Another two-in-one whammy. Sorry guys. Both ‘leisure’ and ‘road’ fit in nicely though.
I’ve never been into proper leisurely holidays. Never been on one of those all-inclusive deals in a resort, never sat an entire week on a beach sipping cocktails, have never actually gone on holidays with a suitcase come to think of it. I like to sweat it out a bit before I enjoy myself. A deserving rest only after there is exertion etc. I also have mild vertigo. Which brings me to our holiday in Georgia. Which brings me to the most harrowing road I have ever been on. Which brings me to the exact opposite of leisure.
Back in 2010 we went to Georgia. The country isn’t huge and we crisscrossed it getting about by mini-buses, trucks, trains and hitching. The Georgian Caucus mountains are the most impressive mountain range I have ever seen in my life. And to get to remote villages set in the depth of the mountains we hired a Lada Niva (a Soviet 4WD that is the most uncomfortable car ever, yet the hardiest and can be fixed with just a hammer and a spanner) for four days. The heart of the most remote region in the country was accessible via a mere 120 km drive from Tbilisi to an elevation of 3000m. This took nine whole freaking hours. The dirt, winding road allowing this accessibility is only open for three months of the year, due to the severe weather conditions and due to the road’s absolute crapness. The road is as wide as your standard dump truck (in this case the Russian Kamas), and likes to collapse unannounced in various parts causing you and your vehicle to plummet thousands of meters to your death. This happens every year. No one knows who its next victim will be. A bunch of Polish tourists in a Lada Niva or a goat herder with his whole flock. When winter ends the road work crews commence to restore the road’s semi-road resemblance caused by avalanches, mud slides and fruity cement mixtures. We were driving on this ‘road’ right at the end of September, only days before it officially closed in October.
I spent most of that trip with my eyes closed and an acidic taste of reflux in my mouth. I really was shit scared. The 4WD would lick the edge of the road and we would be briefly exposed to the gashing ravine below. This happened hundreds of times due to the hundreds of switch-backs. When a Kamas would come, we would have to hug the cliff wall or reverse to a passable shoulder, praying that the two vehicles would only clip one another’s side mirrors. I had that feeling in my gut telling me that I was stupid, that I had left a kid behind with grandparents, that this was such an idiotic way to die and that this WAS NOT a leisurely way to spend my holiday. Once we reached the saddle at 3000m though, and I felt solid mountain earth under my feet, and the most jaw-gaping views ever, I felt a bit more justified. We reached the village on a plateau and saw 360 degrees of hard arse mountains and I almost felt relaxed. Almost. We ended up pitching our tents at an army post. The Georgian soldiers treated us to a supper of lamb and tomatoes, telling us that since Russia had ground invaded Georgia in 2008, there were now army posts scattered all around the mountain range. We were camping on the border with Ossetia and Chechnya where all the trouble had begun, sleeping under a Georgian flag, right near a dude who had the night post holding a machine gun. Leisurely indeed.