Georgia Photos (Svaneti, Tbilisi, & the Black Sea)
When the Contact Journey was over, Jacob and I stayed on for several days way up in the mountains in the land of the Svan people (Svaneti), in a village at the end of the road, a place called Maseri. We called our guesthouse “the last house before Russia”, and it really was – we ran into a border checkpoint during one of our hikes. No one spoke English in the guesthouse, but they had Google Translate, and we had friends with us from the Journey who spoke Russian. The cook packed us lunches of local cheese, hearty bread, cucumber and tomato, with a firmly-tied little package of Svan salt, and we struck out on easy, wandering walks in the valley and mountains. The Caucasus was one of the most beautiful places we had seen, with fields full of wildflowers in all colors everywhere, ringed by contrasting green and snow-capped mountains. Semi-wild horses ran around along with cattle and dogs. I felt like we were in the “Sound of Music,” or one of those impeccably bucolic movie scenes designed to evoke the carefree innocence of childhood. We meandered across grassy pastures and picnicked by running streams, hiked to a waterfall and rode horses across vast green spaces without seeing a single other soul. At night we gathered in the kitchen/bedroom of the home-stay manager to try to catch the World Cup on TV from a Turkish satellite. We were sad to come out of those mountains, driven in a worn-out van down a winding road full of fallen rocks, cattle, pigs, and kids.
We returned to Tbilisi for a few days before leaving the country and stayed in the Old Town – an area so decrepit and dark that, walking through at night, I thought that surely the buildings were abandoned. But it was still inhabited. The piles of rocks and falling-down structures were a sad reminder of the political struggles of the Georgians. We could see that Old Town had once probably been charming, with leafy cobblestone streets and buildings with wrought-iron balconies. It was a huge contrast to the grand boulevards with imposing Russian architecture elsewhere in the city.
We had always wanted to see the Black Sea. We came close in Istanbul, on the Bosphorus, but not close enough. So, after leaving Svaneti, we went to the closest city on the coast, which happened to be Anaklia. It was a strange and desolate place to dip our feet in the sea, a semi-built up vacation spot for Georgians with a handful of stiff hotels and inexplicable modern sculptures rising next to what used to be a village. It was cold and windy.