Here I am in Georgia, traveling with six friends from school! Led by our brilliant Kyle, who is fluent in Russian and Azerbaijani (not to mention French, Spanish, and Kyrgyz), we couldn't go wrong.
Meal after meal, ancient church after ancient church, beautiful vista after beautiful vista after beautiful vista he led us through the country, translating and explaining and herding us just-graduated cats along the way. Operating the switchboard was his Georgian friend, and at his beck and call was our trusty cab driver Rati who not only drove us all over the country in his minivan that "seats seven" (aka would comfortably seat 4-5) but also ensured our salvation by buying us mini Saint Neno paintings and Georgian wine at lunch (because according to Georgians this food CANNOT be appreciated without the appropriate house wine brewed in beeswax-coated clay pots buried in their yards).
The first stop was Kazbegi, a mountain and a town and a region in northern Georgia. We stayed at Rooms Hotel, an absolutely gorgeous outpost of luxury boasting expansive mountain views without and rustic chic relaxation within. While our catalog-like life began as Restoration Hardware, it quickly progressed to Patagonia as we hiked up (literally, straight up), to a 5th century church across the valley. We acquired a canine friend along the way (lovingly dubbed Kazi), as well as a Britt named James who is in the process of cycling around the globe. (Check out his blog at www.thelifecycle.org.)
You know that feeling when you stand on top of a mountain and breath in? That fully alive and free and purely happy atop-the-world exhilaration? We spent two beautiful days in that, whether we were literally on top of a mountain or on the deck at our hotel looking out at the mountains. I love open space!!!
The second morning we decided on a brief hike up part of the mountain behind the hotel. Not sure if we were trespassing, we scrambled through the woods until we reached a road, a church, and a clearing. Nowhere else to go but up! We hiked a bit more until we were sitting on a ridge overlooking the town and the mountains beyond, just taking it all in.
We watched a white jeep zipping up the road, past the church, and into the valley below us. "Uhoh are we about to get in trouble?" We wondered. "Apparently the Russians are coming for us," we joked. Until we saw combat boots hit the green springy grass on the far side of the jeep, and made out a fatigue-clad figure carrying a giant rifle. "No but really..." our jokes took on a concerned edge as five more militant types, all carrying massive guns, exited the vehicle. Nothing to do but wait and see. They strutted out, pointed at the rocky cliff face of the mountains above, and then proceeded to unfurl and set up their "guns," which turned out to be tripods! We breathed a collective sigh of relief and made our way down. Turns out they were Polish bird watchers searching for the coveted Caucasian Grouse, as the English-speaker among them explained. Though they continued to glare at us and did in fact look military (buzz cuts, camo, unfriendly expressions), they let us look through their telescope (idk what else to call it) to see a bird perched high on the mountain.
That afternoon it was time for us to go. The driver spoke with Kyle in Russian as he tied our bags to the top of the minivan. "He says the girls should get in because it's cold." The three of us dutifully squeezed into the back seat meant for two. FYI, according to Georgians, women need to keep their ovaries warm, otherwise they'll be infertile.
The drive back to Tiblisi, though long, was interesting in and of itself. The rocks and mountain faces along the way we're fascinating. The earth had pushed up vertical mountains of stratified ancient volcanic rock that splinters and looked more like a broken tree trunk than the collection of minerals that it was.
As on the way up, seas of shaggy sleep with curly horns, dreaded wool, and double butts (bred for the extra fat coveted by the Turks) flooded the road, stopping traffic entirely and freezing our van amidst an oncoming flood of baa-ing wooly beasts.
The next post will be about Tiblisi and surrounding areas...