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!

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