Back in Mestia…
After the trail ride (see previous post), and a bit of recovery time, we hooked up with Renata for some more ambling around town. There are a couple of mineral water springs in town, and we followed some locals who were going to collect water. One of the springs came up actually in the river bed, so at some point when the flow was low, a wall had been built so that the spring would be accessible all year. It was startlingly COLD down there in the bottom of the gorge, next tot he rushing river.
I think I mentioned before how the rivers in the mountains are like tigers – they will eat you if you aren’t careful, and they roar. The three of us spent a while coming up with schemes for opening a adventure tourism scheme that would send you down the river in a Zorb, including plans for getting you out (or not) when you got stuck in one of the many steep narrow gorges.
Here are the awesome Renata, our host Laura (also awesome), and me, on the front porch of Laura’s house. In addition to running the guest house, Laura is an anaesthesiologist, sold the tickets for the marshrutka (the local minibus), and was also organizing meals and lodging for the guys in her husband’s work crew, who were putting in a new water main while we were there.
This is the view from their front porch looking out toward town. The house you can see on the other side of the front garden is where the cow that produced our breakfast yogurt lived. In the courtyard, I mean. We saw Laura helping the old lady milk it one evening. Renata related an interesting conversation with one of the builders. She had remarked on how beautiful the view was & one of the men replied that it was, but that it made them sad, because Russia owned those mountains now.
The next day, we toured Mestia some more.
You’ll recall that the livestock is freerange…
Except this bullock team, taking a break from whatever it was they were doing — probably hauling firewood.
One of the houses, including its tower, is open as a sort of family museum. Basically, this is the family’s old house, more or less unchanged since the 14th century. The woman whose family owns the house pointed out the parts that had been updated — the ironwork around the hearth, for instance, was relatively new. It was really cool — the little corridor of pens along one wall were for the sheep and goats, with a little arch for each one to stick its head through to get fodder. The bigger arches were for the cattle. Though the animals were all pastured outside during the summer, in the winter, they lived in the big common room with rest of the family, where everyone could benefit from each other’s heat.
I got the impression that it was mostly used for family gatherings now, and of course showing off to tourists. The view from the tower was pretty cool, too.
Our Russian was not great, and Laura & Jia’s English was not great, but we did our best, and overall it was a really terrific experience. One evening we all piled into the minivan we’d taken to Ushguli, and we drove up to one of the ski lifts at the valley rim. From there we could see the lights of the valley spread out below us, each of the medieval towers lit up by its own soft yellow light. Really beautiful. THey told us how someone had put up some money to have an international specialist come in and design new lighting for them, and we joked about getting them done up like the Tbilisi TV tower (which has a crazy light show which I think we described earlier). We compared the Caucasus and Ushba — the valley’s sort of sentinel mountain — to the Southern Alps and Aoraki/Mt Cook. The whole stay with them was really just lovely.