The Short Story
There’s a reason they call it “Wild Georgia Adventures”… because these tours, run by Eka, are not tame by any means. If you want adventure, this is the place to get it. Ten of us, ages 11 to 48, went on Wild Georgia’s 4-6 hour horseback ride at the end of April 2013. Some of us were experienced horseback riders, some of us had little to no experience, but we all ended up with six hours of cowboy fun. Some of the horses were feisty, but most seemed to be calm. We got chased by Caucasian Sheppard dogs, scratched by thorny branches, and splashed when crossing streams. One person ended up sitting in mud when her horse headed into a tree (I’m not sure how that happened as I didn’t see it.) There were times when we had to dismount and lead our horses down a steep decline, where some of us stumbled or slipped a little, tumbled even, but the horses were calm, steady and patient. I was really impressed, especially since we had been galloping like cowboys and the horses still had so much energy. We rode for miles through one valley, across the Babaneuri Nature Reserve ridgeline and across a second valley. We rode through small villages were people live a simple life, close to nature. Farm animals were everywhere, so were backyard vineyards and gardens. The scenery was panoramic and beautiful, the air sweet and clean, the lunch was delicious and plentiful. I now have a hundred fabulous pictures and precious memories, despite the aching muscles in my thighs and my sore butt-bones.
If you ever wanted to ride cross-country through valleys and mountains unspoiled by civilization, sometimes blazing your own trail, on horses that think instead of dumbly following the nag in front of them, Eka is the person to call. Wild Georgia Adventures offers not only cross-country horseback rides, but also horse-supported hiking and long-distance trekking. They have cooks that travel with them, and top-of-the-line equipment, so even when you’re roughing it, you don’t have to sleep under a moldy old tarp.
The Long Story
I really wanted to see some of the countryside and what better way to do it than to combine it with horseback riding! I contacted Eka at Wild Georgia Adventures and set up a 4-6 hour daytrip horseback ride in Western Kakheti. Ten of us met Eka and her crew at 10:00 AM outside of Alaverdi Monastery just west of Telavi. After taking a few pictures, we drove another couple of kilometers to the horses, were fitted with new Troxel helmets and matched with a Tushetian horse wearing an American Western saddle. (Tushetian horses are smaller than Arabian horses, so there is a weight limit of 200 lbs for the riders.)
The horses were fresh and those of us who were on feisty ones were apprehensive about cantering, which Eka was ready to do right from the beginning. Instead, we kept our horses to a walk hoping they would calm down. We followed tractor trails between farm plots, across a couple of streams and skirted the edge of Babaneuri Nature Reserve. Despite some of the horses being high-strung, none of the horses balked at crossing water obstacles or struck out when crowded. After two hours we reached Eka's vineyard for lunch, where we ate hot-off-the-fire shashlik, cucumber and tomato salad, pan-fried potatoes and carrots, tarragon-sautéed oyster mushrooms with leeks, walnut-stuffed eggplant, sautéed spinach, vinegar-pickled beets with cilantro, shoti bread, home-made wine, limonati, and water. (I'm a meat-eater so I love shashlik, but I have to say the mushrooms were the best dish on the table!)
After an hour or so break, and a chance to go to the bathroom (in the bushes), we got back in the saddle for another two hour ride. Our horses had grazed and relaxed and were now much more sedate. This time when Eka encouraged us to canter, we did. Tense at first, we quickly relaxed and really began to enjoy ourselves. Before long, we were all whooping and hollering like cowboys. We crossed the entire Argokhi valley along farm trails and village roads, occasionally cantering and galloping, going up into the woods until we reached the top of the ridgeline. At the top we had to dismount and lead the horses down the steep decline. Sometimes we tripped, sometimes we slid a little, and one of us tumbled a few feet down the hill, but no one got hurt and the horses remained calm and patient until we got down to the bottom. Walking and cantering some more, we went along the edge of another valley and up a hill to an ancient church and our second break. This time we had some cold beer, raspberry limonadi and water waiting for us. After 45 minutes of talking and laughing we led our horses down this hill and rode through the last village saying "Gamarjobat" to all the villagers who came out to see us pass by. At last, we arrived at Eka's mother's house in Lalisquri where we set the horses free to graze among the backyard honeybee hives and vineyard.
Sure, some of us got dirty, got scratched by thorns, stung by itchweed or nettles, blistered from pulling on the reins, and all of us were bruised by bouncing in the saddles and sore from using our leg muscles for six hours, but all of us have a desire to return and do it all again. Some of us are already making plans to spend the night the next time we visit. Eka and her husband are fantastic hosts and between the two of them they speak fluent English, Russian, German, Flemish and of course Georgian. Eka’s sister is an excellent cook, serving meals that are more of a Georgian-fusion than a traditional Georgian fare and that satisfy both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Wild Georgia Adventures explores the areas of Kazbegi, Khevsureti, Tusheti, Lagodekhi, and the valleys on either side of the Babaneuri Nature Reserve. They offer hiking trips, horse-supported hiking, and horseback riding trips at different times of the year. If you’re the type of person who can handle physical exercise, getting dirty, and commuting with nature, look up Wild Georgia and give Eka a call. They’ll give you a rewarding experience that you will treasure forever.
Equipment: When horseback riding, wear jeans and something with long sleeves (you may encounter branches with thorns or itchweed/nettles when you go through the woods), wear boots (your feet will get dirty or muddy), bring a riding helmet if you have one (they have nice helmets, but they may not have enough of the right size), sunglasses, sunscreen lotion and bug repelant (I don't know about biting insects, but I did have one woodtick crawling on my shirt). Last of all, bring toilet paper or tissue as you'll have to use the bushes if you need to go to the bathroom. Before you bring your kids, consider how much strenuous activity they can handle, and call Eka for accommodations.
In case you are neither fit nor do you have 3 extra days to do Mt. Kazbeg, then Udabno trek is a good substitute. Starting from the Lavra monastery at Davit Gareji, the two hours trek leads you up the ridge and on the other side of the mountain (into Azerbaijan, no visa required :-). There’re reasonable climbing opportunities to the remote caves at Udabno, where you can admire unique frescoes. To descent, pass near the church on top.
Equipment: No special equipment needed, but beware of snakes.
The walking path to the top of Mount Kazbeg (5047m) in search for the rock where Prometheus was chained is known as the Gergeti trek, and over the years has become the most popular walking route in the whole Caucasus. My host quoted more than 10 groups per day.
The whole trek would take 3-4 days.
Equipment: The Gergeti trek can be done with a local guide, but this is not necessary unless you want to get to the very top of the mountain, as the last hour of the trek is possibly on snow or ice. The glacier should be climable without special equipment. Maps of the region can be bought from the WWF office.
The Kazbegi church plateau is a wonderful camping area.
Horseriding in Kazbegi is one of the best activities. Should you dare, try to ride up to Tsminda Sameba, on the plateau and over the peaks around the plateau, it must be a unique experience.
Equipment: Locals don't normally use any saddle, but i'm sure they can find one for you.
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