Good Times with Good People on Bad Roads

I’ve safely returned from Svaneti, despite many Georgians’ belief that it’s a dangerous, terrifying place.  Let me open by sharing yet another photo of my host brother Luka, the most random and hilarious ten year-old I know:


Luka stole my Russian fur hat as I was packing for Svaneti and ran away with it only to come back in a tracksuit, beard and sunglasses and crouch outside my door until I noticed.


As I mentioned previously, it was a hard road to Zugdidi, but I made it.  Thank goodness I decided to leave the night before rather than the day of–That would have been cutting it close.

After getting trapped in Marissa’s apartment all day (everyone left and took all the keys.  Since I could not lock the door, I could not leave), which wasn’t terrible, I met up with Marissa and Stephanie Bradley and we walked over to the Resource Center to meet the others.  Pauli, Ian, Maxi, Cristen, Alyssa, and Nicole were waiting for us at the flag fountain and we met Yevgeny for the first time at the Resource Center.  He’s from the third group and decided to tag along.  Excellent choice, Yev!  You picked a good group to join!

We had decided to hire a private marshrutka for the weekend to take us to and around Mestia, the capital of Svaneti.  For an idea of where we went, I will now provide you with a handy dandy map!


Okay, not sure how clear this will be until after it's posted. Tbilisi is labeled pretty obviously. Follow the highways west towards the Black Sea but fork upwards before reaching Poti. Look carefully and you'll find Zugdidi! Now, arching north east away from Zugdidi is a small road that leads basically to Russia. At the end of that road is a town called Mestia. That's where we went.


Okay, wow.  That turned out huge.  You shouldn’t have any troubles finding Mestia.

So we met our driver and he loaded up our bags into the trunk of the marshrutka.  Off we went, towards the mountain!  But not before we stopped at the drivers house to pick up some necessities: Mixed tapes, Tcha Tcha, and a hammock.  This guy is going to have an awesome time in Svaneti!


These are the mountains of Svaneti/Abkhazia that we are driving towards. We already knew it was going to be a sweet trip.


Knowing that we were in for a long ride, Maxi had had the delightful foresight to grab a few jugs of wine.  What is a jug of wine?  Is that like a bottle of wine?  Yes, yes it is.  But six times bigger.  For a few reference photos, please continue reading!


Ian was the first to crack that bottle. I always knew he was a good man. Also, please note the old woman outside. Beautiful.



Not to be outdone, Pauli intercepted the bottle on its way to the front of the van. Old Lady still outside.



Lovely Nicole proving she's capable of chugging wine from a jug. I expected nothing less.



This is by far my favorite of the Wine Chugging batch of photos. As Cristen closes her eyes and enjoys the delicious jugwine, Marissa looks on with that "Awwww yeah!" look in her eyes. But the real clincher has got to be Yev. He was smiling for the camera but broke his smile the second the photo took. The perfect combination of faces is what makes THIS my favorite photo.


Drinking wine from a wide-mouthed jug on a bumpy marshrutka is really hard!  Ian and Yev designed a perfect solution by knifing a hole into the lid of the jug and one into the side, just below the neck, for an airhole.  Now we could drink do our hearts’ content without sloshing wine all over ourselves.  If only we’d found out sooner!  We could’ve saved a few shirts.  Overall, this was a dangerous innovation, I found.  By sitting in the middle, the wine passed by on its way to the front AND to the back.  I may or may not have drank it in both directions.  I will spare you the details save one, “Ian, would you hold my glasses for a moment?  I think I am going to throw up out the window.”

Shortly after we had embarked upon the journey, our driver took us slightly out of the way to do some sight seeing.  He took us to a dam.

This is probably where the first level/scene (Some people don't play videogames) of GoldenEye takes place. I wonder how frequently I can mention GoldenEye in context-appropriate situations on this blog....

We got out and walked around, under the careful eye of the dam guards.  From the dam viewing platform we could take nice photos, like the one above, and we could even display our dam Georgian patriotism!

The two biggest Georgian nationalists I know.

And because no trip to the dam would be complete without a healthy dose of “cute,” here’s a picture of a dam puppy.

Damn, that's one cute street puppy! How'd he get all the way up here?

Back on the road, we left civilization further and further behind.  For a long while only the omnipresent telephone wires bouncing through the valleys alongside us reminded us that we were going somewhere.  And that somewhere probably had telephones.

How do they get those telephone poles there? Who the heck strings the wires? These are the things I wonder about.

The mountains kept teasing us by dashing in and out of view.  Since we drove through valleys and along cliffs, we often could not tell what lay ahead, behind, or beside us.  The only clue was the driver’s helpful anecdotes (Translations courtesy of Yevgeny who, as a native of Belarus, can better provide such services than I), “A Ukrainian died here.  He tried to raft the river and died,” “Here is where a marshrutka driver fell asleep (snoring sound effects) and killed three people when he drove off a cliff,” “A Russian died here,” and so on and so forth.

They may have only flirted with us, but man, when we could see the mountains it was stunning.

After a few hours of driving, and lots o’ jugwine, the driver stopped to take us sight seeing again.  He wanted to show us a bridge.  How many of you have seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? (Fun fact, because of this movie the PG-13 rating was created!  Three cheers for fictionalized violence against children!)  If you haven’t, go see it now.  Not because it’s great–on the contrary, it’s the worst Indiana Jones movie (An admittedly harsh standard), but it will be relevant for this and a future post.  The climax of the film takes place on a rope bridge precariously suspended over an enormous chasm with alligators at the bottom.  Try to spot the differences between the following two photos:

Yeah, they're basically the same photo. I know.

Also, I just want to give a shout out to my buddy Owen who loves to pee off things.  I peed off this bridge in your honor.  I knew you would want me to.  Mom, if you print this for Nana, please feel free to excise those last three sentences.  Or not.  I’m not ashamed.

The road was an arduous one and full of potholes.  I could easily understand why so many Ukrainians had died on the road–it was windy and had sheer cliffs all around.  Occasionally there would be barriers on particularly dangerous curves (added post facto?  Probably.), but they weren’t very comforting.

"Max, you are looking very intrepid today." is something I might say to describe this photo.

Many pee breaks, one sunset, and one puke-out-the-window later we finally arrived in the quiet mountainside town of Mestia.  There are so many more things to say about Mestia, but for now I will leave you with a photographic cliffhanger to sate you.  (I wonder who I think of when I use “you”?)

Now THAT's what I'm talking about.
I really, really liked the towers in Mestia. I'll give you a rundown of their history some other time when I tell you about how we climbed one! Yeah, baby!

I feel weird about ending a post with the words, “Yeah, baby!” so I won’t.

6 thoughts on “Good Times with Good People on Bad Roads

  1. Ok, this time I have to comment before finishing to read. The only difference between the brigde photos that I can see is, that in the second photo Indiana Jones got the camera and took the picture.

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