Back in Turkey

As you probably know by now, we are back in Turkey after our six months retraite in Georgia. This country is truly gigantic! We have driven many kilometers through the Eastern part and we have mostly seen drought, although there are some lakes and reservoirs as well. We keep looking for them, because the temperature is between 35 and 40 degrees in the day and around 25 degrees at night. We would have loved to have airconditioning now!

Although we’ve been on the road a lot, we’ve also seen many amazing sites. You can see them in the video below. From now on, we will drive the coastal route and mainly enjoy swimming in the sea and drinking cold sodas. Let’s head back to Antalya!

Bye bye farm!

At this very moment, we are getting ready to leave the farm we have been working on. This afternoon, we will try to find a winery that is open to visitors, but then we will head back to Tbilisi. We actually wanted to drive through the mountains and pay a visit to Telavi, the biggest city in the Kakheti region. However, a part of Tamara’s tooth came off yesterday, so she made an emergency appointment with a dentist in Tbilisi, which gave us no time to wander around this region any longer. Moreover, Sparta has an appointment with the vet on Saturday and we desperately need to find a good mechanic for the car. So, back to the city!

The last week has been pretty challenging. Temperatures are around 30 degrees during the day; at 8 o’clock it’s already too hot to have breakfast in the sun. We tried to start working as early as possible, but plans usually changed overnight, so we couldn’t start before we had been instructed. We planted many tomatoes over the last few days and yesterday we finished off with a field full of kale. Although it’s actually a little late in the season to plant vegetables, we really hope they will survive and grow into delicious crops!

Yesterday night, we had our goodbye barbecue. We have been here together with a Malaysian couple and their daughter and with a French couple and their daughter. Our German host bought some meat, we brought in a bottle of wine and the puppies were all playing around the fire. It was a lovely evening and a good way to complete our work here. Now, the final goal is to get Tiny out of this place, because we are parked in the middle of the hilly farmland!

From wildcamping to another Workaway

Our first two weeks of post-corona wildcamping flew by! We built many campfires, played a lot of games, had a lot of homemade wine and we met a lot of very nice locals. We spent 11 nights at the beautiful spot next to the Lagodekhi National Park (check out last week’s video). In the end, we were with nine persons; five from the Netherlands, one guy from Germany, one guy from Switzerland and an Austrian couple. Together with this group, it felt like we had made our own, ‘private’ mini camping!

The weather was great, twenty plus degrees and very sunny, so most of the time we just sat outside. We also had three days of rain, but whenever it would stop, all of us would gather outside to see if we could get the campfire back on or just to have a chat. Two nights, we moved to a different spot to do a hike there. By then, most of the rangers knew who we are and we communicated with the ‘head ranger’ a lot. (One day, there was a boy on a horse who came from the village and handed us a phone: it was the head ranger for us! This felt really special).

Back to our new spot: when we got there, a ranger that we hadn’t met yet came up to us and handed us his phone. This time we weren’t allowed to camp there. Because of Corona, the park is officially still closed. He escorted us to a place just down the road, on an open field. It was ok, but there was no river nearby. The ranger told us that we could not do the walk because of Corona, but he also said that it was okay to walk up the trail for a little bit. The border guards (the hike was very close to the border of Azerbaijan) would probably just stop us on our way and have us turn around.

Luckily for us it turned out great, because we met some really nice border guards. They stopped us and asked for our passports. We waited for approximately 45 minutes and then all we had to do was sign a book and we were good to go! The hike was nice and it had some great views, but our previous hike was definitely better. Especially because our destination was an old fortress and there was not much left of it. When we got back to our camp spot, we decided to stay one more night and then head back to our previous spot.

Last Tuesday was our last day there, and it was definitely one to remember! Since it was a national holiday, it got pretty crowded with locals. 40 guys celebrated someone’s 60th birthday party and they were having a big feast. At the beginning, some of the men came up to us with beer, meat, strawberries, bread and even a chocolate cake. One of the guys played accordion and he came up to play something for us. They kept inviting us to join their party and after a couple of wines, we all agreed. We had a lovely afternoon with singing, dancing and a lot of food and wine.

Right now, it’s Thursday afternoon, one day after we left our spot and the group behind. We would have loved to stay even longer, but we were also ready for a new adventure. We are finally doing a Workaway again! It’s a small organic farm with a German owner. This morning, we helped clear out a part of the land so that we can start growing new crops soon. Later in the afternoon (when the sun goes down, because it is 30 degrees now), we will do some harvesting. Tiny is parked in the middle of the land, and we have a beautiful view. Wide open fields and in the background, we see the Caucasus, with still some snowy tops!

As we are staying with a family of four, with two dogs, four puppies, a cat and one kitten, there’s a lot going on. Sparta already started playing with the dogs and he is not as afraid of people as he used to be. We can wear shorts, sit outside all day and play with the animals. And besides this, we will learn a lot about natural farming. Let’s see what other chores we will have to do this week!

Overlanding in winter

We have been on the road for 8 months now and we have been living in Tiny for 15 months more. That means that this is our second winter in our van, although this one is way different than last year’s. Whereas we stayed in The Netherlands last year, on our campsite in the woods, we have been moving around this year.

The first feeling of winter that we experienced, was in Turkey in December. We took our winter coats from the roof and we saw the first snow. Because we were doing our Workaway in Isparta and we stayed in an apartment, we didn’t mind the weather and we enjoyed the fresh air. We even went skiing/snowboarding one day!

After we had left Isparta, we drove through Turkey and spent some very cold days in beautiful Cappadocia. It was only when we moved further up North that we noticed that overlanding in winter can be challenging; we had many days of rain and snow while entering Georgia. At the same time, we had troubles with Tiny and had to go to the mechanic several times. Fortunately, we were still able to continue our way towards Tbilisi.

As we had read that Georgia is a wonderful country for spending time in nature, we went looking for some nice places to visit. However, only one site was open: we visited the Prometheus Cave near Kutaisi, which we enjoyed very much. We also drove up to a gorge, but there was too much snow in the mountains to be able to get to the parking lot. Thus, we went to see the (very boring) city of Kutaisi instead. As we had some nice sunny days, we didn’t mind the cold at all and we visited Gori and its fortress. Our days in Tbilisi were also amazing, even though we spent a lot of time at the mechanic again.

It had been three weeks since we had left Isparta, so we were ready for our next Workaway. We stayed put in the mountains for two and a half weeks, spending our time with the cats and dogs in the shelter. With a lot of wind, some snow and hours without electricity, these days were very cold! We loved walking the hills with the dogs, though. After we had spent two more days in Tbilisi, we moved on to our current Workaway. We didn’t want to travel around too much, because Georgia has a lot of mountains and therefore a lot of snow in the winter.

We arrived in Gudauri in the middle of a snowstorm, which we actually liked very much. Sparta had a lot of fun in the snow and our heater kept us warm during the cold evening. The next morning, we arrived at the ski resort where we would spend the next weeks, working as English teachers in a restaurant. We noticed that we wouldn’t have a lot of work, as the staff wasn’t very interested in learning English after work hours. We thus bought a 10-day lift pass and went skiing/snowboarding every other day. What a great place for us!

And then, last Sunday night, the Corona madness started… Although we had thought we would be safe in this remote mountain resort, we ended up in the heart of the problem. It turned out that some Czech tourists had brought Corona to our restaurant on March 4. This meant that we had to close immediately and stay in quarantine for a while. Meanwhile, it has been snowing terribly for days and we cannot go outside (at least not further than 5 meters from the entrance). So, our car has been snowed in, everything gets wet all the time and we are constantly plowing our way to our side door. We are still sleeping in the van, which we don’t mind, but it’s getting a little bit annoying. When we want to get out in the morning, the snow comes all the way up to the door and Sparta totally disappears when he jumps out. Besides, the car is getting rusty and icy and we hope we will be able to get it out once the quarantine ends.

For now, we are quite happy that we are in a restaurant with plenty of food. We are obligated to stay inside, but it’s warm and dry and Sparta has a lot of space to run around. We’re getting a little bit bored and we are worried about what will happen in the next couple of weeks, but we are sure that we will stay in Georgia. Hopefully, we will soon have fully recovered from Corona – if we’ve had it at all – and we can get the van checked once we get back to Tbilisi.

All in all, our winter has been both amazing and demanding. On the one hand, we wished that we had stayed in a sunny place to spend the winter. On the other hand, we have really enjoyed the snowy mountains. We miss our friends and family, but we are happy to be able to talk to them every day now most people in The Netherlands have a lot of time on their hands due to Corona. We stay optimistic and we believe the world will recover from this madness.

Please take care of yourselves and the people around you!

 

What else would we want?

“The sun is shining, we are outside most of the day and we can play in the snow. What else would we want?”

This is how our blog ended (the one that we wrote two weeks ago). By now, we know the answer to this question: we want more students and more work. This might sound a little silly when we are in this great ski resort, as to most of you it might really sounds like a vacation. We won’t try to complain too much, but some days we feel a little useless here. We like to be helpful, useful and busy. Here, we feel like we just have to talk a little and that’s it. But we need more.

Of course, our days on the slopes are awesome, but we don’t go up every day. On the days that we stay at the restaurant we are actually a bit bored. There is not much else to do around here besides skiing or snowboarding. Even though it’s a great place to spend your winter vacation, we have walked all the paths and we have seen all the shops (hardly any) by now. Thus, we just hang around the bar/restaurant and try to ‘work’, but these days go by so slow.

Let’s tell you about one of those days. We usually get up around 8. We walk Sparta and have a coffee in Tiny before we head over to Drunk Cherry, the restaurant/bar where we work at. We ask the chefs to prepare us some breakfast (yes this is pretty great! We’ve never eaten this many eggs in our life though) and eat our breakfast. At 10 AM we go upstairs to wait and see if anyone wants to have an English lesson during working hours. It’s the end of the season and a lot of the workers seem bored in the morning; there isn’t much to do between 10 and 12. But instead of improving their English, the waiters just hang around the bar, smoke on the terrace or play on their phones. We hoped that changing the lesson time from free time to working hours might give us more students, but that didn’t happen so far. So, we just wait around, do some things on the computer or play a game. We even started learning Russian! Around 12 we go back to the van to go on a walk with Sparta. Then, we go for lunch in the basement again, usually some soup. After that, we play with Sparta some more, sit outside on the balcony, read a book, play a game, go for another walk and try to chat a bit with the waiters. Most of them don’t really feel comfortable speaking English, so we haven’t really made any friends yet. Some of them are definitely really nice to us, but they keep their distance and without a mutual language it’s hard to communicate.

At 5 in the afternoon we finally have a real lesson; it’s the most exciting part of the day usually. (Although these students don’t always show up or feel like a lesson either.) Jimmy and Giorgi are our regular students and they are both beginners. We have a lot of fun teaching them and they are really improving! The lesson usually lasts 30 minutes to maximum 1 hour. Afterwards, we have dinner: staff food, something else every day, it’s not as good as the food that they serve at the restaurant, but some night it’s pretty tasty! And we get amazing leftovers sometimes! At 7, we hope to give another lesson, but then most of the times no one shows up either. As we are usually sitting in the staff room, we have small talk with the waiters who come in for their breaks (most of them live here until the season is over), but it’s always very short and a one-way conversation. Between 8 and 9 we go back to the van and just watch some Netflix or play another game.

As you see, it’s a very relaxing day, but we have had so many of these that it is starting to get quite boring. So, now we try and keep busy with some other chores too: every couple of days we bake cookies to go with the coffees they sell at the restaurant. We also cut a lot of stickers last week, but the manager said there are enough now, so we won’t be doing that anymore.

We tried to create another job: we put up a paper offering our services as nanny’s, but I guess the season is getting to an end. So far, we only took care of a child twice. We keep trying to get people to come to our English lessons by changing the times, location etc., but so far, no luck. Oh well, I guess we will just go skiing some more. Unfortunately, there’s not really enough snow for that. A lot of it has melted and it’s more mud then snow at the moment. This weekend it’s supposed to snow again, so hopefully we can do some real skiing/boarding on Tamara’s birthday again! And on our boring days… we’ll just try and enjoy the sun :).

Spending our time in the snow

This last week, we have been spending a lot of time in the snow. Sparta is finally used to this place, with all its tourists, restaurants, slippery paths and wet feet at all times. We are definitely used to it too, because we have a lot of free time and are able to go up with the gondola whenever we want. However, we get very tired at the end of every day, so we sleep a lot.

We tried to film some of the things we do here, which you can see in the video below. It’s very amateuristic, but we hope you like it anyway! Next week, we will tell you some more about the work we do in between sliding down the mountains.

Moving on to our new Workaway in Gudauri

Last Thursday, after we had safely driven down from the dog shelter, we went to another mechanic. We’ll spare you all the details, but on Friday we were finally sure that we were able to make it to our next Workaway in Gudauri. We still had some days before we had to be there, so we decided to spend our time in Tbilisi. We booked a room for two nights and settled in before heading downtown.

It was Friday night and we had left Sparta in his box. Yay, dinner for two without being disturbed by our little man! We first wandered through the old town and then found a place to eat. We had been willing to try the real Georgian kinkhali for a while and we ordered two of each sort. They look like Chinese dumplings, but are bigger and filled with all sorts of things: cheese, meat, mushrooms, herbs… They were joined by a bottle of Georgian wine (Kindsmarauli) and a ceasar salad and we really loved them! Also, we definitely needed some time together.

The next morning, we took it easy and went back to the city center around eleven. This time, Sparta came with us, which resulted in a lot of walking and doing tricks with him. Fortunately, the weather was awesome and we could have a coffee on a cute terrace, followed by a kachapouri (bread with cheese) on a bench in front of the clock tower. We paid a visit to the post office and then took a taxi back to our hotel. We were exhausted! The rest of the day we spent relaxing in our room and cooking our own dinner. We were totally ready for a new adventure!

On Sunday morning, we left Tbilisi to drive to Ananuri to visit its monastery. It took us only one hour to get there, so we had a lot of time to explore the monastery. Unfortunately, it was very small and even though it had an amazing view, we were quickly done. Thus, together with Sparta, we walked around the village for a while and then sat down for a homemade coffee. At night, we cooked our own dinner again. Cooking in the van is always nice when it’s getting colder outside, because it will raise the inside temperature. Besides, we really enjoy our cozy and quiet nights in our Tiny home!

When we woke up on Monday morning, we got really excited about the next part of our drive to Gudauri. We were going up in elevation, so we were getting back to the snow! The side streets were all impossible to drive, so we only stopped when we arrived in the place where we were going to spend the next few weeks. Gudauri is the biggest ski resort in Georgia, so we found many restaurants, hotels and rental shops. We warmed ourselves inside a modern bistro and then found a place to spend the night. It was a parking next to the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument, built in 1983. There was a lot of snow around the monument, so we had some fun playing in the snow and taking photos. It was going to be cold during the night, which meant that we had to boil water for Sparta again!

During the night, a lot of snow had fallen. We wanted to go back to Gudauri, so we had to drive through the 15 cm snow that was still lying on the parking area. After some coffee and a slow breakfast, we took our chances. It was tricky to get up the hill and back to the road, but after four tries Tamara managed to get the car on the asphalt. Hooray! Carefully, we drove back to the ski resort and parked the car in between the many cars that had arrived that morning.

So, after getting to know the place and some of the staff, we definitely think we are going to like it here. Our job is to speak English to the staff of a restaurant that is situated right under the main ski lift. We sleep in the van, because they are short on beds, but we actually don’t mind not staying in the crowded staff rooms. We managed to get an electricity cable to the van, which means that we can plug in our heater and we will definitely not be cold! Yesterday we already went skiing/boarding and many of the pistes are very good, although some of them need a little more snow. The sun is shining, we can be outside most of the day and we can play in the snow. What else would we want?

 

Dogs dogs dogs

By now, we have decided that nearly all dogs that live here, are sweet and funny. We have learned almost all of their names and took many of them for walks around the area. Some of them are very scared, some are going wild when we take them out and others are calm and careful. Still, we are sure that they are all better off with an owner who loves them and gives them all the attention they need.

Because a dog trainer comes here every week, we’ve had the great opportunity to work with him. We were thus able to teach Sparta a lot of tricks, but we also learned how to stop him from biting and barking (most of the times). Additionally, Sparta even goes to his box when we tell him to! We have a lot of fun watching him do his tricks and waiting for candy; he is a strongly motivated puppy!

On Tuesday, a new puppy arrived. She looks just like Sparta: she’s black with white paws and is about the same size. When we took them both outside, they immediately started chasing each other around. The puppy is very skinny and therefore very hungry, but she’s not scared at all and loves to play and cuddle. Unfortunately, we cannot take another puppy with us in the van… so who will adopt this adorable baby?

And, let us introduce you to some of our favourites. Pictures of them can be found below (in the right order).

Indy is a German Shepherd, who used to live in the forest by himself. One of his eyes is not functioning, but he sees everything clearly and runs all over the fields to chase and dig for small animals. When we are inside, he loves to sit with us and he loves to literally ‘hug’ us. He is a calm grown-up, but (carefully) plays with the other dogs too.

Lucy is a medium sized dog with a golden colour, who has a huge amount of energy. She runs so fast that she sometimes can’t stop, which makes her bump into us or run over other dogs. When she wants to cuddle, she can get crazy too: she jumps on our back or on our lap and starts licking our whole face. It’s very cute, but also a little gross!

Jack is our big boy; he loves food and is thus way too heavy. Fortunately, he also loves to come out for long walks, although he’s always the last one to get somewhere. He is calm and thoughtful and would never harm another dog, but he will definitely protect his property. We love to hug him when he is sitting next to us in the grass.

Kusuna has a problem with his legs, as he was hit by a car and many of his bones were broken. However, he’s a very happy dog and always wants to join us for walks. He likes to follow the other dogs through the fields, but is not as fast as they are and thus, he mostly stays close to us. He never lets any chance go to get some attention from us, although he would never bark or bite. He is definitely one of the gentlest dogs here!

Zita and Gita are sisters and share the same looks, but Zita is twice as big as Gita. Before we knew their names, we called them ‘Wolfs’, but fortunately we can now call them by their real names. They are both very energetic and Gita is by far the fastest dog of all the dogs here. She outruns everyone! Playtime in the fields is their favourite moment of the day. However, when inside the gates, they are both very calm and cuddly.

Basara is one of the older dogs and has had many problems in her life. Her back legs are not functioning properly, and she has lost a lot of teeth while eating stones when she was hungry. She still carries around stones when she comes out for our daily walks, even though we try to give her wood instead. She is the quietest dog here, but the last few days she has been asking for some attention too. Probably, she noticed that it’s actually quite nice to be touched and fed by loving people.

OK, OK, it’s enough! We will stop writing about them, because we could go on forever. Besides, we have to leave this place today and move on to our next Workaway in the snow. When we start working in this ski resort in Gudauri, we will definitely miss the dogs and the cats! However, we certainly won’t miss the dirt, the smells and the loud barking and howling! We are ready to move on. Bye sweeties!

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Dogs, cats and a lot of sh*t

We have been at this Workaway for a little over a week now and all our days are pretty much the same. In this blog we will tell you about a typical day. If you want to know more about this place (it’s a dog and cat shelter, with 42 dogs and about 20 cats, run by Lena, you can check out Ambulance Dogs (there’s a video on there too).

Around 7 o’clock in the morning, we get up to take Sparta outside. We walk out of our bedroom and into the kitchen and then the adventure begins. To get outside, we first need to jump over Busia, a huge Saint Bernhard, who always sleeps in the tiny hallway leading to the kitchen. Next, we need to dodge two very happy German Shepherd puppies who are the same age as Sparta and really want to come outside too. Last but not least, we need to make sure that Sima and Brolli, two of the smaller dogs, don’t start playing with Sparta before we make it outside. After we have passed all these dogs, we are not outside yet. We still need to cross a porch (with some sleeping dogs), go down the stairs and through two gates. It’s always a surprise which (and how many) dogs are in our way there. Sometimes it really takes 5 minutes and Sparta usually doesn’t like that, because he needs to pee! It used to be so much easier in the van when all we had to do was open the door! We usually try to go back to bed for a little longer after we have been outside, but most of the times we can’t sleep anymore: the ‘mess’ is waiting for us…

The kitchen is pretty small, and all of the dogs mentioned above are sleeping in there. Last Sunday, two new dogs came in and one of them sleeps inside as well. For those who know dogs: it’s a rhodesian ridgeback, which takes up a big part of the kitchen. You can probably imagine by now how the place looks in the morning: terrible. If we are lucky, the dogs peed and pooped on the special pads we put down in the kitchen and bathroom, but lots of times, they miss. So, here is our first job of the day: we clean the kitchen (and the bathroom connected to it). While doing this, one of us takes the puppies out for a walk. Most times, some of the older and ‘easy to handle’ dogs come with us too. After approximately one hour of working (cleaning, walking, feeding the dogs and taking care of the 5 cats that live upstairs), we take a break and have breakfast.

Around 10 o’clock we go out for a long walk and we always take 6 to 8 dogs with us. Sometimes we try to take dogs that we haven’t taken before, but that’s always a challenge. Some of them we can take out on a walk, are in the cages in the back. If we want to take them out, we need to lead them through other cages, always having to bear in mind that some dogs don’t like each other and might start fighting. When we finally get them outside, they go on a leash and they usually don’t like it. After a while, we release them from their leash and then we always cross our fingers and hope they won’t run away. So far, this hasn’t happened yet! Although sometimes it’s really hard to get them back inside. All the dogs in the shelter really love being outside and they are extremely happy when we take them. We can totally see why: there are big open fields and hills all around our house and you can walk for kilometers without seeing a house or a person. We don’t see many people here anyway: the only people we see are two shepherds who walk by with their cows some days. The 42 dogs always go crazy when this happens. Besides the two shepherds, the few houses that are in the area are all abandoned. Some just for winter, some always.

But let’s get back to our daily routine. When we get back from our walk, we relax for a little while. About 2 to 3 times a week, a worker comes in and he brings groceries from Tbilisi. Sometimes a dog trainer comes with him. Sparta has had two training sessions so far and he (and we) love it! He can do many tricks already: sit, down, paw, stay, turn and crawl! After our late lunch we usually go out for a long walk with all the puppies and some other dogs. Every day we take a different ‘path’ and we explore a different area. By the time we get back, it’s usually between 4 and 5. We relax a little while until we have dinner. After that, we need to feed the dogs and cats again and sometimes we take some of them outside for a short walk. We always hope to find a little less pee and poop in the house this way. Our day ends around 8 or 8.30, with some Netflix.

To sum up our last week here: we really enjoy the company of all the dogs and cats (there are 14 more downstairs, with the German Workawayers). Most of the animals like to cuddle and this makes us really happy. Going on a walk with them is also lovely and relaxing (unless some run away for a while or don’t come back inside). We did have to get used to the ‘not so hygienic’ situation and it is still tough sometimes, but the animals make up for that. Lena (our Russian host and owner of the place) has been gone for 4 nights last week and the day before yesterday she had to leave again (to take some pets to the clinic), so we (and the Germans) are running the place by ourselves some days. It’s nice and quiet, but also a lot of work. It’s not really a Workaway job like this and can be pretty difficult sometimes. Some dogs get into a big fight and we have to try and stop them. Wednesday, three dogs got into a big fight and they were all bleeding. Quite scary!

Besides the hygiene and the busy days, the weather has been bad some days: we had some snow and a really bad storm. On those days, we often didn’t have electricity and/or hot water. It felt like it was freezing inside. There’s nowhere to go from here or have a nice coffee either. The closest town is half an hour away on a dirt road and especially the last part to the house is pretty bad. We took Tiny off roading to get here and don’t want to do that again until we leave. So, we are pretty much stuck here.

Thus, some days were tough, but better weather will come and we love the animals and the sunshine here in pretty ‘middle of nowhere’ (this place doesn’t even have an address). One more week before we head back to the city!