Friday, 22 January 2021

Dramatic views across the rolling hills towards Azerbaijan

Georgian frontier with Azerbaijan. Photo by Chris Raven

A dramatic view across the Georgian frontier with Azerbaijan from a hilltop above the small rural settlement of Udabno. The Kakheti region of Georgia is the location of the World Heritage cave monasteries of Davit Gareja. It's also home to vultures, blue-cheeked bee-eaters, jackals and a vast dry landscape of rolling hills and canyons where the colours of the rock fades from yellow to deep red and purple. 

During a quest to drive full circle around the Black Sea in a twenty year old Volvo, my brother and I spent the night here beneath the clearest night sky we have ever witnessed. In the distance the Georgian capital city of Tbilisi illuminated the horizon like a burning inferno.

Read more about our adventure BLACK SEA CIRCUIT


BLACK SEA CIRCUIT

by The Raven Brothers

Order your copy online from Amazon and all major book retailers. ISBN 9780954884284

More books by The Raven Brothers


Hike, Drive, Stayin' Alive!

By The Raven Brothers

On Amazon >

Out of shape and unprepared, The Raven Brothers return to the road in a collection of ten quests to travel to their dream destinations against all odds! After two decades pioneering new routes across the globe, you would expect the authors of 'Driving the Trans-Siberian' to be hotshot explorers, with a sixth sense and an ability to survive in almost any situation. Think again! With virtually zero knowledge of the workings of the internal combustion engine and very limited skills of wilderness survival, Simon and Chris struggle into their hiking boots and power across three continents by river, tarmac and trail.

Venture to the top of Norway, cruise the road to Damascus, hike the Camino trail into Spain’s Wild West, row the Ganges, explore Frida Kahlo’s world in Mexico City, hangout with the dead in Sicily’s eerie catacombs, crawl deep inside Bolivia’s notorious silver mine, seek lions in Gujarat, wellness in Berlin and journey into the Naga Hills where tribal kings still rule.

Noted by Lonely Planet for their talent to portray an “accurate view of what to expect”, 'Hike, Drive, Stayin’ Alive!' signals a return to the duo writing “buttock clenching” travel comedy with the first in a series of candid stories of adventure by The Raven Brothers.

Driving the Georgian Military Highway

A monastery on the Georgian Military Highway, Caucasus, Georgia.
Photo by Simon Raven
 
by The Raven Brothers

A dusty, unpaved stretch of the Georgian Military Highway winds through the Dariali Gorge the “Gate of the Alans”. Pumped full of adrenalin, Si squeezes past a truck from Azerbaijan on a narrow shelf below a 1,800 metre vertical wall of granite. I try to remove the thought from my mind of rocks smashing through the windows, or a landslide forcing us into the steep valley below. This dramatic and ancient trade route is considered to be one of the most romantic places in the Caucasus, with both Lermontov and Pushkin drawing inspiration from the region. Concentrating on the road, Si reminds me to keep my eyes peeled for lammergeyers “bearded vultures” and griffon vultures nesting on the cliffs. In this remote region of Georgia there are plans to construct a new hydropower plant that would generate electricity to be used locally in winter and exported in the summer to Turkey, Syria and Iraq. If not built with care the threat of environmental disaster seems like a terrifying possibility.

After half an hour of negotiating switchback corners and hairpin bends, we cross the Tergi Bridge and arrive in the northeastern Georgian settlement of Kazbegi (1,797m). In the distance, the 14th century Holy Trinity Tsminda Sameba Church is perched on the adjacent hilltop. The setting sun kisses the jagged horizon and silhouettes a group of hikers making their way up the mountain. In the main square we are immediately surrounded by a group of hard-faced local men touting rooms. A guy appears at my window. He has flecks of grey in his wiry bushy hair and deep lines embedded in his face. Wearing a brown woollen tank top over a checked shirt, he has the manner of a mountain warrior and despite his age he looks as strong as an ox. His teeth are yellow and decaying and his lips are dry and cracked. The smell of tobacco drifts inside the car.
  ‘You want room?’ he asks, the corner of his mouth curling upwards in a slight smirk.
  I shake my head. ‘We go to Tbilisi. Can we buy car insurance here?’
  He drops his smile and raises his bushy, out of control eyebrows. ‘What?’ he growls, fixing his stare.
  ‘We need to buy insurance, for the car,’ Si adds, knocking his fists together to demonstrate a collision.
  The tout mutters something under his breath to the sun-dried gentlemen standing around him.
  ‘No room?’
  ‘No,’ I smile.
  Exhaling a deep sigh, he turns sharply away and marches over to a young traveller struggling up the hill with his rucksack. Si swings the Volvo over to a nearby petrol station. I ask the guy working the pump about car insurance, but we are both distracted by the surreal sight of a camel walking along the road. A man with long white hair barks orders at its backside. I turn back to the petrol pump attendant, who looks equally puzzled. He shrugs his shoulders and suggests we try in the capital city of Tbilisi.

Thursday, 21 January 2021

The Raven Brothers: Carnival Express: A South America Adventure


The Raven Brothers embark on a comedy adventure that leads them to the wild and colourful continent of South America. From bull's testicles in Buenos Aires to bums and boobs on the beaches of Brazil, the Raven brothers put their dream plans into action and traverse the Trans-oceanic highway from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast of South America. 


Pioneering a new frontier over the Andes and through the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, the bizarre and the beautiful cross their dusty path as they seek inspiration for a new book and go in search of the ultimate carnival.Not always getting it right, the writing duo tango through the Argentinean vineyards, cycle to the Moon in Chile, lose themselves in the mysterious world of the Inca Empire, swim with caiman in the Madre de Dios, experience panic in the Pantanal, The Rolling Stones in Rio and conclude their journey in Olinda at the carnival of the soul.A career in overland adventure travel was launched when the brothers coaxed a rusty Ford Sierra across Siberia from the UK to Vladivostok. Priding themselves in going it alone, The Raven Brothers have been noted by Lonely Planet for their talent to portray an “accurate view of what to expect”.


Also their new book 


Hike, Drive, Stayin' Alive!

by The Raven Brothers

Out of shape and unprepared, The Raven Brothers return to the road in a collection of ten quests to travel to their dream destinations against all odds! After two decades pioneering new routes across the globe, you would expect the authors of 'Driving the Trans-Siberian' to be hotshot explorers, with a sixth sense and an ability to survive in almost any situation. Think again! With virtually zero knowledge of the workings of the internal combustion engine and very limited skills of wilderness survival, Simon and Chris struggle into their hiking boots and power across three continents by river, tarmac and trail.

Venture to the top of Norway, cruise the road to Damascus, hike the Camino trail into Spain’s Wild West, row the Ganges, explore Frida Kahlo’s world in Mexico City, hangout with the dead in Sicily’s eerie catacombs, crawl deep inside Bolivia’s notorious silver mine, seek lions in Gujarat, wellness in Berlin and journey into the Naga Hills where tribal kings still rule.

Noted by Lonely Planet for their talent to portray an “accurate view of what to expect”, 'Hike, Drive, Stayin’ Alive!' signals a return to the duo writing “buttock clenching” travel comedy with the first in a series of candid stories of adventure by The Raven Brothers.




7,000 Years of Georgian Wine



The Georgian’s have been fermenting grape juice into wine for over 7,000 years. During an expedition driving full circle around the Black Sea, The Raven Brothers drop by a small vineyard in the Imereti region of Georgia at the heart of the ancient kingdom of Colchis.

Extract from the book: BLACK SEA CIRCUIT
By The Raven Brothers

Deep in the Imereti province of Georgia at the heart of the ancient kingdom of Colchis, a brown sign pointing to a wine cellar grabs my attention. Simon and I walk down a narrow track to a large house with bunches of juicy green grapes spilling over the wall. I peer through the vines and call over to an old chap tending to his garden. He looks startled at first, but then breaks into an enormous smile and waves us over to the front of the house. Swinging open two towering metal gates, he greets us both like we are old friends. I ask the guy, with white shortly cropped hair, if he has any wine for sale. Completely unfazed by the request, Giorgi kindly invites us into his home. We enter a large farm kitchen with a stone floor and a cast iron stove. A rosy-cheeked grandmother wearing half-moon spectacles and a floral print apron, smiles at us warmly as she chops vegetables on a wooden kitchen table. Leading us through the house, we are shown into a grand dining hall with a beautiful handcrafted wooden staircase that leads to an L-shaped balcony. A large fireplace dominates the room with a height adjustable rack for barbecuing meat. Unveiling a banqueting table hidden beneath a dust sheet, Giorgi proudly shows us the unfurnished rooms leading off the balcony in this newly renovated part of the building. In November, after Giorgi has harvested his grapes and produced a fresh batch of homemade wine, he plans to open the house to guests. You can see from the excitement in his face that this renovation project has given him a new lease of life.

Exiting the house, we pass a small garage and I see a Russian army jeep parked on a ramp. Simon grabs his camera and asks Giorgi to stand beside it. He throws back his shoulders with pride and strikes a pose. Herding us into a nearby outbuilding, Giorgi whips a hosepipe out of a barrel. He sucks firmly on the end of the pipe and siphons white wine directly into a glass. Expertly swirling the pale green liquid around to awaken the flavours, he offers us a taste. I take a sip and nod my head with delight at the cool crisp taste of the wine. Simon follows suit and his eyes spring open. He enthusiastically congratulates Giorgi on its great depth of flavour and bouquet. Filling a large glass jug to the top, Giorgi invites us to sit at a table on the sunny patio. He explains that the grapes are crushed in a machine and the juice and skins are poured into an enormous ceramic clay jar called a “kvevri”. He points down at a manhole cover and I presume there is a kvevri under the patio. Buried in the ground up to its neck, the kvevri can maintain a stable temperature for fermentation during the winter. This method of winemaking dates back 7,000 years, when the people living in this region of the southern Caucasus discovered that wild grape juice fermented into an alcohol when it was left buried in a shallow pit. The entire winemaking process takes place within the kvevri, from initial fermentation right through to maturation. I’m fascinated to learn that the skins are left on the grapes (and in hotter regions the stems as well), which produces wines of exceptional flavour and complexity and gives it the green hue typical to Georgian white wine.

Tequila Town


by Chris Raven

I'm awoken by a loud bang followed by a muffled groan. I swing my legs off the bed and listen intently; silence. The guy in the hotel room next to me is now either dead or in a daze. Showered and dressed, I grab my guidebook and skip over to Lula sat behind the reception desk. Lula is in her sunset years and beams a radiant smile. She has worked at the hotel for over thirty years and never taken a day off. I'm convinced Lula is the most chilled out human being in the whole of Mexico. She goes at her own pace. I mention the loud bang coming from the room next door. Lula laughs and casually waves her hand, as if you say "don't worry about it". She quickly changes the subject and asks me where I'm going today. I sing 'to Tequila town!' She nods, that’s her response, a slow nod of acceptance.

Arriving at the terminal, I leap aboard a rather tired looking bus and greet the cheerful driver who has a bruised eye. Crunching the gears, we zoom out of the city and pass through Zapopan where I see the Volcán de Tequila (Tequila Volcano) looming in the distance. Blue agave plantations cling to its slopes and kiss the horizon. Here is where it all began. This actual volcano and the surrounding soil gives the blue agave its full intake of volcanic minerals. The rather sweet smell of the nectar in the air is surprisingly strong, and smells almost stale. Two hundred years ago, the Toltec Indians first made candy from the agave sugars and then this gave the Spanish the brilliant idea of turning it into alcohol.

The bus arrives in Santiago de Tequila, a town in the state of Jalisco, about 60km from the city of Guadalajara. Named “Pueblo Mágico" (Magical Town) by the Mexican federal government, Tequila is a World Heritage Site founded in 1530 by Franciscan monks, and a small town where the lives of 27,000 residents revolve mostly around the production and sale of tequila. I wander around the sweet-smelling streets lined with colourful buildings and tourist shops selling over-priced souvenirs and, of course,  bottles of tequila. Before long, I arrive at the Jose Cuervo's La Rojena distillery near to the Church of Santiago Apostol. It's housed in a beautiful restored building, with curved arches at the entrance and a huge statue of a Raven (Cuervo’s trademark). I step inside an ‘Americanized’ gift shop that is full of Jose Cuervo merchandise. Knocking back a free shot of “Platino”, my eyes somersault in their sockets, as the peppery liquid hits the back of my throat. There is a pleasant citrus taste with flowers, most enjoyable.

After watching a short promotional video, my bilingual guide hands me a hair net and leads me through the tequila-making process. Due to the dangerous levels of alcohol vapors in the air, we are told to turn off our electronic devices for fear of the place exploding into a fireball. The production of tequila is divided into seven steps: harvesting, cooking, extraction, fermentation, distillation, ageing and bottling. First, the raw material is steamed for 36 hours, so the nutrients can crystallize into sugars, and then a mechanical crusher separates the fibre from the juices. It is then fermented for seven to twelve days in stainless steel tanks and distilled and purified until the sugars are transformed into alcohol. The tequila is then stored in white oak barrels and the amount of time it ages will determine the tequila’s characteristics, type, odour and taste. The longer the tequila ages, the more colour and tannins the final product will have. It’s then bottled and distributed around the world. My guide explains the differences between the various types of tequila, from Cuervo Black sitting in charred barrels to Especial Silver where the barrel process is skipped for a crisper taste.

We arrive in the tasting room, where Katerina shakes me up a margarita. Flicking on a sombrero, I jump onto a barstool and watch her pour the Jose Cuervo Gold, Cointreau, and lime juice into a shaker. A couple of ice cubes, a good shake before pouring it into a cocktail glass with salt around the rim. It tastes amazing. Katerina explains to me about the harvesting of the tequila. The heavy blue agave core or heart called ‘piña’ (Spanish for pineapple) is the raw material for making tequila. The skilled harvester or “Jimador” spends hours in the plantations removing the agave leaves with a sharp curved tool called a Coa; not an easy job. They then trim the two hundred plus leaves that protect the piña of the agave until the whole heart is extracted from the ground. Only the heart of the blue agave plant is used to make tequila. Fifteen pounds of blue agave piñas are required to produce one litre of delicious tequila. She tells me that as many as three hundred million agave plants are harvested in their plantations each year. That is an astounding amount, and each bottle is handmade, numbered, dated and sealed in wax. She offers me to taste the amber agave nectar. It looks like slices of fudge and tastes of caramel. I wonder if using this nectar is healthier than sugar. I wash the sweet nectar down with some margarita, and thank Katerina for making such a fine cocktail.

With a skip in my step, I return to the gift shop and buy a bottle of Platino on my way out, and restrain myself from purchasing a Jose Cuervo t-shirt. Despite the rather Americanized feel, it has been an interesting experience learning about Jose Cuervo’s seven stages of making tequila. Until recently, I didn't even know there was a town called Tequila. So, the next time you are enjoying a shot of the hot stuff in some bar or sipping a margarita on the beach, be proud in the knowledge that you know where and how Tequila is made.

The Raven Brothers Take off with Hike, Drive, Stayin' Alive!


Hike, Drive, Stayin' Alive!

By The Raven Brothers

On Amazon >

Out of shape and unprepared, The Raven Brothers return to the road in a collection of ten quests to travel to their dream destinations against all odds! After two decades pioneering new routes across the globe, you would expect the authors of 'Driving the Trans-Siberian' to be hotshot explorers, with a sixth sense and an ability to survive in almost any situation. Think again! With virtually zero knowledge of the workings of the internal combustion engine and very limited skills of wilderness survival, Simon and Chris struggle into their hiking boots and power across three continents by river, tarmac and trail.

Venture to the top of Norway, cruise the road to Damascus, hike the Camino trail into Spain’s Wild West, row the Ganges, explore Frida Kahlo’s world in Mexico City, hangout with the dead in Sicily’s eerie catacombs, crawl deep inside Bolivia’s notorious silver mine, seek lions in Gujarat, wellness in Berlin and journey into the Naga Hills where tribal kings still rule.

Noted by Lonely Planet for their talent to portray an “accurate view of what to expect”, 'Hike, Drive, Stayin’ Alive!' signals a return to the duo writing “buttock clenching” travel comedy with the first in a series of candid stories of adventure by The Raven Brothers.

Jeep Safari in Search of Lions in India?


A jeep on safari in Sasan Gir National park in Gujarat, India
Jeep Safari. Sasan Gir, India ©


When you hear the word safari you immediately think of Africa, but the exotic sub-continent of India is also home to amazing wildlife with endless national parks to explore. The best known are Ranthambore, Kanha and Corbett, which draw tourists in their thousands annually in the hope of catching sight of the illusive tiger. 

During an expedition to India, The Raven Brothers, Chris and Simon Raven, travel to Sasan Gir National Park in the heart of Gujarat. Their mission here is not to see tiger, but rather the rare Asiatic lion. Exploring the region around Sasan Gir by jeep and on foot, a slice of Africa complete with lions, leopards, crocodiles, jackals, hyenas and a thriving African community is unveiled. Led by their trusty guide Raju, the adventurers meet the charismatic people who live side by side with nature, and discover the existence of a wildlife sanctuary that continues to stand strong against the pressure of humans’ thirst for land.

The full story of their journey can be found in the authors fifth book 'Hike, Drive, Stayin' Alive!', 10 stories of adventure, which is out now on Amazon or your favourite book retailer worldwide.

In Search of the Amazons


Statue of an Amazon Warrior. Terme, Turkey © Simon Raven

The legend of a tribe of fierce female warriors known as the Amazons has captured the imagination of writers and artists for centuries. But who were the Amazons, where did they live and did they really exist? During a quest to drive full circle around the Black Sea overland travel writers, The Raven Brothers, investigate.

Extract from the book: BLACK SEA CIRCUIT
By The Raven Brothers

Chris accelerates west along the south shores of the Black Sea. Within less than an hour we arrive in a region of Anatolian Turkey around the mouth of the Yesil and Terme rivers, known by the Pontic Greeks as the Themiscyra plains. This fertile region once produced a great abundance of grain, especially millet and in the parts near the mountains in the south, apples, grapes, pears and nuts. Scanning his notes, Chris reveals the nearby town of Terme was once the ancient settlement of Themiscyra, which was also the name of the fictional island-home of DC comic book superhero Wonder Woman. William Moulton Marston modelled his female superhero on the Amazons of Greek mythology, a legend that has inspired writers and artists for more than two thousand years.

Screeching to a halt at the roadside, we look in awe at a life-size statue of a female tribal warrior drawing a bow and arrow. I notice she is dressed rather provocatively in an off the shoulder Roman-style toga, exposing her strong shoulders and bare arms. She expertly grips the fletching of a deadly arrow inside the drawn bow and aims it east in the direction of Georgia. The straps of her leather sandals encircle her calf muscles and are fixed tightly below the knee. Reading a sign at the foot of the newly built statue, that is written both in the Turkish and English language, we learn that it is believed these “fighting heroines of Anatolian Greek mythology lived in Themiskryia on the shore of Thermedon in the 1200s BC. Amazons used arrows and rode horses, and it is said that they even cut off their right breasts so as to draw the bow well. They exploited males as workers and servants and killed captives after having sex with them, killed male infants, raised female infants with care and trained them as strong fighters.”

Exploring Norway's Arctic Highway

A stuffed polar bear outside a souvenir shop in Tromso, North Norway. Photo © Chris Raven

For a scenic journey of a lifetime, head to Tromsø in Northern Norway and drive part of the E6 highway from Tromsø to Hammerfest Europe's Northernmost town. This region is home to spectacular fjords, Native Sami Reindeer Herders and birdlife.

Photography by The Raven Brothers

The awesome E6 highway runs from the very south of Sweden all the way to Finnmark in the north of Norway, and transports those willing to take the challenge 3,140km (1,950 miles) through breathtaking landscape to the polar regions of Europe. By far one of the most intriguing sections of this road runs between Tromsø and Hammerfest in the far north, where you have the opportunity to cruise the open highway, meet native Sami people and their reindeers and spot an abundance of birdlife including the giant White Tailed Eagle.

Turkey’s Black Sea Mountains


Turkey's Pontic Alps. The Kackar Mountains. Photo by Simon Raven

During an epic road trip driving full circle around the Black Sea, The Raven Brothers, explore the high pasture village of Ayder in the Kackar mountains, in a region of Anatolian Turkey that is home to the Hemsin and the legend of the Laz Big foot.

Extract from the book: BLACK SEA CIRCUIT
By The Raven Brothers

Waving farewell to Georgia we enter ancient Anatolia. The land rises steeply into the lush green Pontic Alps, a mountain range that stretches parallel with the southern Black Sea coast for a thousand kilometres. Located directly south across this geological barrier is Mount Ararat on the Armenian border, and the predominantly Kurdish provinces in the southeast of the country bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Curious to explore these mysterious green mountains that are covered by alder, chestnuts and hornbeams, we continue west on the E70 highway to the small coastal town of Ardesen. Si turns sharply inland, and we pass tea growing on the hillside and climb steadily through the Firtina gorge into the rugged Kackar Mountains. This picturesque region is home to the highest part of the Pontic Mountains, with the tallest peak, Kackar Dagi, reaching an elevation of 3,937 metres. An elderly woman cranks a handle and sends a small basket along a winch wire to the wooden tea houses on the other side of the gorge. Turkey is the fifth largest producer of tea in the world. It was introduced to Turkey in the 1940s and 1950s, and was offered as an alternative to coffee which had become expensive and comparatively rare.