Georgia – the land of beauty, passion and poverty
First off, I should remind you that Georgia was not on our itinerary for this trip originally. While traveling through Russia, we met a great couple who described their recent trip to Georgia. They were hosted by a family in the mountains outside of town called Kobuleti. After they shared their vivid impressions, we HAD to change our plans and check out the mysterious and intriguing Georgia. We were overcome with excitement after hearing their stories so we changed our itinerary by nixing Bulgaria and adding in Georgia. We traveled to Georgia on a heavy duty ferry boat that mostly transports trucks with imports and livestock along with truck drivers a few passengers like us on the boat. I describe this experience here.
Traveling to Batumi by boat was worth it for the view, if nothing else, that opens up right before your eyes as you approach the port. A truly awe-inspiring view: green mountain peaks, clear blue water, panoramic view of the Batumi skyline and dolphins greeting us:
We were greeted by our hosts Hatuna (the wife) and Gela (the husband) in the port. They were kind enough to drive out to Batumi, which is about 37 kilometers away from their place. They waited on us for about 2-3 hours to get off the boat so we were mostly concerned with wasting their Saturday afternoon. Later, we’ll learn how precious and expensive gas is for common Georgians, which makes us even more appreciative of their efforts to meet us.
You might be asking yourself how we found these hosts. While we are mostly hosted through people on CouchSurfing, this time we were staying in the village in the mountains, where people definitely don’t speak English and care little about internet. The couple we talked to about Georgia was hosted by Hatuna and Gela also. It is a way for Gela and Hatuna to make a little bit of money from travelers who are looking to stay with a family to immerse in the true life in Georgia and have a chance to see how locals live. We are the perfect candidates and got very lucky to come across this couple in St. Petersburg as Gela and Hatuna’s advertising only consists of word of mouth. Most of their guests are friends of friends of friends from St. Petersburg, where Gela and Hatuna spent 4 years working.
Georgians are forced to travel to neighboring countries a few months or years (as in our hosts’ case) to provide for their families. Our host family consisted of the two of them, their two sons, and Gela’s parents. It was a full-house by our Western standards but just average for Georgians. Everyday new people (adults with their children) would show-up out of nowhere and stay for a day or two – they were all extended family. The house was always alive with noises that colored our stay: children laughing, cows mooing, Hatuna cooking, Grandma yelling in Georgian, radio blaring the same song over and over again, rooster calling early every morning, and Rexa (their cool dog) barking.
Children were always around us:
You might also be asking yourself how we communicated with them if they don’t speak a word of English. Both Hatuna and Gela speak good Russian as they had to work in Russia before. Given that Georgia used to belong in USSR, people were forced to learn Russian in school so most of the people over 40 learned it. Still it wasn’t that easy to communicate because most people don’t remember Russian since they don’t regularly use it or are too shy to try. While everyone understood what I had to say, we’d miss out on a lot of deep conversations between the family members.
Memories that we packed with us from Georgia:
Endless, long, drawn-out, heartfelt and passionate toast followed with chacha:
Unemployment and daily struggle:
We heard endless depressing stories from the family about their struggle to simply survive in the place where it’s so difficult to find a job and one must constantly work on their land to feed the family with hardly any money coming in. Still, they do their best to stay positive. We were happy to be of some help while feeling lucky and humbled.
Untouched and under appreciated beauty:
I don’t think Georgians even realize how rich they truly are to have this gorgeous land. While they were excited to tell us and show us the sights, they explained that nature is quickly forgotten when you struggle to make ends meet.
Georgians don’t hesitate to throw wrappers out of the window or bottles in the lakes. Preserving the environment is not a current priority to this country yet as it’s still trying to develop and get up off its knees in the post-soviet era. Unfortunately, this under appreciation is contributing to the lack of travel to the region and in, turn, unemployment. Notice some pieces of trash right behind me:
Georgians are passionate people: you can witness this not only in the way they communicate with each other, which may seem like yelling to an outsider, but also in their enthusiasm for Georgian traditions, to be only surpassed by their curiosity in you and your culture. Yet the most shocking characteristic of these people is their grand generosity: they would give their guest the world if they could but they try to come as close as they can everyday. Us with Hatuna and Gela and Gela’s sister in the front: