Prehistoric monuments, medieval cave cities and castles, canyons, and a hot springs. That was our three day quest that we had set, with very limited success. The team was my Latvian friend, his eleven-year-old son, and myself, crammed into the front seats of his utility van. It had been a relatively cool summer, so with the sun shining as we set off from my apartment, it looked like the perfect start to the trip.
Day 1: Edzana Canyon, Paravani Megaliths, and Akhalkalaki
Our first stop was a canyon. The back route from Tbilisi (Ortachala) to Manglisi was a surprisingly good road. Ortachala itself is a weird neighborhood: The site of one of the main bus stations in Tbilisi, it sits completely disconnected from the metro network, though still accessible by city bus and marshrutka. I remember first being there, when it was mainly just a row of brothels for arriving Armenians, Turks, Azeris, and Persians, with a crumbling, post-apocalyptic Soviet bus station as a centerpiece. The area has improved a lot since that time, with a couple of modern hotel towers rising up above the mess, but our first “megalith” was indeed that crumbling concrete massif our van idled by. It’s also definitely one of the better routes out of town to skip the traffic, so there was that too.
As we got halfway towards Manglisi, we picked up a hitchhiker en route, who was headed to that village. He was a hippie from Germany who gladly hopped into the back of the van. He was on his way back to the village—a popular site for Tbiliselis to have a summer home—where he had apparently left his hat. As a hat man myself, I had the feels for him, so we brought him all the way to the house. And then our first real discovery that though there aren’t many roads in the country side, Google seems positive that there’s a network of roads webbing across the Georgian hinterlands. There isn’t. There really is just one road.
As we followed the route out of town, the road quickly deteriorated into literally nothing. No problem, we’ll just turn around and get out, and then head down another road that did the same thing. Damn you, Manglisi! But wait, this WAS the main road!
So, onto that dirt avenue snaking through the hills we went. The road improved again, though it would prove to be quite patchy all the way to Akhalkalaki (due to a strange selection of road works). The road though, is good enough for any car to make the trip.
Tsalka, Edzana, and Dashbashi
Tsalka is a quaint village close to a large lake that seems completely undiscovered by tourists (even by Georgian tourists), and looks to be a great place for fishing (indeed, you can find a place or two to rent boats) and for just buying fish and grilling it up. It was settled in the early 1800s by Greeks living in Anatolia who were fleeing Turkish persecution after the Greeks had sided with Russia in the Russo-Tur