East Anatolia, Blacksea and beyond - Kafkas 010
Version 0.5 - 2208010
i was finally able to put some photographs of the recent trips* online. unfortunatly my camera broke in the first week of august. the pictures from Swaneti, Kazbegi and Tusheti (all three are caucasus regions in Georgia - from west to east) are therefore shot by my roadcompanion Sayat Nova from Istanbul. since we did all of this roads together in the weeks that followed he explicitely allowed me to publish them on my website. we separated in Tbilisi on august 15. Sayat went on to Armenia, me back into Turkey.
when i left Hemshin on july 29 the clock on the bmw turned 10000km since i left Berlin. when i entered Turkey again 3 weeks later the clock showed 13000km since Berlin. one third of the roads made in Georgia may easiliy be labelled "offroad" since they consist of anything but or of very bad asphalt. especially the sections through Swaneti and Tusheti, but also the road i took from Tbilisi to Borjomi were quite challenging in that regard. when i entered Turkey on august 18 my reardrive made strange noises. the bearing seemed to be crashed. if thats all repair would be easy. otherwise, no i didn't want to think about it... afterwards it turned out that it was indeed the bearing, probably crashing when i approached an unfinished gasoline station in the Telavi valley and was hitting a bumper. But with the outstanding help of Sefik Usta in Rize the bearing could be repaired in 2 days, including the transfer of the bearing itself from Istanbul. There is nothing that can compete with turkish hospitality especially among motocyclers.
a small remark: this is a collection of impressions of a 4 month trip* in summer 2010 to the Kackarmountains and the Caucasus. some of you might wonder why there are rarely human beings to be found in my photographs (except myself). the short answer is: i respect the privacy of friends and therefore only exceptionally put any of them photos on my websites. i rather prefer to put buildings, landscapes and machines to the forefront. they function as signifiers and references and thus hopefully point to the subjectivities and politics behind them.
the following is in a reverse order: recent events come first. occasionally comments can be found under photographs. but don't expect completeness.
* if not travelling i am located in the town Hemşin in the Province Rize. i am tracking some of the trips with gps-software. you can follow them by clicking on the links below the text, for example:
Track: Hemshin - Pazar: the main road out of homezone down to the blacksea
Track: From Cat Yaylasi/Alm to Samistal Yaylasi/Alm
Track: Hemshin Zuga köy - Firtina vadisi/valley - Meydanköy
Track: Firtina vadisi/valley from Meydanköy up to Trovit Yaylasi/Alm
Track: Firtina vadisi/valley - Hemshin vadisi/valley
tracks can also be downloaded in gpx- or kml-format in a later version of this site and thus be used either in your navigationdevice or in googleearth. some of the tracks are partial only. this was due to sometimes bad signal quality when clouds were covering the sky. and ones for sure: an android-smartphone aint no real gps-device, but its working rather good...
"Tusheti 02* - from upper Omalo into the Dochu and Dartlo valleys and back"
since Sayats tire was into repair down in Telavi we benefited from the time to explore most of the valleys of the Tucheti region on a single motocycle. since there is no possibility of supply with benzin or gasoil, there are no gasstations in Tucheti, this was a good idea. in fact at the end the bmw had to borough benzin from the little yamaha to make it back into the valley to Telavi. there are also no shops in Tucheti, a fact we didn't know and thus weren't prepared for. nevertheless the hospitality of the local people is awesome. we didn't have to starve. once a day two jeeps full of bread are coming up the dangerous pass from Telavi. when we asked them for bread they never refused. when we wanted to pay they never took money. together with the huge white cheese we still had from the Kazbegi shepperds we had a basic diet. additional food was occasional available.
the Tucheti region consists of several mountain ranges interrupted by a couple of valleys, the bigger ones being the Dartlo and the Dochu valley (named after their most important villages). it was only in recent years that Georgia passed a law for protecting natural reservates making it possible that regions like Tucheti became a protected area. the visitors center and the ranger system with ranger stations across the park also started to operate only recently. most of the time we slept in our tent near the visitors center in Omalo. only the last night we went further up into the Dartlo valley until the jeeptracks reached its end and advancement would mean hiking. we walked up the valley another couple of kilometers and decided that a place called Girevi was our point of return. in a distance we saw the village of Chontio, from where the hikingtrail continues across the Atsunta pass into Khevshureti, another one of these wild remote places in the caucasus mountains. instead we returned and found shelter by putting up our tent beneath the ones of azeri shepperds who had their last night of the season after 3 months in the mountains taking care of the sheep of their georgian patron. again we where thankful for their hospitality for sharing their tasteful pasta. the next morning we packed our stuff and left in the early hours of the day. we made it down to Omalo, where the rest of our stuff was, continued across the Abano pass into the Telavi wine valley, which we reached late afternoon and picked up a new tire for the yamaha a friend had brought from Tbilisi. that was our luck, thank you again Erdali for the help. the repaired tire made it another 50km until it reached the very end of its lifecycle. putting the new tire on the wheel in half an hour we could advance and reach Tbilisi the very same evening...
* all photographs courtesy of SayatNova/Istanbul
"Tusheti 01* - from Telavi through Abano pass (2926m) into Tucheti"
when we were asking Aleko Bendeliani about Kazbegi, he replied something like "yes its nice, you may have some spectacular views, the road up there is a bit bumpy but if you really want to see another wild place, go to Tucheti". since he already brought us to unforgetable places in Swaneti we followed his advice and we should not be disappointed. Swaneti is already incredible impressing but Tucheti beats them all. Its location on the border to Chechenya in the north and Dagestan in the east, reachable only after crossing the nearly 3000m Abano pass makes transportation to Tucheti alone a challenge. Without a 4wheeldrive offroad vehicle you are seriously discouraged to go there. only these crazy guys from Milano who where on their way to Australia made it across the pass with extreme difficulties in their fiat 500. in fact they got stuck in the first serious mudhole after the pass and couldn't advance into Tucheti. we crossed the valley of Telavi where temperatures were above 30 degrees. at the crossroad leading into the mountains the sign shows 70 km to Omalo, the main village in Tucheti. it took us 7 hours and we couldn't even reach Omalo that day. at 1700m altitude it began to rain and we passed Abano on 3000m altitude in heavy showers and at approx. 10 degrees. on the way down to Khiso, the first village, Sayats motocycle had a flat on the rear tire. we stopped at Khiso and meet a crew of guys from Tbilisi who were in Tucheti for a holiday weekend. they invited us for dinner, which consisted mainly of meet, tomatoes, cucumbers and bread, and of course vodka and wine. georgian drinking culture is hard to compete with. glasses are always filled up immediatly after emptied in one shot. each shot is accompagnied by a tost, and there are many of them, usually commented by a second person. quite a social event on its own. we slept on the porch of a village house, no idea how we reached there. the next day we found somebody who took down Sayats wheel to Telavi to get it repaired. we packed the stuff we needed on the bmw and continued to Omalo, where we experinced another two days of thunderstorms and rainy weather before the sun came out again for the following days...
* all photographs courtesy of SayatNova/Istanbul
"Kazbegi* - around Mt. Kazbeg and down the military highway into Tbilisi"
as after Kutaisi the jeepcrew went on southbound and later back to Batumi, Sayat Nova and me separated and decided to continue together versus Kazbegi. the region lies north of the capital Tbilisi and follows the main transit road though the caucasus into Russia, known also as the georgian military highway. spectacular views are guaranteed along the way. we stayed a night in a small hotel in Stepantsminda, a small town which is the hub for trecking tourism to Mt. Kazbeg, one of the highest peaks in the caucasus. we continued until the russian border and saw the famous Tsminda Sameba church, lying spectacular above the valley. the afternoon we went back through the upper Kazbegi valley until the village of Kobi, where we took a mountain trail into the isolated valley of Ketrisi, also known as Truso george. the upper part of that sidevalley is not accessible since it borders to South-Ossetia, a former georgian region which declared its independency from Georgia in 2006. but the lower part are also very spectacular. mineral water springs come out of the mountains, sediment and form sinterterraces of different colours. that night we put up our tents near a camp of azeri shepperds whom we have to thank for their generous hospitality, inviting us in their tents to have a simple yet luscious dinner. the following morning we took the way back to Kobi and followed the road all the way down to Tbilisi, which we were obliged to pass heading to our next goal, the most spectacular of the three, the region of Tusheti...
* all photographs courtesy of SayatNova/Istanbul
"Swaneti* - a guided tour into the northwestern caucasus high mountain range"
at Batumi Motorfestival i met a group of offroaders from turkey who had planned to go on a guided trip through the remote northwestern mountainrange of Swaneti. there is only one road leading to the area, most of it still in a very bad postsoviet condition or still under contruction. so the weakest of the jeepgroup had to give up already after the first day following a flat he had in the upper part of the road and as it was clear that the real challenge was the road after Mestia. we started at noon in Batumi and came through the portcity of Poti, where the road turned east. the access to Swaneti begins after Zugdidi. although the distance is not that far, we arrived in Mestia after dusk.
so the first experience of the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding mountains was left for the following morning. that day we didn't drive much, instead we visited the local museum of history and ethnography and made a short trip up through the valley to Mt. Ushba to take the hiking track to the Ushba glacier. the third day we were again on the road and took the jeeptrack into Ushguli, an old place in the middle of nowhere protected as world cultural heritage by the Unesco. although we went up at 6 in the morning it took us until late afternoon to make the 150km into Lentheki, which marks the end of the village roads. so everybody was tired and exhausted when we arrived late that evening in Kutaisi, the former capital of Georgia. but thanks to our excellent guide Aleko Bendeliani everything went smooth and we had no difficulties whatever.
* all photographs of the first album courtesy of SayatNova/Istanbul
"from Hemşin to Trovit - and back through Üsküt"
up here in the Kaçkar-mountains there are a lot of firstgear- and secondgeartrails*, "roads" who do not deserve the word in the literal sense. they are more tracks or trails than roads. many of them are washed out as an effect of the sometimes heavy rainfalls in the area. the road i have choosen today goes up versus Gito yayla but shortly before it reaches Gito turns down to the Fırtına** valley and then up again to a sequence of yaylas, summer pastures following subsequently: Cat - Elevit - Trovit - Palovit - Apivanak - Amlakit. i followed the road until i reached Trovit on 2300m altitude. Noticed the names of the pastures? They do not sound very turkish. In fact most of them are armenien names. There are a lot more in the region, some of them sound really beautiful, take "Mollaveis" for example. They are the last remnants of hidden and erased histories.
* first and second gear refers to the gears in my motocycle, on those trails you can't go faster than in second gear!
the Palovit-platform aims at protecting the Fırtınavalley against further environmental exploitation, unfortunately the website is in turkish only. It forms part of a quickly raising awareness all over turkey that natural ressources are threatened by increasing attempts to monetarize them. currently similar local and regional platforms are occuring, for a eastern blacksea initiative see karadeniz isyandadir - blacksea rise up
Track: Hemshin vadisi up through Gito to Firtina vadisi (partial).
Track: Firtina vadisi from Meydanköy up to Trovit yaylasi (partial)
Track: From Firtina vadisi through Üsküt dagi to Hemshin
"Armenia - land of red ashlars*"
There are many things to say about Armenia - probably much more than what fits into a blog. We entered armenia in the northwest and then travelled to the northeast and through lake Sevan down to Yerivan, where we stayed for 2 days. Then we made a quick tour to Jermuk in the southeast, not very far from the Iranian border. In soviet times Jermuk served as a mountain spa center for the russian elites, special mineral water treatments are still offered and Jermuk mineral water became our favored beavage in Armenia, closely followed by Bjni, whose source we also had the opportunity to visit. From there we directly went up to mount Aragatz in the north again. On 3300m i became altitude-sick. Aragatz is the twin of Ararat and almost equally worshipped by the Armenians with the difference that it can be reached (which probably makes it less attractive) whereas Ararat, the mythical mountain, can only be seen from a distance. The border to Turkey crosses right through the Ararat plain and is still closed. This adds a special dimension to one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century - the armenian genocide. Armenia forms the geographical and cultural extension of east anatolia, yet these traces were cut off and erased almost 100 years ago and the wounds of this operation still remain open on both side of the border.
* most of the buildings, be it monasteries, government buildings, housing projects, whatever, in the country from ancient times to the present are made of red volcanic tuff or basalt stone which is nowadays cut in the same standardized cuboid manner - i have never seen such an uniform way of construction through time & space
"crossing ovidpass - there are reasons to hate the HES"
is a couple of impressions from a cold ride through the westpassage of the Kaçkar-mountains.* in mid june still much of the high mountain range is covered by snow and its quite cold up in 2600 meters. coming down on the blacksea side of the range gives an insight into the current visual appearance of the politics of energy production and control of water ressources. HES stands for "Hidro Elektrik Santral" and is an important place of politization all over east anatolia. HESs, hydroelectric power stations, cut off the water from creeks for a couple of kilometers in order to produce electricity and are build all over the place. a friend in Artvin told me that alone for the district of Artvin 1500 (!) HESs are already working, under construction or planned. This means a huge intervention into the socio-geographic space of the entire region in the name of development and progress.
* for those not familiar with turkish: the first pic shows the sign of the border of the province of RIZE, where i am currently located
"from yusufeli to ispir - how roads turn into creeks"
is a small series of photos from a road on the anatolian side of the Kaçkar-mountains. the road between Yusufeli, an important site for adventure tourism (trecking, rafting), and Ispir consists 80% of stabilized surface, an expression for anything but asphalt. 100 km can therefore easily take more than 3 hours. the flipside is a ride through gorgeous landscapes. "how roads turn into creeks" relates to the leftovers of the end of last weeks heavy rainfalls and thunderstorms in the area.
Track: Yusufeli - Ispir (partial)
"from artvin to yusufeli - these places are almost dead"
refers to another symptom of rapid catching up development. Turkey needs energy and therefore sacrifies its depopulated regions in the east to artificial lakes for the production of electricity. many of the valleys in the area around Artvin are already under water or are going to be so in the next couple of years. baraj yapmak, barrage building is one of the key elements in Turkeys current attempt to control the middle eastern water ressources, which will be of remarkable importance in the future, when water will be as scarce as oil. the road out of Artvin i choosed follows the old and abandoned erzurumroad, nowadays no more than a stabilized graveltrack high above the valley and thus dangerous to drive!
Track: old Artvin - Erzurum Road
Track: Zeytinlik - Yusufeli
"from hopa to borçka - border regions"
the Borçka region on the border to georgia is almost unknown. the valley of Macahel, which geographically opens to Georgia, is cut off from Turkey through a high mountain range, making it practically impossible to cross in the winter. thus during the cold war, a village life has been preserved which is today being sold as "close to nature". still transport is such an issue that in case of emergency a special agreement with Georgia counts that allows inhabitants of the valley to cross over to georgia despite the fact that there is no official border crossing point. due to "security reasons" foreigners are not easily allowed to enter the valley. there is of course an army checkpoint at the road.
"istanbul - always better than recently"
not much to say about istanbul. can be surprising, disgusting, amazing. anything beyond normal. the pictures are just a few impressions from our stay at a friends house in Kanlıca, an old neighborhood on the anatolian side of the bosphorus.
"hemşin - edge of paradise"
Hemşin refers both to a town and a valley not to be confused with Camlıhemşin, which is in the neighboring valley. While the latter became a site for mountain tourism in the last decade, the Hemşin valley remained mostly untouched by the flows of climbers and mountaineers. its main source of income consists of tea- and honeyproduction. Hemşin valley is the first and only valley in Turkey which switched entirely to organic teaproduction. a new plant for the processing of the harvested tea (3 times per annum) has been built at the entrance of the valley and started operation in 2009. behind the town asphalt ends but the road winds up another 25 km until it reachs Gito alp and further up Ambarlı alp, both above the timberline. until there, the woods along the road are covered with rhododendron and other flowers, and sometimes with abandoned lumberjackhuts. although part of the area is protected as national parc, the unique rainforests* of the regions are constantly threatened by attempts to extract more profit. but resistance is growing too...
* the regional rainforests in the Eastern Blacksea Area are called Colchian forests and are part of some tiny percentage of worldwide temperate rainforests, see Wikipedia for more information.