So, what about this horse trek? – OK. Back to the topic.
The trek that I have participated in was organized by Jacek Jasiński from Nomadic Life. The group met in Tbilisi. We bought the food for the trip on a bazar and then went to Jokolo by van... Or at least that was the plan. It appears that in Georgia nothing is that easy. First, we found out that our driver is ‘done for’ and then, when we found a replacement, on the petrol station, they put a gasoline into our Diesel car. So, we spent another hour sitting at the station. Finally done! Nothing has exploded… let’s go! The trip took us around 3 hours (partly because our car rolled with turtle pace whenever we were going uphill – so in Georgia, half of the time). The view was very nice though. From desert hills around Tbilisi we rode into grasslands to finally reach a level of mountain forests. The higher we went, the greener it was. At the last part we did a complicated slalom between the cows (which walk around unattended by anyone) and finally, we were at our guest house. At this part I’d like to stop for a short story about the place that was our home base.
Jokolo is located in the Pankisi Valley. It’s a village populated by the Kist minority. They originally come from Chechenia and have settled in Pankisi at the end of the XIX century. They were living there peacefully and undisturbed by anyone until 1990s. The situation changed dramatically after 1994 when ongoing war in Chechenia caused an influx of refugees to Pankisi. Sudden appearance of large numbers of people resulted in tensions and gave rise to crime. At the beginning of this century the place was thought to be a hiding place for terrorists. Unfortunately, this prejudge seemed to take root in the minds of many Europeans and lasts until this day. Even the Georgians advise tourists against going to Pankisi Gorge saying it’s a very dangerous place. And, is it? – Not in the slightest! Crime has disappeared together with the immigrants. Currently the Valley is populated nearly exclusively by Kists and life seems to be very quiet and peaceful. Jokolo is just a village of farmers where majority of people (over 90%) lives from whatever they can get from their land. People are just struggling to survive in those economically difficult times. People are very welcoming and kind though. Special treatment of guests is deeply rooted in Kist tradition, so the tourists coming to the place can be sure that they will be taken care of. Besides, the tourism is a way that the region is trying to use in order to overcome the prejudges stigmatising the community and to improve the local economy.
The hostel itself (Nazy’s Guest House) is very comfortable and carefully designed. From the first glance you can see that the place has been renovated recently. Not to mention the owner who greeted us in perfect English (which in Georgia still is very rare. Most people speak rather Russian there.) The guest house is providing 3 meals a day (if you choose this option). They always include a few different local dishes. I personally fell in love with their sour cream. You’d think it’s such a simple item but in Jokolo they make it themselves. It doesn’t taste like the one from the shop. It’s really worth to try it together with locally produced chestnut honey.
For people interested in trekking or horse riding, Nazy can organize guides, horses and equipment (if needed). If you’re travelling around Georgia and would like to go to the high mountains, you can contact Nazy’s Guest House directly. After all, the Pankisi Gorge is a gate to the high mountains of South Caucasus.
After a night in the guesthouse we packed our sacs and saddled the horses (well, actually the guides saddled them). Right from the start we had to overcome our first obstacle though. We had to mount the horses. Laughable! – thought anyone who has ridden at least a few times before. And you call it a challenge?! It turns out it actually is. To mount a horse with an English saddle, and the one with mountain of bags strapped on every side, is not exactly the same thing. Not to mention, you need to be able to mount the horse from both sides, because high in the mountains at the ‘proper’ side of the horse might actually be a chasm (a believe me – often is – that deep that even roller-coaster won’t give you such chills). So, in the end half of the group failed at the first challenge. That is why the trek began with us practicing mounting and dismounting on both sides of the horse.
After a while of reflection (and breakfast) we pack our things, saddle our horses and set on a new adventure on new trails, mountain tops and chasms…
The trek led by Jacek Jasiński took five days. During this time, we slept in tents set at the mountain tops (at the altitude between 2000 and 3000 m). Directly through Nazy’s Guest House you can also organize shorter or longer treks (from half a day to eight days).
- Strong sunscreen (I recommend SPF 50) – Sunshine in the mountains can be very treacherous.
- Headlamp – peeing on steep slopes at night – a difficult feat.
- Warm sleeping bag – the temperature at night can drop even to 0oC.
- Self-inflating mat – it’s much more comfortable and easier to pack than traditional sleeping mats (the yoga style ones).
- Warm clothes (thermoactive underwear, sweater, hat, scarf) – basically the warmer the better (I repeat once again – nights are freaking cold).
- Good waterproof jacket – when we were caught by a storm, in minutes everything was soaking wet. Believe me – walking around in wet clothes – not funny! So, take the jacket with a membrane that gives waterproof protection of at least 10000mm.
- Trekking boots – sometimes you need to dismount and walk on steep, rocky trails while leading your horse behind you.
- Spare pair of shoes – if the boots get wet (ours did during the storm) it’s good to have something dry to change into at the camp in the evening. It could be simply a pair of sneakers or even flip flops.
- Water filter (like the LifeStraw) – we took water directly from the streams. Sometimes it was OK. Sometimes, I’d say, questionable. A few people had digestive problems after drinking water from one of those ‘questionable’ places.
- Snacks to eat during the trek. Dry sausages, dried fruit or churchkhela or tkhlapi (traditional Georgian fruit snacks – they’re stuffing and don’t rot).
- Knife/ bowl/ mug – you know, you have to eat somehow…
- Water bottle – it’s best if it has a string attached. This way you can easily stripe it to the saddle within hand’s reach.
- Good power bank – without it, happy photo time will end up very quickly. I had one with 20000mAh and it was more than plenty. I managed to charge not only my phone but also some of my friends for the 5 days.