So far on the trip we had only experienced one day of rain which had been quite lucky as we don’t have any waterproofs in our little backpacks. As the martshutka pulled into the bus station (I say bus station, it’s really just the side of the road) it looked like it was going to be day number two of rain. We jumped off the bus and ran directly at the pack of ferocious old ladies waving business cards in our faces. They had been waiting all morning for this bus and they were hungry for our business! Unfortunately for them we had already booked our guesthouse so they tossed us aside waiting for the next tourist. As I stood in my H&M hoodie which was slowly getting soaked I couldn’t help but wonder if Alexei and I were a little underprepared for this trip (Alexei was in shorts still). I watched the other tourists haggle with the old ladies in their waterproof anoraks, multi pocket combat trousers and matching fanny packs. Hmmm, combats maybe but I don’t think a fanny pack is a look I can pull off!
Arriving in Stepantsminda (Kazbegi) rather unprepared in shorts while it was raining and cold… as usual
The rain was not going to dampen our mood because we were in Stepantsminda! Or Kazbegi as most people still like to call it! Situated up in the northeast of the country, it sits right on the border with Russia (every car seemed to have a Russian number plate) and is surrounded by the Caucasus mountain range. Through the low misty clouds we could already catch a glimpse of the famous Mt Kazbek.
Once the rain had subsided a little we decided to make a run for the guesthouse. After ten minutes of dodging cow pats we made it. This had to be one of the homeliest guesthouses we had stayed in. The room came complete with large colourful teddies (with scary eyes) and even an 1970s style pram. “This is just like our bedroom at home” I said to a freaked-out Alexei “….or more like a scene from the Poltergiest!”
The room from a horror movie & Alexei’s idea of layering up for the cold (yes, those are beach shorts)
One of the must do’s in Kazbegi (I will call it Kazbegi as the new name is way to long to type!) is to hike up to the Gergeti Trinity Church. The backdrop against the mountains is jaw dropping. To switch things up a little we thought we would ride horses to the church. Alexei proceeded to explain in Russian to the guesthouse owner our plans. CRASH! The door smashed opened and a (very) large wheezing man in a fur coat and matching hat marched over. We assumed he was local because we’d never actually seen anyone wear the big wooly hat we assumed was for tourists before!
“Don’t worry I can speak Russian” he said.
“Shhh I have got this! You need horses right?!” The man blurts out, interrupting Alexei who speaks Russian!
“Erm I suppose”
“They need D-V-A-R (two) horsey por favor!” He said to the very confused looking woman. “You need a guide too?!”
“Erm yeah why not”
“Horsey with G-U-I-D-E-Y”
“Seriously this guy speaks worse Russian than me!” I said as Alexei stared at the man in amazement, before surprising him by speaking in clear Russian to the lady.
I can’t remember this guy’s name but he provided some “entertaining” stories during our stay. In reality, he cornered us each time we opened our bedroom door and wouldn’t let us leave until we listened! We found out he was an ex-marine from Australia who had been booted out of the navy so started teaching English in Russia. He was then forced to leave the country as the Russians were after him for an unspecified reason. His lawyers advised it was best he left the country immediately and this is how he ended up in Georgia. He skipped over the finer details of that particular storys but I am sure I heard something about horseys and cabbage.
Once we escaped the ramblings of the mad man we found a local restaurant to have dinner. “Lets order quickly so we can get back back to the haunted house and watch The Wire” said Alexei (reader don’t panic, it is not 2008! We are THAT behind with TV series, you’d think we’d only purchased a colour TV last year.) “Excusey, I can sit and speak with you and friend?” a voice shouted from the other side of the room. I looked across to the adjacent table. “Is that Vladimir Putin?” I whispered to Alexei. “It does really look like him… but he is not 4ft tall is he?” “Let’s Google it!”
We waved mini Putin over. His name was Alec and he was travelling on his motorcycle. He was from Russia and worked as a carpenter. We hadn’t realized immediately but he was absolutely steaming drunk too. He wanted to practice his English and how could we say no?! And so, we sat with him for a few hours, drank awful house wine and tried to hide the disappointment of missing out on The Wire.
A local speciality – fried trout with potato puree
Adjapsandal – a delicious mix of aubergine, potato, tomato & red peppers
Abkhazura – a beef, pork & onion mince sausage wrapped in ‘caul fat’ (the thin fat membrane surrounding a cow’s stomach)
The cause of our significant weight gain in Georgia, cheese filled Kachapuri. Heaven on a plate.
A treat for each of us – Alexei with his Kazbegi beer & a cream-filled pastry for Shama
The following morning we were up at the crack of dawn
ready for our horse trek. But there was a problem. Apparently the horses had
run away overnight! Old Macdonald really needs to up the security at his farm!
I am guessing the horses took one look at us and clearly thought escaping to
live in the wild would be better than being at the mercy of these two two amateur
riders. Feeling slightly disappointed but also secretly glad to have avoided
saddle sore we trekked to the church instead.
The hike to ‘Gergeti’ church takes around 1.5 to
2.5 hours. depending on your fitness and adventure level. There are three
trails you can follow. An easy path where you follow the car road, a medium
path which takes you off the road and through forest or a more difficult path
which is a steep walk uphill through farmland. The more difficult the path, the
quicker the route. We took the medium path as the difficult path had a lot of
cows around and our previous experience suggested that they seem to be very
aggressive when we (really just Alexei) are around! Maybe it is something to do
with the beef jerky he carries in his pockets…
Whichever path you choose it will not disappoint!
You will be rewarded with some incredible views. Check out the pictures below
and see for yourself…
P.s just make sure you head out early to beat the
mist and to better your chances of catching a glimpse of the peak of Mount
Horse-less and hungry, we made our way above and beyond the tallest mountain in the clouds
We didn’t walk like this all the way…
The beautiful peak of Mt Kazbek poking through the clouds for a few seconds only
The stunning church and view at the top…. this made it onto our bucket list AFTER we visited!
Essential to get one stupid pose in per adventure
Hair straighteners and civilisation? Nothing but a distant memory
Just a guard dog and old Georgian lady for company – that’s part of the magic when visiting somewhere as little visited as Georgia
The beautiful church – noticing a theme of holy places in seriously remote locations yet?
On our way back down we spotted more adventurous people who had found themselves a fantastic camping spot for the night. Something we would memory bank at the time and try ourselves later in Tajikistan….