From Batumi to Tbilisi, via Kutaisi

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May 3rd 2014
Published: June 23rd 2014
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3rd May

Leaving the Black Sea coast we're heading inland and stopped at the amazing Prometheus Caves, only discovered in 1984. Requiring a guide, we were ushered down the stairs and into the mouth of the cave. Over 1400m long and with 17 chambers, the cave was impressive from the start with huge stalagmites and stalactites, some still growing. I saw our guide for a few minutes in the first chamber but he set such a speed that I didn't bother trying to keep up, preferring to take photos and actually look at the surroundings. A few others trailed along at various speeds also and I thoroughly the peace and quiet that came with being on my own.

Our arrival into Kutaisi today didn't go unnoticed, especially on the side streets we had to take to get to our accommodation. As in some African countries, Georgia has already had many streets with low wires that residents have strung up themselves and we have to keep an eye out. But on the last street we somehow missed one and the hook on the roof of the truck caught it, pulling it down. There was nothing to do but untangle it from the truck and leave it in a pile near the house. It wasn't a major wire, maybe satellite television or something so there wouldn't be too much issue to put it back up.

I've never stayed at a home stay but that's what we're doing for the next two nights. Split between two houses, Nat, Neil, Scott and I are at number 9 and the others are at 4. Ushered in by the sweet older lady, we ducked into a lower room and arranged ourselves on the lumpy beds and sofa. Her jolly husband appeared and began talking and even though we had no common language, the sign language was clear: the doctor had told him no more alcohol and we would have to drink on our own. His wife looked somewhat exasperated at this but still smiled when he kissed her cheek and squeezed her, telling us they'd been married 40 years. Sweet.

The man disappeared from the doorway but promptly returned with two 10L water bottles: one filled with a honey coloured liquid and the other, red. He left once again after a quick scan and came back with horns! To drink from! With a variety to choose from, the guys took the larger horns while others who didn't drink wine took smaller ones to try. I was surprised and excited because I'd seen a horn exactly the same as the one Nat was holding for my entire life. At my grandparents' house! Polished smooth and with a silver tip and chain to hold, I'd never known it was used to drink. I guess as a child that's not the first thing that comes to mind. I'm sure my brothers and I used to pretend it was a trumpet of sorts!

Anyway, we each got a fill of the white wine, did a toast and had a sip. It wasn't the worst I'd tasted but it wasn't the best and it was strong. We took photos, laughed at ourselves drinking out of horns and I wondered where else in the world you would turn up to a stranger's house, be ushered in and left unattended with 20L of wine. We opened the red wine soon after but it was potent. I felt like my heart was racing and with one sip I was done. I poured it into Quinn's and took my leave, hoping for a shower.

I was in luck. Our lovely host had made our beds and the bathroom was free to use. It's amazing what a difference a shower can make. She watched me comb my hair and moisturise my face afterwards before moving outside to a kitchen chair seated next to a box. Inside, mummy cat with two minuscule kittens, their eyes still closed. From what I could understand, they'd only been born two days ago and two had already died. I'm not a cat person but I'd never seen kittens so young and I sat and pat them while trying to talk to the woman. But when her daughter came home, she followed her inside and I left for Number Four to see what everyone else was up to.

The scene was somewhat amusing. Quinn, Scott and Alex hadn't moved and all the white wine was gone, along with the majority of the red. Others had wandered off to their rooms to use the wifi or wait for a shower so I sat in the room until everyone had showered and began to trickle down the street to the town for dinner. Steph and Quinn and Scott and I went together, debating the route I chose (I lost. It wasn't the same way as the truck had brought us) and met a man whilst standing on a corner deciding what to do. Pointing across at a cafe and miming, I asked him if it was good food. Instead of nodding as I expected he thought about it, shook his head and told us to follow him.

And that's how we ended up in the Caucasian Restaurant. It didn't have the look we wanted but the staff spoke conversational English which made explaining gluten-free much easier. They understood, we ordered, and then climb the stairs to the mezzanine floor which the guys could 'bounce' on and the whole floor moved. Oh good God. But the drinks didn't take long, nor did the food and we were hungry so things were looking up. The food was fine, much like Turkey (all the Georgian food had wheat in it), but the semi-sweet wine we'd chosen was not good at all. Thank goodness we got a glass of it and not a bottle! We washed it down with food, paid and got out, just as it started to rain.

The four of us weren't sure where to go but after a successful stop at a bakery, we found a small bar. The two men in their motorcycle outfits obviously found us very funny and laughed as we crossed the road in front of them and climbed the stairs. Hmm.

The night continued as the day started. Vodka is cheap as is most alcohol and readily available and we moved from one place to another looking for some atmosphere. Finding none, Steph and I stepped out of the rain and into a convenience store to ask them for suggestions. The man at the counter called a younger man from the back who said he was leaving now and would drive us to the bar he was going to. At this point I explained we were four and got the guys to come in but he was still happy to drive us and off we went. Thinking I could buy him a drink as thanks was spoiled when we got there and he wished us a good night and drove off! Georgians were looking to be even nicer than the Turks and we hadn't been in the country very long!


4th May

It was a late night last night but it was great fun. I stirred around 8 and tried to look presentable as I stumbled around to the front of the house for breakfast. At the kitchen table, cheese, salads, bread bowls and the smell of eggs and meat wafting over from the small gas stove. Once the tea and coffee was poured, our Mother Hen stood back to watch over us, making sure we ate enough. I know I did and drank enough sweetened black tea to last me at least until lunchtime.

We've changed cook groups so I'm now cooking with Nic and Scott and as Nic was yet to have breakfast at the other house, Scott and I volunteered to do the food shopping while we were out. With Nat and Neil we headed towards town and veered off towards the cathedral high above us on a hill. Detouring to see a smaller church, we realised we were ill prepared for any visit, let alone a Sunday visit. Scott was in shorts and I wasn't carrying a scarf for my head so we stood a respectable distance and watched as people arrived.

At the Bagrati cathedral it was the same story. We found Nat up there talking to some locals but I soon moved away towards the door. I could hear beautiful singing coming from inside and stuck my head in the door, miming questions regarding head coverings. He pointed to a box behind me and I grabbed the top one, draping it over my hair and then my shoulders to keep it in place. At the front left side of the cathedral, half a dozen women and several men sang beautiful hymns that rang out around the church, the domed ceiling providing the perfect acoustics. Young children played quietly at their parents' feet and one priest in his richly coloured robes knelt down to play with one. It was a serene start to the day.

But it didn't last. We found the large covered bazaar and dived in, excited to see beetroot for the first time and wanting to use them. Chicken was also within the budget and thankfully, the lady gutted it and kept the head and feet for herself, cut it into quarters for us. It would've been great to wander around and see what else there was but time was short so we got what we needed for the night and got out.

Once all assembled back at the truck, we thanked our hosts and wrote in the guest book before settling in back on the truck. We'd be camping in the capital tonight. Tbilisi wasn't far and with a few wrong turns we found the sign for Turtle Lake which was our home for the night. Once through the chaotic traffic at the gate, it was a winding road up the side of a hill to the top where we were stopped by a boom gate. Paying our entrance fee, the truck went to move forward, only for the boom gate to close on us. It wouldn't stay open. That was fine except a low wire hung just before the gate and we couldn't save it. Pulling down a second wire in as many days was dejecting but once parked, Suse went up to the attendant and explained that she could climb up onto the roof of the truck and easily fix it, once everyone had cleared out for the night. The sullen boy was not impressed.

Turtle Lake was a lake but I saw no turtles. People of all ages exercised, ate and drank at the cafe or restaurant, played on the bouncing castles and sat alongside the lake or amongst the trees. It definitely looked like the place to be.


5th May

After last night's lack of sleep, I'm feeling less than energetic today. The noise continued all night with young adults congregating in the car park with music and yelling and car horns until sunrise. None of us were impressed but unlike Suse and Nat, we didn't need to get up and go to an embassy.

We made breakfast, packed everything away and once Suse gave us the all clear for a free day, a few energetic souls set off for town while the other half sprawled out on the truck and spent the day reading, writing and dozing. It was a waste of a day but I don't do well with no sleep.

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23rd June 2014

It's good to have a rest day occasionally...
to catch up on some sleep and write a blog or two.

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