Rachaaaah: 2


Continuing our recent exploration of Racha province on a 3-day driving and camping tour…

Our driver vaguely remembered a spot where we could set up camp for the night, and after some asking he found the exact location he’d been to some years before. On the way, we passed a sign for a village called Itsa, and another called Sori. Immediately, of course, I began wondering how one might add a third Georgian place name to complete the sentence, “It’s a sorry…” or “Sorry, it’s a…”.and the list turned out to include: Ghu (shortest place name in the country), Plate (pronounced WITH the e, but whatever), Sno, Saghamo (meaning evening), Tba (lake), Chrdili (shadow)… take your pick, or find a better one.

We were again in a mostly coniferous forest, as we had been in Tusheti in summer, so, plenty of fallen fire-making materials, from cones and needles up through all sizes of dead branch. Three hammocks, two tents and the driver in his van, as usual. The mix of evergreens and fall-colored leafed trees was spectacular, the sunny weather something of which we had carefully followed forecasts. The daytime warmth, at these altitudes and in mid-October, was nonetheless a surprise, but the clear skies showed us a frosty morning the next day. Never mind, we had all the warm clothing we would need that night! Cooking with a gas bottle and the fire: shish kabobs, salad, hot drinks, snacks. Life was good.

The next morning, I went to explore a beautiful abandoned old wooden hotel nearby. The front door was open, so I walked right in and began taking photos of the decay of some years, which nonetheless had its own charm. I always find the takeover of nature, re-imposing itself on our careful constructions, to be a thing of wonder, and this was no exception. (It didn’t at ALL remind me of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, no.) Indeed, on my wife’s and my first trip into Racha 11 years ago on our honeymoon, she must have wondered what she was getting herself into. Walking, we found a set of sheet metal fence sections painted white and beginning to crack all over, and I waxed lyrical and photographic over them for some unreasonable time. Love cracked paint, for some reason.

Then we were off to my wife’s father’s home village, Mravaldzali (“many strengths”, 2000 m above sea level), from which the Skhirtladze family originates. This, too, we had visited 11 years ago, but the 10 km rock road had been entirely asphalted last year, our driver said. Too bad that we knew this date: it already has so many holes, gaps and heaves that the poor job done on it is painfully obvious. Money going sideways again? At least it’s better than a similar job being done in nearby Tqibuli: there the asphalt being laid right now is already showing its many failures. No worries, election season, we must be seen being busy!

The 11th century church in Mravaldzali was being restored when last we saw it, and this is now wonderfully finished. Unfortunately, there were none of my wife’s relatives to be found in the village this late in the year… alive, that is. The church cemetery was more than half populated by Skhirtladzes, though, so that was something.

Again, our driver knew exactly the place to stop for the night. He assured us that the somewhat difficult road to it, above the village, would show us a location worth seeing. Indeed, the 4x4 got stuck in deep mud ruts, likely kept wet by some small water source as the surroundings were bone dry. It took much gathering of small dead branches to put under the car to get it going again, and then we reached a small lake at which to camp. He was right: the reflections of autumn trees in the still water were stunning, and in both that evening light and that of next morning, I kept busy with my camera. The altitude and clear atmosphere also showed snowy peaks far in the distance, so the many contrasts made for gorgeous landscapes. Nothing like continuing to rediscover this many-colored little country! More to come.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer and photographer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti

By Tony Hanmer

29 October 2020 17:59
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