Our journey finally brought us to the bridge. We had crossed rivers, ridden dumptrucks, sank in mud, and left our hotel (all in reverse order, of course). Around one final bend we saw some sort of encampment. I use the word encampment in order to channel the mysterious, mercenary air of the place. Nicole took the moment to ask us all if we’d seen the movie “Hostel,” you know, the one where a bunch of Americans get brutally murdered in a former-Soviet bloc country. Nice. Thanks Nicole.
The bridge itself was a sturdy suspension bridge with a water pipe underneath. It spanned the meeting of two small mountain rivers and led toward a path to the glacier. In an act of dare-devilry that would cause Nino to mildly scold, Ian felt like jumping around on the bridge:
As soon as we had crossed the bridge we encountered two men in camouflage with enormous Georgian shepherds. They were standing amongst some felled trees, looking menacing. After a brief “Gamarjobat” we decided to carry on without lingering in their presence.
Continuing to show off his badassery (and his legs), Ian decided that he was just too cool to wear pants in the woods in Georgia.
I’m referring to Yev.
We hiked along the trail, presumably now we had hit the long part of the journey. After spending half the day just following the road, I somehow doubted the remainder of the path to the glacier could be longer. It was certainly more circuitous and woodsy, which I rather liked. It reminded me a good deal of hiking through Maine!
Max, Marissa, and I fell behind a bit, leading to speculation that we would be picked off one-by-one by the fearsome camo-clad Georgians we had left behind at the bridge. It would at least make for an interesting story! Probably a good film too. Well, at least a profitable one. I don’t know if I could ever consider such films “good”.
Max saw a felled pine and wanted to climb it. Feeling intrepid, he hopped up, but slid down. Instead of mounting that tree, he just struck an awe-inspiring pose near the bottom.
Onward we hiked, stopping infrequently as per Pauli’s (incorrect) advice. In one clearing we left behind some extra bags and water bottles. We’d seen no one but sketchy soldier types. Personally, I trust those guys not to steal my water bottle.
In this last great clearing, I decided to grant Pauli a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I would provide him with several potential profile photos for his application to become a National Geographic Photographer. We wanted to catch the many complex moods of a field journalist so we took several different photos.
After the clearing we found ourselves crossing a long stretch of various-sized rocks. I’m not sure whether it’s harder to walk on small rocks or large rocks. All I know is that neither was terribly pleasant.
With the glacier almost in view, we couldn’t let Cristen and Pauli’s worrying about the sun potentially setting stop us from completing the trip!
Finally we cleared the trees and faced the glacier in its full glory.
We hiked a bit closer before stopping to get a lovely photo of all the girls beneath the glacier. But wait! Where did Marissa go?
Ian and I neared the glacier and encountered four young women from Israel who were just heading back from the icewall. They joked with us about having to climb the crag to get to the ice but that it would be tricky due to the sliding rocks. Ian and I took them very seriously and contemplated our ascent of the sloped ground when we realized that the glacier itself was the scrambly ground in question. We could just walk right up to the sucker! Also, an aside, the girls told Ian he looked like he was 16.
The Israeli girls also told us that they were taking pictures by the hole (Not something you hear every day!) but they left because rocks were falling on them. Seems pretty reasonable. We went up to the hole and started taking our own photos. Due to an ill-conceived plan to cross the river (sound familiar?) I handed my camera to Pauli and did not get any photos of the hole up close.
Stephanie and Nicole were standing on a broken-off chunk of ice next to the hole taking photos when I got up from my crouched position and looked up. I had been peering into the hole, marveling at the icy blue underbelly of the glacier. I glanced up as Stephanie crouched down to snap a photo. I saw a rock about the size of a large toaster tumbling down the face of the glacier and heading right for her!
I shouted, “Look out, look out, look out!”–surely the most helpful and instructive exclamation possible. The rock flew right past Stephanie’s face as Nicole bolted with heretofore unseen speed. Not to say I doubt Nicole’s capabilities, I’d just never seen her run so fast!
The rock bounced off the ice block a few feet from Stephanie’s feet and ricocheted at an angle only slightly towards me. We’d had enough glacial adventures for one day. We decided it was time to have a picnic.
On the walk back to Mestia we ran out of water pretty quickly. We also didn’t have a dump truck to carry us most of the way. Unfortunately the trucks heading towards Mestia were all loaded up with rubble and stones and would certainly not be able to carry us. Perhaps we could commandeer a whole fleet of them to take us back in shifts?
We arrived at the quarry after a long hike through the woods, over the river, and past grandmother’s house (the encampment!) and stood waiting as a truck pulled away from the work zone. Another pair of Israeli tourists (apparently Georgia is a very popular destination for Israelis) had been following slightly behind us the whole walk away from the glacier and as we set our sights on the first departing dumptruck, they hopped in the cab. Bastards!
Oh well, we had feet. Soon Pauli, Maxi and I offered to refill people’s water bottles in the river. We collected the bottles from the girls and headed down to fill them. I had my fist deep in the glacial water, filling a large bottle as much as possible when I heard a suspicious sound behind me.
I looked up towards the road and I saw all five girls piling in to a dump truck, leaving us with their now full (and heavy!) water bottles. Damn. I guess us guys will walk from here. That is, until a second (third?) truck pulls up with room for three more. Maxi, Yev, and Ian hop in, leaving Pauli and I to fend for ourselves. At least we had water!
It looked like it might be a while until the next dumptruck showed up, so Pauli and I resigned ourselves to walking the rest of the way back. After all, we were almost to the airport again and it was only another thirty minutes beyond that. We did encounter an awesome Soviet-era truck that refused us a ride, but it still looked pretty sweet:
Finally, as we near the airport we see a pleasant sight driving towards us. Our marshrutka! Yev had been on the phone with the hired marshrutka driver earlier in the afternoon and had tried to tell him to come get us. It had been unclear how successful he had been until now.
The marshrutka stopped and the driver stumbled out, heading for an outhouse. He was trashed. All efforts to talk him out of the driver’s seat failed, however, and he told Stephanie, “No! I am the driver. You cannot handle these roads. I can.” And so, in his drunken state, the driver did, in fact, return us safely to our hotel.
Back home, we all cleaned up a bit and a few people took naps. Marissa and Cristen recruited me into helping them make dinner. I was more than happy to lend a hand as I wanted to contribute. They prepared some veggies while I cut onions and garlic. The kitchen in our hotel (hotel may very well be somewhat of a misnomer in this case. Sorry!) was poorly lit but decently equipped.
As I peeled and cut the onions I got the feeling that the kitchenfolk were laughing at me. They must’ve seen my amateurish cutting skills and confirmed to themselves that men cannot cook. The head chef(?), on the other hand, asked me in Russian “Where did you study cooking? At the institute? You cut very well! Maybe you can have a job here!” I think he was being more sincere. Maybe I’m just clutching at straws….
Marissa and I put our pasta with veggies dish on the stovetop to reheat after the headchef ran it under cold water to cool off our noodles. Thanks, buddy. That’s some institute you went to. The stove was super cool, though, and Marissa was really stoked about using it! (Did you guys catch that pun?)
We brought our dish out to the dining table and introduced it to everyone with a very poetic line from Marissa, “We call it ‘The Nino,’ because if it weren’t for Nino we wouldn’t all be here together. So eat up, y’all!”
I may or may not have accidentally ruined the tone set by Marissa with a follow up statement, “And if you like onions and garlic, then you’re welcome. I totally cut those.”
With dinner behind us, Ian and Pauli volunteered to do the dishes. It took them literally five seconds. I still cannot fathom how they did it that fast! (Besides, of course, being men and just handing the dishes to the kitchen women.) The time had come to play a round of “The Worst Case Scenario Boardgame” and it was Patronis vs. Gogos.