Oh right, I think I had just gotten us out of Mestia. Or wait, no I hadn’t. When it finally came time for us to leave, we got a ride back to Zugdidi (take a moment and say that out loud: “Zugdidi”) with Jia, who charged us only around $5 more than he was charging the relatives he was also taking into town — and he asked Renata somewhat uncertainly if she thought that was fair. So sweet !
Different parts of the country naturally will have different styles of houses, and I was starting to get an eye for them. On the way to Zugdidi, the style seemed to require enormous, elaborate external staircases and wide verandahs. Similar to the place we’d stayed in Kutaisi, the main part of the house was on the upper floor, and the lower floor served as a granny flat for relatives, or renters.
More striking, though was the graveyards. If you’ve been following along, you may recall the little roadside shrines built by the relatives of whoever had died on that stretch of road. We passed a cemetary where, I swear, entire rooms had been built on the gravesite — three sided, complete with floors and furniture and fancy wrought-iron decorations on the roofs — each one different from the others, each one more elaborate than the next. As with the roadside picnic areas, they seemed to be for family outings to the grave, as well as of course displays of wealth and filial piety.
We still had a few days to kill before our flight out, so we decided that we’d take a detour to Vani. This involved another bit of marshrutka surfing, aided this time by Jia handing us off to the next driver and letting him know where we were going. The final leg to the museum in Vani required a cab, and we were relieved to be able to dump our packs in the blessedly air conditioned lobby.
Why Vani ? Vani was, as near as they can tell, the capital of ancient Colchis. As in the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece and Medea. They’ve found job lots of amazing stuff there, from Hellenistic styled statuary and pottery, to gold filigree and granular work like no where else. Things that I’d only ever seen photos of were right there in the glass cases, being stared at by bored school kids.
It wasn’t a very big museum, so we ambled down the hill into the little town square to wait for the next marshrutka heading towards Batumi. Stopping into a shop to buy snacks for a late lunch, the proprietress and the local constable were pleased as punch to give us directions and instructions in gestures and smiles. We ate lunch in the little park (protected from the roving cattle by a low wall and turnstiles) and amused the locals with our extremely limited Georgian (I had worked out how to say “I am from New Zealand”, to their utter delight).
And finally, back to Batumi, so very different both from Tbilisi and from the little villages we’d been traveling through. Back at the beginning, I had been somewhat put off by the seemingly haphazard construction and just the general shock of suddenly being on our own and somewhat lost. Now, the place was familiar, and the outrageous architecture and exuberant rebuilding was actually kind of charming. The fact that it was drizzly and COOL undoubtedly helped.
With a couple of spare days to kill, we hit all of the local museums. If you happen to know the proper name for this sword, I’d love to know. It seems to be primarily an Adjaran thing (Adjara, or Adchara being the region).
We also took a day trip to Gonio, just to the south, near the Turkish border. Gonio happens to have one of the best preserved roman forts anywhere. At one point, the interior was used as a garden, and we were deeply amused to find New Zealand cabbage trees and fejoas inside. We ran into some young American Peace Corps volunteers who’d come out from Armenia to spend time on the beach, and get some food that wasn’t potatos. We also picked up a small pack of schoolboys, practicing their English on us and vying to impress each other.
Afterwards, we had an amazing lunch at a little cafe that apparently catered to the local truck drivers making the run to and from Turkey. As had become our modus operandi, we wandered in, looked hungry and confused, and got fed. Basically, the cook showed us what he had in the pots & raised his eyebrows & we nodded happily. It was some kind of soup, a meat and veg stew, and rice. They also gave us salad, bread & watermelon & it was all absolutely gorgeous.
Then flag down the next marshrutka back to Batumi.
Aaaaand, that’s basicly that. Going through the journal, there’s heaps I didn’t write about, and a billion more photos, but OMG, I’ve got the India/Nepal trip still to write up !