My take on camping
Camping has its perks and lows. Before this trip, I had only camped a couple of one-off times, and to be honest it hadn’t been the best experience. Hard floor, wet bags and cold food. Ugh.
I didn’t imagine that I’d be able to live it up camping. Yet 15 nights of camping later, and I’m a changed gal. In fact, I’ve become so used to the cozy interior, the golden glow of torches and the sound of silence, that now when I have the choice between a hostel and camping, I’ve even chosen the latter.
The Vardzia Cave Monastery
After our time in the town of Akhaltsikhe we took a bus to Vardzia. The drive is renown for its dramatic landscape, but a bout of car-sickness prevented me from enjoying the views..
The Cave Monastery was breath-taking, built into a mountain-side with over 6000 “apartments”. It looked like a film set out of Lord of the Rings.
It was built in 1185 (let’s pause to realise how long ago this was), by Georgians for their Queen Tamara, as a sanctuary to protect themselves against the Mongol Hordes. In fact, buried deep in the mountains is an irrigation system (hidden from invadors) which til this day provides drinking water. Now only 300 “apartments” have been preserved, and 7 monks STILL live there. Unsurprisingly, it is on the nomination list for UNESCO.
It was a huge sight to explore, and hardly any visitors or staff around, so we had the place to ourselves. It was also amazing to me that there were no rules on where to roam. With 300 caves at our finger tips, we were free to climb in, and get right into the middle of the mountain, the only worry being to find our bearings and way out. For all claustrophobs out there, I wouldn’t recommend going inside..
After our self-tour, we joined up with some other travelers we had met on route, a Russian girl and a Polish couple, and set out to find a place to pitch our tents by the river valley. You can wild camp practically anywhere in Georgia, and we were spoilt for choice, and finally found an idyllic spot with a view of the Cave Monastery.
We had been on the move, non-stop, for weeks, so we decided to stay another night by the Cave monastery. Hiding our bags in our tent, and hoping for the best, we hitchhiked to a town about 30Km away to see the Khertvisi Fortress.
This is one of the oldest fortresses in Georgia, built in the 2nd Century, and once destroyed by Alexander the Great. It is situated above a union of two rivers, lending itself to glorious views of the rural countryside of Georgia, and on the road that connects Georgia to Armenia.
Satisfied with having explored 2 of the most ancient historical sites of the Caucasus, we packed up and headed East. I couldn’t wait to get to Tbilisi. But there was one more pit-stop we could not miss – the Caucasus’s biggest National Park, where the Romanov family spent their holidays: Bojormi Nature Reserve.