All photos by Amy Yu Mao, or Khvicha.
So begins every conversation with Khvicha, the taxi driver with whom I’d trust my life. “Meghan” seems to be tough for many Georgians to grasp, so I usually introduce myself as “Meg,” which turns into the Georgian name “Megi.” Thus, I am now Megi.
While Amy was visiting last week, Khvicha designed and implemented the perfect three-day tour of Georgia. We covered most of the country, with the exception of the Black Sea coast. After a drive through beautiful Kakheti in the east, Khvicha took us north to the mountains of Kazbegi.
We drove several hours on roads that seemed to be used more by cattle than cars, winding through mountains and forests and construction sites repairing the usual winter damage that four meters of snow will impart on concrete.
When we arrived in Kazbegi, now called Stepantsminda, we left behind Khvicha’s Mercedes for a well-worn Jeep, manned by a fearless local named Mamuka. Amy and I sat in the back, clutching anything we thought might keep us from ejecting through the window at a sudden stop, while Khvicha and Mamuka shouted (i.e. conversed) in Georgian in the front seats. We rocked and rolled and bounced up a mountainside to reach the Gergeti Trinity Church.
The views from the mountaintop soothed our motion sickness and fear of imminent death.
After jumping around like children and getting kicked out of the church for wearing pants, we put our faith in Mamuka when he offered to take us to the most beautiful spots in Kazbegi for an additional 30 Lari. And boy, were we glad we did.
Georgia is a hiker’s paradise. I felt like a child scrambling up the rocky trails, squealing at the sight of camouflaged lizards and gawking at the eagles overhead. The spray from the waterfall felt heavenly in the heat of Georgian summer (which I’m told will peak in August… God help me). I couldn’t stop thanking Mamuka and Khvicha in an infantile combination of Georgian and Russian for introducing us to this small Eden.
As has happened so many times in my travels, I found myself wondering, “What did I do to deserve this?” What divine sources conspired to gift me with this exceptional life? I thought back to a home video I recently re-watched, circa 2003 at the Jersey Shore, in which my 16 year-old self glared into the camera and delivered a command to my present self: “Please, Meghan, whenever you are watching this in the future, I hope you are living somewhere outside of New Jersey. Far, far away.” Well, young self, I am most certainly far from New Jersey.
On the drive home, Khvicha pulled over to offer us some “vino” for the ride home. I accepted, Amy declined. He pulled out a bottle of homemade red wine from his trunk and poured me a small paper cup. Wine in hand, I enjoyed the view from our casual road stop.
Next stop with Amy: Alkhalsikhe, Borjomi, Vardzia.