Well, I knew it was going to be a crazy 6 weeks or so, but … whew! I am SO GLAD to be back home in Gori! I’ve really been debating what to do with this blog … I’ve been so many places and done so many things in the last month and a half, I don’t think I can fit it all in one post, especially considering my vow to not write excessively long posts or put up hundreds of photos at once. Though I may have crossed that line a few times, trying to fit two excursions, Paris, Armenia, a FLEX workshop, a conference, and then a week traveling in Georgia with friends might be just a bit … excessive.
So, I’m going to start with the two excursions. The word “excursion” in Georgia seem to have a particular meaning. It’s not so different than in the West, but there’s a little more implied. For one, there’s going to be a lot of food. And a lot of wine. And we definitely will be out in the countryside somewhere. With family.
So, ok, back in early August, I get a text from my host sister, Salome – we’re going on an excursion! We’ll pick you up in an hour! 17 winkie faces! Well, it was well over 100 outside, and I didn’t want to go, really. But, you know, 17 winkie faces … I pulled it together and ran downstairs at the appropriate time and jumped in the car with Salome and her dad, Beso, and her grandfather (known to me as Babua, Georgian for “grandfather”). Off we went to Ateni. Ateni is a village about half an hour south of Gori. But, not just a village! There is a gorge, with a river surging through it. There are steep mountainsides covered with trees. And not all the same kind of trees like in California, where clear-cutting has resulted in mono-diversity forests. No, all different trees of varying shapes, sizes and colors.
And an ancient church called Sioni. Built in the early 7th century, it’s small and quite extraordinary, filled with hand painted frescos and glowing from all the thin, yellow candles burning inside. We stopped along the road and went inside, I lit a candle that was handed to me and said a little prayer. It’s private.
Then I went outside to snap a few photos with my host sisters.
Then we piled back into the cars, having met up with several other family members at the church, and head on up the road to an unknown destination. Another 10 or 15 minutes on windy roads takes us to a picnic destination of delight. Several shelters next to a rushing river, a kitchen with a cook, a picnic table set with real plates and silverware … lots of toasting, laughing, photos, hanging of legs into the river (given the level of tossed food and refuse in the river, I didn’t dare go all the way in – I said it was delightful, not somewhere other than Georgia, land of trash!). In spite of the heat, I have to say I really had a good time. I felt part of the family. It was good. Plus, the very best tchakhrakina (khatchapuri with beet greens and other vegetables, plus cheese RATKMA UNDA/OF COURSE) I have ever tasted. Ever.
And, to finish off the excursion, here is the tamada (toastmaster) of the day – Beso! He was really enjoying himself. More pictures in a subsequent post of a heavy boozing session with my English friends involving twined arms, khantsi (traditional Georgian drinking horns) and an even happier Beso, who spoke Russian all evening with Malcolm – finally able to communicate with a foreigner! Since I’m a bit of a lost cause, at least when it comes to political discussion. But that’s a post for a different day. At our excursion …
Now, on to excursion #2. This one took place the following day. Our entire office boarded a marshutka and set off for parts unknown, at least to me. I thought we were just going for a picnic, but no … it was an EXCURSION, after all. First we went to a church, of course. This one was in the town of Ertatsminda, about an hour southeast of Gori. It doesn’t look like anything remarkable from the outside – just another village church. But for some reason, this turned out to be my favorite church in Georgia so far. It was so hot outside, and so cool inside. The icons were unusually beautiful, and there was a feeling of peace and comfort inside. There was some sort of large cabinet which, if you crawled under it three times (which several of my colleagues did), your prayers would be granted. There were broken clay wine jars outside, and a cool stone wall, and a tree. I bought an icon for 10 GEL, and now it hangs on the wall in my living room, and every time I look at it, I am back in Ertatsminda.
Onward. We continue south, over roads so bad that a few times we had to get out of the marshutka and walk because it couldn’t get through with weight inside. I was really starting to wonder what was happening when, finally, finally, we pulled up next to a bridge in what I later learned was the border of Trialeti Planned National Park. I’m happy, yes, now we’re going to sit in the shade and eat some food. HA! No, no, no … we’re going to take “a walk.” Uh, huh, a 4-mile hike up and down hills, rocks and precipitous slopes while wearing a pair of slippery sandals and carrying a heavy backpack (my laptop was in it, I didn’t want to leave it in the hot marshutka, little did I know it would be plastered to my sweaty back for hours). We were on our way to Rkoni Monastary Complex, built between the 6th and 9th centuries. Other than I honestly thought I might die, it was worth the trek. I’ll let these photos speak for themselves:
I thought that was it, but … no. We went on, in spite of the fact that I felt somewhat tearful, to Tamar’s Bridge. Named after Queen Tamar (often called King Tamar, in recognition of her great power … sigh), built over the Tedzami Gorge and constructed in the 12th century, this bridge is Georgia’s most spectacular example of stone arch construction. Again – I’ll let the photos speak:
Then we finally started back, which for some bizarre reason was nowhere near as bad as the hike there, and then on to, yes, at last, it’s almost sunset, lunch! And, as always … wine. Salad (tomato/cucumber/basil). Khatchapuri. Mtsvadi (barbecued pork, prepared by our drivers over an open fire), toni puri (bread cooked in a stone oven). More, but I can’t remember … just … a lot. Singing contests between the women and the men. Many, many toasts. Dancing. Suffice it to say I got home way after dark, with aching muscles, a sunburn, a very full stomach and a similarly full heart.
Those are my two expeditions. Next post … Paris. A very different experience. Stay tuned!