**This is a long detailed post. Honestly maybe too long and too detailed. And not even all that exciting. You have been warned.**
A TLG friend, Ashley, wanted to go hiking in a Nature Preserve up the street from her village. She is moving to west Georgia next semester and thought it would be a shame to not have journeyed there. Sort of like moving out of a childhood home but never having looked in the cabinet in the basement.
In her defense, she and I both did our research on this place, but as with most destinations in Georgia, the information was very limited. The name of the Preserve is Kintrishi Protected Area. (You can look it up yourself.)
Initial problems before the trip even started:
- We were supposed to do this trip the previous weekend, but it rained everyday. The kids I was tutoring at the group home left for the week to go to the beach. That allowed us to reschedule for Wednesday. Speaking of rain, it also poured most of Tuesday morning before we left.
- It was originally supposed to be a 2 night camping trip, but because we pushed it to Wednesday, I had to condense it to one night. I had to get back to say my goodbyes in Oz and pack.
- Although the Preserve is “just at the end of Ashley’s road”, it is a long ass road. It’s soo long that the public marshrutka stopped at the second to last village. How the other inhabitants who live further got to town or more importantly how we were going to travel the rest of the way to the Preserve was unknown to us. From the last marshrutka stop to the entrance of the Preserve was still 12 km.
- Don’t really want to spend a lot of money before my return to the States. Another reason we chose this destination was for the hypothetically low cost.
We meet in Kobuleti. We get some supplies for the trip; hot dogs, khatchapuri, bread, etc. While Ashley was waiting for me, she talked to some taxi drivers to see how much they would charge. They quoted a price of 30 Lari to the entrance of the park.
[A quick aside, in American thinking, 30 Lari for a taxi for an equal length is seemingly a small amount to pay. But in Georgia, it’s quite a lot. And not a lot as in they are ripping us off. The taxi would have subject their cars to potholes from hell, washed out roads, and boulders in the road for a large portion of the journey and fuel is sort of expensive. But for us as volunteers on a limited small income, it amounts to a lot.]
We had to decide if it was worth it. In the mean time, we asked another taxi and he gave us a price of 10 Lari- score! But when we got back to him after gathering our supplies, we realized he had no idea where we were trying to go. When he understood, the quote was 30 lari.
We then decided to get a marshrutka to the last stop and walk the rest of the way. How long could 12 km be?
But we changed our minds again, and got a shared taxi to the last public transportation village for 2 lari. Then negotiated to have him take us to the last village for a total of 15 lari. (Unbeknownst to us, BEST decision of the trip so far.)
We started the hike in earnest- 8 km from the entrance of the park. The site that we wanted to reach was 12 km inside the Preserve. But first things first… get to the Preserve.
Thankfully it was a pleasant day. The sun wasn’t beating down on us and the incline was moderate. The houses got further and further apart. I can’t imagine why (or how) people live up here. I mean its pretty and all, but still. My theory is that their ancestors settled way back when, when invaders would sweep through and kill the villagers and eat all their stuff. They decided that they were safe from crazy killers up there. I wouldn’t waste my time climbing those damn mountains to kill a handful of villagers. …I digress.
The increased infrequency of the houses meant a less chance for us to be picked up by a passing car. But fortunately for us there was construction work being down up the gorge. They were tunneling through the mountain. I think for power purposes. An SUV stopped to pick us up. They were nice guys who spoke a little English. Funniest question, “How is Obama?” They took us an appreciated 3 km!
Four km. out from the Preserve was a restaurant beside an ancient arch stone bridge. There were several stone arch bridges in the park.
Walking, walking, walking… We finally get to the entrance of the Preserve. The maps here are just as sparse as on the Internet. We have to decide what to do now. We just hiked a long ass way. Ashley had intended to reach lake in the Preserve, but that was totally out of the question. Even the hike to another main attraction was 12km further in; 5 hour hike. Hell no. So we decided to just walk around to some of the other lesser sites and camp at a closer ‘village’. We hiked to a nunnery that was in the park. They had a very comfortable garden area. We had intended to see a waterfall, but as the park was not mapped out well, we did not find it, which was a bummer.
When we got to the ‘village’ it wasn’t really a village at all. It was simply a clearing in the trail beside the river. Across the river was a decrepit bridge that looked like it was going to collapse with a few more uses.
The sign next sign said, 8 km to Khino. That was one of the two main attrThere was no was in hell I was walking another 12 km that day. And that would have also meant that we would have to walk all that the next day to get out of the camp again. So we decided to pitch our tent here.
Finding wood for the fire was easy enough. We collected some great lengths. Once that was done, we put up the tent and switched out of our sweat soaked clothes.
As we were snacking a little, from down the trail came two dogs. We had seen these dogs back at the nunnery, which was 4 km back! We waited to see if they were with anyone, but no one else came up the trail. The dogs had traveled all the way by themselves. One of the dogs was unafraid of people. Which is rare in Georgia, as they are not vey friendly to stray dogs. The other was VERY wary, but wanted to stick by his friend. We called the first unabashed dog, Bob. After some sniffling around the perimeter of the camp, Bob settled down and sat right beside us, as if he were invited.
It was time to start the fire, which is always my favorite part of camping. But as I tried once, twice, three, four times, it became clear that the wood was too wet to catch fire. And as the sun fell away, everything just got more and more damp. Then the lighter stopped working. Not only were we going to have to eat our hot dogs cold, we were also not going to have a warm fire to hang out by.
I was the saddest boy.
So shortly after eating, as there was nothing to do or see, we simply went into the tent to sleep. As the night went on, it got COLD. The morning couldn’t come fast enough. Not having a campfire that deep in the woods is scary of you think about it too much. There was not another living person within 4 km of us. And our phones didn’t have service.
Late at night, I heard Bob growl and run at something. THAT freaked me out. What the hell could it be? Walking to the site the only animal life we saw were salamanders. But the sign said there were bears and wolves in the park. Bears. And wolves. I was very grateful to have Bob looking after us. He never left us, he was there in the morning even. I was so grateful, I gave him a nice breakfast of hot dog and bread.
We packed up camp and hiked out with Bob leading the way.
I have NEVER walked so much in my life. Ashley calculated that we probably hiked 30 km. overall.
But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
To be the man who walked 1,000 miles
To fall down at your door
I Would Walk 500 Miles, The Proclaimers