Published: January 2nd 2012December 12th 2011
I take my weekend bag with me to school on Friday, even though I still have no clear idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. I figure if nothing comes up I can always take it home again! Between classes I type up the test for the sixth grade that I wrote the night before. Given how drunk I was when I wrote it I’m relieved to see it all makes sense. We go to drink coffee before my last class and Maia has brought in a jar of roasted peanuts mixed with honey. It’s delicious and I could have eaten it all day. One of the other teachers is sick so Eka and I agree that I will supervise the sixth grade test while she covers the other class. We’re about half way through when Maia bursts in with our director and tells me I have to leave. It turns out she finally has the details of the village she’d told me about earlier and that the last marshrutka from Batumi leaves at 5pm so I have to leave at once. I hadn’t actually planned on going to the village anymore because I figure that, by this point, everyone will have made other plans, but it doesn’t look like I have much choice in the matter! I’m bustled out of the classroom with garbled instructions about getting the last marshrutka from Batumi at 5pm to a place called Khulo and then calling some guy who will take me to a village called Kadlebi. There’s also something about a resource centre in there but I’m unclear as to whether this is in Batumi, Khulo or Kadlebi or, more importantly, what I’m supposed to do when I get there. So the next thing I know I’m standing outside school with my bag waiting for a bus into town and texting the others to tell them that if they want to come they need to be in Batumi by 5pm. Jane tells me she’s staying at home for the weekend, Ara and Clare fail to reply, and Ally calls me and tells me he’ll meet me there, so at least I’m not going on my own. I realise I’m cutting it a bit fine but I think I’ll be able to make it to Batumi in five hours. I jump on a marshrutka to Samtredia and change there for one to Batumi which pulls in at 4.30pm. Perfect. Only I text Ally and he tells me that, whilst he’s on his way, he’s not going to make it by 5pm. Why does this not surprise me? He only lives two hours closer to Batumi than I do, and told me he was setting off at the same time. I’m not too fussed though. I figure we can either hitch there or, if it’s not too far away, get a taxi. It’s pissing it down when I get into Batumi so I take refuge in a nice warm restaurant and order some food and wine. I’ve been there for about an hour when Ally calls me and tells me to call Clare because she has no credit. No further explanation is given. I call her and it turns out she’s in Batumi so I tell her where I am and she comes to join me. She then tells me Ara is with Ally and they called her from Jane’s phone so I guess she’s with them too. Clare and I have a lovely time chatting away in the restaurant but, even so, by the time they others arrive at about 7pm I’m in a fucking foul mood. Partly because none of the others bothered to tell me they were coming, partly because I’m fucking fed up of waiting for them for two to three hours every single fucking weekend, even though they’re always coming from a hell of a lot closer than I am, and partly because by this time it’s clear we’re going to have to spend the night in Batumi and that is absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. If I’d known I was going to spend my Friday night out drinking in Batumi I honestly would have stayed at home. Ally and I had discussed what we wanted to do with our weekend earlier and came to the conclusion that what we really wanted was find a little village somewhere and spend the weekend relaxing; reading, writing and taking long walks. A night out in Batumi is pretty much the polar opposite of this plan. Anyway, we eventually leave the restaurant and go to meet Clare’s host cousin. This involves a lot of walking about in the pissing rain. The owners of an umbrella shop had a very profitable ten minutes when we walked past. We finally find Clare’s cousin and she makes enquiries about somewhere for us to stay but all the prices we’re quoted are far higher than the hotel we stayed in last time we were in Batumi so in the end we head back there. Jane decides to stay at Sean’s place so the four of us get a room with a couple of double beds and it only costs us 8.50 lari each so no one’s complaining, but as I’m getting changed the zip on my boots breaks for about the 100th
time which puts me in an even worse mood. We arrange to meet Sean and Liam at the Vinyl Bar and head over that way and guess who’s there? The vegans! Just returned from their trip to Armenia. Only a week later than expected. I’d sent them a couple of texts over the last week and they’d all bounced back so I’m slightly relieved to see them. Sean and Liam turn up and I can feel my bad mood finally starting to ease. It’s really nice to see all of them and, in the end, we have a pretty good night. We go to a couple of bars we hadn’t been to before and meet a lot of really great people. We cap the night off by wandering the streets looking for food and eventually end up in a dodgy little café. A fairly typical end to a fairly typical night.
We get up on Saturday and start to make moves towards heading to Kadlebi. I’m the last to shower and I always take the longest so the others abandon me and go in search of breakfast. By the time they come back I’m sitting in a kebab shop down the road eating one of the best kebabs of my life. Unfortunately Ally has also brought me breakfast in the form of a potato khachapuri type thing so I begin the day by eating for too much. Now, you’d think it would be a fairly simple operation to get five, relatively intelligent, young(ish) people out of one town and onto a bus to another but unfortunately you’d be wrong. First we have to wait for Jane to make her way back to town from Sean’s place. And while we’re waiting we figure we might as well try to find the last bar we were in the night before, since that’s where Jane’s left her jumper (I guess that’s a sweater to all you Americans out there) and we know we’ll only have to look for it when she arrives anyway. Only we were all pretty drunk and none of us can remember where it is so we wander around the streets of Batumi, admiring the architecture and asking random passers-by if they know the way to Metro bar. Nobody does but we stumble upon it eventually anyway, only to find it closed. Next on the list is finding a branch of Liberty Bank so that we can withdraw money to pay for our accommodation that night. And so the process of asking strangers for directions starts again. This is an even longer job but Ally and I find it in the end, only to turn around and realise we’ve mislaid Ara and Clare. A quick phone call tells us they’re back at one of the marshrutka stops, but at least they’ve got Jane with them so we’re gradually easing closer to leaving. Although when I speak to them they do tell me they’re in a yarn shop. Ally and I decide the best course of action is to find the marshrutka going to Khulo and then call the others with directions. We’re told by some guys at one of the marshrutka stops that we need to go to the bus station a little way out of town and before too long we’re sitting on the bus to Khulo waiting for the others to arrive. The whole process only took about two hours. Jane, Ara and Clare finally arrive and Ara calls the guy we’re supposed to be staying with, Otari, to tell him we’re actually coming and finally we’re on our way. The journey takes twice as long as we expect it to but it’s a lot of fun. We get chatting to a bunch of Georgian guys who turn out to be really funny and the scenery gets more and more dramatic the further we get away from Batumi. About two thirds of the way into the journey we make a pit stop and I witness (but don’t use) some of the grimmest toilets I’ve ever seen. They don’t even have doors. On the other hand we got to watch some guys cooking bread by slapping the dough onto the sides of a shallow well type thing with a fire at the bottom and peeling it off a few minutes later. It’s delicious. We eventually disembark at Khulo and realise we’re outside the Resource Centre (aha!). Ara talks to the guys standing outside and we think they’re telling us that the guy we’re staying with is on his way to get us. In the meantime, we’re ushered inside the Resource Centre where we’re promptly given shots of cognac by the guys working there. Lovely. Then they tell us that just outside is the highest cable car in Europe so naturally we want to go on. They take us outside and over to the cable car where a whole load of Georgian people are already on board waiting to leave. They then proceed to throw them all out, so that we can go first. This is incredibly embarrassing and we desperately try to protest but the guys are having none of it. You should have seen the looks we got from the Georgians who had to relinquish their spaces for us. It makes us feel shit but we genuinely weren’t given a choice in the matter. I have to say though they’re soon forgotten on account of the views. People say that Georgia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and this is why. We disembark on the other side and stand there just drinking in the views, but obviously the guy who runs the cable car has to go back for all the Georgians we left behind so we don’t get to stay for long. Just long enough for Ally to climb on a gate post and launch himself into four feet of snow. Idiot. When we get back to the Resource Centre our rides have arrived. One Lada Neva which Ally and Jane climb into and one massive beaten up old truck which takes the rest of us. We climb further and further up the mountain and the scenery gets more and more beautiful as we go. We stop a couple of times on account of various vehicles stuck in the snow blocking the road which obviously results in some impromptu snowball fights but we eventually pull into Kadlebi at about 5.30pm. We’re surrounded on all sides by mountains and forests. I’m not going to bang on about the scenery and how beautiful it is because nothing I could say would do it justice. I’ll just say that it’s probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life. When we arrive at Otari’s house we’re asked if we want to go skiing before we eat. But of course. We only have about half an hour of daylight left so we hurry down to a little lodge down the road and find boots and skis as quickly as we can before trundling back up to the slope. The ski lift is like no other I’ve ever seen before. You basically stand beside it and grab a piece of plastic as it flies past. It damn near wrenches your arm off! The slope is also a lot trickier than the one in Bakoriami had been and consequently we take it a lot slower. I call it a day after a couple of turns down the mountain, partly because of the failing light and partly because it’s starting to snow and this is like having little shards of ice flying into your eyes as you ski down. We ski back to the house, abandoning our shoes at the ski lodge until the following day. The house is amazing, absolutely huge and deliciously warm. We’re shown to two rooms at the end of a corridor, each with a double and a single bed in them. We all pile into the one which has the wood stove going and settle in for a relaxing evening. There’s something about being huddled inside all warm and cosy when there are mountains outside the window and snow on the ground. Before long a large table is pulled from the wall and unfolded and the women of the house start to bring the food in. I wish I knew the names of the dishes but unfortunately if I ever knew them the wine has seen to it that I’ve forgotten them again. But it’s plentiful, hot and delicious. There’s a big cheesy lasagne style dish, chicken in creamy sauce, potatoes, a green bean dish, cheese in a buttery sauce and countless others I can’t remember. All served with plates piled high with fresh bread and big jugs of wine. About half way through the meal Otari leaves the room and comes back with a half-litre drinking horn. Only Ally and I are foolish enough to attempt it and even I can’t quite finish it, but at least I came a lot closer than Ally did. My post dinner plans involve lying around reading and wishing I’d eaten less but after about half an hour the boys, who had gone exploring, call us and tell us we have to go join them. To what end we’re not sure but we dutifully trek out into the snow (all wearing shoes borrowed from the family because ours are still at the ski lodge.) We eventually find them out with Otari and his grown up son to discover they’ve dug a 50 foot long trench through the snow down one of the hills and are sledging down it on plastic bags. In fairness, it’s even better than skiing. We all get completely drenched head to foot but it’s too much fun to stop. Eventually we call it a night and make our way back to the house, falling through the snow every few yards. When we get back we gather outside to take photos with the family. At one point, and for no apparent reason, I’m handed the rather sizeable (and rather wet) family dog to hold for the photos. Which reminds me, must try to find copies of those! Once we’ve changed into dry clothes we hang our wet ones by the fire and sit in the warmth of the living room with the family. Jane has been taking Georgian dancing lessons and puts on a little show for the family, which is hilarious. It’s a great evening, but we’re all knackered and slowly, one by one, we excuse ourselves and drift off to our own room where we sit up chatting for a while. For some reason a general challenge is laid down to see if we can go half an hour without insulting each other. The next day none of us can remember if we made it. I think we all fell asleep, drained from the effort of trying.
The following morning Ally and Jane go skiing and Ara wanders off to take photos but Clare and I have no intention of getting wet all over again so we chill out around the house. I go out onto the balcony with my morning coffee to enjoy the scenery. It’s been snowing again but the sun is shining and it’s actually really warm. Now that it’s light out I can fully appreciate the views from the house. I simply cannot imagine what it must be like to wake up each day, step out onto your balcony and be faced with that. I take a few pictures but I know my camera doesn’t stand a chance of doing the place justice.
I text Eka and tell her I will be home late that evening. It’s about two hours to Batumi from where we are and then another four or five hours to Zugdidi. Plus we’re completely at the mercy of the family as to when we leave so I actually have no idea what time I’ll be back. Fortunately Eka calls me and tells me that it’s fine for me to miss school the following day if I want to stay another night. It’s very tempting and I tell her I will let her know when I have consulted the others. Before we eat breakfast a girl from the local magazine turns up and we all go outside to have our picture taken. I’m not sure why. I know tourists are still pretty rare but surely our visit doesn’t warrant an article in the local news! We sit down to a massive breakfast, complete with the obligatory cha cha. Clearly it’s going to be one of those days. You know the ones; where you start drinking early and never really stop. Later we sit in the living room with the family eating popcorn and roasted nuts and drinking coffee. Not that the money’s got anything to do with the experience but it’s amazing to think that we were driven here, fed a couple of massive meals, complete with alcohol, skied, were given two bedrooms to sleep in and were driven back to town again, all for the equivalent of slightly less than £8 each.
The others all have school the next day and nobody can be persuaded to stay another night so, reluctantly, we finally leave the house, and Kadlebi, behind us and drive back to Khulo, stopping along the way to help dig a truck out of the snow and have a quick snowball fight. We’re dropped back at the Resource Centre in Khulo and are immediately ushered inside by the director. There’s some confusion as to what’s going to happen next. We’re not sure if we’re waiting for a marshrutka or waiting to go eat somewhere. There’s something definitely lost in translation. Eventually it becomes clear that they’re bringing food to the Resource Centre so before long we’re sitting around eating bread, fruit and pickles and working our way through a massive bottle of vodka. The guys at the centre are wonderful and the director invites us to stay at his house. Obviously I’m up for staying because I’ve been given the following day off school and Ally’s had enough alcohol by this point to want to carry on drinking so I actually think it might happen. But we can’t persuade Ara to stay with us and Ally’s Georgian is pretty much exhausted by this point. I think he thinks that, without Ara there to speak Russian, attempting to communicate for the entire evening might just prove a little too difficult. By this point Jane’s getting really anxious about getting back because she needs to stop in Batumi to pick up her jumper from Friday night and actually starts to kick up a bit of a fuss so we decide it’s time to leave, more due to embarrassment than anything else! Since I’ve had a few drinks I think it might be more fun to hitch hike back to Batumi than to get the marshrutka but when I try to explain this to the director I think he thinks it’s because we want to save the money and insists on paying for all our fares. What a nice man!
I know it’s going to be pretty late by the time we get back to Batumi so I think it’s probably best if I stay the night there. I text Liam to ask if I can crash at his and, more importantly, to see if he wants to come out drinking. He says he will check with his family and get back to me but it’s getting on a bit and I don’t want to end up stranded so I text my brother back home in England and ask him if, as a Christmas present, he would mind going on the internet and seeing if there are any hotels in Batumi that you can book online. And the boy comes up trumps! He texts me the check in details of a hotel just down the road from the Vinyl Bar. I love him for this! It’s actually a really nice hotel too, which it didn’t have to be. The others leave me outside Vinyl Bar so I decide to pop in for a drink. Which obviously turns into several. At first I’m drinking with a Peace Corp volunteer we had met on Friday night but she has to go meet her boyfriend so I end up drinking with a group of Georgian guys who are really cool. However, I’m conscious of the fact that I have a nice hotel room I could be enjoying so I call it a night fairly early. I’m fucking drunk though. God knows what the hotel staff must have thought of me! I go back to my room and, to be honest, remember very little after that. I remember watching Family Guy in Russian. I remember ordering a cheese plate from Room Service and being brought a plate of cheese. I remember calling back and asking for bread. In the end I fall asleep curled up in the hotel’s dressing gown.
I wake up feeling pretty terrible on Monday morning. I crawl out of bed and run a deep, hot bath. Not that I particularly enjoy baths, it’s just that it’s the first one I’ve seen in Georgia so I figure I should make the most of it. I can’t face the idea of trying to find the restaurant and then trying to decipher out how ordering breakfast might work so I decide to skip it and check out in favour of picking up a khachapuri. I grab a marshrutka to Kutaisi and change for one to Zugdidi. There are some really sketchy moments on the way back and I have to concentrate very hard on not throwing up on my own shoes. I put my boots into the little cobblers at the market to get the zip fixed and make my way to the bus station. The minute I buy a ticket Eka calls me and tells me her and Gala are in town and will come to pick me up in five minutes. Half an hour later they pull up – and they have a new car! Yay for Gala! It’s nice to get home and to fall into the usual routine. We’re eating supper later and Gala starts feeding the cat while Eka’s out of the room and then starts desperately trying to get it to hurry up and eat before she comes back. Honestly, sometimes he’s like a naughty school boy! Eka can see me laughing when she comes back so she thinks Gala’s put salt in her tea, which really tells you everything you need to know about Gala. Before bed I show the family pictures of Kadlebi and Eka tells me that all the teachers at school want to go now and are planning a trip in the New Year. Looks like we’ve started a trend!