As you can guess, I love Georgia - after all, I keep coming back year after year. So, naturally, over years I accumulated also a fair share of disappointing encounters and travel fails. Here are some of the more memorable ones.
Just hope Georgians won´t take it too personally - while I have many more good experiences, it is simply more fun to write about those bad ones. But I added one positive at the end to balance things a little bit:)
THE WORST RESTAURANT EXPERIENCE
In July 2014, I was staying with friends in Mestia and one evening, we decided to eat outside. We left our guesthouse at the airport road and walked towards the city center, ready to barge into the first restaurant we stumbled upon.
Almost immediately, we found one place - restaurant Nikala. There was only a waiter inside but the place looked cozy so we decided to give it a try. We opened the door: "Gamarjoba!"
I´ve been to many restaurants where the service wasn´t exactly top-notch. But the expression of utter horror and disgust which settled on the waiter's face when he noticed us was something to behold. He tossed menus on the table and impatiently straddled around till we placed our orders. Then he disappeared into the kitchen so for the next 15 minutes, we heard only rattling of dishes and his angry grumbling.
It didn´t take long and our meals landed on the table. The waiter then turned on the TV, sat in the opposite corner and started watching a football game, ostentatiously ignoring us. He forgot to bring us one kubdari but didn´t have the heart to send him to the kitchen again and instead shared what we got.
We finished our meals - no one wanted to stay here any longer. There were six of us, we had some main dishes, salads, beers... according to the menu, we were supposed to pay about 60 GEL. We tried to get the attention of the waiter, waved at him - no response, his eyes glued to the screen. "Excuse me, can we...." "Sorok!" ("Forty!"), barked the guy without looking at us. So we left the money on the table and left, amused and irritated.
Btw, in the next years, I visited this place a few more times and waiters were OK. Maybe they did some employee training in the meantime or simply there was no football game going on :)
THE WORST MUSEUM EXPERIENCE
August 2015. We reached Svaneti on foot and planned to do a few more walks, but the weather deteriorated overnight. So we opted for a day trip to Ushguli before moving south. When the minivan drops five of us near the Ushguli bridge, clouds are lying low. We stroll around the village. Streets are muddy and - except for a few dogs and goats - devoid of life. Still, nobody complains - the village in this weather looks hauntingly beautiful.
Suddenly, we notice a “Museum” sign in the Latin alphabet, put on display in one of the windows. What is it? House itself looks ordinary, nothing like Margiani tower we visited in Mestia. But since we are already here….. Before we can decide, a middle-aged woman with a small boy appears in the door, waving us in. “Come, come!” Not sure how, but suddenly, we are inside. She silently leads us to the second floor, into the small room.
Here is the exhibition - numerous items on the table, a few books, photos on the wall, stuffed goats. The woman starts speaking in Russian, pointing to individual items. “This is a knife. This is a comb". From time to time, her son translates into English. Only a few items have some backstory “This is a cradle. My grandmother used it.”
It is really weird. A woman just points to items and tells us what we already see. “This is a grinder. This is a mortar”. She looks utterly disinterested, her diction is robotic. She speaks fast as if she wanted to be done as soon as possible. Also, the items she is showing are very mundane. “Eta televizor.” As we are coming from the former Soviet bloc, we are familiar with this stuff. We didn´t come to Ushguli to admire the Soviet-era TV set.
Finally, it´s over. On the way back, we meet an older Svan sitting by the table. We chat for a while, he mentions some Czechoslovak alpinists he hosted 40 years ago, then plays a Svan song on the accordion. This is more pleasant, but at the same time, weird - because it´s obvious that what´s happening here is hardly genuine. Then we say goodbye and head for the entrance.
Now comes the tricky part. It’s obvious that some money is expected, but how to do it? We remember poor, but very hospitable and proud shepherds of Samegrelo, who resolutely refused any money and the only way to pay them back was to give their children some snacks. How to pay them something in a way that nobody "loses a face"? I prepare a short speech in my head - “your son is very clever, can we give him 10 GEL for his assistance?” and turn to the woman. But she is faster and proclaims with a stone face: "five lari per person".
I must admit - we paid. But felt like idiots.
THE WORST MARSHRUTKA RIDE
One day after we had our "worst museum" experience, we wanted to return from Mestia to Kutaisi. At the ticket office, the vendor promised that one marshrutka was almost full and was going to depart soon. So we got in.
Suddenly, we heard loud voices outside. There stood a slender guy with white hair and reddish face and argued with the vendor. Obviously, he was supposed to drive our vehicle, but for some reason, he didn´t want to. But after a minute or two, he resigned, jumped into the machine, slammed the door and turned on the engine.
We immediately came to regret that he wasn't more persistent. Svans are pretty reckless drivers even when relaxed. And you really don´t want to sit in their taxi when they are furious - I drove to Svaneti like 10 times, two times some passengers vomited but it was never as bad as on this day. The driver rode extremely fast, never slowed down before road bends so we often ended up in the opposite lane, very close to the precipice at the edge of the road.
But he didn´t care - maybe because he was constantly on the phone. And even when he put it down and started paying some attention to the road, it was never for long. Others kept calling him. We learned to fear his jolly ringtone it was almost immediately followed by his angry tirades (imagine Hitler speech dubbed in Svan) and extremely risky driving.
It felt like ages, but we had finally made a break at one restaurant at Khaishi. There were several other marshrutkas - some of those were waiting for him cos our driver immediately transferred some of our co-passengers inside. Little more of running around, a few more phone calls and he arranged spots for everyone from his car.
Satisfied, he ordered kubdari and sat on the terrace. Since our new driver was in no hurry, we joined him. Amor (not his real name but close enough :)) already calmed down a little. After some small talk, we had to ask.
"What´s going on? You looked angry."
"Two oxen were stolen from my pastures in Chuberi. I need to handle that but also have duties as a driver".
"Do you think you will get them back?"
"We already know who is the culprit and contacted elders of the village, sent him a message. He has time till midnight to return what he stole."
"And if he doesn´t?"
Amor just ran his finger along his neck: "Then we will deal with him. Our way".
Over the next years, I saw Amor at the station several more times. Never found out how to story ended but he obviously got his oxen back without having to resort to "Svan way". Or he is just good at covering his traces 🙂
Honorable mention #1
Guy who drove us from Zugdidi to Kutaisi, 3:30 pm. Thin, bald guy, looked a bit like a delinquent. And certainly drove like one, his overtaking manoeuvers were borderline suicidal. Had some old marshrutka with a very noisy engine - when he pushed the gas pedal hard, it sounded like a plane during take off.
When we got out, I swore never to get into the car with him again. But the thing is, I am not good at remembering faces. So, next year, I ended up in his car again and realized it only when I heard THAT sound :)
Honorable mention #2
Our taxi driver in Kutaisi overtaking an ambulance. An ambulance with lights and sirens on.
Honorable mention #3
Our driver in Abkhazia during the "excursion", year 2013. I got a privilege to sit right next to him so could closely observe his unorthodox driving style. For example, one would expect that in a bus going 60 mph and only narrowly missing cows sitting on the road, the driver would have hands on wheel all the time. But no, he had many other, more urgent things to attend to - such as readjusting of sunglasses or toying with his chest hair.
THE WORST GUESTHOUSE
In 2016, we finished our trip in Stepantsminda. The place where I used to stay was full and I had no mobile data yet so I asked our driver for recommendations. He drove us to his friend's guesthouse, which turned out to be just a large house - one half was used by the owner, the other half (three rooms) was for rent. The lady running the place was nice, the house was close to the center and the price was ok so we decided to stay.
A few hours later showed up also an owner - a large, hulking man in his fifties. Former military, he moved to his parent's house and started renting it (even hired one lady to do the chores). First, he asked for money for all three nights - as we soon found out, paying him ahead was a mistake.
Why? He wasn´t one of those laid back, relaxed landlords - quite the opposite. Maybe it was because of his background, but we felt like on the military inspection whenever he was skulking around.
"Jozef? Jozef!" (he always looked for me since I was the only one speaking Russian.)
Then he started in a concerned voice: "Jozef, we have a problem. Clothes are lying on the sofa in the living room. That shouldn´t be, what if someone else comes. Could you ask your friends to tidy them up?"
Of course, I could, it was just a trifle. But the scenario above played out again and again in like 30-minutes internals and I felt like an idiot, always asking my friends to do this or that. Shoes in the entry hall are not tidied up. Our washed gear on the clothesline occupies too much space. The sole girl traveling with us is alone in the room with 3 beds. Could she move onto the bed in the living room so her room becomes available for rent?
On the next day, we left early, but when we returned from the hike, he called me to the kitchen.
"Jozef? I saw you used the gas stove in the morning."
"Yes, we boiled some water for tea."
"When I set the price, it didn´t include the usage of kitchen utensils. Gas costs money. Since you are using the kitchen, I have to charge you an extra 5 GEL per person per night."
OK, this was it. I had enough. "This is not mentioned at the time when we arranged the stay. If you insist, keep the money for the first night plus the gas bonus. But we are moving out immediately, so return us the rest of what we paid."
"Then I would be losing money! I expected you to stay for three nights and told my contacts I will be full. Won´t be able to find anyone else on such short notice."
"How so? Yesterday, you moved our friend to the living room. But the room she emptied is not occupied yet."
Arsen first frowned, but then gave up - just asked us not to use any more gas. It was a bit weird, even the lady he hired felt bad about that and apologized to us when he wasn´t around. She was really nice. Two hours later, she knocked on our door. "Arsen left for Tbilisi! Spend all the gas you want!" And for the rest of our stay, she kept asking us if we don´t want to boil something - water, eggs, sausages. Hope she eventually found a better job...
THE WORST HIKE
In 2014, we were young and naive - we believed that all trails outlined on Geoland maps actually exist. So, when we climbed to the top of Bogovachisghele pass bordering Arkhoti, we decided to improvise. The descent down to Roshka looked boring - instead, a much better variant presented itself. We could follow the trail east and then south - not only it provides much better views but it´s also shorter! In a few hours, we will be on the main road!
Our expectations were fulfilled only partially. The trail was indeed more scenic and certainly not boring. But a few hours later, when we were fighting our way through the extremely steep and overgrown hillside, we would have gladly returned to the classic route. But it was too late - the sun was already setting and we were lucky to find a small flat spot for a bivouac. In the end, we were happy that we caught our flight home.
That time in 2018 when we tried to reach Tobavarchkhili lakes from Skuri. The weather forecast wasn´t optimal but we decided to give it a try - after all, those forecasts are not always accurate. And we were right - the reality was much worse.
We got soaked twice on the way there and made it only halfway to the lakes. Then we reached Jolora river and found out it´s too swollen, crossing it was impossible. So we turned back, only to get soaked two more times. But at least we were able to call 112 and launch a rescue operation for an Israeli couple stuck at the other side who couldn´t move on and couldn´t return.
THE WORST EXPERIENCE OVERALL
This one occurred in 2013, on the second day of my first visit - so one can say that since then, things are only getting better and better. It was in Tusheti, where we started our Omalo - Shatili trek. And we learned several valuable lessons that day.
#1 Horseriding trip is a nice idea, but not if none of your group has any experience with horses.
#2 When on the horse, one should hold reins instead of taking photos.
#3 And, most importantly, never go horse riding in heavy hiking boots with a thick, rugged Vibram sole. Because if you ever fall (see #2) and it gets stuck in the stirrup, things can get really rough.
They look harmless, don't they? :)
And that´s it. I only hope none of these experiences will deter you from the visit - that was certainly not a point. Not everything in Georgia goes easily or smoothly, but good things greatly outweigh those bad. And as promised, here is also one good to end this post on a positive note.
THE BEST PARTY EXPERIENCE
This one started unexpectedly. In 2015, we descended from mountains into Khaishi and planned to continue to Svaneti, but got stuck - there was a protest and the road was blocked. We got to know one Georgian dude (introduced to us as Johnny) who was traveling north to visit his family. And during goodbye, he mentioned that he is a co-owner of a club at the Batumi beach and we should call him if we visit the city.
We didn´t plan to, but the weather in Svaneti was bad so one week later we ended up there. So we gave him a call - he was happy to hear us and asked us to meet at 7.00 in front of Sector 26, one of the largest clubs at the beachfront.
When we came to the club, there was already a crowd waiting in front of the gate, there was a foreign DJ playing. Then appeared Johnny, waved at security guards and we were inside, sitting at the best table right at the pool, full of wine and fruits, like in some movie :P
It felt a bit awkward since we had no clothes suitable for a dance club, only for trekking. Still, we spent the whole night chatting, dancing and drinking. And had lots of fun watching the dancefloor. There was a huge pool in the middle of it and from time to time, someone too excited or too drunk jumped inside. Some of them instantly sobered up once they realized they had phones in their pockets...
We got home at 6 am, that didn't happen to me in a while... not very "deep" or valuable memory and not even from the hiking, but definitely memorable :)