"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Over the Edge of the Wild

"Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go."

While we managed to enjoy our weekend in Svaneti without being kidnapped by goblins or chased by wolves, the land itself had an unmistakable rugged wildness about it.  There were no carnival spin rides or hot dog stands in Mestia.  This was not Borjomi.  And while I loved both Borjomi and Svaneti, it can't be denied that Borjomi is like a Class 2 rapid to Svaneti's Class 5.

But before I could fall well and truly dangerously in love with Mestia and Svaneti -- with its mud, its crappy weather, and its bone-chilling cold, the trip was in danger of going south in totality.

This was because, after crawling to bed at 2:00+ the night before, the entire bunkhouse/hostel was awakened at  Seven O'Clock in the Fucking Morning because workers had arrived to lay a new floor in the room next door.

I'm surprised they did not see my mushroom cloud from Tbilisi.

Those of you who've met me probably have an idea of the nuclear reaction currently smoldering inside my sleep-deprived, dehydrated self.  But somehow, miraculously, British Backpacker James was able to calm me down completely by saying something like "If you let this get to you you're going to be in a bad mood all day.  Come on up to the balcony and I'll make you coffee."  And you know what?  That freaking worked.  Day saved.  Thanks James.

Oh yeah, and it was pouring rain that morning too.

Gradually the six of us converged on the balcony, sipping hot instant coffee, last night's leftover vodka, and munching on fresh apples that David One had bought at the market.  We saw some piggies making more piggies.

Eventually the talk came 'round to what exactly we were going to do with a Saturday in Svaneti when the weather was shite.  There was talk of hiking up to The Cross, which -- much like it sounds -- is a big ole cross on top of a mountain, actually visible from our balcony, waaaaay tiny up in the distance when clouds weren't covering it up.  Mark had hiked it before and said it wasn't that hard, that it took about two hours to get up there.  After a lot of back-and-forth, Mark, myself, and the two Davids decided to pile on the layers and make a go of it.

NO idea what we were in for...
Well, it soon became clear that the Davids and I had been misled.  (Thanks Mark, way to actually be in shape and all.)  This was NOT an easy hike, at least for me.  We hadn't even made it to the trail proper when I began wondering if maybe I should join James and Julie in their afternoon of drinking at the hostel instead.  But if one thing can be said about me, I can be really goddam stubborn when I put my mind to it.  And after about half an hour I decided that I was going to make it up to this bloody cross if it killed me.

It did NOT take two hours.  Closer to three, but it seemed a lot longer as pretty much every step was uphill.  Gradually the layers peeled off.  It did rain on us briefly, but mostly the weather behaved.  And as we got higher we began to be privy to some truly spectacular scenery.

I'm not gonna lie.  This hike just about killed me.  I was still hanging on to a bad cough courtesy of Borjomi, and months of strolling along Poti's flat roads had left me woefully unprepared for even a kids' meal portion of what Svaneti can dish out.  But I was having a really good time, and the sheer awesomeness of my surroundings kept spurring me on!

Stubbornness pays off, and eventually we saw the damn thing over the last hill.  We made it!

At the Cross, the four of us shared celebratory Snickers, vodka, and homemade Georgian wine.  The view down to Mestia through the clouds made the whole thing worth it, one hundred times over.

We also made friends with the world's coolest dog, who ended up sticking with us (especially Mark) for the rest of the day.  He was awesome!

After this, things got a little... surreal.  See, I was all for heading back down the mountain, to be in Mestia with something hot warming me up well before dark.  But first Mark and then the Davids started talking about going further on... and eventually I agreed.  Mark gave me a high-five. :)

The Cross is right at the treeline, which means that hiking further on brings you well and truly above the treeline.  The landscape was so alien, with everything around us so silent and still.  I felt like we could have been on another planet.

People manage to live here!
Leaving the trees behind...  
Gives "running to the grocery store" kind of a new meaning, doesn't it?
 The afternoon was getting on, so we only made it about 45 minutes further past the Cross.  But we got far enough to pretty much make it to the snowline, which was completely badass.

Mark looks like he's about to see what's on the other side...
We agreed to turn around at 5:00.  I can't speak for the others, but I know I was pretty much coming to the end of my strength.  Fortunately, downhill is easier, right?  Um, wrong.

Mountain snow lit up by the setting sun.
I have crappy knees, courtesy of bad genes and exacerbated by a couple martial arts injuries during my younger, feistier days.  Two and half hours of stumping steeply downhill, among wet leaves, slick mud, and loose stones makes for extremely unhappy joints.  It wasn't long before going down began to suck about as much as coming up, and it didn't help that we were all bone-tired.  Plus, full dark set in while we still had a ways to go down the mountain.  I limped into Mestia using the flashlight on my cell phone to keep from killing myself.

The four of us grabbed a quick, very quiet dinner at a local cafe, then dragged our exhausted selves back to Nest Hostel.  I took a very-much required hot shower, then prepared to join the others on the balcony for another round of drinks and cards.  In fact, I sat on the edge of my bunk for a good fifteen minutes, trying to psych myself up for this activity.  Then I curled up with my kindle and a single drink before turning off the light and sleeping like a stone.  Sometimes I make good choices. :)

The next morning, we woke up to pouring rain yet again.  The plan was to do another hike to a glacier, but the raid plus a body that was not in the least bit okay with yesterday's activities, made this plan unlikely.  Mark, the Davids and I began to talk about leaving that day, a day early.  And then David Two negotiated passage for the four of us on a marshutka full of 12th graders from Batumi.  They were leaving in 20 minutes.

Whirlwind packing, paying the hostel, saying goodbye to Julie who was staying the extra day anyway, and we ended up packed tight into a minibus full of boisterous, singing 12th graders and their teachers.  I sat up front with said teachers, and soon my day was improved with coffee, chacha, chocolate, crackers, and a strange orange Georgian fruit that looks kind of like a pepper but has flesh kind of like a peach.  An hour into the trip, we made a pit stop to look at Archangel Church.

Then, near Zugdidi, we stopped again to take a look at Enguri Edge Dam.  The water really is that magnificent blue-green color.

Only picture of all four of us from the weekend!
And then, not long after that, we stopped a third time to have a picnic along the side of the road.  Lots of good food and many shots of chacha!

We said farewell to the Davids in Zugdidi.  And then, finally, they dropped me off in Poti, less than 50 feet from my very own front door.

I cannot say enough good things about these folks.  To take in four grubby expat strangers, and treat them with such incredible warm hospitality.  There are times when the generosity and friendliness of the Georgian people just blows me away.

And so ended my weekend adventure over the Edge of the Wild.  I loved Svaneti, but also knew that it would very probably be a harder life than I would ever choose if given the chance.  I have nothing but awed respect for the Svans who make their homes and families in such a raw, unforgiving environment.  Svaneti offers tough love, and breeds a tough people.  I hope to make it back someday, and tackle another mountain.

No comments:

Post a Comment