In Which Sanchezi Goes Horseback Riding (or Erin’s Birthday Weekend): Part II

Riding on the marshrut’ka from Ozurgeti to Tbilisi, it was understood that we would stay at a hostel there. But plans were changed for us all to stay with friends (the other part of the birthday group) in Rustavi. As fate would have it, just like the last trip to Rustavi, we got on the wrong bus, going the wrong way. Just like last time, we go off in ‘new’ Rustavi on the exact same avenue. We took a marshrut’ka this time, thinking to ‘old’ Rustavi, but just like last time, ended up at the fountain…. in ‘new’ Rustavi, still. Then, just like last time, we got a taxi to our final destination. Can’t do anything but laugh.

It was soo good to be reunited with these ladies.  I think the feeling was mutual with everyone.  The crew this weekend was Erin (birthday girl), Caroline, Abbey, Lindsay and myself. We decided to eat at an ‘American’ restaurant called Hollywood’s. I was super hungry due to not eating anything all day except a Katchapuri that Caroline and I split on the marshrut’ka to Tbilisi. They were supposed to have real American hamburgers… but not that night. Fail. Oh well, The girls ordered a pizza, which looked pretty good.

So as I mentioned before, Erin wanted to go ride horses. But the problem was that the place that other #43’s went was really, really far. And by the time we got there, we would just have enough time to ride up a trail, back down, then leave. So we threw out other options. Finally we decided to marshrut’ka to a town “right up the road” that had horses, also.

We noticed another table of English speaking boys. We exchanged formalities, then the real fun began. They were military stationed in Georgia for a while. A great, fun group of guys. They really helped start off Erin’s celebration right! By the end, Erin was mixing drinking for everybody behind the bar and only chastised for being too loud. Okay.

The Birthday Girl, Erin

Rustavi is a quaint city. Not as big and bustling as Tblisi, but I like it’s speed. We didn’t spend much time there, though. We stayed drinking at that one restaurant, went home to sleep it off, then up in the morning back on the grind.

*Before I leave off the Marines.  I must say that even though I don’t ever feel threatened or in danger here, it’s nice to know that if push comes to shove and shit goes down, I have the sword’s point of the most deadly military force know to exist in the history of the world to back me up. Respect to the men and women who stand up daily that would willingly lay down their lives for me. You do NOT go unnoticed or unappreciated.*

Saturday morning was painful. But we didn’t have time to lose. We packed and hit the road. One of the biggest marshrut’ka hubs in Tbilisi is called Didube Station. You can pretty much get a bus to any destination in Georgia. They also have taxis, fruit stands and other stalls that sells pretty much anything you need for your travel needs. To help reenergize, we stopped at a couple of places for water and food. One of the most delicious fast foods here is called Shawarma. It’s basically a burrito… but not.

Shawarma Stand, Didube Station, Tbilisi

Now we are ready to hit the road! We found a marshrut’ka, but for some reason it was hard to get information from them. They didn’t tell us what time or how much. Very evasive, which is uncommon. We stayed on the marshrut’ka for a while though… to recuperate. But after a while, we pressed the issue as to when we would leave. The driver said “In 2 hours… 2 hours! That was too long. So we got out in search of another. But as we were getting stuff out of the back of the vehicle, a crowd of men came over and asked up what the deal was. We said it was taking too long and we would find another ride. They (what was to be later known as the driver) said we were leaving at 1o’clock instead. We still left with a promise to return.  We wanted to check and see if a taxi was available.

We decided beforehand that we would spend fifty collectively, but start at 30. We found a taxi and he wanted 100. We tried to negotiate $50. He looked at us with an incredulous blank stare and said, “Did you say fifty?”  He then brought his friends over to laugh at us.  He then calmly tried to explain to us about gas prices, yadda, yadda. So much for that plan. Back to the marshut’ka with us.

After thirty more minutes of waiting, and a full marshrut’ka later, we left.

*This is when the weekend took a turn 70 degrees vertical.*

As we got outside of Tbilisi, the scenery changed immediately. We started seeing these insanely beautiful mountains. Mountains of all different geological environments, ie, Treed, barren rock, or snow. Scattered along the way were beautiful churches and religious statues. Those were evident because most Georgians are pious enough to cross themselves three times when they see a religious icon or church. To put the frequency of them doing this motion into American cultural context, if it were the ‘punch buggy car game’, they would be very bruised.

But although the view was the most impressive thing I’ve seen thus far in Georgia (even just looking out the window), we were STILL riding in the vehicle. And we kept riding… and riding…. and riding…. We started ascending these mountains and it got cold real quick. That made us revisit the “How much Lari?” question. Still no answer.  Okay.

Eventually, high in this mountain pass, we were the only passengers left on the bus. Then the driver starts talking to us… and he didn’t know a word of English. And we didn’t understand one single word this guy was saying. And collectively, that is hard to do. So we sat back, and decided to just ride it out.

As always in Georgia, just when things get to a level of “What the hell is going on right now…”, a release emerges and takes you in a glorious direction. We arrived in the town of Gudauri, a ski resort in Georgia. The driver dropped us off at a luxury hotel at the top of the resort.

I got out of the bus, clicking photos.

Gudauri, Georgia

Now, first line of business. Find some horses for Erin. As fate would have it, a worker at the resort spoke enough English. And they had free wifi at the hotel. But after inquiries and phone calls, we came to understand that there were no horses in this town. Okay.

We sauntered down the hill with the plan to go down the mountain a little to get horses there. But first, why not get a beer? Stopped at the local restaurant or the only one that seemed open. Met some other descent English speakers, but they were visitors, too. Asked the waitress, but she said they didn’t have horses here. She did suggest we ask the police, who were a couple of buildings up the hill.

Walking up to the Police Station

But alas, they said no horses, as well. (We did gather that people were thinking that we were asking if ‘they’ had horses rather than do they know of horses available for rent to ride in the area. Oh well, back down the hill to the restaurant to give our friends the news.

While viewing the slaughter of the sheep, we found out that the other people milling around were from Israel and were touring Georgia in this sweet SUV’s.

They offered us a ride back to Tbilisi. Why not? We divided ourselves into the five SUVs , and took off. Two things evidently indicated part three of the weekend was about to commence. 1. We left the town of Gudauri headed the wrong direction, that being UP the mountain. 2. The tour guide of the group, who was in the passenger seat of  SUV Lindsay and I were in, turns around to offer a fifth bottle of homemade vodka and asks us, “Do you like Lynyrd Skynyrd?”

…to be continued.

“Play me a song Curtis Loew, Curtis Loew 
I got your drinking money, tune up your dobro 
People said he was useless, them people are the fools 
‘Cause Curtis Loew was the finest picker to ever play the blues

He looked to be sixty, and maybe I was ten 
Mama used to whip me but I’d go see him again 
I’d clap my hands, stomp my feets, try to stay in time 
He’d play me a song or two 
Then take another drink of wine.”

The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Lynyrd Skynyrd


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