I spent the day after the hike very calmly and pushed back my budding cold right away. And then in the evening came my surprise: Patrick. There is this website caucasus-trekking.com and there you can look for people to hike with. I advertised there myself and Patrick got in touch. He’s Austrian, in his mid-40s, arrived in Georgia around the same time as me, has 5 weeks of travel and likes to be in the mountains. We chatted back and forth and thought we should meet up and see what we could do together.
And so we sat in the kitchen of the accommodation, got to know each other a bit and thought about the smartest plan for the next day. And then it turned out a little different and much better.
We started a little late and the Marshrutka to Akhaldsikhe had already left. That’s less than an hour’s drive from here, we wanted to leave luggage in the accommodation, drive on to the big sight of Vardzia, have a look and return. We found a smart funny driver who actually offered all-inclusive tours in a fancy minibus. He was more expensive than Marshrutka but cheaper than taxi.
During the journey we thought back and forth and bargained with him, or rather he did not let us bargain, and so we got off as planned in Akhaldsikhe, thinking that perhaps it was too late for Vardzia after all and that we could just look at the local Rabati Fort. And so we started there and were amazed: Crowds!
Ah! Today was 26 May, Georgia’s Independence Day! Georgia had been part of the Russian Empire since 1800 and finally became an independent democracy in 1918. The joy didn’t last long though, in 1922 it was annexed by the Soviet Union and remained there until 1991. Without celebrations, of course. But after that, things started up again. And this fort seems to be a good place to celebrate, many people travelled from elsewhere. It was a very happy atmosphere and a pleasure to be there.
Many had dressed in traditional robes and were walking among the people:
For the citadel, you still had to pay an entrance fee (and as a foreigner, you also had to pay more than the locals).
We forgot to look at this building and the area around it because we were fully involved in a game. You had to search for QR codes using cut-out photos, scan them and then either a number appeared or a riddle with which you had to find a number. This was written on a piece of paper, then you had to use the riddle next to it to find the correct 3 numbers at the top and these were for the combination lock of the treasure box.
It took a bit, it was fun and in the end we were successful
There is a company that thinks up and does things like this, they have an Instagram-Account. Anyway, the whole thing really excited me and gave me ideas.
And then there was a war equipment exhibition by the army. In 2008, there was a (lost) war with Russia, so they are trying to be well-armed. If you are interested in the details, you can read about it at Wikipedia. In any case, we were impressed by how good the war equipment looked. In the past, a lot of the equipment had been sourced from Russia and the like, but in 2014, everything was switched to material mainly from the USA. I spotted one from Israel among the weapons and one from Turkey among the vehicles, otherwise everything was marked USA.
Here are a few photos:
Afterwards, our stomachs were already hanging down to our knees and we had an interesting, lengthy restaurant experience with an incompetent, ignorant waiter and bad organisation, but in the end we had food in our bellies.
And then it was time for the song and dance performances, of which we unfortunately didn’t see sooo much. I also had a problem: the camera battery ran out (and the second one in the accommodation) and the mobile phone no longer had much capacity.
Afterwards, there was a fun, colourful fireworks display, balloons went up into the sky and the national anthem was played. Or rather, it was the other way round. Some held their hand to their heart, but there was not much formality among the people.
We looked around a bit more, especially at one of those thick towers where the youth liked to hang out.
I knew that if I went to the shelter to get my second battery, I would probably just stay there. And so it was. The day was enough for me, too. It was a super nice atmosphere, there was actually no “post-Soviet misery” to be seen, many mostly younger people were running around joyfully, you didn’t see any boozing people – and we were just happy about our decision for the day. Patrick went back and there was a lot of dancing (to music I don’t like). I briefly met other Russian guests here who explained how much they would like to see peace and a common language all over the world.
We have another plan for the next day – but who knows what it is going be….