Thursday, January 14, 2010

From Tbilisi to the Caucasus village of Mestia




The sky is just getting light as we pack Vako's 4x4 for the long drive to Mestia. From the Betsy Hotel I can look down on the city and the cathedral and all the way out to the distant hills. The tops of the clouds are still dark. The bottoms of the clouds are lit up by the still hidden sun and the city glows with a faint purple light.

By 8 o’clock we are gassed up and on the road heading west. We pass the South Ossetia border and the endless rows of refugee houses built after the war with Russia just one year ago. We pass the industrial town of Gori, the birthplace of Stalin. In typical Georgian style, cars and trucks weave back and forth randomly across both sides of the highway. Soon, we catch up with the Georgian Army trucks on their way to the Abkhazi border. There is no way to get ahead of the long convoys, but that does not stop Vako from trying. At every chance, he pulls out of line into the opposing traffic and tries to pass the army truck in front of us. As soon as he sees the headlights of a oncoming truck, he quickly pulls back into line. I tighten my seat belt and try not to look. I turn up the volume on my Nano. The sky becomes black and it begins to rain. Although it is midday, the temperature drops and I wonder if it is snowing in the Caucasus mountains. Soon we reach Zugdidi and turn north. The road climbs above the Enguri River and its huge Soviet built dam. The paved road turns to dirt. Vako complains that Russia still takes most of the electric power from the dam even though it is located in Georgia.

By the time the dirt road climbs into the foothills it is raining hard and the potholes are full of water. Before crossing a bridge that is missing some deck planks, we get out to find the safest way across.. We are now progressing at about the same speed we could walk at. When I see a shepherd herding his sheep and rams I get out and take photos while walking along side the car. It seems like we have been driving for days when we finally come around a curve and see the first stone towers of Mestia.

The medieval towers without windows silently guard the snow covered mountains behind them. We find the Ushba Guesthouse and Tea, the owner, welcomes us. As she shows us to our small upstairs room, darkness creeps up and over the tops of the surrounding mountains.

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