After 3-1/2 years, my grown son finally visited me in Georgia. We had really good visits before that, in Vietnam and back home in the U.S., but he had never come here. I looked forward to it all summer long, and when he got here, the 2 weeks flew by so quickly it was unbelievable. Mainly I was looking forward to sharing the culture I have become so immersed in, and the people I have become close to. I think I succeeded more on the latter than the former, just because of time constraints, but it was very satisfying.
Almost everywhere we went I had been before, and posted about on this blog, so I will resist the temptation to write a travelogue here. Instead, I will write about only one place, the place I’d never been, which is Svaneti. And I will remember some highlights and interesting things about the trip that will stay with me.
So, first, Svaneti. This was our last big trip – after that, we were in Tbilisi for a few days, and then off he went back home. We flew, reducing a minimum 10-hour drive to 55 minutes. Happily the weather was great, which is definitely not always the case. Flights are often cancelled at the last minute due to clouds or wind, but we had a carefree few days weather-wise. Unlike right now, with the rain pouring down outside, but that’s another topic. Tickets from Vanilla Sky were ridiculously difficult to get – their website is so dysfunctional as to be useless; I had to go to their offices, and even then, their Facebook map locates it at the complete other end of the avenue, resulting in a set of circular taxi rides, but at the end of the day, I got it done, and off we went.
Flying over green and gold mountains, striped with ice, I was surprised to see so many villages below – much more populated than I had imagined. We landed in Mestia, the main town in the region, and easily found a friendly cab driver to take us to our homestay, which had been highly recommended to me by a Georgian friend. Indeed, it was very nice, with friendly owners and good food. The first day we explored the town and had dinner with a Peace Corps friend, Ryan, who has extended for a fourth year – the only time that’s happened in the history of Peace Corps Georgia. We walked around a graveyard, explored an old church, had lunch at a small local cafe on a balcony overlooking a gorgeous gorge – I could have sat there all day. Here’s a few shots:
Our evening meal with Ryan was a great – we ate kubdari, which is the Svaneti-style khachapuri – meat pie with cheese. What more could you ask. A colleague of his was singing that evening, and we were regaled with Russian and Georgian traditional and pop songs – he had a very nice voice. When we were ready to go home, though, we ran into a bit of a problem – no taxis, at all. Ryan found out that we had to just ask people if they were willing to take us – our homestay said absolutely no more than 5 lari, but we ended up spending 8, because … that was the only guy who would take us. I was a little mad, but as I recently learned to say, ra azri akvs, which I cannot translate exactly, but am told roughly means – whatever, or, what is the point. Exactly.
The next day, the owner of the homestay took us on the long drive (only about 45 km, but oy, what a road – 2-1/2 hours to drive) to Ushguli, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the highest continuously inhabited village in all of Europe – if you count Georgia as Europe, a subject which excites a lot of argument but I’m not going to bother here. Ushguli is nearly 7,000 feet above sea level and consists of 4 separate villages spread out below a gigantic glacier, Shkhara, that looms above everything. We explored the lowest village, where sadly the museum was closed, but then up to a fantastic viewing point for the glacier, and then a beautiful old monastery, called Lamaria. Women are barred from entering the ancient church, but since it was locked and no one could get in anyway, I couldn’t get too worked up about it. Then, on to lunch, which was an extraordinary experience. I would say it was one of the best meals I have ever had, seriously. We ate at a family’s home, in the yard, at a picnic table. We had kubdari, we had chvistari (cornbread with cheese), matsoni (yogurt), khacho (farmer’s cheese), sulguni (a common type of cheese), fresh-picked tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce – by which I mean, picked in front of our eyes – and homemade amber wine. And a few other things. Everything was absolutely fresh, homemade and so delicious I almost cried. We sat there, overlooking the valley, enjoying each other’s company, the food and the view, and I felt very, very lucky.
Other things I will always remember about this trip, mostly things I found out about Eli and how he interacted with my adopted home, its food and customs:
- He loved Georgian food, especially lobio – beans in a clay pot.
- He kept up with the toasting admirably at my family supra in Gori, drinking down glass after glass of white homemade wine and delighting Beso no end.
- He made a very touching toast at the next day’s picnic in Ateni, saying that now he knows his mom is with people who love her and it brings him happiness. That was really sweet.
- He was very patient with my physical, post-operative limitations.
- We should never, ever share a room again, because he is a very light sleeper, and I apparently snore. It caused some friction.
- Interestingly, he said his favorite spot was Tbilisi. That was unexpected.
- He really knows how to use a camera and taught me a lot.
- He learned quite a few Georgian words, and used them.
- As with Vietnam, we found we had a lot of similar interests. I think had he been alone, he would have hiked and camped a lot more, though.
- He likes naming and examining plants to a degree I’ve never seen before. He brought a special tool he hung around his neck to magnify plants, and examined them endlessly. He delivered lectures. He was really excited about the flora. He’s an alien to me in this regard.
So, to sum up, it was a really great visit. I was concerned about my back, but though it did impose some limitations, we were able to do pretty much everything. After 2 weeks of 24/7, we got on each other’s nerves a little bit at the very end, but overall we traveled well together and learned a lot about what would make it even better next time. I don’t actually know if there will be a next time, but I hope so! Here are a few more random photos to give a feel for the whole trip.
And last but not least, as always – flowers.