Our escape from unknown misfortune took us into the rolling hills of Central Georgia. Our destination was Chiatura, due to hearing people say it was worth seeing. Foreigners said this. Georgians wondered why the hell we wanted to go there.
It’s an old Soviet mining town. The images you think up are probably pretty accurate. The river is almost black, the buildings gray and haggard, the people just regular Georgians (regular being not so smiley and always staring), but the interesting aspect being the many cables stretched between cliffs above.
Chiatura revolves around the manganese mines which are apparently responsible for around half the global supply. Mines dot the tops of cliffs through the valley here, with cable car lines criss-crossing between them, carrying men and minerals. One of the touristic things to do is take one of the decades old mining cars to the top of one of the cliffs and watch the miners do their thing. A couple hours worth of stuff, really. Something to see on your way to the East or West.
The next day we arrived in Tbilisi, getting dropped off on the Northern outskirts. We hiked along the side of a mountain to our couchsurfing hosts place, probably taking the most difficult route possible (as is tradition for me, it seems!). Around 11pm we had a strong desire for cheese, so she introduced me to the famed khachapuri. Essentially an oval-shaped bread bowl filled with a tonne of melted cheese, topped with an egg and slice of butter… You can see why I had to try it. Neither do us could finish the medium size. Katherina maybe ate a quarter, and I managed half… But man, it was so much damn cheese. Topping it off with a thick slice of butter? It is an incarnation of Georgia’s insanity.
Anyways, that was the highlight of Tbilisi (this time). The next day we took a bus to the David Gareji monastery on the Azerbaijan border. It’s built into the side of a mountain, in the middle of nowhere. Older and more in-pieces cave churches sit just over the Azeri side, which are accessible if there doesn’t happen to be border guards hanging out there at that particular time. It was no Cappadocia, but I love caves and monasteries so worth the visit.
Back to Tbilisi for a night, then North towards the rainbow gathering! Did I say I was headed there?… Honestly I forget these things.Well, I convinced Katharina that she had to try out one of these gatherings. She cautiously agreed. Hehe.
It was only a dollar bus ride to get 20-30kms north of the city, so while I usually wouldn’t do such a thing, I hate hitching from cities. It was worth it to avoid the hastle. From Chinti, we bought two huge loaves of bread (man the bread is good here), we walked until we hit a gravel road, and walked some more. Eventually we got picked up by a family in a Lada 4×4, finally! I always wanted a ride in one of those things. They were pretty confused that we wanted to get out at the entrance to an old forest road, and reluctantly let us go (after telling us to go to their village). We were on a hippie quest, however, and began our hike up the mountain… Well, as soon as we began our hike a near-naked hippie crept out from the bushes and escorted us up.
Passing people leaving (the gathering was just about over), we arrived to a small clearing with greetings of “welcome family!” and hugs. There were still maybe 40 people around, with tents all over the place, clothes and sleeping bags drying in the sun after a few days of rain.
(Being that rainbow gatherings prohibit technology, I didn’t take any pictures of the camp or people)
We stayed for a couple of days, and I got to see Katharinas look of fear or confusion at the “food circles,” where everyone gathers to hold hands and sing before a communally prepared meal is served. The random howls that echoed through the forest every so often, that to me are not so strange, had her wondering what kinds of drugs were being taken (unfortunately none of which were offered to me). I just loved seeing her try to accept it all. Cute, really.
On our final day we went for a swim. Standard stuff when near a lake… Until old Georgian guys show up, of course. Which isn’t unusual in rural Georgia. Singing, playing accordian, they invited us over for cheese, bread, tomatoes, and cucumber. Being that rainbow gatherings don’t generally provide much food, we weren’t going to say no.
Then the cha cha came out, which is the national moonshine-like drink (a lot better tasting than moonshine), usually made out of grapes. Great. Then one of the old guys starts getting friendly with Katharina. We have experienced this many times by this point. But he tries to get her to go swimming with him, to “go for a walk,” which then turned into “leave your man and come live with me.” I believe there were stranger things said, but it was all Russian and I was just watching facial expressions. Not surprised, but obviously uncomfortable, we slowly inched away from the guys, and once a crowd of rainbow hippies arrived, we made our escape.
The next day we were setting off for Telavi,the supposed wine capital. Our aim was to take mountain roads, which we decided would be more adventurous.