From the valley of Shatili we set off to the valley through which we entered Georgia. I bathe again in the turquoise lake. In between we pass a fortified church; the sacred building was protected by a high wall and resembles a castle.
But there are too many tourists here and we refrain from being photographed in traditional Georgian costumes.
We are on the way to Kazbek, the five-thousand-meter peak on which Prometheus necklaces must still be found. This time we have our own vehicle with us and we turn off at Stepansminda on the path that takes us up to the hill in front of the famous mountain. There is the monastery of Kazbegi, the Church of the Trinity, which with the backdrop of the high Caucasus in the background is the photo subject of Georgia. The thousands of other tourists here also think so. The road is being expanded and cannot be used.
But there is an alternative slope that we have to share with dozens of tourist marshrutkas. The gravel road is horror. I have never experienced a route like this and it even beats the broken roads in Albania. It’s very steep and this narrow, dusty stretch has downright gorges from the rain. More than once, four tires no longer help and I have to go back and start again. The Georgians take no account of oncoming traffic and then wonder why they can’t go any further.
After a long fight against the road and the marshrutkas, we reach the hill and walk up a slope. Hikers come towards us, who presumably come from Kazbek, which we now see majestically, but covered in clouds, enthroned in front of us.
We have a clear view of the tourist invasion of the poor little monastery, which certainly did not have to endure such an onslaught even when the Tartars invaded.
We let the view continue to affect us before we drive back the same route. On the way we treat ourselves to a real Georgian meal again and turn off to explore the side valleys. It is late afternoon. In the first side valley we find veiled people. The men wear long beards, the women headscarves. Hay is just being harvested and the scene looked particularly beautiful in the warm light of the setting sun.
We passed a combine harvester with a couple of men around it changing a bike. A couple of children came towards us on a donkey cart, some of whom were very shy and the others very excited. A couple of old men sat on the bench next to a tower in a village. After the village the road ran into the fields.
We turned back and reached a second side valley. It was very barren and there were ghost villages on the slopes. The valley consisted of large rubble. The sun went down and at the end of the valley we could marvel at the now cloudless Kazbek in the evening light. Straight ahead the valley became a gorge with a very wild stream. Towards Kazbek the valley opened up and a small desolate village lay there. And right behind it a small military post.
A man tapered up and down a row of sandbags and then paused under a camouflaged shelter. He didn’t look like he was selling souvenirs.
Without further ado we pitched our tent in the rubble and waited for the next day, while in the background the dogs of the village never gave a moment’s rest.
We drive east and leave the busy Heerstraße to find nicer side slopes. We pass through forests and lonely houses. The gravel roads are becoming more and more adventurous and we always need the all-wheel drive. Uli is very amazed how tanned the landscape looks. When he was in Georgia everything bloomed in lush green. I get suspicious of our direction and look up our route on Google Maps. Lo and behold, it turns out that we are about to leave Georgia and come to South Ossetia. This is not a problem for the Ossetians. In their eyes, their small republic is autonomous, legitimately split off from Georgia and welcomes tourists.
Russia supports separatism, which is why traveling to and from South Ossetia from the north is unproblematic. The return to Georgia with a South Ossetian stamp is, however, in the eyes of the Georgian judiciary an act of treason and there are cases – a Dutchman wrote a book of his – in which foreigners were punished with several years in prison. We don’t want to risk that and break off our course in time.