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Pictures of our trip to Abkhazia
- From August 5 to 13, 2013 Georgia - Sukhumi - Tsebelda - Novyy Aton - Lake Ritsa - Gagra - Pitsunda-Georgia
 
before:
Georgia Part 3a – July 31 to August 5, 2013 - Zugdidi - Swaneti - Zugdidi - Abkhazia Border
Georgia Part 2b July 22 to 31, 2013: Armenia Border - Ninotsminda - Tbilisi - Mtskheta - Kazbegi - Kutaisi - Zugdidi
Armenia part 2 17 to 22, 2013: Nagorno Karabakh - Goris - Tatev - Noravank - Khor Virap - Echmiadzin - Geghard - Gyumri - Georgia
Nagorno-Karabakh July 9 to 17, 2013: Armenia - Stepanakert - Gandzasar - Martakert - Tigranakert - Tnjri - Shoushi - Armenia
Armenia part 1 July 2 to 9, 2013: Georgia Border - Akhtala - Haghpat - Dilijan - Lake Sevan - Selim - Arates - Nagorno Karabakh
Georgia Part 2a June 24 to July 2, 2013: Azerbaijan Border - Tbilisi - Armenia Border
Azerbaijan June 13 to 24, 2013: Georgia Border - Balakən - Şəki - Lahıç - Baku - Xınalıq - Quba - Laza - Baku - Gəncə - Georgia Border
Georgia part 1 June 4 to 13, 2013: Turkey Border - Ajaria - Tbilisi - Kakheti - Azerbaijan Border
Turkey May 28 to June 4, 2013: Iran Border - Esendere - Hakkari - Van - Doğubayazıt - Kars - Ardahan - Hopa - Georgia Border
afterwards in the Caucasus:
Georgia Part 3b – August 13 to 15, 2013 - Abkhazia Border - Poti - Ferry to Ilyichevsk/Ukraine
 
 
Abkhazia Map
 
Mid-East Map          Caucasus Map
 
latest picture: August 8, 2013
  • click a picture to see details

 
Remarks to Abkhazia:
 
Abkhazia belongs to the so-called “countries with limited recognition”, like e.g. Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh, Northern Cyprus, Palestine, Somaliland, South Ossetia, Taiwan, Transnistria, Western Sahara, Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk. All are either “claimed” or “occupied” from another country.
 
Hence Abkhazia is claimed by Georgia, but declared 1999 its independence and is supported herein by Russia. That means for tourists that they – with the exception of just a few – cannot expect much assistance from their home country if something went wrong. Because Georgia is regarding Abkhazia as a Georgian province, they permit a visit, but not an exit to Russia, as they don’t have a border post at the Russian frontier – what would mean leaving Georgia illegally. However if Abkhazia is visited from Russia, it’s not possible to enter Georgia, because “their province” has been entered illegally.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
001  The nearly 2 miles long sea promenade
and its pebble beach in Sukhumi, Abkhazia's
capital with a population of about 65’000, is
frequented mainly by Russian holiday makers.
The beach is only about 100 yards away
from the Hotel Inter-Sukhum
002  Another lovely long beach spreads
south of the capital. Today's Abkhazia
was once seen as the jewel of the "Soviet
Riviera" along the Black Sea coast
003  Russian tourists are sunbathing at
the pebble beach in Sukhumi. It’s
exactly the same what the Europeans do
in Spain. Sukhumi lies 84 miles south of
Russian Sochi, the Olympic City
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
004  Liliana and the LandCruiser in front
of the Hotel Inter-Sukhum in Sukhumi
where we stay at US$65 a night, including
breakfast and secured car parking
005  Abkhazia uses own car number
plates with the country flag, however no
own money but Russian Rubles. Own
stamps do exist for internal use, but other-
wise Russian stamps have to be taken
006  Language barrier in a small Sukhumi
restaurant; mostly only Abkhaz and Russian
is spoken. The lady shows Emil with
hand signs what shashlik and beer cost.
She still uses the nostalgic counting frame
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
At Sukhumi's seafront promenade travel agencies make propaganda for sightseeing tours:
007  to Novy Afon's 19th century
Monastery with its golden domes,
15 miles north of Sukhumi
008  to Lake Ritsa in the Caucasus
Mountains, 75 miles north of Sukhumi (the
pic. showing the waterfall flowing directly
out of the lake doesn’t match the reality)
009  to the Gegskij waterfall
in the Lake Ritsa region
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
On the parking of the Hotel Inter-Sukhum Emil searches the reason of the stuttering and shooting of our LandCruiser
that becomes more and more dramatic since Svaneti in Georgia
010  Is it the ignition coil?
011  or the carburator?
012  Emil is searching in our spare part
box for a spare ignition coil (but it then
turns out to be the distributor cable)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
013  In Machara, south of Sukhumi, we turn
off into the interior towards Tdsebelda. The
road meanders first through a lovely green
river valley following the Kodori river .....
014  ..... then through a narrow
canyon with “hanging gardens” .....
015  ..... and a picturesque little waterfall
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
016  It once was a lovely building near
Merkheuli that now nature is taking over.
Abkhazia did not recover yet completely
from the 1992-93 war with Georgia
017  There are still large unpopulated
areas where one can enjoy nature and
loneliness. This road from Abkhazia to
Russia via Tdsebelda – called “Sukhumi
Military Road” – was drivable for cars
between 1903 and 1955; afterwards
it was abandoned
018  Half hidden between lush green:
Another building ruin – for sure not dating
back to the “Tsebelda culture” (1st to 5th
century), but probably a relict from the
Soviet era, or bombed during the
Abkhazia-Georgia war in 1992-93
 
“Premature” end of our Abkhazia pictures. Why? Here our story:
 
ABKHAZIA
 
5.8.2013: We are ready for our next country! At one of the many money changers in Zugdidi, the last city on the Georgian side, we change our remaining Georgian Lari into Russian Rubles and head straight to the border. It is our last possible entry day into Abkhazia. As if our LandCruiser wanted to prevent us to travel into this self proclaimed country not recognized internationally and not recommended by the travel advisories, it starts stuttering and jerking and does not run on all six cylinders anymore. Why is it doing this to us now of all times. A bit nervous though, but determined not to loose our last chance, we press it forward and finally reach the Georgian “border post”.
 
At first there is some confusion. The officer interprets our "Clearance Letter" obtained easily via the internet and issued from 7/25 - 8/5/2013 in the way that today we would have to leave the state again. However, after a couple of phone calls the situation is cleared; whereas it seemed important that also our car was mentioned in the permit. Without an exit stamp in the passport – Georgia regards Abkhazia as a Georgian province – we leave Georgia respectively its province of Samegrelo.
 
We are eager to venture new land as we drive towards the new border post. Apart of the nostalgic horse carriages that keep the “passenger service” between the two borders upright, we are the only vehicle on the 2’850 ft. long, dilapidated, potholed and bumpy border bridge over the Enguri River. At the Abkhazia entry post, the unusual appearance of our car is met with great astonishment and the word "Toyota LandCruiser" is pronounced almost with reverence. With the "Clearance Letter" of the government the customs formalities are straight forward and courteous by the mixed border station staff – Abkhazians and Russians – and the interior of our car is only checked rudimentary. It is almost a bit embarrassing when our LandCruiser makes fusses again and does not want to move away from the border.
 
As it was the case in Nagorno-Karabakh we have to apply for the visa in the capital at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It has moved but when we finally find the office in Sukhumi everything goes fast. We pay 400 Rubles per person = US$10 for ten days (only payable in Rubles) and get the visa on a sheet of paper. There is one question that burns with curiosity: "Are we allowed to exit to Russia. The answer is a clear "Niet". It is only allowed: Entry from Georgia, exit to Georgia or entry from Russia, exit to Russia; transit is prohibited. Feeling hungry we make ourselves comfortable at a lovely beach front restaurant. We order shashlik and a potato-cheese dish and celebrate our 177th country with three huge jugs of Abkhazian beer. We are happy. Everything was so easy. Out of the six police checks on our 60 miles’ ride from the border to the capital only one officer, a Russian, tried to extract some money from us. Until close to Sukhumi the checkpoints were also mixed, i.e. occupied by Abkhazians and Russians.
 
Did we think that it will be easy to locate the cheap guesthouse we noted from the internet, we are completely wrong. All is written in Russian only and most of the population speaks only Russian or Abkhaz too; but they are very helpful. However, at some point we are tired to be sent from street to street. When by chance we drive past the Hotel Inter-Sukhum, Emil suggests: "Why don’t you go and ask how much they charge for a room". Luckily the manager is present at the reception who speaks very good English. He offers us a room for US$ 65 a night, including breakfast. For the parking he wants additional 50 Rubles ($1.35) per day what I can talk him off. After having discussed it with Emil, we check in. This is how we land at a very good hotel at the seashore where mostly Russian tourists spend their holidays. We don’t know yet that the manager of the hotel would be a real "white knight" a couple of days later.
 
The seafront with its 2 miles long promenade and its pebble beach is only 100 yards away from our hotel. Here the Russian sit and lie from morning to evening and let themselves "roast" in the sun, while we try to find out the reason of the stuttering and shooting of our LandCruiser that gets more and more dramatic. Does the ignition coil cause a short circuit? Emil replaces it with a used one we carry with us for ages. But this one doesn’t work at all. Hence he puts back the old one and cleans the carburetor. It still does not work and continues to bang. We come to the conclusion that we have to buy a new coil. Emil drives with a taxi from spare part shop to spare part shop, but to no avail. What now? In the meantime employees of the hotel gather around our car and debate together about the problem. "It might be also the distributor cable" they guess. Being already evening, Emil decides to buy a new one tomorrow. We are just packing our tools together when one of the guys appears again, with a new cable at hand. All excited, Emil connects it immediately and – oh wonder – it works! We are not allowed to pay anything. This is only the first example of the wonderful kindness we receive by the people of Abkhazia.
 
After the buffet breakfast at the hotel, where one is not allowed to help him-/herself, but food is scooped, where there is neither honey nor marmalade, but whipped cream instead, we start to a test drive. 6 miles south of Sukhumi, at Machara, we turn off to the interior. It is a ride into a lovely mountain region with almost no traffic. The road first snakes through a green river valley, then along a narrow canyon, passing a gurgling waterfall, hanging gardens, meadows of flowers and the ruin of a church half hidden between all the greenery. This “Sukhumi Military Road” led 60 years ago into the Soviet Union, exactly to the Karachay-Cherkessia ASSR; today it is abandoned. Some when we turn around, happy that our LandCruiser runs smoothly again.
 
Back at the hotel, we meet Pekka Karti and his wife from Finland, traveling on a motorbike. They came from Russia and wanted to continue to Georgia. But transiting Abkhazia not being allowed, they have to return to Russia. They complain that they are waiting already since a week for their Russian transit visa to be issued, which is valid for two days only. Sacha, a Russian with a Yamaha, helps them with the bureaucracy and his girlfriend translates into English. How important such a contact in Abkhazia is, we will soon also experience.
 
Next morning, when checking out, Ramin, the hotel manager, gives us his cellular phone number. "Just in case you should run into a problem" he smiles. We bought anyway immediately after arrival a local SIM-card. Then we set off northwards. The Novy Afon Monastery dating from the 19th century with its golden domes stands after 15 miles on a hillside. Its masterpiece is the beautiful cathedral with its colorful murals. When we arrive it starts to fill up more and more with people attending the holy mass. So we silently leave again.
 
Another 60 miles further north along a side road lies Lake Ritsa, claimed by the tourist brochures as the highlight of Abkhazia. We are really motivated when we turn off from the main road M1 to the 29 miles long mountain road. There is another reason for our excitement though: In a few miles we will be able to celebrate one milestone more in our almost 30 years’ journey around the world: Our 700'000th kilometer (434’960 miles) on the odometer. Yes, and then all of a sudden our euphoria hits some setback. We realize that the tourist season is in full swing. Everywhere masses of cars are parked along the road; everywhere there are crowds of people. Nevertheless we find a little place to pull out when the needle of the odometer advances and reaches the magical number. This moment we are just happy that our LandCruiser and we two made it so far and that we are able to toast to it with an Abkhazian beer in the fresh mountain air of the Caucasus. Of course, we also make a souvenir picture and at the same time we look back: Where did we celebrate our last “100'000” km? The 600'000th (372’823 miles) was in French Guiana; the 500'000th (310’686 miles) in the United Arab Emirates; the 400’000th (248’548 miles)in Estonia; the 300’000th (186’411 miles) in Australia; the 200’000th (124’274 miles) in Libya; and the first 100’000th (62’137 miles) in the USA – it’s been a long time .....
 
The first kilometers of our new “100'000” km we climb higher on the mountain road towards the Caucasus range and Lake Ritsa. The ride is quite spectacular. Due to the crowd however, we are not able to fully enjoy all the natural beauties – the canyons, waterfalls, the little "Blue Lake" and the forest with its towering trees, ferns, mosses and creeping plants. After 29 miles we reach Lake Ritsa on an altitude of 3’117 ft. where Stalin had also a "dacha" – a country cottage – at the far end. Here the shock is even bigger. Wherever we look, all we see is parked cars. Police is marshalling. Parking space is only available towards the end of the lake, which is picturesquely surrounded by forest, but already pretty commercialized. After some pictures, we bury our vision of an unspoilt serene mountain lake and start our descent a bit disappointed.
 
At Kilometer 11 we discover at a nice restaurant along the road a camping sign. Camping would cost 200 Rubles tells us the lady with her broad smiling face. She and her husband have built the place with their own hands. They came from Russia looking for a quiet spot in the nature, far away from a city. And this is where they got stuck. We cannot blame them! She speaks very well Italian. She worked for three years as translator in Rome and Milan and is pleased to be able to communicate in Italian with me. Without any word she serves us sour cucumbers and Grappa, the Italian booze that never was missing at my parents’ home and that was "sacred" after each meal. Then follows a tomato soup with bread – just like that. We are just mesmerized when later also the cup of coffee comes as a gift. "She did adopt the legendary Italian hospitality" I tell Emil with a smile recalling my mother who would have acted the same way. Talking about Abkhazia, she says: Keep an eye on your stuff; if possible they take the chance. How right she is we will learn the hard way two days later.
 
We install ourselves at the far end of the meadow that borders the bank of the Bzipi River. Two couples from Russia with tents and a curious young calf attached to a pole with a long line are our neighbors. It does not take long before the calf stands in front of our car door and nibbles at everything until we have to shorten its line. It is cold and humid when we wake up next morning and have breakfast in the car. The afflux of cars heading to Lake Ritsa has already started. But it is still quiet at the beehives along the road where they offer honey degustation. Despite that tasting is not really ‘our cup of tea’, if it comes to honey I cannot resist anymore. And it indeed is the best honey I ever had. Although we find 350 Rubles for a small glass costly, we decide to buy it. Is it because of our hesitation or again out of pure hospitality? When we want to pay, the lady says "It is a gift". Just incredible – the people of Abkhazia!
 
Back on the Sukhumi-Sochi road we drive 10 miles further towards the Russian border – to Gagra, Abkhazia's main beach resort that stretches about 5 miles along a pebble beach. Here, a little pine forest provides some shade. But the holiday crowd is as big as everywhere. After another stop at the beautiful Catholic Church in Pitsunda, 8 miles off the main highway south of Gagra, with its imposing organ we return to Sukhumi.
 
At the reception of the Hotel Inter-Sukhum we are told that it is fully booked. We need now to search another accommodation and start driving southwards. We stop at the first sign “Komnaty” (room) we encounter, about 2 miles before Machara. The lady speaks only Russian. While we try to get to the point, a Unicef LandCruiser stops on the other side of the road. "Can I help you?" calls the Abkhazian guy. We both walk over to him. "I know somebody in the city who rents out an apartment for US$65 per day" suggests Ruslan. Finding out that the guesthouse here is anyway not interested in a short stay of only one or two days we follow him. Only when we arrive at the destination back in Sukhumi we realize that the space between our two front seats is emptier than it ought to be – there where we have always our "Bilung" – the shoulder bag from Papua New Guinea – with our two Panasonic cameras in it. "The camera bag is gone!!!!!", is our first shock. The second even bigger one is when we perceive that our passports were exceptionally also in there. The theft must have happened in the very short time (not even one minute), when we left our car unattended with open windows and talked with Ruslan, the Unicef driver.
 
Panic takes over: Why did it have to happen just here and now, where we don’t have any consular representation? In our desperation, we phone to Ramin, the helpful manager of the Hotel Inter-Sukhum. In a short time he shows up personally. He offers us an "emergency" room in the hotel for the night and promises to take care of the theft tomorrow Monday. We check in and try to numb our misery with beer when it knocks on the door. It is Sacha who already helped the Finnish people to get their Russian transit visa. He asks Emil to follow him. They jump into a luxury Mercedes with darkened windows where another man in a white shirt is sitting and then they drive to the guesthouse in
Machara where the theft happened.
 
Sacha and the other guy (is he from the secret service?) are already talking with the lady of the guesthouse when a police car with four uniformed police officers joins them. It does not even take five minutes until a man appears from the neighbor house holding our passports in his hand – they have been found. Thereon is an exciting discussion in Russian among all of them. "That’s the end of the story" Emil tells me on his return. When I see him entering happily the room holding our passports, there is a wave of relieve. But a downer still remains as our cameras are irrevocably gone. And with them are also lost ¾ of the beautiful Abkhazia pictures; among them the one with number 700'000.0 km on the odometer what we regret the most. But this incidence does not affect in any way our positive feelings against the people of Abkhazia. It was 100% our mistake – you never can be careful enough! For us they are the friendliest people in the whole Caucasus. It was just this friendliness that lead to our negligence.
 
With this certainty, next morning, 8/13/2013, we drive back to Georgia. The Abkhazian exit runs smoothly like also the Georgian entry. We shall remember Abkhazia like it is: Beautiful with welcoming, helpful people.
  
The "Greater"-Middle East trip 2012/13:
Sharjah/Dubai/1st Traveler's Festival/Emirates National Auto Museum - UAE with car Nov. 2012 to Jan. 2013 - part 1
Western UAE - Liwa - United Arab Emirates  with car in January 2013 - part 2
Oman 2013 – Part 1 - February 2013: Musandam Peninsula
Oman 2013 – Part 2 - February 2013: Sohar - Muscat - Rustaq - Nizwa
Oman 2013 – Part 3 - March 2013: Sur - East Coast - Island of Masirah - Dhofar
Oman 2013 – Part 4 - March 2013: Salalah & Surroundings (Dhofar) - Nizwa
Oman 2013 – Part 5 - March 2013: Western Hajar Mountains
Al Ain, Eastcoast & Ras al Khaima - United Arab Emirates with our car in April 2013 - part 3
Iran - part 1: Ferry Port Bandar Abbas-Shiraz-Persepolis-Pasargad (between Persepolis and Yazd) May 2013
Iran - part 2: Pasargad (excl.)-Yazd-Esfahan May 2013
Iran - part 3: Esfahan (excl.)-Chelgerd-Hamadan-Sanandaj-Orumiyeh May 2013
Turkey: Iran Border-Esendere-Hakkari-Van-Doğubayazıt-Kars-Ardahan-Hopa-Georgia Border May/June 2013
Georgia - part 1: Ajaria-Gori-Tbilisi-Kakheti-Azerbaijan Border June 2013
Azerbaijan: Georgia Border-Balakən-Şəki-Lahıç-Baku-Xınalıq-Quba-Laza-Baku-Gəncə-Georgia Border June 2013
Georgia - Part 2a: Azerbaijan Border-Tbilisi-Armenia Border June/July 2013
Armenia - Part 1: Georgia Border-Haghpat-Dilijan-Sevan-Tatev-Goris-Nagorno Karabakh July 2013
Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia-Stepanakert-Gandzasar-Martakert-Tigranakert-Tnjri-Shoushi-Armenia July
Armenia - Part 2: Nagorno Karabakh-Goris-Tatev-Noravank-Khor Virap-Echmiadzin-Yerewan-Geghard-Gyumri-Georgia Border July 2013
Georgia - Part 2b: Armenia Border-Ninotsminda-Tbilisi-Mtskheta-Kazbegi-Kutaisi-Zugdidi July 2013
Georgia - Part 3a: Zugdidi-Swaneti-Zugdidi-Abkhazia Border – July/August 2013
Georgia - Part 3b: Abkhazia Border-Poti-Ferry to Ilyichevsk/Ukraine – August 2013