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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Georgia - 21 September, 2002

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Shovi (Hotel Crystal Rock) N4242.115' E04340.637' 1,532 meters .
Ambrolauri . . . .
Finish Kutaisi (La-li Guest House) N4216.389' E04241.789' 214 meters

257 km

Total Leg 3:

2,657 km

Total Leg 2:

2,153 km

Total Leg 1:

3,018 km

Grand Total:

7,828 km

 

Weather: Clear, sunny and hot.  Cool in the evening.

 

 

We wake up to another beautiful day in the mountains - clear, blue skies.  It takes us about an hour to emerge from under our blankets into the cold, refreshing morning air.  Then down to breakfast in the dining room (some of the utensils are still under the table from our first dinner here).  This morning we get a large portion of macaroni and cheese and some rice pudding.  It seems the breakfasts are heavier than the dinners.

 

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Then we pack up our stuff and the truck and are on our way.  We have a long driving day ahead of us.  After a few hours of driving back down the valley road that we came up a few days ago, we arrive back in Ambrolauri.  Once again we stop in this town (we are becoming a regular sight) to do some cook group shopping.  Then we are on our way once again.  A short way outside of town, we take the fork to the right, heading off onto a different road on our way to Kutasi.

 

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We drive for a short ways and then pull off the side of the road to have lunch.  Then we really start to head along the bumpy road into the scenic and lush green valley carved out by the Roni River.  The road is rough and hugs the cliff face that drops down towards the valley bottom and the river that courses through it.

 

A short way into the valley at one point where the cliff falls far down below us, we stop for the "execution" of a passenger that has been traveling with us for quite some time.  In fact, he joined us in Turkmenistan - a gift from one of the many friendly people in the markets who kept offering us wares.  It was a huge watermelon that we had named Turkmelonbashi - the size of the melon matched his ego.  He had started to take up too much space in the truck and we had a quick vote (some called it a kangaroo court) and he was tried and sentenced - guilty (not sure of what) and to be thrown off a high cliff.  We found the appropriate place and the sentence was carried out.

 

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The rest of the afternoon was spent driving the entire length of the valley until we reached Kutaisi at 6 PM.  We arrived at our guest house called La-li (the name of the lady running it).  We got our rooms, dropped off our bags and then headed off to see the main sight in the city - the ruins of the Bagrati Cathedral.  We wanted to get there before it got dark.  The cathedral was built in 1003 and the ruins are very imposing.  In 1510 it was damaged in a fire set by the Turks and in 1692 the cupola and ceiling collapsed in an explosion set off by the Turks.

 

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We were told that it is no longer open to visit the interior, so we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived to see that the doors were open and there was huge crowd of people going in.  We discover that it is the birthday of the Virgin Mary and they are having a mass to celebrate the occasion.  The place is full and they have hung and displayed icons and other religious artifacts in the back portion of the cathedral.

 

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We are welcomed by the locals - in fact, at one point we become the center of attention.  A few people with cameras who look like local press come up and take our pictures.  Other locals ask if they can pose with us and have their picture taken.  We are just sorry that we had not dressed better - we had not been expecting to go inside the cathedral, let alone witness a service.

 

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It is very impressive inside the cathedral.  It must have been very grand and even more awesome when it was still in one piece.  We went to light some candles, but the problem was that they kept blowing out in the breeze.  A lady then came up and asked us to follow her.

 

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She took us back outside and to a room just off to the right that as a small chapel.  She let us inside, so that we could light our candles in peace.  When we returned to the cathedral, she came over to us and talked with us for a while through our local guide who translated.  She even had one of the choirboys bring over a special icon for us to look at - based on how many of the locals came over and kissed it, it seemed to be very important.

 

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We then headed outside to take a look at the exterior of the cathedral.  It is situated in a wonderful location - up on top of a hill overlooking the city below.  Also located here was a splendid ancient citadel and royal residence, which was however reduced to ruins following a Turkish occupation.

 

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We wander around the grounds and one point are stopped by a local policeman.  Security has been very tight while we were there - it seems that some important people attended the service.  The roads had been blocked off and cops were everywhere.  He wanted to know where we were from and then said that is was not safe here and that he should provide security.  Our local guide said that it was just a way for him to earn a little extra money.  We strolled over the remnants of the palace - but not too much to see.  A couple of our traveling companions were surrounded by half a dozen or more local damsels who were taking a strong interest in them.

 

Then back to the guest house for a long delayed shower and dinner.  But as we are leaving the grounds, the policeman tries to stop us once more and insists that we should travel as a group and be escorted.  After a while we just head off and return safely to our guest house.  After a nice long, warm shower (remember that over the last few days we have only had ice cold showers).

 

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Then it is up for another eating and drinking fest Georgia style.  The table is laden with food and drink.  Just as fast as we can eat what is on the table, they bring additional courses to replace the eaten food and drunk wine.  Once again, we eat much more than we should.  While we are enjoying our meal, the full moon rises in a large, bright ball over the hills on the other side of the city.  It is a beautiful scene

 

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We finish off the evening with some singing and dancing.  The daughters of the owner have been learning local, traditional dances and songs and they wish to put on a performance.  We are more than happy to be their audience.  The young girls put on quite a show.  The dances and singing are wonderful and they just keep on providing additional encores.  Once they have tired, someone in our group gets the brilliant (?) idea that we should all sing a song from our home countries.  Some put on a great show and others (such as me) are a disgrace to their countries (how can we help it if we cannot sing?).  On such a note, what else to do but go off to bed.

 

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