Another Day in Tbilisi

I woke this morning to the sound of a crying baby and her yelping mother. These two have been relentless since the day we stepped foot in “Katuna’s Homestay”. The cheapest place in the city, use of wifi (important whilst searching for new information on how to apply for our Kazakhstan, Russian and Chinese visa’s), a comfy bed and access to the stove (essential to Sam’s coffee needs).

We are here in the Georgian capital for our third bed-down since leaving the relaxing city of Batumi 10 days ago. It’s visa application time and so far it has been a mixed bag. The next few countries on our journey require differing types of visa’s and application processes. Throw into the mix that we cannot get one without the other, erratic embassy opening hours, chinese holiday closures, Georgian election day, payment in different currencies, language complexities and a general lack of information on the internet. We’ve read the advice about getting visa’s in our home country but due to the nature of our journey it was not possible. So we are here in Tbilisi at the mercy of the above.

We submitted our Kazakhstan visa last Monday with a 5 day wait for collection. I had prearranged for us to do some volunteer work at Georgia’s only registered Wwoof host during our waiting time. A welcome break to spend 3 days in the gorgeous Georgian countryside with Jean-Jacques and Inken on the Momavlis Mitsa (Future Earth) farm. A couple of hours by minibus from Tbilisi, Jean Jacques is growing his own biodynamic wheat for sourdough bread which he will sell in the city markets, along with ample veg and animals.

Sam and I spent the first day helping to build the new bread oven, emptying tonnes of sand from the inside mould and building a supporting wall. Nina worked with Inken in the garden, biting her lip, hoeing weeds and breaking cracks in the soil created by sun and lack of mulch. Day 2 saw us all making new raised beds for the commercial salad crops and our last day was more building for me and Sam, a new chicken run, while Nina and Inken made jars of jam and compote for most of the afternoon and evening.

We returned to Tbilisi on Friday and collected our Kazakhstan visa. It seemed quite straight forward once we had it in our hands. We returned back to Katuna’s Homestay knowing that on Monday we could now make our way to the Russian embassy. Our Kazak visa is proof enough that we will only be transiting through Russia. Nina and I went to the puppet theatre to see an interesting performance about Soviet Georgia. The weekend was hotting up in the streets. Voices eager to be heard before election day.

On Monday we headed to the Russian Embassy and were surprised to find that Nina’s form had to be submitted in Russian (because she’s from Australia – figure that one out) but there were plenty of administrative staff on hand to help (20 Georgian Lari). After some misunderstanding about the costs and some disappointment at hearing that processing time would be 10 days (more time back at the farm) we were surprised to hear the gentleman ask if we would like to keep our passports while they process the application.

“Maybe you want to go to Armenia while you wait?”

“No thanks we don’t really have the money for that” we responded.

We left the embassy happy that another application had been handed in and we could return to the farm for another weeks volunteering and some free living…

“Guys. Hello. He just offered us back our passports! What does that mean? Chinese visa!”

We walked to the Chinese embassy for more information, forfeiting our minibus back to the farm, thinking we could go back to the Russian embassy, ask for our passport back, apply for the Chinese visa in time to get back our passports ready for presenting them to the Russian embassy on collection day next week (a 2 hour window). The Chinese Embassy was closed – National Day. Open again in two days. Another stay at Katuna’s Homestay. We returned back yesterday with our tales between our legs, another 2 nights stay, a bit more screaming and yelping with the added excitement of street celebrations on what is now voting day.

Today we will try to gather information on applying for a Chinese visa here in Tbilisi but it doesn’t look so good – we are not Georgian, nor do we have a Georgian resident ID card – two of the requirements. I will be glad to rejoin work at the farm tomorrow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Heading East


I write from a shared room in Batumi, Georgia after crossing through 4 countries in 4 days with our new recruit – Sam. After veering north into Romania, a slight diversion to our projected route to Australia but well worth the detour, stacking functions with DJ sets at the festival in Bulgaria and our first permaculture teaching experience, we are back on track and more east than we have been so far.

I think we proved that travel can be cheap(ish). I’m not sure what it would have cost to fly from Romania to Georgia but we certainly managed it on a shoe string; Beclean to Bucharest on the overnight train (no bed) for £15. We killed a few hours in Bucharest then hopped on an overnight bus to Istanbul for £28.60. Not much sleep on that one and a strange sense of being persecuted for being smelly! Enough time in Istanbul to stock up on dried fruit and lukumi before departing to Ankara on a five hour bus ride – £8.50. We learnt a good lesson in Ankara and made our train by a matter of minutes. We boarded the Dogu Express for a 22 hour journey along the Euphrates river at 7pm two days ago – £16.00. Our last night in Turkey welcomed a full on slap up meal – tastey – before bus, bus, minibuses all the way to Georgia!!! £13.70.

So all in all our 4 day, 2538km journey cost a total of £71.70. Not sure if a flight would be cheaper but we have had a great time so far. Georgia has been kind on entry and the food is fantastic…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ermitaj

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A few days ago we finished a two week Permaculture Design Course at the Ermitaj in North West Romania. I have experienced this course as student, host and now as part of the facilitating team. It has been a very rewarding, challenging and eye-opening experience. Nina and I joined Pascale, Sam and Judith to form a teaching team in a friendly and supportive environment, the perfect place to start my teaching in Permaculture.

The Ermitaj is run by Philippe and Adriana in a lovely valley. It’s the third PDC they have hosted and we had a full international crew and students along with a healthy Romanian contingent. A jammed packed two weeks full of Permaculture ethics, principles, methods and practical sessions including building a synergistic garden, rocket stove, 18 day compost, jams, tool care, natural plastering, contour mapping, soil tests, pizza night and plenty of design time.

The course was finished off with a talent/no talent night and we received some great feedback before certificates were handed out and fairwells to new friends. Many thanks to a great team, great students and a great host.

Romanian Caravan

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a much needed knees up at the festival in Bulgaria we headed north into Romania where we were to hole up in Transylvania and prepare some material for our first Permaculture Design Course as a member of the facilitating team.

Nina sorted the AirBnB host list in order of price and we were fortunate enough to find Iulian and his family at the top of the list. We just couldn’t have expected a more beautiful experience than the 6 days we spent with the family.

Home baked sourdough bread is there speciality. All accompanied by fresh oraganic vegetables from the garden and as many fresh apples as we could eat. Spring fed water, home made wine and local buffalo milk made staying with Iulian and Lumi a real treat. I would recommend their hospitality to anyone. Thank you all.

Beglika Live

Live set recorded on Saturday night at Beglika Fest, Bulgaria… Enjoy.

And a few pictures from the festival…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

WasteNoMo

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our second stop in Bulgaria, and after a couple of days in the lovely city of Plovdiv, was with Dimo and his worms.  We had arranged a couch surf with another guy in the area but when he had to go the Beglika festival as a helper we were told Dimo would take us in and probably show us a thing or two. We were grateful for the opportunity to understand a low impact livelihood and help Dimo out on the worm farm for a few days.

He kindly picked us up from Kazanlak and we went for a family visit, an off road adventure and a swim before cooking up a late dinner and sampling the stupidly cheap but very tasty Bulgarian beer.

We spent the next few days at the worm farm. Dimo collects fresh cow poo, mixes it with straw, moistens it and sets the worms to work. It takes a few months for them to eat their way through the feast but the end result is weed free, high water retentive, humus rich soil, perfect for growing annual veg and seedlings. He bags the castings and sells them to customers around Bulgaria. During the process the worms also double in mass and he receives an additional income from them.

Dimo also doubles up his worm heap as a plant nursery, stacking functions and making best use of his space. He grows tomatoes and paulownia, a fast growing lightweight timber perfect for tool handles. He uses no chemicals and keep his mole population in check using castor plant which exudes chemicals that the moles dislike.

Dimo also produces his own biofuel from waste vegetable oil in a processor that he built himself. He powers his truck and his tractor from the fuel, true to his business name WastNoMo.

We loved our time with Dimo. We saw some great places, Thracian tombs, old communist monuments and natural beauty. The day before we left he took us to visit Paul of the Balkan Ecology Project who was happy to show us around his permaculture inspired garden.  We were to see them both again at their BalkanEP venue at Beglika Festival.

Istanbul

In response to Nina’s recent blog The Edges of Istanbul I couldn’t help posting a few pictures to show there would good times too… The “bul” was ok really…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Them troglodytes knew…

When I first heard Bill Mollison mention the subterranean dwellings in central Turkey and when Nina first talked about the fairytale houses of Cappadocia from her “must see places” list I hadn’t put two and two together. It wasn’t until we were winding around the eroded landscape on our bus entry to Goreme that it clicked. Two and Two suddenly became eighty four!

Ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed this region with thick ash, which solidified into a soft rock—called tuff—tens of meters thick. Wind and water then went to work on this plateau, leaving only its harder elements behind to form a fairytale landscape of cones, pillars, pinnacles, mushrooms and chimneys, which stretch as far as 40 meters into the sky.

So erosion shaped the incredible landscape of the Göreme valley, but thousands of years ago the troglodyte people used what Mother Nature created and began carving an amazing chamber and tunnel complex into the soft rock. Beginning in the fourth century A.D. an urbanized—but underground—cultural landscape was created here.

In caves and below ground are living quarters, places of worship, stables, wineries and storehouses, all dug into the stone. The underground city that we visited yesterday is only 10% excavated and is thought to be 10km long with eight subterranean levels and enough space for 30,000 people. It was a little claustrophobic but we got a great sense of what it would be like to live down below.

Evidence shows that every household kept pigeons using dovecotes, also carved into the rock. The droppings from the birds were vital to the viticulture and allowed them to maintain the fertility of their gardens, with apricots, mulberrys, pears and melons grown around the vegetable patches.

This has to be one of the finest examples of natural building in the world. It goes one step further than using local materials. The templates for each house were created naturally with zero human effort. The people then had to chip away at the insides to hollow out a home for themselves, similar to permaculture’s holy grail of harvesting as maintenance. The temperature inside remains a constant 16-18 degrees, perfect when it’s plus 42 degrees above ground.

We’ve been searching for examples of “working with nature and not against it” on this journey and we certainly found it here in Cappadocia.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

News from Busso…

Today brings welcome news from Italy. The very nature of our journey means that we are connecting with, working with and then inevitably parting way with friends, couch surf hosts and wwoof hosts along the way. We wonder often how the projects are going that we leave behind. We can of course receive the odd update via email but its just not the same as seeing with our own eyes. Some of our permaculture blitz ideas were met with caution by our hosts, seen as “crazy” gardening or “cocktail” gardens. “Let’s see” was a common used phrase when a new experiment had been planted out.

Luckily Giovanni was very open to the idea of a new synergistic garden, less work, less water, less disease, no chemicals, no digging, more food were all promised once the initial set up was complete. You can read the original blog post here.

The pictures above show the set up process followed by the photographs below, just received from Giovanni, taken only last night, with the comments that it hasn’t even rained since we left – looks like that thick layer of moisture holding mulch is doing the trick…

Beglika Festival

To all friends, family, fellow travellers, nomads, gypsies and festival freaks. We have just got news that I will be playing the main stage, saturday night at the Beglika Festival in Bulgaria. 17-19 August. If you just happen to be around (ha ha) then come join us for a right good old knees up…