So I just got back from Racha this afternoon. It was a lot of fun! Saw Ambrolauri, Oni, and Shovi, only 20 km from the Russian border near Ossetia. Don’t worry, though, we were safe the whole time–though the home we stayed at had a wolf pelt hanging in the dining room!
This video should give you a pretty good idea what Racha is like. It’s part of a new ad campaign, and it does a good job capturing the feel of rural life in the region, as well as the blend of modern and traditional that you find throughout Georgia. The music is a combination of two famous Rachuli songs.
I went with a fellow TLG teacher from Slovakia named Tomas, and together we made a really good travel team. We met last week on the TLG excursion to Kakheti and hit it off right away, probably because I’m a quarter Czech. He speaks a bit of Russian, and I speak a bit of Georgian, so between the two of us we were able to manage quite well.
We took the Kutaisi-Ambrolauri bus up along the Rioni river. The road hasn’t been repaved since Soviet times, so it was quite treacherous, especially in places where the cliff had partially eroded. Spectacular views, though, especially once we crossed the border into Racha.
At Ambrolauri, we got out and hitched a ride to Oni. The local police actually flagged down a passing tour bus full of Israelis and had them take us. It was awkward at first, until we made friends with the guide–a veteran hitchhiker who has been everywhere from New Zealand to Mongolia to Turkey. When traveling to a country with a foreign language, the five phrases she always tries to learn are:
- Thank you.
- I want.
- I need.
Pretty sound advice. The numbers should come pretty soon after that, along with “how much” and “what price.” “No” is definitely important too.
At Oni, we spent a couple of hours shopping around the local homestays before settling on Family Hostel, a bed-and-breakfast type place with some really nice accommodations. It was a little pricier than we were hoping, but was definitely worth it. The food was great, and the dad showed us a bunch of interesting sites the next day.
We headed up to Shovi with another tourist from the hotel: an 80 year old Turkish man named Adnan. He’s a big time hiker/trekker, and showed us a bunch of photos from his hike up Mount Ararat. He also made us Turkish coffee when we stopped for lunch up in the forest.
Shovi is an awesome rustic resort way up near the Russian border. It’s on the other side of Mount Shota, which is about as high and as steep as Mount Timpanogos in Utah. Maybe I’ll come back and hike it sometime. Anyways, Shovi was pretty cool–definitely worth coming back for a camping trip, or perhaps for a couple of nights in the cabins.
The most interesting thing, though, was how many springs were in the region. Seriously, we stopped almost half a dozen times at places just like the one pictured above, with so much water bubbling up that it almost seems like someone forgot to turn off the faucet. It’s all natural, though, and comes out carbonated and infused with all sorts of minerals. Tastes just like the sparkling mineral water from Borjomi or Nabeghlavi–the locals come up quite frequently to refill their jugs and bottles with the stuff. You can drink it straight from the spring, without any need for purification.
Back at Oni, we had a fun time hanging out with the family and seeing the dad’s furniture-making shop. They’re good people, and we were really fortunate to find them. Showed them some photos of my family, and by the end, I think the mom had half a mind to set me up with a Georgian girl. To be honest, the longer I stay in this country, the more inclined I am to accept…
The next day, we took off with the 19 year-old son on the bus to Tbilisi. He was heading out for his final exams–he’s hoping to study law and tourism, to come back and help the family business. We came down past Shaori Lake through Tkbuli. One of the back tires blew out near the Kutaisi-Tbilisi road, but we made it out in one piece. Tomas continued up toward Zestaponi, while I got out to catch a bus heading back to Kutaisi.
Four months ago, I would have felt totally lost, but I’ve been around Georgia so much by now that it was a piece of cake. Went into town for some lunch, then came back for a much-needed shower.
So that was the trip! It was amazing–I definitely recommend heading up that way for anyone who has a chance. There’s a lot of beautiful country up this way, as well as some genuinely good people. The best sights in Georgia can be a little hidden, and Racha is full of them.