Thursday, 14 July 2011

3 Short Stories from the Georgian Valley

A week around Yusufeli with a notebook and my camera

Tea party

Looking for a mountain pass high above the river, we drove through Kalicaya, a small but lively village. Locals, mostly old men, were sitting outside around wooden tables, playing cards and sipping tea. We were passing slowly when one of them spotted us, walked into the road and signalled us to pull over.

When we did he started to fire orders to his friends and immediately our table was ready with chairs, tea, sugar and cookies. But I couldn’t sit yet. Our hosts’ smiley, inviting faces captured me and I wanted to photograph them first. Luckily they were extremely cooperative and happy to be photographed. It was a great moment of interaction for me and, I assume, for them.

By The Barhal River, Yusufeli

Eager to learn, focused, disciplined. The Kayaking team boys were sitting around their unexpected English teacher. They attentively absorbed every phrase, word, symbol – learning.

They’ve been working hard for weeks, preparing for their qualification for the London 2012 Olympic Games. They’ve been staying with us, at the wonderfully hospitable Green Peace Camp and promptly befriended us. It was only a matter of time before Jen took the important role of helping out with the essential English lessons.

Jen in Action 
English lesson at 21:00 every evening

The Kayakers in Action

Kayaking is a fundamental aspect in the local culture in the valley and somehow everyone in Yusufeli seems to be involved with the popular water sport. “The Barhal River is one of the best kayaking spots in the world” – Mark, expert Kayaker from Peckham London, tells me. He came over with his other kayak buddies to enjoy it whilst it’s still here.

The Barhal River, together with the small town of Yusufeli, is due to disappear underwater in the near future. Turkish developers have been planning to dam the river and flood the whole valley.
“It’s very sad” says Oktay, European championship in Kayaking, “everyone’s life here is on or around the river. But we will be ok, we will never stop Kayaking”

Jen and I, Rafting with the locals

Tracing the Source of River Barhal

Gear list: tent, 4x4 vehicle, heavy boots, food, jacket, climbing/trekking gear, camera

Time to complete: at least 2 full strenuous days – ideally 3

Step 1: four hours off road driving along the canyon, following the gushing river.

Step 2: trek up the Kashkar Mountain along the stream to reach the (improvised) base camp (3500m)

Step 3: crash into bed (sleeping bag)

Step 4: get up early and climb to the glacier (4000m)

Step 5: take a deep breath, look around and rejoice

Jen & Noam Ben Tsion

Read more about our journey here