Georgia Trip 12

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.

the river will eat you

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.

here we are

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 front yard

The next day, we toured Mestia some more.

schoolkids one of the towers

You’ll recall that the livestock is freerange…

Piggies !

Except this bullock team, taking a break from whatever it was they were doing — probably hauling firewood.

parked

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.

inside looking out one end of town

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.

Ushba

Meanwhile…. 11d

Bet you thought we’d never finish this trip !

Here we are, back in Mestia, in Svaneti, Republic of Georgia, way up in the Caucasus. We’d arranged with our hosts to go on a little horse ride, not realizing that the day we’d picked was the day most of the valley was going to be off mustering cattle (with their horses).

They nonetheless managed to scrape up a couple of mounts — a brown gelding and a black mare. Slight complication: the mare had a young (as in days old) foal at foot. The boy who delivered the horses initially tried to take the foal home by leading it away with a rope around its neck, but it didn’t like the idea, and neither did we, really. Little foal needs to stay with its mom ! We assured everyone that we would take it easy on the trip and take breaks for the little guy to eat and nap.

Trail ride

It did take us a bit to get out of town. For one, our horses pretty much had two speeds: slow, and amble. Various helpful passers-by tried to get them going for us by making various giddy-up sort of noises. At one point, we took a wrong turn and a helpful soldier gave us directions. Then we had to pass the airfield, which seemed to go on for days (unless you were landing on it, in which case I’m sure it would have seemed far too short).

This house, made from a pair of old caravan trailers, would not be at all out of place in New Zealand.

clever

We stopped for lunch — Laura had packed us khachapuri (cheese bread), boiled eggs, and other tidbits, which we shared with the guide that the Georgian Canine Tourist Guide Board had assigned us for the day. We put the cokes in a stream, which got them plenty cold, and the foal had his own lunch, and one of several naps.

D'awwww!

While were eating lunch, we were passed by a mob of cattle, being taken further up the valley. They were going faster than we were.

As you do, we eventually made up names for the horses. Stephen’s black mare was “Chernobyl”, my gelding was “Three Mile”, and Chernobyl’s foal was “Fallout”. Har har. Laura laughed when we told her.

more scenery

This was as far as we chose to go – had we been on foot, we could have gone across this bridge and around the boulder to the other side of the river, where the track went up to the glacier that fed the river. Alternatively, we could have followed the trail we were on through a gate made of young birch trunks along a ledge farther up the side we were on — that was evidently the path the cattle had taken. As it was, we were content to turn around. On the way back, somewhat saddlesore, we walked more than we rode, often only mounting to cross streams.

As we approached the airfield, several helicopters landed, their occupants driven into town in shiny black state cars. We found out later that this was the President, and a wealthy Swedish investor who was about to put a lot of money into the town developing a ski resort. Exuberant locals honked and waved as they drove past us.

Also exuberant were some of the horses that had returned from the morning’s muster — we had to chase off a couple of young ones who wanted to play with the foal. This boy, though, contented himself with posing.

Lovely color, dont you think?

There was a bit of confusion due to our bad Russian when we got back, over who we were supposed to pay for the horses (tree, treenatsat, treetsat…), and how much, but it all worked out in the end.