Monday, June 1, 2015

First Week in Georgia/ Going Home to Kazbegi

My first post from Tbilisi shares my experience coming into the country, my apartment, and my neighbors. 
I don't start work until tomorrow (Memorial Day, actually), so I basically had a free week. There are so many places I want to travel, and I'm here for such a short time, that I couldn't waste the opportunity. So, I went north to Kazbegi to visit some friends. When I was in Georgia with my friend Kaley last April, we stayed at a guesthouse (basically just a family with extra rooms in their house) run by an amazing family who I kept in touch with over Facebook. I wrote about that wonderful experience here.  
Although through Facebook messages the family seemed excited to see me, I was very nervous. 
  • would they really remember me?
  • would it be (bad) different without Kaley?
  • would the novelty of being new and American have worn off?
  • would my fantasies of just hanging out and being with these amazing people give way to being treated just like a regular tourist passing through?
It turns out my fears were unfounded. 
I was greeted off the marshrutka by a smiling Dato, the oldest son, and swept into a car where I realized that in fact I was the one who forgot people! Little cousin/neighbor Sopo (she's not that little, 8th grade) and I rekindled our friendship and quickly became BFFs. Tamazi, uncle and all around fun guy, was driving the car and he remembered meeting me and Kaley at the marshrutka the year before! 
Marshrutka to Kazbegi
They took SUCH good care of me. Always delicious food (80% bread and cheese, but perfect for a few days), chai, and great company and conversation. 

Day 1: arrived at night, Nata fed me dinner, and turned in fairly early

Day 2: Mito (dad) came back from getting the car repaired in Tbilisi, and it was a religious holiday, so the kids didn't have school. Mito instructed Sopo and I to prepare a little supra table, so I played the role of good Georgian housewife and chopped up vegetables, set out snack foods, and set up the table. People came and went, but there were usually about 6 or 7 of us gathered around the table, throwing back shots of homemade gold-colored wine and chatting in Georgian, Russian, and English. Later that night, a bunch of the kids and I went to the little local church in the foothills, Ilya, on horseback. On the way home, we came across another little party in the woods, where they shared their "bear meat" (I'm 50/50 as to whether it was actually bear) and more wine and I gave a (admittedly quite poor) toast from horseback, and everyone wanted to take a picture with me and ask about America- so it was my little celebrity moment   ;)
me at Gveleti waterfall
Mito on the way to Gveleti waterfall

Day 3: In the morning, I'm sitting outside drinking tea with Mito and two other neighbors. They're chatting in Georgian and suddenly Mito looks at me, "put on your shoes, let's go"...apparently some plans were made in Georgian and not shared with me! But I ran in and grabbed my shoes, and it turned out we went to the Gveleti waterfall! A really beautiful setting, delicious  ice cold glacier water, and a short, easy hike. Mito also drove me to the border with North Ossetia (Russia) so I could see it. We saw the border, the Dariali Gorge (really important trans-Caucasian transportation route where there was a bad landslide last year), and the big castle-like new monastery. When we got back, I laid in the yard for about two hours listening to music and drinking limonad while Dato washed the car. Later, the young men decided to do some horse racing and were riding these beautiful horses bareback through the narrow streets. 15 year old Shalva led the pack, taming a really wild mare and whooping and shouting as he passed our little cluster of spectators, hooves pounding on the dirt. I have a video- I'll upload it here if I can figure out how. That evening, Dato and I went to the neighboring village of Sno, where we climbed up the 16th century Sno Fortress!
sketchy-ass ladder/stairs inside
the fortress

Church at the Museum

Day 4:  In the morning I went to the town museum where I hatched my brilliant plan to translate everything to English (still waiting on a reply from the museum). Sopo and I walked out to the edge of town where there is a big field for cows to graze and we picked wildflowers and played with a frog. Then we came back to town and bought 6 ice creams for 3 lari (about a dollar!), and shared with everyone and everyone was very happy. We just chatted and relaxed- all I ate literally all day was dairy and bread. 

Day 5: Cold and rainy, I left Kazbegi to head back to Tblisi, which felt sadder and lonelier than ever.