This week I went traveling with two other volunteers, Amy and Teopile, (originally five, but three left after a few hours so they could get back on the marshutka) to Kazbegi, in North-Eastern Georgia. It’s pretty much the prototypical Georgian church on a mountain with an epic view, which shows up on most guidebooks. We walked up the hill (a fair hike), visited the church, ate lunch, and had started down the path through the mountains, with a hike in mind, when we saw an attractive stone building, a van, and some people. Upon walking closer, a girl greeted us, and asked us to join them. Her uncle had become a monk at the hermitage there three years before, and she was visiting him with her family (there were about ten of them). The Girl, Marita, is an English student at a university in Tbilisi (and hence speaks English, which was fortunate for me, as my Georgian is terrible). It’s never a good idea to turn down a Georgian supra if you can help it, so we stayed, with her uncle, Father Ione, presiding as Tamada. Over the next several hours, rain clouds came and went as we ate fresh fish (from Fr Ione’s fish pond), fresh cheese (from Fr Ione’s cow), wine (made by Fr Ione and used at the monastery for Communion wine; he is apparently a pretty self-sufficient monk, living in a cool stone church on an epic mountain, and giving cool toasts — which is pretty fantastic), and other traditional Georgian dished that the women had brought.
After a couple of hours we had finished toasting and it was starting to rain, so the Georgians packed up their supra and stowed it in the van. Appearance suggested that they were now going to drive down the mountain and stay at someone’s house for the night. The men went into the monk’s house, apologizing that the women weren’t allowed in, and would need to stay in the van. No problem, we thought, surely they’re just looking around and saying goodbye. After an hour or so it was still raining, and getting a little dark. We started to wonder. We asked Marita what was going on. She told us that the men were going to spend the night in the monk’s house, and the women were staying in the van. That hadn’t occurred to me before; we had our bags in a guest house in the village, and there wasn’t really enough space for seven people to stay in the (charmingly eccentric) van all night. By that point it was getting dark, so after some delay getting Teopile out of the monk’s house (because the women weren’t allowed to approach it), we finally started heading down the hill, right before it got quite dark, though not before it had settled into a steady drizzle. Fortunately Amy had brought a headlamp, and after an aborted attempt at taking the short path directly down the mountain, wherein I fell in a squishy pile of wet grass, we took the main road back, which was slow, soggy, wet, muddy, and sometimes slippery, but otherwise perfectly decent and not at all treacherous (unlike the short path). We got in at 10:30, wet and cold, but otherwise well, and our hostess made us some tea before bed.
In the morning we met up with the monk’s family again, and traveled back with them. Most of them live in or near Gori, and Marita lives in Tbilisi, which worked out remarkably well, since we split up on the highway by Mtskheta, and then they dropped me off five minutes from my house in Gori. Before splitting up, though, they had to stop and have another picnic supra. I had imagined some sort of breakfast with vegetables and bread. That was because I had forgotten how Georgians travel when they’re all together. It ended up being a multi hour affair complete with table cloth (a necessity, lending these occasions the title supra), dishes, fried fish, mtsvadi, fried chicken, wine, vodka, and everything else a proper Georgian meal should have. It started raining on us at a good point, when the wine was mostly gone and they had just moved onto vodka, so we packed up and were on our way.
In all, a pretty fabulous little trip.