Georgia Year Four: Oh the People You’ll Meet

Everyone in Georgia is friendly.  Really, just about everyone!  Georgians’ famous reputation for hospitality is well-deserved and I’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of it a lot lately.

A few weeks ago, my mom came to visit Georgia for Easter!  We had big plans to see the country and set out for Kutaisi early one morning.  Though the marshrutka featured some grumpy ladies who wouldn’t let us open any windows, Kutaisi itself did not disappoint when it came to friendly folks!

We started walking toward the center of town but it was far too hot.  We stopped for water and found a taxi sitting in the shop’s parking lot, so we hopped in.  This is where we met Tengiz the taxi driver.

Tengiz had several gold teeth and an equally shiny disposition.  He agreed to drive us around and find us a hotel (Which he did, in spades) and then take us to Prometheus Caves for a “discounted price”.  Whether or not he actually discounted the price, he took us by his favorite bakery and the new Parliament building, just for kicks!

He was extremely chatty and wanted to tell us all about his life and ask all about ours.  He could not believe that mom was XX years old–he was the same age!  And Mom looks so young he thought she was just friends with me and Jenni.  Needless to say, Mom was pleased.

Jenni, Mom, and Tengiz at the garden at Prometheus Caves. Mom and Tengiz are the same age!! Jenni is considerably younger.

A few days later, Mom and I visited Gori for a trip to the Stalin Museum.  As we scampered through the rain at the end of our tour, searching for marshrutkas, we ducked into a random shoe shop to verify our directions.  This is where we met Lia and her friend.

The two ladies at the shopped took one look at waterlogged us and offered us a seat.  They said that they would do us one better than a marshrutka as they knew a guy who was driving to Tbilisi in a private car and they’d just give him a call.  Soon after, they offered us Easter eggs and bread…and apples…and walnuts.  They were chatting up a storm and wouldn’t let us refuse them anything.

Soon, I heard Lia ask her friend if she could bring “maybe just one glass?”  “One glass of what??” I asked, fearing the worst but hoping for wine.

Sure enough, out came one glass each of this clear greenish-yellow liquid.  Mom sniffed it and recoiled.  It was chacha.  “Mom, you don’t have to drink that if you don’t want to!”  “I know.  But if I drink it I have to drink the whole thing down, right?”  “Well, that’s the expectation, but you don’t have to–”  “Then, cheers!”  And that’s when mom and I did shots of chacha together in Gori!

Mom invited the ladies to America and so, they naturally gave mom all of their passport information.  What else?

More recently, I’ve been visited by Pauli!  Hooray!  We spent the past weekend in Ratcha, visiting it for the first time and loving the heck out of it.  We basically planned nothing and everything worked out.  The first step was to get to Zestaphoni/Kutaisi to search out marshrutkas to Oni, a small town in the far north of Georgia.  We made it to Zestaphoni, but all the marshrutkas for the day had gone already.  Oops!  Serves us right for planning nothing!

We found ourselves in Kutaisi wandering the hillside looking for a homestay.  No sooner had we found one than we met our new best friend (who loves us dearly) who owned Hostel “Chelo”.  We don’t remember his name, so we’ll call him Chelo.

Chelo gave us a nice room for a nice price and we ventured down into the town for the evening.  We had some good food and found an awesome jazz cafe that was really atmospheric and had huuuge wine glasses.

This is Pauli's normal-sized hand, for comparison.

This is Pauli’s normal-sized hand, for comparison.

Some cool dudes playing some cool songs!

Some cool dudes playing some cool songs!

When we returned to Hostel Chelo we found Chelo snoozing on the couch outside our room.  He had waited for us to come home so he could tell us his exciting and amazing plan.

Chelo’s Plan:

So, near here is a place that no one knows about but that everyone must see if they are in Georgia.  You can go to this spot high in the mountains and see all the way to Batumi!  Also, from this spot you can see seven or eight pyramids.  Some of them are fallen over and others are still standing.  You climb to the top and jump off!  You wear this apparat and fly like a bird for about 30 or 80 kilometers!  The apparat doesn't need a moto--okay, maybe it does need a motor.  I can't remember.

So, near here is a place that no one knows about but that everyone must see if they are in Georgia. You can go to this spot high in the mountains and see all the way to Batumi! Also, from this spot you can see seven or eight pyramids. Some of them are fallen over and others are still standing. You climb to the top and jump off! You wear this apparat and fly like a bird for about 30 or 80 kilometers! The apparat doesn’t need a moto–okay, maybe it does need a motor. I can’t remember.

Chelo thought it was the best plan ever.  We disagreed.

Later, in Ratcha, we had an excellent day chasing waterfalls with some new friends (Lithuanians, a Georgian, and a Brit).  We had parked our car in this dude’s yard when we realized it wouldn’t go any further along the path without inviting disaster.  Upon returning to the car, he invited us in for some mtsvade and wine.  He and his buddies were up from Tbilisi for the long weekend and were looking to host a suphra.  We were happy to oblige!

A full table in the village of Tskhmori!

A full table in the village of Tskhmori!

Pauli, Tatiana, Scott and I sat down for a quick bite, which soon turned into an epic 4ish hour feast.  Really, there’s very little surprising about that statement.  Nika, the host whose house we had invaded, was Tamada and was extremely impressed with my Georgian and with Pauli’s technique.  He declared us honorary Georgians and even began referring to me as “Georgian-American”.

Lado, Nika--the host and tamada--and me!

Lado, Nika–the host and tamada–and me!

Toast after toast after toast of delicious saperavi wine (straight from Kakheti) led us down a garden path of friendship that had us all embracing by the end of the night.

Giga, Lado, Nika, Scott, Me, and Pauli!

Giga, Lado, Nika, Scott, Me, and Pauli!

Nika and I even did a Vakhtanguri toast!  I was given the honor of delivering the final response toast, which was much delayed by Nika's protests of "No, you must listen to two more of mine, then give yours!"

Nika and I even did a Vakhtanguri toast! I was given the honor of delivering the final response toast, which was much delayed by Nika’s protests of “No, you must listen to two more of mine, then give yours!”

This is another Tengiz.  He is Nika's neighbor and was invited over to play the Panduri for us.  He really didn't want to, though.  He just wanted to eat and drink but all these drunk people kept shoving the panduri into his hands.  In an act of protest, he croaked our an off-key tune to appease us all and went back to his food.  He did enjoy Pauli and my company, though!

This is another Tengiz. He is Nika’s neighbor and was invited over to play the Panduri for us. He really didn’t want to, though. He just wanted to eat and drink but all these drunk people kept shoving the panduri into his hands. In an act of protest, he croaked our an off-key tune to appease us all and went back to his food. He did enjoy Pauli and my company, though!

As we left the house, Tatiana even got into some deep conversation with some of the late-arriving neighbors over the mtsvade fire embers.

As we left the house, Tatiana even got into some deep conversation with some of the late-arriving neighbors over the mtsvade fire embers.

We finally managed to pry ourselves from the clutches of generous Nika and his friends/neighbors, but first we agreed to bring a few of them down the mountain.  When we arrived at the midway destination point, everyone hopped out and ran into another crowd of new best friends.

This man is Nika's neighbor who he referred to as "The Armenian."  I'm not sure if that's because he's Armenian or because he piped up to include Armenia in a toast of goodwill at the suphra.

This man is Nika’s neighbor who he referred to as “The Armenian.” I’m not sure if that’s because he’s Armenian or because he piped up to include Armenia in a toast of goodwill at the suphra.

As we tried to drop off Nika and "The Armenian" we found ourselves caught up in a series of loving photos with a lot of villagers we didn't know.  The kneeling man giving a thumbs up is some sort of throat cancer survivor.  He sowed us the large hole in his throat and indicated that he could not speak.  Nonetheless, his demeanor wasn't at all affected and he loved taking photos with us!

As we tried to drop off Nika and “The Armenian” we found ourselves caught up in a series of loving photos with a lot of villagers we didn’t know. The kneeling man giving a thumbs up is some sort of throat cancer survivor. He sowed us the large hole in his throat and indicated that he could not speak. Nonetheless, his demeanor wasn’t at all affected and he loved taking photos with us!

To be honest, I don't really remember who these ladies are, but that's Nika, Scott, Pauli, and Tatiana along the back row with the friendly cancer survivor kneeling again.

To be honest, I don’t really remember who these ladies are, but that’s Nika, Scott, Pauli, and Tatiana along the back row with the friendly cancer survivor kneeling again.

Finally, as we tried to get back in Scott's car and drive back to Oni, we were confronted and mock-attacked with a spear!

Finally, as we tried to get back in Scott’s car and drive back to Oni, we were confronted and mock-attacked with a spear!

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that everywhere you go in Georgia you meet the friendliest people!  They come from all walks of life and are always willing to share everything they have with you.  It’s a wonderful, heart-warming situation and it’s one of the main reasons I love Georgia!

Posted in Adventures in Georgia, Georgia Year Four | Leave a comment

Georgia Year Four: Scrub A-Dub Dub!

Bathing in Public

You know, I can’t recall if I’ve written about my trips to the bathhouse before.  So, let’s throw caution to the wind and write about them—maybe again!

*Warning, this post might get a little on the TMI side of things!*

When I first came to Georgia four years ago, I had a litany of things to do.  I was with my buddy Jay; brave friend that he is, he agreed to accompany me on my Caucasian jaunt.  Near the top of the Tbilisi list was a visit to the famous sulfur baths.  Pushkin and Alexandre Dumas lauded them and their curative and restorative properties are renowned!  Besides, a little price checking led us to the realization that they are wonderfully inexpensive!

We showed up at the bathhouse and asked for details on what to do and how we should proceed.  We decided to rent a private room and hire the guy for the scrub and massage.  It was an excellent decision.  The first part, though, was the awkward part.  Jay and I are good friends, but we had never been naked together.  We found ourselves in the little foyer of our bathroom, clutching giant linen sheets and sitting on a leather couch thinking, “So, now what?”  Only thing to do was to get naked and hop in the tub.  So we did.

It wasn’t really that awkward, actually.  You just chill in a way-too-hot marble tub of sulfurous water until the old man shows up.  Then he lays you on a slab of marble and works you over with a rough mitt and then follows the scrub up with the massage.  It’s incredibly painful, but relaxing.  The worst part is watching rolls of dirt and dead skin slough off as little gray worms.  You don’t know how truly dirty you are until you’ve had an old Georgian man scrub you down.

Exhausted, we ate a giant khatchapuri afterwards and promised ourselves we’d come back the next weekend.  Which we did.

A year later, as a TLG volunteer, I led a self-excursion to the baths with some friends!  Again we rented private rooms, split along gender lines.  Several times that year friends and I returned to the baths to get revitalized and invigorated.  With smooth, smooth skin and bruised ribs, we always chased the bath with a nice adjaruli khatchapuri.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

More recently, when I’ve gone to the baths I haven’t wanted to pony up for the private room.  Usually I am alone or visiting the baths with a group of women.  Take last September, for example!  Jenni, Morgan, and I tried to go to the baths.  I had no problem.  Paid my 3 lari entrance fee and my 20 for the scrub and massage, and had a splendid old time (even if they did trick me into having tea for a fee!).  Jenni and Morgan, on the other hand, discovered that there isn’t really a public bath for the women.  Just public showers with a bunch of naked ladies and no scrubs or massages to be had.  They weren’t ready to shell out 50 lari for a room, so they waited outside.  A bust!

Recently, though, we had more success at the baths.  My mom came to visit me in Georgia (More on that soon) and told me she really wanted to try out the baths.  She was really nervous about it and I was a bit apprehensive myself.  After all, I didn’t think she’d want to pay for a private room by herself and I knew from September that the public one was no good for ladies.  Luckily, Tamuna was on hand and desperately wanted to go as well.  So we brought her along!

This time, there wasn’t any awkwardness for me.  I was just chilling by myself with a bunch of old naked dudes who are shaving, shampooing, etc.  Lots of people come to the baths just to bathe.  There was a Japanese tourist/businessman who was having a hard time handling the temperature in there and almost fainted, but nothing else really going on.  It took a long time for my scrubber to show up though.

When he finally did, we went through the same old rigmarole:  Where are you from?  What do you do?  How do you like Georgia?  What’s your favorite food?  Do you want a Georgian wife?

This time, though, the questions took a sudden departure as the masseur remarked, “America, huh?  New York?”  “No.  Boston.”  He paused thoughtfully, “There’s a lot of Jews in America, right?”  “Yeah, sure, I guess.  But I’m not Jewish.”  He paused his scrubbing and glanced down at me, raising an eyebrow.  He didn’t believe me.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Meanwhile, Mom and Tamuna were bonding over the craziness of sharing a bath and then having a large topless Georgian lady come and give them full-body massages.  Not your everyday experience, for sure!  Well, not for most of us, anyway.

Massages finished, we reunited for a delicious adjaruli khatchapuri and khinkali and swapped stories of our funny bathtimes.  Mom was relieved to have Tamuna there to translate, though most of the masseuse’s communiques in the form of grunts and hand gestures.  So next time you’re in Tbilisi feeling dirty and looking for something to do, head over to the bathhouse.  It really is quite an unforgettable adventure!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment