donata: (mr darcy on a horse)
[personal profile] donata
Georgia travel report, part I: Romantic Georgia

Let me begin my Georgian report by telling you about the skills that I don't have.

The skills that I don't have are speaking Russian and riding horses.

In Georgia, I was speaking Russian for two weeks, and I rode horses for two days. My first riding lesson consisted of some guy pushing me up a horse (I carried my trekking backpack at the time) and telling me: “If it's too fast, pull in the reigns.”

And then I rode.

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The above is not a picture of my first riding lesson. My first riding lesson was much more extraordinary than that.

It took place on a muddy rural road, somewhere in the Svanetian forest (at that point, we had no idea where we were), and the guy whose horse it was had literally just appeared in our lives half an hour previously.



R. and I had set off for a three-day trekking tour through Svaneti. The tourist office in the town from which one commences the tour had no maps, only helpful advice: “Some people find way, some people don't find way.”

Well, we don't find way.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's how it happened: On the day we learned that it was impossible to buy a map, R. and I got one from some guy whom we met on one of our ramblings through the countryside near Mestia (the town in which we stayed in Svaneti and from which we then set off for the trekking trip). It was very nice of him and very much appreciated. However, there was a snag or two: it was an old Russian map and it was therefore written in Cyrillic. Not a problem as such, as I can read Cyrillic. R., for her part, can read hiking maps. It would be like a team-building exercise, forcing us to cooperate, we decided, and, confidently, we set off for the mountains.

Here's us setting off, all fresh-faced and optimistic:

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And here's the mountains we're setting off for:

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It was beautiful, and we enjoyed the hike a lot

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Until...

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...suddenly, the path disappeared.

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It has to be said that the map, in addition to being old and Russian (it was the 1942 General Staff’s map, to be precise) wasn't detailed at all. We could sort of make out the trails we were heading for, but they were 1942 trails, and they no longer were where they were supposed to be.

We found ourselves in a meadow that looked deceptively beautiful and inviting...

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...but that, at the same time, was very, very steep

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Also, flowers are not quite so pretty when you have to force your way through them. Uphill. Whilst carrying a backpack.

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View from the inside:
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After a lot of struggling and of, in one instance, falling into a ditch, we made it to the top.

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And there was a path:

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However...

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the path didn't last

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and weather started to change.

At that point, we were on top of the mountain (where, as we knew, there used to be a trail in 1942), after more than 5 hours and 1000+ altitude meters. There was no time to go back the way we had come, we had not seen any living soul for hours, we knew there were no human settlements nearby and we did not fancy getting caught in a thunderstorm whilst standing on top of a mountain, carrying trekking poles. And so we started to panic a bit and to scurry to and fro from one ridge to the other to see whether there was some kind of trail somewhere (well, R. scurried; I shuffled). Eventually, we pressed on and, improvising wildly, found a trail leading down.

After a while and some rain (very psychotropic weather they have there in Svaneti), the trail turned into a more substantial, albeit rather muddy road, and we encountered another human being at last: a man was coming towards us through the forest, carrying something over his shoulder. “It looks like a sabre!” I said. “That's a metal rod!” R. said.

It turned out to be an axe.

I swear I'm not making this up.

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Pictured: substantial, life-saving road. Not pictured: Man with axe.

It turned out, the man was a lumberjack, and he was okay.

This is where he slept all night:
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(A short lumberjack interlude is in order at this point: On the next day, when we walked past the tent again, a young, bare-chested lumberjack popped out and invited us in for a cup of tea. We didn't follow his invitation, but he deserves an honorary mention.)

The axe-carrying lumberjack was neither young nor bare-chested, but he was very helpful and he told us that the main road was 4 km and the next village 8 km away. R. and I relaxed in the safe knowledge that it would take us less than one hour to reach the main road where we would surely be able to stop a car and get a lift to the village.

And so, we reached a clearing, and there was that:

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See? Psychotropic weather.

At that point, we had been walking for hours and hours.

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The day was drawing to a close,

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and, in the dusk, two riders appeared out of nowhere, galloping down a mountain slope on their noble steeds.

From this moment on, there are no more photos. There's only words.

The two riders offered to accompany us to the next village and to see us to a guesthouse. After a while, they offered us their horses; and thus commenced my first riding lesson. I got on the horse and rode serenely through the Svanetian forest, evening falling around us and stars appearing in the sky. When it got dark, the men got on the horses behind us. And it seems, in Svaneti it is considered good manners to introduce yourself to the lady when you share a horse with her, because that is what my young man did. I'm very jealous of R., though: when her man got on the horse behind her, he breathed into her ear: “Welcome to Svaneti.”

“Welcome to Svaneti”. It is now right up there with “In vain I have struggled” and “You pierce my soul”.

Darkness fell, we rode on the bank of a glacial river straight into the velvety embrace of the Svanetian night, with a stunning astral spectacle unfolding above our heads.

They brought us to a house on the hill and disappeared into the night, never to be seen again. All they've left us with is the memory of a rather unreal adventure and their names. Which is fortunate, because, as Nanny Ogg says: “Always get the young man's name”, and who am I to disagree with Nanny Ogg's wisdom?

In conclusion, and because it can't hurt to remind ourselves of him:



ETA: [personal profile] rosina_alcona's just reminded me of this:





HOW COULD I HAVE NOT THOUGHT OF THIS MYSELF??? I'm hopeless.
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