Thursday, May 31, 2012

Svaneti, Part 7: Back Home, Not Without Drama

Mestia, Svaneti, Georgia.

Old plan

So remember what I said about planning?


"Zara," our guesthouse hostess, happened to visit with her neighbor on Sunday morning while we had breakfast. She returned with a report that the neighbor had planned to fly to Tbilisi that afternoon, but that the flight had been cancelled. Yup, that meant us, too.

So what would have been a fine day for exploring more Svaneti territory and then a one-hour afternoon flight to Tbilisi, turned into a new plan: Arranging for a way back down to Zugdidi in a chartered marshrutka (2.5 hours) and then a five-hour marshrutka ride from Zugdidi to Tbilisi.

Oh, and did I mention that Kate's flight back to the U.S. left at 5:00 the next morning?

So we had to leave, like, now.

New plan

Zara helped us negotiate a marshrutka price of 150 lari for the ride to Zugdidi (sometimes costs up to 200 lari) while I called Pegasus Airlines and ensured we could get an immediate refund at the Mestia airport.

So who turned out to be the marshrutka driver? Yup, the same guy who brought us up to Mestia.


First stop: Mestia airport terminal. Which reminded me of a caterpillar.


Mestia airport terminal, Georgia.

The inside is modern.

Mestia airport, Georgia.

Mestia airport, Georgia.

I will say that Pegasus Airlines gave a prompt refund in cash. However, the airline takes no responsibility for facilitating return travel for stranded travelers. If flight cancellations were a rare event, I could understand that, but it's my understanding that such cancellations happen frequently. Excellent customer service would dictate that they'd have an arrangement for expedited transport to Tbilisi in such circumstances instead of forcing their customers to fend for themselves at the last minute.

View of Mestia from airport.

Marshrutka from Mestia to Zugdidi

Our driver did his best to get us down the mountain to Zugdidi in good time, which we appreciated.

On the way, he stopped so we could capture this view of a thundering stream. You can't tell the scale from the video, but the log and boulder in the middle of this stream are immense.

Marshrutka from Zugdidi to Tbilisi

Sparrow had already reported to us that her marshrutka hadn't actuallly left Mestia til 6:30 and that it had taken a slow three hours to get to Zugdidi.

Her man-on-the-ground intel told us that the afternoon Zugdidi-to-Tbilisi marshrutkas left at 3:00 and 4:30. There had to be at least 7 passengers on a marshrutka for it to leave, and Kate, Sandy, and I agreed that if we had to make up the cost difference for missing passengers, we'd do so. Thanks to our Mestia driver, we made it to Zugdidi about 2:30 and then .... proceeded to wait .... until .... 4:goddamn:thirty for it to leave. And it was hot. And we knew we wouldn't get to Tbilisi before 9:30 p.m. That seven-passenger minimum business? Don't know about that - the marshrutka evidently wasn't gonna move til every last seat was filled, but we didn't know that then.

My observation of Georgians is that they are not averse to a little drama. So at about 3:30, I went inside to the ticket office and asked, in mangled Georgian-English when this 3:00 marshrutka was going to leave, to which the ticket agent said, in Georgian, something like 4:30, to which I expressed my frustration in English and to which she replied with equal fervor, in Georgian, something unintelligible. We had a little more back and forth in our respective languages, both confident in our righteous high dudgeon, and then separated.

I went back outside and threw some desultory verbal chops at the marshrutka driver, who was standing in the shade with some of his comrades, smoking a cigarette, and he just kind of laughed at me, at which point I called the Pegasus airline person at the Mestia airport, chewed on her ear a little bit, and then handed the phone to the marshrutka driver so she could box him around on my behalf.  He took things a little more seriously then, and subsequently kept me up to date as to the passenger count and his estimate of how many minutes it was going to be before we departed. My fellow marshrutka inhabitants, some of whom had suffered stolidly for nigh on an hour and a half by now, observed the theater in silence.

So nothing really changed, but the performances provided some tele-novelaic relief.

Eventually, we did depart. On the way out of Zugdidi, I took this video. The Zugdidi area is pretty. I especially like the attitudes of the cows. Unlike in other parts of Georgia, where cows have a lie-down alongside the road, the Zugdidi area cows plop themselves smack in the middle of the road, stretch out comfortably, and take it as a given that vehicles will go around them.

At a pit stop before Gori, there was a busload of boys who'd been or were on their way to a singing engagement. They'd chosen this spot as a place for an on-the-road supra, and they sang some polyphonic pieces before eating. I was so glad Kate had a chance to hear this right before she left.

I also saw a couple of  young boys, maybe age 10 or so, buying a bottle of some hard liquor from one of the vendors. Something for the road, don't you know.

Sandy got off the marshrutka along the highway by Gori.

Kate and I arrived in Tbilisi about 9:30 p..m. or so - we said our goodbyes at Station Square, where she got on the metro to return to her guesthouse and a few hours of sleep before her plane left early the next morning, and I hopped onto a marshrutka to Rustavi.

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