Getting there: into Georgia
Taken from “111 reasons to love Georgia”, published in german 2019 by Schwartzkopf Berlin
Sometimes I get the impression that the Georgians make fun of travellers, especially with travelers who are in Georgia for the first time – they are having them on, they are deliberately creating adventures, specializing in involving alcoholic beverages at any times of the day. With a friend from Berlin, who visited me for a week in Georgia, it was no different: While I was quietly pursuing my plans, my friend got completely drunk already in the late morning. Georgians had called him to each and every table, filling up his glas and making him drunk in less then an hour. This resulted in this strangely inspired and constantly alcoholized state, which the Georgians are able to consciously produce amongst their guests. I do not know what will happen to you once you have Georgian soil under your feet, but I know something will happen to you. In a positive sense I mean, because most stories happen on the way from A to B and Georgia is a country rich in stories, your own one should not be missing.
In the meantime, I tell you one of mine: It was my fourth or fifth stay in Georgia and I had decided to go directly to the high mountains that I had not seen before. The Caucasus is a relatively young mountain range that stretches between the Black and Caspian Seas over a thousand kilometers, that raises over 5,000 meters and has more than a dozen peaks that are higher than the Mont Blanc. The Caucasus lacks U-shaped valleys, which are so typical of the Alps, and there are no water gaps in the mountain ranges: The rivers do rarely break through and instead run along the individual mountain ranges, describing a wide arc to the sea. This is why the central Caucasus in particular is so isolated and inaccessible. The individual folds of the Caucasus throw themselves without mercy and force the traveler to lengthy detours on spectacular routes. On that particular evening, taking such a lengthy detour, we could count ourselves lucky that we were too drunk on the last thirty kilometers to think about the route and our evenly drunk driver.
I had landed in Kutaisi and had agreed with a fellow traveler that we would share a taxi: Sami had a pale complexion and longish, light brown hair. At first I thought he was of Finnish descent, probably because I have a friend named Sami in Tampere. On the subsequent trip, however, it soon turned out that his name was Samir and his father came from Morocco. Samir was a family man, had a regular job in real estate management, and got five days off from his family and had planned everything out. Friends of his had traveled to Mestia for skiing and were expecting him there. In the run-up he had therefore booked a trip to the high mountains – by taxi. I suggested leaving the airport area to wait on the road-side for a Marschrutka, a minibus or a shared taxi, but Samir disagreed by stating, we would never succeed, never make it up there not in one sole day. So I decided to get on with Samir. I’m not a spoilsport.
The following two hours over flat land to Sugdidi, a transit city at the foot of the Caucasus near the border to Abkhazia, passed quite normally, but disaster struck directly afterwards. The driver had introduced himself as Enrian and wanted to know where we came from, otherwise he had quietly and strangely unambitiously steered his vehicle towards the mountains – our driver showed a completely uncommon circumspection, even slowness, in these latitudes: We swayed leisurely through the plane. In Sugdidi our driver abruptly stopped at the crossroads into the mountains, pointing to the small supermarket and saying with amazing certainty:
I understood his concern: we should stock up on essentials, because in Mestia we would not be able to get Western goods so easily. But we didn´t really care and came back with only two beers each. The driver must have realized then, he was driving a fun combo around. Either it seemed sympathetic to him that we came back with beer only or he concluded from the number of bottles that we grossly underestimated the distance.
In any case, he changed key, he became a tourist guide and pointed out buildings or landmarks that seemed worth mentioning. He also praised some rests of snow, as if we had not seen any old snow in our lives before. Finally, he headed for a rocky edge, from which we had a particularly good view of the High Caucasus, who white peaks now lay in front of us and rose up much more powerfully than I had imagined.
Enrian decreed and we followed his command immediately. Enrian went to the trunk and came back with a two-liter bottle of Qevri wine in one, a cow horn in the other while we marveled at the mountains.
– Now we drink!
Enrian decided and let the horn go in a row. However, he did not take the bottle and the horn back, but left both with us in the back of the car. I have to say that it was Enrian’s own wine, which he vinified somewhere in Kutaisi and built in clay pots. The wine was excellent and we managed to drink it up quite quickly – especially because there is no way to place down a cow horn.
The path ascended and became wilder, steeper, the rocks more vertical, the valleys narrower. Whole boulders obstructed parts of the road, and elsewhere the asphalt was covered by falling stones.
It was already dusk when Enrian stopped at a small, blue-painted hut. A red neon lettering and a round sign of a beer brand marked the hut as a restaurant. The hut was completely wood paneled, a fat lady was kitchening and serving at the same time, two tables were filled with men, among which our driver obviously knew one or the other. We were greeted warmly and came to another of the tables to sit. A small carafe of chacha was served and fortunately we had the opportunity to order something to eat. The chacha quickly was yielding effects, blood had shot into Samir’s cheeks. He grew increasingly louder and began to cringe at intervals of a few minutes
– THIS IS IT! THE WILD CAUCASUS !! WE ARE IN THE WILD CAUCASUS !!!
In addition, he filled everyones glass every minute, whether they were still full or not and whether we wanted him to do so or not. In particular, I did not want to, because I recognize the smell of fusel, and we had now fusel before us. The small glass carafe had given way to a huge plastic galon, but that did not bother Samir. Niether it bothered him, that refilling glasses was certainly not our job but the one of the host. For more than an hour we were in the small restaurant, maybe even two, I cannot remember exactly All I know is that somebody at the next table collapsed and could not be brought back to life. He was therefore taken away in a collective effort – I’m hoping for a dormitory, I’m afraid into his car. It was myself who had to fill the gap and I lost several arm wrestlings in a row. At some point we sat in the car again, it was already pitch dark night and neither of the mountains nor of the abysses we saw anything anymore.
Enrian took a cheerful friend of his with us in the car. He told us not to worry, Mestia wouldn’t be far. But instead of driving there, he stopped the car already at the next corner, not one kilometer further. There was another bar and this cheerful friend of his insisted, we all had to go there. One final round!
Well, what can you do? Inside a whole crowd had gathered for late supper. I avoided the chacha by organizing myself a beer, cunning as I am. The cheerful friend decided to show me the water sources at the creek and so we descended over ice and snow down into the ravine. In the cold air, sliding over ice, I noticed how drunk I was and this did not particularly feel good – I understood and thus told myself, that exactly now was the time to become a) careful and b) to assert myself by stopping to collaborate. When we got back, I refused to enter the bar again and instead waited in the cold until Enrian and Samir finally appeared. From Samir, the spirits were gone again, the paleness had returned to his face, in the drivers face, however, there was no visible effect. noticeable. But that does not mean anything, because he does this or something like that every day, so habituation is likely.
Just before midnight we arrived in Mestia.
The expression “binge drinking” seemed to have been taken to a whole new level and broke the records of any taxi ride: it was the longest (nine hours on 250 kilometers, less than thirty kilometers an hour), the most expensive ($ 45 per person) and most alcohol infused ride of my life: three beers, a liter of wine and a quarter liter of chacha. …Never again!