up in the mountains - does contain passing reference to a toilet.
10/8/10 - 10/8/10 28 °C
JOURNEY UP TO MESTIA
Arrive at the Mashrutka stop at 8.30. A reminder - Mashrutkas are Transit mini buses that go from one fixed stop to another, only leaving when they are full of people or goods.
See the van is empty so order a coffee - Turkish Coffee in Georgia is not only more available, but better than in Turkey - and you get a much bigger cup.
Go off to buy food from the market for the trip while waiting for the coffee. Although I'd like to say I'm such a relaxed traveller that I casually strolled around the market, knowing there would be some time before we leave, in actuality, I rush as quickly as possible, just incase.
About 9.30 we sit and eat breakfast and drink the coffee at the only table for miles, we have food so we are a table priority! (see previous blog)
Watch people arrive, some dodgy looking men in black and sunglasses sit in a van loking menacing. An Englsih -speaking Archeaologist from Tbilisi tells us that we have already been assigned to a "Homestay"in Mestia with Nino ( we took a card with her name on) and she is unable to arrange a cheaper place for us to stay and goes away again, leaving us a bit puzzled. A group arrives which includes an old lady, a young teenage girl, an older teenage boy and a drunk man in his 30's.
A lot of boxes and goods arrive. An older Israeli couple arrive and its looking like the bus might be going that day. We are told to get on the bus. The drunk man tries to fight the bus driver, but they are both held back by others and at 11.30 we finally leave.
We drive through small towns and villages for about an hour. The houses all have verandas and wrought iron gates, mostly peeling paint. The veranda have a variety of stairways, some plain and some round and sweeping. There are free-range pigs and cows in the road and gardens, which have vines, fruit trees, nut-growing palms and sweet corn. Eventually the road climbs upwards and we reach a beautiful milky turquoise resevoir which is fed by a fast-flowing river.
The older teenage boy can speak English and translates for us. I swop Mp3's with him for a while as he likes lots of different music. The road begins to get a lot bumpier. He says the drunk man is his neighbour and that he wants us to know that he drinks because his wife died.
We stop at a roadside cafe, overlooking the resevoir. The toilet is just a shed with a hole which drops into the strream below. A lot of people have missed the hole and its not smelling too good. We all drink and eat and everyone starts to look a lot happier. The boy returns my IPod and presents me with a flower he's just picked.
When we get back on the bus, everyone is much more talkative and friendly. The drunk man has a bottle of Vodka and a bottle of beer now, but only drinks the beer. The road carries on up and the sides get steeper - upwards and downwards, keeping the resevoir on the side.
Suddenly the bus stops and reverses to a small shrine on the roadside, overlooking the resevoir. . Everyone gets out. The shrine has shelves with glass doors with flowers and glasses in them, there is a black tombstone with two men and a car etched into it.. The old lady hangs on to the back of the shrine and starts to wail and cry uncontrollably, held by the girl. The boy stands and cries. The drunk man gets out the bottle of Vodka and starts to orate - its called toasting - he pours a large amount of Vodka on the ground, takes a gulp and passes it on. All the other men take it in turns to do the same, so elequently, if only I could have understood what they were saying! The boy and the old lady continue to cry and the rest of the women look on and cry as well, me included. A car had gone over the edge a few years before and two men had been killed, one of them the boy's father and the old lady's son. Eventually the driver goes back to the bus and the small group are left by themselves at the shrine, while we get back on the bus. Soon they come back on the bus and it pulls away. The boy casually gets out his MP3 and starts to listen to his music and everyone carries on as before.
The road goes up and up, getting bumpier and bumpier, until there's no tarmac left, though later on the road turned into a proper one briefly before getting much worse again. The mountains get higher and the resevoir turns into a fast-flowing river. The boy translates for us, they tell us that there are bears and wolves in the mountains, but no-one hears or sees them, except maybe in the winter when they are hungry. I'm quite disapointed but not really surprised. He tell us the drunk man is a good hunter and that they stay away. "He's a rich man!" the boy tells us.
After a few hours we stop again at a bridge. People get out with bottles and we're led down to fill our bottle. What a surprise when I realised it was fizzy - the best water I've ever tasted! The drunk man points to a mountain futher on and tells us that its his mountain. ""Our mountain" the boy says. The drunk man tries to pull me further down the path, but I go on back to the bus.
We carry on futher up and up, it starts to rain - something I haven't seen since Istanbul. The drunk man invites us to visit his house and says he will take us to Mestia later. We decline his offer and he gives us his name and phone number. I show him my name written I've been practising writing in the Georgian script and he takes it, saying he'll sleep with it next to his heart and I'm glad we declined his offer to go to his house. Soon they are dropped off in the rain on the side of the mountain and we get out and look at their houses, which we can just make out.
The bus goes on upwards for another hour, until I think that its not possible to go up for any longer! The rain stops and the mountains look beautiful and fresh.
At about 7 pm the bus arrives in Mestia and we get dropped off at a house. "This is Nino's" said the driver and we went in.