The original plan was to take a tour with the Hostel to Kazbegi. But not enough people signed up. But I was determined to see a particular church that is famous for being an iconic scene of Georgia. One picture of the church is simply awe inspiring, and I wanted to take the picture with my own camera.
So instead of taking a private tour bus, we ended up getting a marshrutka. The marshrutka ended up being a mini international tour bus of sorts. We had a Polish father and son, a French student and a sightseeing Austrialian lady. All of which spoke English.
The road to Kazbegi was built as a trans-Causcaus transportation system between Georgia and Russia. Kazbegi is actually only 20 Km from the Russian border. But the road between the ski resort of Gudauri and Kazbegi is in severe disrepair. During that long stretch we bumped along a gravel road. Fortunately they are currently repairing and paving it.
Once we got to the town of Kazbegi, I promised a friend we would look for her scarf that she left at a hostel the night before. The scarf was nowhere to be found, but I mentally noted that the guesthouse was a comfortable place to stay, and the proprietor spoke English.
Arriving to a new town by marsh is disorienting. When the doors open the first crowd of faces are people asking if you want a taxi or a place to stay. Once you push past them, you need to get your bearings, assess the environment and lay of the town. An unexpected face that was added to the mix was a girl who asked if we spoke English. (English speakers are automatically part of the club) She asked if we wanted to split a car to the church. I thought about it for a second, but decided it would be more adventurous to hike to the church. My next thought was, ‘I haven’t even actually SEEN the church yet.
So my next task was to look for the church in the heights of the mountains. I saw it. And it was far! High and far. We rethought hiking it for a second. But others were doing it, and so could we!
We meandered through the streets of Kazbegi only taking a detour to look for my friend’s scarf. The road/ path up to the church was not exactly well marked. We errantly walked through a cow field or two before we saw a guy going our direction. He was leisurely moseying up the path to the mountain. He indicated that this indeed was the path to the church.
The footpath took the most direct route straight up the mountain; a rough, tough and rugged route. After about a km, and totally out of breath, we stopped for a break. The leisurely Georgian took out a cigarette. We noticed a gravel road ascending the mountain to our left. “Does this go up the mountain to the church?”, we asked. He said it does, but the footpath was more ‘direct’. Screw that. As we left the Georgian, I think he was baffled as to why we would chose to take a longer (although less inclined) route. On we went.
Ascending the mountain, we saw a lot of foreigners. A higher concentration than I had seen anywhere else in Georgia this past year. But due to my emotional state of so many friends leaving and wanting to maximize my quality time with Kim, I didn’t feel like being very social.
It started to drizzle rain. Which we were not dressed for. Actually we were not prepared for this hike at all. Although we were going 20 km from the Russian border to a town high in the mountains, to a church even higher, I remember debating with Kim that morning before leaving the Hostel, ‘Should I wear jeans? Naaa!” Thank goodness I decided to bring a sweatshirt. The higher we walked, the colder it became.
We finally got to the top. Ahead of the all those that took the direct route. So although it was further in distance, it was definitely ‘shorter’ in the end.
The church was beautifully perched in the distance. Truly beautiful. But… It was not quite the scene I anticipated. The cloud cover altered the picture.
But it was still an amazing view. From the church we could look down on the town in the valley. The longer we stayed up there though, the temperature dropped by degrees. I couldn’t feel my hands by the time we left.
At the top, we ran into the French guy. It would have been rude to not invite him to hang out with us, so we did. We descended the mountain together and ate at a café together before getting the last marsh.
I was proud of myself for being able to order Georgian food at the café. But I was quickly humbled when she announced the bill in Georgian. Georgian numbers, although simple in concept, are tricky. I totally failed that test. But we had a delicious feast of khinkali, mtsvadi, fries and wine.
Although I didn’t get the picture that I wanted, I plan on coming back to try again. And I will either stay at the guesthouse or campout at the top of the mountain.
Excerpt from The Tortoise and the Hare, Aesop’s Fables
“…The sun started to sink, below the horizon, and the tortoise, who had been plodding towards the winning post since morning, was scarcely a yard from the finish. At that very point, the hare woke with a jolt. He could see the tortoise a speck in the distance and away he dashed. He leapt and bounded at a great rate, his tongue lolling, and gasping for breath. Just a little more and he’d be first at the finish. But the hare’s last leap was just too late, for the tortoise had beaten him to the winning post. Poor hare! Tired and in disgrace, he slumped down beside the tortoise who was silently smiling at him.
“Slowly does it every time!” he said.”