 18, July 25th, Sat, Juta-Chargali

Fortunately I was fine the next morning. But I couldn’t join them when they started to drink for breakfast again. I couldn’t believe how they were able to continue after such a night.
However at noon we got back to the Georgian Military road with about 10 other travellers. Our ride was a truck that brought animals and its bed look literally like shit, but it was funny.
One of the four friends of U. wanted to visit other friends in Chargali and I just decided to go with her. But it wasn’t that funny as before, but I could wash myself in the stream next to the bonfire we made. In the evening we were sitting around it, singing, eating and of course drinking.
The village of Chargali is the birth place of the famous Georgian poet Vazha Pshavela. He is a very important person for the Georgians.

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