Monday, October 3, 2011

Racha, Part 4: To the Border

Special ham on board, we began our upward journey in earnest.

Georgia, the home of the oldest humanoids outside of Africa, has millennia of experience in territorial expansion and contraction, sometimes acting as conquerors and sometimes as the vanquished. Currently, Georgia feels vulnerable with the de facto loss of former national jewels, Abkhazia and Ossetia, to Russia or its proxies. Georgians also have mixed feelings about the growth of the Azerbaijan-Georgian, Armenian-Georgian, and Turkish-Georgian populations in the country.

Russia, that hungry bear, rumbles 24/7 outside Georgia's fence, wanting nothing less than to gobble it up.

Borders are important to Georgia. 

Racha, Georgia
Up we went on a paved road that changed into a gravel road. Clouds stubbornly obscured the highest snow-capped (rumored) mountains.

Racha, Georgia

Eventually, we arrived at a border post, signified by a pole hut wrapped with a blue tarp.

Racha, Georgia
Several dogs did their sentry duty as they have done for thousands of years - barking to alert the police to oncomers. The sun burned through the cloud cover temporarily, revealing a heartening blue sky.


We looked through some majorly serious binoculars, tried to suss out exactly where the border was, only to learn we were in the border "zone," and relished the sun and blue for a bit. And then it was time to continue our upward journey, so we piled back into our police vehicles.

Racha, Georgia
We passed beautiful yellow foliage framed by mountain hollows.

The heavy cloud cover had returned, crowding the road.

Racha, Georgia
Our driver/escort was Gia (pseudonym), a border police commander who checks on his men regularly up on the pass. He doesn't speak English, so Mariami served as our translator. I asked what kinds of things the border police looked for on their patrols, other than seeing Russians sauntering down the road. Mariami, that proud woman of the Caucasus, replied immediately, "Of course, they look at everything they should look at and take appropriate action. They know what they are doing." I proclaimed my utmost confidence in the patrol's abilities, and asked the question in a different way - were there particular signs the men looked for that suggested suspicious activities?  And, would she mind asking Gia this question? Mariami asked Gia something, and he replied, and Mariami said, "Of course, they look at everything they should look at and take appropriate action. They know what they are doing."

Taylor and I could not help but make up our own response between ourselves: "We look for spoor on the road, examine it, and determine if it is Russian spoor. We sniff it to check for signs of vodka and if there is such a sign, we know when the Russians drank it, from which factory it was produced, and in what village the Russian drank it. We know when the Russian last had intercourse and with whom. All this we determine from the Russian spoor."

While we giggled in appreciation at our own wit, Mariami looked over and glared a little. "I know what you are saying. I want you to know that we, as Georgians, have suffered many centuries of battles and we don't find what you say humorous at all. We have moved past such immaturity." Or something along those lines.

Feeling only slightly dashed, Taylor and I sought to tell Mariami that in the U.S., along the Mexican border especially, there are special border-patrol trackers who look at all kinds of things as evidence of illegal border crossings, including the most minute trace of someone's passage on the earth. And that it was this kind of thing we wondered about in the question. "Yes, yes, of course we know of such things!"

Taylor and I continued to chuckle at ourselves, but more quietly.

We continued upward. ..... and wow.

Racha, Georgia

Racha, Georgia

Racha, Georgia
Racha, Georgia

Racha, Georgia

It was a cold, quiet world. The cloud wrap was so low and thick at times, I could see how one could get lost in a whiteout. The little bit of sun that pierced the cover spotlighted the snow on the nearby mountains.

On our return below, we passed this:

Racha, Georgia

It was getting nigh on time for lunch, and we had same at another abandoned resort in Racha. We picnicked there and weirdly enough, found it chillier at the resort than up in the mountain pass. One of the police escorts shot this bird.

Racha, Georgia

I thought it was something mildly exotic, but when I showed the photo to my hostess, she said it was a chicken. I wonder what it tastes like.

On the way back to the guesthouse, Mariami turned to me and asked, "Have you been to Svaneti yet?" I could only smile, and reply, "Why, no, I haven't, but I hope to go some day."

We returned to the guesthouse satisfied with our day in the mountains. Mariami was so relieved that the sun came out, at least for awhile, so we could appreciate - as she does - the beauty of her beloved Racha. 

In the evening, neighbors came by with accordian, guitar, and drum. They sang and played traditional Georgian songs, our guesthouse hostess and our marshrutka driver danced (very well!), and some of my colleagues joined in. We drank hot coffee or tea to warm ourselves. It was a nice end to the day.

1 comment:

AE Challinor said...

Spectacular photos. I'm supremely jealous; mine were mostly overexposed!