The Moments that Made the Caucasian Challenge Special

We recount some of the moments that made the Caucasian Challenge 2016 special.

 

caucasian challenge special

Our road destroyed by landslide. Not the best moment, but certainly memorable…

 

 

 

There are fewer than five months till the this year’s Caucasian Challenge, and we’re getting excited by looking at back at the Caucasian Challenge 2016. We’ve recounted our highlights of each leg of the journey, from leaving Istanbul to the finishing party in Yerevan, and heard Tony’s charming story about his experiences on the minimal assistance rally. We mentioned beautiful scenery, fascinating history and the wonderfully weird, but it seemed like we’d forgotten to mention some of the smaller moments. So, here are some extra highlights that made the Caucasian Challenge special:

 

 

Magnificent Istanbul

 

caucasian challenge 2016

 

 

Obviously, Istanbul is not a “moment”, but it seemed like in all of the excitement about the adventures that followed, it had not been mentioned enough that we start the rally in one of the greatest cities on earth. A truly amazing place, straddling two continents, Istanbul has everything: grand architecture, hectic bazaars, and a surprisingly fun nightlife. Best of all, the food is incredible: lahmacun and baklava, washed down by copious chai. The perfect way  to relax before the excitement of the Caucasian Challenge.

 

 

 

Dawn at Sinop Beach

 

caucasian challenge special

 

 

After a long day followed by a wine-filled welcome party, it wasn’t easy to set my alarm for 6am the next day. But it was worth it. The beach at Sinop at dawn was empty and the water was warm(ish). Along the bay was Turkey’s most Northern point and much further (unseen) was Batumi, Georgia, where we would arrive almost 24 hours later. The calm of the sea was a helpful memory as we patiently waited to cross the border that evening…

 

 

 

TAKA PİDE

 

caucasian challenge 2016

 

 

Before we left Turkey, though, there was another special moment. We realised we needed to eat in Trabzon, the last major town we’d pass in border, and we chanced upon this inconspicuous “pide” place, serving what are basically flatbread pizzas. The owners spoke no English, but were clearly delighted to have foreign guests. With a mixture of hand signals and pictures, we managed to order, and a boy was sent out to bring us tea from a nearby cafe. Despite finding generous hospitality everywhere we went in the Caucasus, for a side-street in Trabzon the food was unexpectedly delicious, and the hosts unbelievably friends: we swore we would return one day.

 

 

Turtle Lake Party

 

caucasian challenge highlights

 

 

Tbilisi is famous for its nightlife, but many  imagine a cliched picture of smoke-filled bars, old men, and strong drinks. On our first night in the Georgian capital, we learned there was far more to the city than that. After Aravind treated the gang to delicious Georgian cuisine, and the finest Caucasian beverages, at the Travel Scientists 10th anniversary dinner, several teams were keen to extend the night further. One participant had a tip, from a girl he had connected with on Tinder, about a “cool party” happening not too far away. Everyone jumped into taxis, and we quickly found ourselves at the picturesque (in the day time at least…) Turtle Lake, where we were instructed to find a club by the name of “Vitamin Cubes”. Here we found a crowd of young Georgian hipsters nodding their heads to the sound of very avant-garde electronic music and staring at an open-air video art installation. It wasn’t what we expected from a Tbilisi night out but we could hardly complain: they sold beer, and it taught us (not for the first or last time) that the Caucasus will always surprise you.

 

 

 

Roadside Churchkhela

 

driving to armenia

Photo by Levan Gokadze

 

 

The food in the Caucasus is delicious, and we could never honestly pin down one favourite meal. We could easily mention khinkali, Georgia’s sumptious national dish, or kubdari, the speciality of Svaneti. However, a feature of the Caucasian Challenge that has been shockingly under-reported is the number of roadside stalls selling what appear to be colourful sausages. Upon closer inspection, it turned out these were churchkhela, comprising nuts covered in dried grape juice. Our tip: the ones in Armenia are softer, sweeter, and (whisper it) better.

 

 

Finding the Phone

 

caucasian challenge highlights

 

 

After a long day’s driving in the dangerous borderlands of Nagorno-Karabkah, the sun was starting to set when our driver realised that he couldn’t locate his phone. We had almost hit the Iranian border on our way South, and the poor condition of the roads had ensured a bumpy ride… perfect conditions for small electronic devices, precariously placed on the dashtop, to jump out of open windows. We quickly emptied the car, but the phone, containing all his photos and important contact information, was nowhere to be found. We braced ourselves for a long evening searching (before an even longer night trying to find our way to our hotel in Armenia). But… just as we were about to turn back, somebody glimpsed the phone jammed under a seat. And honestly, there might not have been another moment of the Caucasian challenge better than that!

 

 

 

 

Caucasian Challenge

 

 

 

A final note: there are several other moments that deserve to make this list, but that we’ve written about already: picking up an elderly hitchhiker on the top of Goderzi mountain pass; waking up in Kutaisi to find our cars locked in by a street market; an Ushguli cafe-owner dramatically trying persuade a hungover participant that drinking chacha would cure his hangover; and, of course, the insane Titanic hotel in Nagorno-Karabakh!

 

Liked this article? Getting itchy feet to travel and find adventures? Then join us on the next Caucasian Challenge. Get a team together and let’s see you at the starting line! If you want to join us in spirit, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with our latest antics.

Guest Post: Tony’s Caucasian Challenge Story

A guest post from Tony Thorndike, Caucasian Challenge participant (and winner)!

 

 
Tony Thorndike Caucasian Challenge

 

Tony Thorndike is a veteran of Travel Scientists rallies, a lifetime traveler who thinks nothing of driving from the UK to Bishkek, and back! He and his son-in-law Rob won the Caucasian Challenge in 2016, earning a reputation as a charming pair who loved to laugh and whose mastery of maps and dislike of “faff” meant they were first to arrive every evening! So, there is nobody better to recount their memories of this eventful trip than Tony. Here’s his story:

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Caucasian Challenge Day 11: Party in Yerevan

The Caucasian Challenge 2016 had a great final day, as teams visited Tatev Monastery en route to the party in Yerevan.

 

party in yerevan

 

After ten incredible days of driving, socialising, experiencing the weird and the wonderful, the Caucasian Challenge was almost over. On Day 11 the team’s task was to make it to the finish line for the party in Yerevan. Awaiting them in Armenia’s capital was the closing ceremony, complete with free food and drink. A weekend of relaxing and sightseeing lay ahead of the teams, before they were due to head home… or onward to new adventures!  However, there were still some great sights to see on the final day.

 

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Caucasian Challenge Day 10: Secret Adventures

Day 10 of the Caucasian Challenge was dedicated to secret adventures, which we can’t really tell you about.

 

 

caucasian challenge secret adventures

 
On Day 10 of the Caucasian Challenge we explored Nagorno-Karabkh, before driving along the Iranian border on our way to Kapan, in Southern Armenia. We can’t tell you everywhere we explored, but it was a long day, very long for some, encompassing bureaucracy, history, roads of varying quality, and sunsets of remarkable beauty.

 

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Caucasian Challenge 2016 Day 9: The Weirdest Village in the Caucasus?

 

On Day 9 of the Caucasian Challenge 2016, we traveled to maybe the weirdest village in the Caucasus.

 

 

weirdest village in caucasus

 

 

After one night at glorious Sevan Lake, on Day 9 it time to leave Armenia… sort of. Our destination was the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the subject of a conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. While there has theoretically been a ceasefire since 1994, there are occasionally flare-ups near the border. Where we were headed was perfectly, safe, however: maybe even too safe. The road has improved dramatically in recent years, limiting the adventure for the drivers, but it at least meant there was time for a relaxed start. There was still plenty to see though, as we made our way to Vank, maybe the weirdest village in the Caucasus.

 

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