Maffia Monks & Hiking the Chaukhi pass

Maffia Monks & Hiking the Chaukhi pass

Freedom can only be found in the mountains, as the Georgians say. So, after a couple of days in Tbilisi, getting Alexine fixed and some work done, it was time to head to the mountains again. Everyone tells us Svaneti is amazing, but that’s on the other side of Georgia so we decided to head where all of Tbilisi is heading in the weekends: Kazbegi

It’s only a two hour drive from Tbilisi. What to see in Kazbegi? Well, there is the Trinity Church, probably the most famous church of Georgia. And that says something as we’re sure there are thousands of churches here. 

On the way to the Trinity Church we stopped at the Georgian & Russian friendship monument. Not such a great monument but the views are spectacular. Lots of tourists here go parapenting or horse back riding. We didn’t do any of that but just had a look before we continued our journey. 

Maffia monks

At the Trinity Church it was too crowded for our taste so we parked the van and had a walk through the mountains. Best idea ever! The hiking path we took wasn’t really a path, more like a trail made by cows and horses. It brought us all around the mountain and so we had the best view on the trinity church. The church itself isn’t so spectacular, it’s especially the backdrop. The mountains surrounding the church are just breathtaking. Truly astonishing. 

We slept the night with a great view on the mountain. Strangely, at night the monks are apparently working as cars drive on and off to the gates of the church.

Earlier on we where told about the dubious activities of the monks in the country. The word ‘maffia’ was even mentioned. We couldn’t really believe it until we were sleeping right next to the monastery and witnessed all the strange nightly activities there. Our suspicion only got strengthened when we saw monks on the news participating in the anti LHBTI riots in Tbilisi last weekend. Monks with double agenda’s perhaps?

Of course we will never know what goes on behind those closed church doors. However, everything that goes through our minds and is written down here is subject for debate. For our own safety we will not elaborate any further on the matter…

So, early in the morning, when most tourists are still sleeping, we walked over to the church and had a look around. Inside and outside not too impressive but again, with the mountains surrounding it, it feels very majestic. 

We soon hit the road to drive almost to the border with Russia to have a small but nice hike to a waterfall. Afterwards we drove to Juta, here we wanted to have a hike the next day. A proper hike, which we definitely had.

Hiking the Chaukhi pass

Early in the morning we started the hike. We were thinking of hiking to a lake, only 1.5 hours hike, but as we missed the lake and got closer to the Chaukhi pass we decided that it would be nice to reach the pass. The pass is at 3.200 metres high and the trail to it is amazing!! The mountains surrounding us, the flowers in the field, the little river we hiked alongside. The only downside were the many many insects, but alright, we take it. So we had to climb a lot to reach the pass but as the view got more and more beautiful it wasn’t a bad thing. The higher you get the more mountain tops you see, until you are on top of the pass and it truly feels like you’re on top of the world. 

After a while enjoying the view we headed back down. Going down is a lot easier than going up but it’s a lot heavier for the body. So, we didn’t go too quick and not too slow either. We had a nice speed and half way down took a detour as walking the same way back isn’t that much fun right? Good choice! The route was so great, from stones to flower fields, to river crossings and grass lands. All that with views on the magnificent mountainside which reminds us of the Dolomites. On our way back we even found the little lake, which to us felt manmade but we’re not sure. Not the most interesting place, so we were very very happy to have done the long hike. 

Back in Juta, after 6 hours of hiking, we jumped into the ice cold river next to the van. So refreshing, so nice. We get more and more used to this lifestyle. Taking a bath wherever you can, however cold it is.

No more rolling for Alexine

We didn’t want to stay in Juta so we continued our road. Not for too long though because Alexine didn’t want to continue. She stopped. Apparently we had to change the spark plugs every 5.000km and we’ve driven almost 15.000km now so yeah, they needed to be changed. Luckily we met a very nice guy at the gasoline station who knew someone who works on old cars. He came in the evening, changed the spark plugs, checked some other things and Alexine was running again. 

We learn so much on the road, not only about ourselves or the countries we drive through but also about the van. And up to now we’ve been lucky with the people we met who helped us fix her. On our own it would still be quite difficult. 

Love, Milene & Yuri

Oh no, what’s that sound?

Oh no, what’s that sound?

Living and travelling in a van isn’t all about the best spots to camp, the thumbs up we get or driving the most scenic roads. It’s also about waiting for the engine to cool down, being anxious about a new sound she’s making and visiting garages while holding your breath that they know what they’re doing.

Up to now we have visited a couple of garages. One didn’t know much about an old engine, the other one was specialised in it and now in Georgia we found an old guy who at least worked on a T3 before. 

But still, while they are working on the engine, loosening more and more screws, taking more and more things out but still not the one you need fixed. It kind of feels like a surgeon who is working on your heart but he’s specialised in brains. They are educated and know much but just not the right thing.

Fixing van problems in Georgia

We were thinking when we passed the European borders people would know a lot more about oldtimer engines because they probably drive older cars. But like in Georgia, during the USSR time no foreign cars were allowed, thus no old Volkswagen. Luckily there are fan clubs everywhere and not only Volkswagen.

In Georgia we just contacted the Porsche fanclub. Porsche has been a close friend to Volkswagen. Ferdinand in the end stole the beetle design of the Jewish creator Ganz, made some minor changes and tadaaa the Volkswagen Hitler desired was born.

So, finding this fanclub was great. We send a message and the kindest of people replied. Lasha, president of not only the Porsche fanclub of Georgia but also the founder of the classic car fanclub. Oh my oh my were we lucky! He called some friends, one of whom has a T3 himself and had started ‘Vanlife Georgia‘ and the other one a Beetle, amongst other classics. We met and checked out the van before going to a garage. They confirmed what our Dutch rescue hotline (Dominique, Sander and Jaap) already thought; bearings in the alternator.

We changed the alternator in Italy but as written before; they didn’t really know what they were doing. Instead of replacing a broken cable they replaced our alternator. Luckily we still have the old one and so we decided to change it back. Our new made friends Lasha and Giorgi knew exactly the place. It’s that kind of place you would never find yourself.

But then, still, despite the good feeling and translation people are fiddling inside the heart of our van. It’s not the thumbs up that gets us to China but the engine. We can’t sleep at the most idyllic places if the engine isn’t working. So it hurts, seeing other people taking everything out and sometimes they look fabled, not knowing exactly what they are doing, questioning each other. And while not understanding them due to a language barrier it makes it even worse.

But we have faith in human kind and of course in Volkswagen. The reason why we got this far in the first place is because the engine is so strong, these cars are built for driving. Not just in the city, but distances. I’m sure that Pon intended this van to be used like we are using it now. Transporting people, migrating from place to place and maybe also meeting people through the van. Cause to be honest, we wouldn’t have met all these people if it wasn’t for the van.

Bernardus Marinus “Ben” Pon, Sr. (April 27, 1904 – May 15, 1968) was a Dutch businessman. In 1947, Pon’s Automobielhandel (“Pon’s Car Dealership”), became the first dealer outside of Germany to sell vehicles manufactured by Volkswagen. A sketch made by Pon inspired the engineers at Volkswagen to develop the VW Type 2 Transporter.

Branko in Montenegro who installed a new homokineet, got her checked and gave us some valuable tips. Lasha and Giorgi in Georgia who helped us fix the alternator and had us taste the delicious Georgian food and many more people who love the van and give us a beer, cherries or a great location to sleep. 

Anyway, whenever we get her fixed we hold our hearts and hope she’ll return as her old self, hope she’ll feel better afterwards not worse. We can never be sure but let’s hope she likes people playing with her engine as I, Milene, like hairdressers playing with my hair 😉

Love, Milene & Yuri

Our first impressions of Georgia

Our first impressions of Georgia

We love first impressions. Whenever we are just 10 minutes in a country we ask each other “and? What do you think?” A person has an impression about someone or something within 3 seconds. And this is sometimes the right one and sometimes the wrong one.

It takes just a quick glance, maybe three seconds, for someone to evaluate you when you meet for the first time. In this short time, the other person forms an opinion about you based on your appearance, your body language, your demeanor, your mannerisms, and how you are dressed. With every new encounter, you are evaluated and yet another person’s impression of you is formed. These first impressions can be nearly impossible to reverse or undo, and they often set the tone for the relationship that follows.

So we always write down our first impressions and at the end of our trip see whether we were wrong or right. While coming from Turkey, a country I, Milene, know very well it’s always fun to explore a place you have no impressions of yet. Driving from the known into the unknown.

The architecture of Batumi

And wow, is Georgia unknown to us. The first things that we were impressed about were the buildings in Batumi. It’s gonna look like the Las Vegas or Macao of Georgia. Strange buildings everywhere and more coming! Fun for Yuri though who loves architecture. Many people skip Batumi but it’s actually a nice city to have a stroll, relax at the beach and learn about the many cultures that it hosts. A good place to start your travels through Georgia when you come from Turkey. 

Gas pipes everywhere

Then there’s the gas pipes you see above the ground everywhere. High cars cannot enter most premises because the gas pipes prevent it. It’s part of the environment. When you drive through a cute village the gas pipes highlight the road.

The crazy Georgian driving

We were less impressed by the driving of the Georgians. They are crazy!! Absolutely crazy! They come from left and right, criss cross their way to their destination. They don’t care if there is actually space or not they just go for it. Also some cars have the steering wheel on the left and some on the right. Mainly because there is no regulation about this in Georgia, at least there wasn’t. Now apparently they are preventing cars with their steering wheel at the right side of the car being imported. Then there’s the cars without a front, back or side. Many accidents happen and when you don’t have money to fix your car or buy a new one you just continue driving without a front or door for example. You don’t want to get hit by a car like this because the sharp edges will hack you into pieces.

We’ve been on the road for 3 months, drove more than 12.000kms and for the first time saw someone being hit by a car. When you should drive 60 km/h a Georgian drives at least 80 but preferably 100, if not faster. Also there are lanes on the roads but we honestly don’t know why. 3 lanes easily become 5 – creative lanes it’s called in Georgia. “When you see free space you create a lane” a bartender tells us. To be honest, driving in Istanbul is peanuts compared to driving in Tbilisi.

The kindness of people

Even though they drive like crazy the people are actually very very kind! Strangers giving us cherries, inviting us for diner, giving us a beer. People helping us to fix the van, giving us local insider tips and give us stickers for the car for free. It’s not about getting things for free it’s about not asking for anything and receiving the world! So hospitable so kind. 

Foodies in the making

On Instagram you might already have seen that we are truly foodies in the making. In Turkey we tried every possible delight and we are still not done! Need to go back again and again. But now in Georgia it’s getting even worse, or more delicious.

Ok, so thank god Ayran can also be found in Georgia cause we were definitely not done drinking that. But then… 

I thought we finally could lose some weight again. Little did we know that Georgians love to put calories in everything! They have the most delicious bread with cheese, inside and outside!!! And when a new friend took us out for a food experience our table exploded with delicious dishes. “You cannot finish but you can try everything” his motto. In the morning we were still full!

And we haven’t tried it all yet! At the bar down of our apartment in Tbilisi the bartender gave us a list of things we should eat here. So we are on a mission to eat as much as we can. But we might put a couple days of hiking in our itinerary. No cooking in the van for us, that’s for sure 🤣

These were some impressions we had. Not all in the first 10 minutes though, they mostly were; crazy drivers, strange architecture, hot temperatures, car maintenance garages everywhere and lots of Turkish influenced food. But of course there are still first impressions to make. For example; we haven’t been to the mountains yet and we still have to talk more about Russia with Georgians cause that’s a tricky subject. We might visit the border which is moved once in a while by the Russians. Meaning that Georgians living in Georgia today can suddenly live in Russia tomorrow.

Have you been to Georgia? Are our impressions familiar?

Love, Milene & Yuri