Craic commandos, flabbergasting hospitality and animal touching abounds in the mountain wilderness – Tblisi to Mestia, Georgia

Jill was happy we’d managed an early (ish of 2am) the previous night but Susan was still of the opinion we should have gone to a tittie bar (even though we’d seen plenty in the bath house earlier that day) when we were rudely awoken by the dustmen at about 8am on the Wednesday morning, as we’d ordered a taxi for 9ish to take us into Tblisi city centre where we would be picked up in a minibus (at the statue of St George next to Rustaveli metro) and taken to Vanilla Sky’s little airstrip outside of town for our terribly commercial flight on a 2 person plane up to the mountain village of Mestia in the Svaneti region of Georgia. Susan was convinced we had tons of time and had snoozed the alarm which lead to Jill getting very anxious and impatient, convinced we were going to miss the flight and she’d had just about enough of missing flights this trip, thank you very much. It was a good 20-30 minutes in the taxi from the hotel to the city centre, and then the taxi driver drove straight past Rustaveli and had to double back around the one way system, so we were starting to really panic! We had been told to look for a “white Mercedes Sprinter” and were relieved to find loads of them waiting near the statue when we finally got there. Unfortunately NONE of them were our Vanilla Sky minibus and one of the taxi drivers told us we had just missed it, so we jumped in and told him to catch up with it! We ended up getting there in good time for the flight still thankfully, the weather was decent so the flight was going ahead and and we flopped ourselves down in the comfy chairs in the waiting room, swigged some breakfast beer and petted the two resident airport toy poodles that were mincing about being adorable. Seriously, take note Ryanair – Our research has shown that customers find the whole airport experience a lot less stressful if you provide them with poodles to touch!

We bonded over poodle touching and breakfast beer with Liz and Andy, a lovely couple (both journalists from That London but living in Ankara in Turkey and you can read Liz’s very interesting blog here) around our age who were also going to Mestia and were soon to become our new BFFs while we were there. After a short wait we boarded the tiny 15 seater turbo prop plane, which was too small even to stand up straight in. The pilot told the four big burly (and seemingly quite drunk) Russian blokes in front of us to sit at the front of the plane, we assume for ballast, but this didn’t stop them from trying to walk around and get into the cockpit/chair at the front once we’d taken off. It was too loud in the plane to really talk, but we attempted to continue our conversation with Liz and Andy by yelling over the sound of the engine and the drunk Russians, who were also shouting at each other. Top plane camaraderie achieved!

As the plane ascended into the mountains, we began to realise why the weather had to be perfectly clear in order to fly this route – the little plane was literally flying between the mountains, so closely that you could actually see (once we’d both treated ourselves to wearing our glasses aka “putting some nice luxury eyes on” – we’re both pretty blind but refuse to wear our glasses except for things that are really worth seeing otherwise we won’t feel the benefit) animal tracks in the snow drifts. It was breath-taking but also pretty nerve-wracking too. Jill was having flashbacks of the film “Alive” and had already selected the most beefy looking Russian as the one to be eaten first, in the case of us crashing in the mountains and not getting rescued, to which Susan agreed even though she’s a vegetarian she really misses meat and a small part of her was hoping it would happen so she could have a nice vodka marinaded Ruski steak plus the vodka was getting a bit warm and could use some snow cooling.

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The flight was only an hour long, so it wasn’t long before we saw the distinctive Svan towers and before we knew it we landed in the tiny Queen Tamar Airport of Mestia. It was a lovely little airport but unfortunately the security guards wouldn’t let us take any photos of it! We stood around with Liz and Andy discussing the logistics of getting into town (it was probably walking distance but we had all our heavy bags and it was a scorching hot day) and decided we’d share a taxi. In the meantime Susan had befriended a local bloke called Paarti (breaking the ice by asking where he bought his bottle of beer from but it turned out he’d brought it from home) who was about to get the plane back to Tbilisi. He asked if we had a car, to which we said we obviously hadn’t as we’d just arrived on the plane and he responded with “I have a car you can use! Come with me!”. Now we had assumed that he just meant that the bloke who had driven him to the airport would be able to drive us back into town, but we followed him out to the car park to his jeep where he handed over the keys and the documents and told us “when you are finished with the car please phone my house and they will tell you where to park it”. We were a bit taken aback to say the least and he even refused our offers of payment for using the car, saying that he’ll be in Tbilisi for two weeks so it was just going to be sat there and we might as well use it! Incredible! A free car! To this day the four of us are still in disbelief that this actually happened.

Andy was the designated driver as we’d already had a few beers and he was the only one with real experience with a four wheel drive so we decided “Man must drive” while we drank our warm vodka in the back. You did NEED four wheel drive though, as the “main” road from the airport to Mestia was basically a bumpy dirt track and we frequently had to swerve to avoid cows walking about and sleeping in the middle of the road. Neither Liz and Andy nor us had made any arrangements for accommodation, so first on our agenda was to find a bar, consult the Lonely Planet and make a decision over a beer or two – they were travellers after our own hearts! We found “Café Riho” in the main square, and had a lovely afternoon sat outside there (getting a bit sunburned as none of us had factored that the weather might be nice up here – we were all set for snow!), talking rubbish and getting to know each other. They were really good craic – Susan and Liz in particular found out they had loads in common, being socialist, feminist, vegetarians who drink a lot and don’t eat very much – and we were over the moon when they asked if we minded them tagging along with us while we were in Mestia. There were a couple of dogs hanging around, one of which took a shine to us – we called him Morris and gave him our leftovers from dinner (which was nice but according to the notebook “apart from the bland hindu baby soup”). There was another big hairy bear of a dog, that one of the local men came and tried to drag away with a rope behind its neck, which we were quite concerned about. Susan and Liz were having none of it and quickly jumped up to shout at the men and try and help the dog, they manaaged to wrangle him away, much to the chagrin of the mountain men, and he was happy out to be back around our table chilling with us. Apart from that it was a great day, many beers and laughs were had. We were joined later on by a very Californian looking outdoorsy America lad, Michael, who’d just been hiking up the mountains (he was hard core – he even had his own snow shoes), who had a few beers with us and took us mocking him for being a Republican in good humour. Before we knew it the sun had gone down and we realised we still hadn’t found anywhere to stay the night! Luckily the American recommended the guest house he was staying in (saying that it was very cheap, the family were lovely and the food was delicious) so we decided to head there.

“Guesthouse Koka” was really pleasant and the family were lovely and welcoming as promised. We got a lovely twin room with en suite bathroom (and the worlds smallest bath) for 20 GEL pp/pn (plus 10 GEL extra for each meal). The dad of the family knocked on our door with a bottle of homemade wine and invited us to have a drink with him – very generous! Or so we thought…until Jill came back from having a cigarette to find Susan looking very pissed off. It turned out he had tried to kiss her and she’d had to shove him out of the room and lock the door! Poor thing was definitely starting to worry that she was giving off some kind of pheromone that pervy old Armenian/Georgian men found completely irresistible! After a couple of glasses of wine (he left the wine in our room due to his forced exit – ha! That will teach you!) Susan decided to go for a nap. Jill went to see what Liz and Andy were up to but it turned out they had passed out too (it had been a long day with many beers and vodkas), so she took the wine and found a nice log/bench at the end of the garden to sit and enjoy the beautiful clear starry sky and ponder. It wasn’t long before Mr Guesthouse Koka decided to come out and keep her company i.e. begging for kisses.

“Just one kiss!”
“No, your family are in there!”
“No!”
“Yes! That is your wife and your children!”
“No! Not my wife! Not my children!”

They obviously were! And since he was refusing to leave Jill to her wine and quiet contemplation, she decided to turn in for bed as well.

Guesthouse Koka
Our room in Guesthouse Koka minus the lecherous old man owner trying to lay one on us.
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