Did I mention it was STILL raining?? Enough already!
This morning it’s a trip into the middle kingdom…or down into a very wet cave. Encased in our lovely silver conehead ponchos we climb down today….into a marvelous, huge and relatively dry(compared to outside) cave system.
The Georgians have outdone themselves in making this cave called Prometheus accessible to visitors. There are paved walkways, stairs, mood lighting….everything an impressive cave needs to show off its finest features. It’s right up there with Carlsbad Caverns if I remember correctly….seems pretty huge and the formations are pretty spectacular in spite of the somewhat overdone lighting effects.
Now here’s the best part… we are suppose to take an exciting boat ride thru the underground river and exit out into the river channel…guess what…oh, you already know? Yep…too much rain has swollen the river so that we can not exit safely…plus there is a pretty impressive flow to the rushing river. We are forced to exit by a not-so-spectacular “man-made tunnel”. This cave is part of the Imerti Cave Protected Area and there seems to be an extensive network of caves all through this part of Georgia. So if you are a spelunker then pack your bags!
Fortunately it is still raining….if the sun had been shining when we emerged from the cave we would have thought we were missing something! But….as luck would have it…we are still chasing raindrops as we head out of the Kutaisi area. We had a great stop for lunch in Zugdidi….more great food…I need to do an entry just on the various foods we enjoyed during our adventure…..stay tuned for that one too!
Actually…somewhere along the road on the way to Zugdidi we lost those pesky raindrops and now there is a bit of clearing going on. I failed to mention that with all of this rain we have been a bit on the chilly side. Temperatures are hovering between 50-60 f ° during the day and mid 40’s fº at night…give or take a few degrees. Needless to say my cold weather wardrobe(somewhat limited) is getting a workout.
Our final goal for this day of travel is to the village of Mestia high in the Caucasus Mountains. For me being a mountain lover…this is the absolute highlight of the trip. These mountains in fact are bigger, taller, wider…than the Alps. They are an impressive site.
The road winding up the mountainside and thru the valleys is a narrow two-lane road that is sometimes littered with rocks and boulders. Probably the rain had something to do with that. But then there were the errant cows and a small herd of pigs and piglets to weave around.
While not watching for road hazards I am completely mesmerized by the scenery whizzing by. We have a long way to go and cannot daudel along the way. The drive from the valley past the huge soviet-era dam to the first sighting of the village and its ancient fortress towers is 3+ hours. And miraculously the rain clouds are departing for the afternoon.
In the upper alpine valleys we are treated to snowcapped peaks highlighted against blue skies and white puffy clouds. Nestled in the valley is the ancient village of Mestia. The fortress towers were built by family groups to live in and defend their lands. They could see advancing marauders from high atop the towers and then rain(oops) down rocks, hot oil, arrows…whatever it took to ward off the enemy.
In recent years the Georgian government has pumped a lot of money into developing Mestia as an alpine ski resort village. Since it is early in the season it feels more like a ghost town with all these unfinished and uninhabited buildings lining the streets and square. They hope to have hotels, shops and restaurants take up residence and lure the tourists. It has great possibilities and maybe in few years their dreams will come to fruition. It is truly a spectacular setting.
Our hotel is a “first generation” ski resort hotel….but not the spit and polish one would find in the Alps. The accommodations are just fine and we are anxious to get out and visit the village before dinner.
There’s an almost full moon rising over the mountain, the alpenglow is settling in over the towers, the cows are sauntering down the road from the high pasture….and the temperature is dropping. Back to the room for more coats!
A couple of folks in the group struck out after dinner into town to see if they could find some information on a family name…one fellow in the group has roots in this part of the world and he is trying to track down any information about them.
With the aid of the guide as a translator…they visited a home and talked to some locals.
Apparently his family was not from Mestia but it is thought that they might be from a neighboring village….several phone calls ensued while the lady of the house brought out tea, bread and cheese. These folks are so hospitable, genuinely friendly and wanted so much to be helpful.
Time will tell if the visit was successful.