Long and Windy Road to Tusheti
Trip Start Aug 17, 2013
9Trip End Ongoing
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Telavi to Zemo Omalo
Tusheti Tower Guest House ( a double room w/toilet & "rustic" shower. 50 lari pp incl breakfast & dinner 100 lari total ($60))
Gray sky and chilly
It was cool and cloudy. Our driver picked the four of us up at 9 sharp. It took 30 minutes to get to the beautiful foothills with its many vineyards.
The road surface deteriorated as we started climbing into the Caucasus Mountains with its unbelievably steep walls. It is impossible to go very fast here. So in-spite of its "most dangerous" road reputation, we felt quite safe, safer than any road we've driven in Georgia in fact.
We followed the pale blue Story River sometimes watching it squeezing through narrow gorges way below us. Countless waterfalls dissolved into the river after cascading down the vertical mountainsides.
At first the mountains were covered in mixed forest which I imagine will be ablaze in autumn colors in a few weeks.
About half way, after 2 hours mainly pines and spruce covered the mountain and we entered the Tusheti Protected Reserve area.
We continued for another 2 hours along gnarly hairpins in stunningly beautiful mountains.
It took us from 9:30 am to 2:00 pm to ride 118 km to reach Omalo. We decided on upper Omalo.
As we cleared the corner we were greeted by fabulous view of the Tusheti Towers seemingly watching over the small village of Zemo Omalo (translates to Upper Omalo) from high above.
The driver dropped us at Hotel Tusheti Tower.
We entered a small wooden balcony and were invited in by the cheerful Zeala who owns it. She only has 2 nights free for us. We followed her into small room with fascinating old photographs on the wall, some locally made souvenirs for sale spread out on low corner table and one large dining table. We had to crawl through small door opening and then up narrow wooden stairs to our room in the tower. It had the atmosphere of years gone by. Thick slate walls with two small round openings, no glass panes to keep the cold air out. It did have a bathroom with toilet and solar heated warm shower. We were in our element. The Czech couple continued one more level to a loft and decided to stay too. We each had a room in the tower for 50 lari pp ($30) including breakfast and dinner.
We were hungry and asked if we could have some lunch. The lady speaks a few words of English and we're able to communicate with her. Soup would be great, we said. Next thing we know, we were sitting behind a table laden with food. A wonderful dish with wild mushrooms and herbs and another mixed vegetable dish, plate after plate arrived. A to-die-for wild mushroom dish and ajabsandasli (another mixed vegetable concoction), soup, bread, cheese, tomato and cucumbers, washed down with delicious Tusheti chai, made of herbs and wildflowers. Everything was so tasty.
After lunch, the Czech couple hiked to the top of the mountain behind us to check out the Tusheti Towers. We decided to wait and do that tomorrow and hopefully have sunshine.
A couple from Poland stopped for coffee on their way back to Telavi then up to Kazbegi for a festival. I was disappointed that the tourist information in Tbilisi had not mentioned that to us when I specifically had inquired about festivals coming up.
Anyway, this helpful couple had their own transport but it was already 3 pm and they were getting a late start for such long journey. They highly recommended for us to go to Dartlo, another 15 km from here. They recommended Natela Guesthouse there and even called to reserve it for the 13th.
Dinner was another feast as customary always accompanied by wine or chacha (grappa) and we had the nice company of a group of six Russians and a young couple, Kristijonas and Egle from Lituania, the Czechs and us.
Kristijonas and Egle did some day hikes and scheduled a guide and horses for a ride tomorrow. I was prepared for the cold nights with my hot water bottle and nice enough to share it with Dave who didn't think it was necessary to bring his;)
We stuffed the round "portholes" in our room with a slate left for that purpose and an old airline pillow. We slept like babies.
September 12, 2013 Zemo Omalo
Hotel Tusheti Tower
Cool blue sky day around 64F
Breakfast was another feast. Pancakes that were a lot like the fluffy US ones and served with our favorite homemade blueberry jam which left us with blue smiles. The feast didn't end there; fried potatoes, fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers and cilantro, a carrot and cucumber and potato salad, katchapuri, the fried cheese filled breads. Zeala, Asmati and Galia work tirelessly all day to keep us fed. We better do a lot of hiking to burn off those calories.
We hiked the steep shale path behind the village to the Tusheti Towers. Towers like this were used for defense and are scattered all through Georgia. The view was breathtaking and we spent a good hour on the hill taking it all in.
Later in the afternoon, we took a hike in the surrounding area. We both had suffered from slight altitude headaches which eased after the second day. We were only at about 2500 meters, hard to believe when thinking how seemingly high we had climbed in the jeep getting here.
By 5 pm, most of the guests (about 15 total) had returned. Kristijonas and Egle had had a long day in the saddle and took a nap before dinner. Dave and I played a game of cards while sipping Tusheti tea.
We plan to hike to Dartlo tomorrow. The jeep price we were quoted for the 15 km was outrageous 40 lari per person. It is a strenuous but beautiful hike, we were told. Dave was confident that he could carry the heavy pack so the decision was made.
Before dinner, I stopped by the small kitchen where the women and a neighbor were busy preparing khinkali, the dumplings. I joined them and got a crash course in stuffing and shaping those delicious dumplings. These were with meat.