Western Georgia

I entered Georgia from Turkey along the Black Sea coast. I expected high altitudes and cold in this country of the Caucasus, but I was greeted by palm trees and orange groves. I spent the afternoon walking around Batumi. The local fancy cafe, where I went to use the free wi-fi, was full of Americans who had come to teach English.

In the evening, I decided to take a marshrutka 20 km north along the coast to Kobuleti, from which I could hitchhike further into Georgia the next day. I intended to pitch my tent, but when I could not find a dry spot, I thought it was worth asking a local family if I could sleep on their patio. Thus began my experience with Georgian hospitality, as rarely did I have to sleep outside in this country. The man of the house was quite alcoholic, which sadly proved to be the usual situation. A massive feast was prepared for me even though it was already nearly midnight. Innumerable toasts were offered over glasses of wine, and the poor woman of the house had to do all of the cooking and cleaning while me and an increasing crowd of visiting neighbours got to enjoy all the food.

The next day I hitchhiked north to Ozurgeti, a small little town with an immense resemblance to Ukraine. Centuries of Russian domination clearly left their mark. Every town here has a beautiful Orthodox church built out of stone, and they are always full – I didn’t expect so much popular devotion, but I was assured by everyone that this is a major part of daily life.

Then, in mid-afternoon, I hitchhiked onward. A former ‘Chekist’ gave me a lift to the little crossroads of Samtredia. His impeccable Russian accent was combined with a complete lack of gender agreement between adjectives and nouns, apparently the typical mistake of this people in speaking Russian. That evening I finally reached Zugdidi. This is the capital of Mingrelia, populated by speakers of Mingrelian, and I was surprised to learn that this little country had multiple languages (Svan was to prove the third). I visited the regional museum, which proved a must even for one who doesn’t like museums so much. It is surrounded by lovely gardens.

Staying with a local family that night (who plucked me off the street as I was about to pitch a tent), I again enjoyed an array of local dishes. There was a curious kind of mush made from grapes. Mingrelians also eat mămăligă, even using the Romanian name for it. I wonder how this dish arrived across the Black Sea.