I’m taking advantage of the good connection in this cafe to plan my end-of-adventure adventure, which, if all goes well, will involve singing and feasting and learning one of my favorite writing systems in Georgia (the other favorite, if you’re curious or need some more beautiful letters in your life, is Armenian). Since it is preferable to work with people than to have a leisurely vacation full of creatively avoiding them, this adventure will (hopefully) take the form of a work-travel arrangement. Normally I would WWOOF it, but January in the Caucasus Mountains isn’t really the season. So basically the options are working in a hostel in Tbilisi (the capital) or a guesthouse in a 2,000 person village in the very tippytoppy north (15 miles from the official border with Russia).

.

Georgian script. I have no idea what it says. Perhaps it’s better that way.

.

…And Armenian.

The frustrating thing is that I want to go to the northern one, which is kind of a pain to get to. It’s actually not too far from Kazan (probably about two days by train), and the trip would take me through some breathtaking places that you’ve probably even heard of: Northern Ossetia, Abkhazia, Chechnya, and Dagestan. The reason, of course, that you’ve heard of these areas, is that they’re disputed territories. In other words, tempting though it is at first glance, going by train is right out.
.
Before going on, let me take a moment to emphasize, mostly for the benefit of my mother’s cardiac health, that the following warnings apply to the (for our purposes) Russian part of the Caucasus, that things are much safer and more stable on the Georgian side, and that I am NOT considering going to any of the places mentioned in these warnings. If that wasn’t already clear to you, allow me to gently remind you that, although I periodically travel to “scary” places (by which I mean, like, Bulgaria, which is in the EU for goodness’ sake), I am actually a HUGE WUSS and would not choose to spend my winter vacation in a veritable war zone. But just to allow you to fully empathize with the frustration of my itinerary planning, these are some of the travel notices given for the northern Caucasus:
.
Acts of terrorism, including bombings and hostage takings, continue to occur in Russia, particularly in the North Caucasus region. However, in the past several years, Moscow and St. Petersburg have also been the targets of terrorist attacks. Additionally, from October 15 – December 30, 2013 there were three suicide bombings  targeting public transportation in the city of Volgograd, two of which occurred during the same 24-hour period. Other bombings have occurred at Russian government buildings, airports, hotels, tourist sites, markets, entertainment venues, schools, and residential complexes, and on public transportation including subways, buses, trains, and scheduled commercial flights. Extremist groups occasionally threaten to set off bombs in market areas of major cities occupied largely by migrant workers. Large-scale public events also present an attractive target for terrorists. There is no indication that U.S. institutions or citizens have been targets, but there is a general risk of U.S. citizens becoming victims of indiscriminate terrorist attacks. (source: US State Dept)
.
<em>WARNING: The North Caucasus remains extremely dangerous and is emphatically NOT safe for tourists. Certain regions – particularly Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan – are considered war zones. Most governments advise against all travel to these regions. If you must go, please see War zone safety and the “Stay Safe” section below. (Source: Wikitravel)
.
Hahahahahahahaha NOPE.
.
Ok. So I’m going to have to approach from the south, which is annoying. Basically, this means flying from Moscow to Tbilisi, hopping on a marshrutka (like a bus, but sketchier and full of hilarity) and backtracking on a route that takes 9-10 hours in good weather–and who knows how long that is in January in the mountains in one of the least developed regions of a developing country, then connecting to ANOTHER marshrutka that takes me to the village. Or I could hire a private plane, which is so cheap that I’m not going to consider it (I looked up the crash history of the make of plane I would be hiring, and among the crashes was one in 2007 at the exact same airfield, which means it was probably the same company. No thank you).
.

The nicest thing I can say about marshrutki is that every time you ride one, you wind up with a story that, though not funny now, will make for good telling once you’ve got some distance.

.
So the question is this: Do I wimp out and go to Tbilisi like a lame-o and spend the rest of my youth pining for What Could Have Been, or do I say BRING IT and get to figuring?
.

No-brainer.

.

For real.

.
One look at the region I’m aiming for, and my decision was made. Totally worth the trouble. Especially because it means digging through tons of post-Soviet hilarity, like this gem:
.
There’s at least one minibus [he means marshrutka] a day from Zugdidi [decent-sized town] to Mestia [destination]: it leaves, rather helpfully, from near the model of a Svan tower in Zugdidi. The minibus leaves whenever the driver feels it’s full enough (anything from 8am till the early afternoon), and it comes to the train station to pick up potential passengers arriving on the overnight train from Tbilisi (Source: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/europe-eastern-europe-the-caucasus/georgia/winter-travel-to-mestia-by-marshrutka?page=1#post_17879518).
.
1130 Ah, a woman has just turned up, presumably we were waiting for her. She appears to have arrived on a cow-drawn sled (wearing high heels and looking moderately elegant), which is bringing additional produce for us to carry. Honestly, this would all be great local colour if I wasn’t worried about getting a connection to Batumi.

Oh, the driver of the bus from Mestia was singing a bit as he drove. Fairly well too, insofar as I’m any judge.

.

1645 Got here 5 mins ago. No bus terminal, just chucked off at side of street. Pissing it down. Only shelter is eave of this fucking restaurant. GPS won’t lock so not a fucking clue where I am. Let’s try rebooting, that only takes ages and sometimes fixes random broken shit.

.

Woman acted all frightened when I stepped on a rock (making no noise) in street near hostel. I said (in Georgian) ‘I am English’ (and thus harmless, natch) and waved arms deprecatingly.

.

.

What a rollercoaster that guy had (Source).

.

It took me about a week to get my membership to the work-travel site and compose an e-mail that presents the fairly filmsy case that I am totally qualified to be the point person of their inn because of my native English and hopefully-by-then-fluent Russian.

.

Kate’s о-о-о-о-тлична!

.

“Do you speak any Georgian?” They knew better than to ask, but if they had, I would have answered, “Yes, as long as you want to hear a song about the Virgin Mary!”

.

“You are a vineyard, just blossoming, young and good, springing up in Eden. A fragrant poplar, growing in paradise. May God adorn you. None is more worthy of praise. You yourself are the sun brilliantly shining.”

.

After receiving no response, I consulted with Anna Rose, then started using my Internet ninja skills to hunt down the guest house. I wound up at their Facebook page, where I re-sent the message. The owner replied to ask more about me, and a day after getting that message, finally replied.

.

“ელლო,

Hello,will wait with great pleaser,best regards, nino. yu call to me advance”

.

Awwwww. Cute. Although I think I’ll probably go for a little more communication than calling in advance.

So… I guess this means we’re on!

Advertisements