“The villagers and people of Georgia are stand-off and uninterested in us as passing tourists. Would it make a difference if they knew we were English and not Russian?”
My snoozing was brought to an abrupt end by an intense argument between our minivan driver and a man on the street of an undisclosed town.
The shouting match was back and forth like a violent tennis match with no let-up and at full volume. With no idea what the cause or content of this awkward moment was, all I could do was observe from my seat at the back of the van.
The driver screeched off into the Georgian countryside once more while we, his victims, clung onto our seats and windows to avoid being flung into the aisle as we sped up the mountain roads. Overtaking on blind corners and crests goes without saying, as does brushing the cattle and dogs wandering obliviously in the streets. The driver may have been practising for an upcoming transit van race…
We somehow safely arrived in the mountain town destination. It felt as though we had been transported into the Andes, rather than the Caucasus. But what did we know? We have never been to the Caucasus.
One main cobbled street was lined with buildings housing a basic bar, café, police station and bakery. Men on horseback trotted down the street, avoided by the seemingly standard battered cars with missing bumpers.
It felt good to be up in the mountains of the Svaneti region and away from the busy city streets of the southern plains.
While spending time exploring the muddy alleyways amongst the stone towers high in the village now seemed to hold the particular purpose of being paused in time for the benefit of any tourist venturing into these parts. But perhaps this is merely an added ‘benefit’ for a village that does not wish to try and keep up with the times.
The villagers and people of Georgia are stand-off and uninterested in us as passing tourists. Would it make a difference if they knew we were English and not Russian?
We as ‘travellers’, not wanting to be labelled tourists, come and visit a country like Georgia, looking into it, like watching or participating in a documentary. Catching glimpses of lives before jumping in the car and moving on to the next snapshot.
On a trip such as this, it feels frustrating to quickly join up the dots on the map to tick various sights off, rather than spending enough time to be saturated in the culture.
It is the nature of short, sharp travel – brief experiences to be captured by a single photo to try and sum up an entire region or country.
I think I can imagine how it might feel to be a local Georgian living in a rural village as they start to see greater numbers of tourists from around the world turning up like walking wallets to previously untouched communities. Camera and khaki-clad to share with the world and generate more popularity to a quiet, local corner.
Why would one continue with the hard graft of farm or construction labour, when a much easier Lari can be made from driving a 4×4 up the road and back?
The village was on one of the main routes into Russia, big trucks sped down the main street with containers from other parts of Europe being delivered south.
It had the feel of a truck stop town, only the trucks didn’t stop here, there must have been a more favourable rest point for them, perhaps in Chechnya.
Between a couple of money exchanges serving undesirable rates and small shops with Cha-cha alcohol for sale was a basic café where we found dinner and coffee. The foreboding grey skies brought an early night surrounded by the mountain vistas.
Church of Tsminda Sameba
On a ridge above Kazbegi is the iconic Church of Tsminda Sameba in the shadow of Mount Kazbek 5147m. It truly is spectacular. Arguably the image of Georgia, and for good reason.
Construction work on a more substantial road brings the ‘less able’/lazy to the church, avoiding the 1-hour moderate hike.
An example of small amounts of tourism bringing about changes which then take away from the actual feature. In a few years, the magic of the place will have trickled down the steep-sided slopes.
But fair enough, the tourists bring money, we take memories. This was something that will be ‘spoilt’ in time, so it was a privilege to experience Kazbegi in its current state.