The driver drives us from Vladikavkaz in Russia to Stepansminda, the first place in Georgia across the Russian border. Russians have no problem entering Georgia. You do not have a visa. The reverse is very different.
The small town feels like an international airport. Tourists scurry around everywhere. There a senior group from Austria, there a few individualists from the USA. The reason for the crowd is neither the beauty of the city nor its convenient location. On the nearby mountain is the Katzbegi monastery, which is pitoresque in front of the mountains of the Caucasus, above all in front of the Kazbek – the 5,000-meter-high mythical mountain to which Prometheus was chained for indulging in compassion against the will of the gods People brought fire. He didn’t want to really enjoy the view either, since an eagle was supposed to eat his liver every day.
We have almost as little enjoyment for the view on this clear day. These masses of people overwhelm us and with all our luggage we don’t want to go up to the monastery. So we decide to come back and look for a way to come to Tbilisi, or “Tiflis” as it is called in German.
The driver slowly drives us to a large square and manages to ram an elderly lady with his side mirror at a snail’s pace. While Uli protected our luggage from the Austrian seniors and we let the driver and the lady argue with each other, I go around and check the situation. Every two hours, so-called Mashrutkas drive the 250km to the Georgian capital. The next option is already full. I change our last rubles for the local lari for a crazy exchange rate. Then I want to see if there are truck drivers who can take us with them. In the process, however, I meet a tourist couple who are negotiating with a man about a trip to Tbilisi with his own Mashrutka. It should start as soon as his vehicle is full. The trip costs less than twenty euros for Uli and me, I just got that many lari from the exchange office. However, the couple still want to arrange a stop to take a tandem flight with paragliders at one point on the way. I can’t wait to tell my paraglider enthusiast travel companion about our route.
We start immediately as soon as a Dutchman and a couple from Poland have taken their seats in the vehicle. The initial couple comes from Germany or the Faroe Islands. The driver heats the road down as if his family’s life depended on his speed.
In hairpin bends that are obviously hidden from view, he can still overtake several trucks. But at least there is WiFi on board!
We stop at the paraglider’s starting point and enjoy the incredible panorama. I wander around on the hunt for beautiful photo opportunities and walk around a crumbling building. It could have been a hotel in the past. You can find a lot of remnants from communist times that are now falling apart. I am curious and open the wire of the large wooden front door where a puppy is watching.
The cows now seem to live in the formerly impressive building; it clearly looks like a stable. What the peaceful ruminants do with the fresh, bloody sheep’s heads on the shelf next to the entrance remains a mystery to me.
I turn away distgusted.
Our friends circle in the sky and, one after the other, set off to land again.
We pass a place that could also be near Sankt Moritz.
Gudauri is to become the Georgian counterpart in the Caucasus and offers alpine huts and ski lifts for the snow enthusiasts.
IIn conversation with the mouse-faced girl from Poland, to whom we told about our plan to rent a car in Tbilisi, the following squeaky comment emerges:
“I would not recommend to drive in Georgia. The people drive crazy and there are cows everywhere on the streets”!!!”
This sounds particularly funny because of her rodent voice. We should repeat these words often in chorus on the journey as soon as we see cows, sheep, goats or other four-legged friends in front of us on the street.
The driver of our Mashrutka clearly demonstrates that the people behind the wheel are completely crazy. For once, it is not even his headless overtaking maneuver, but that of a fellow man in oncoming traffic who breaks breakneck past a coach and completely ignores the existence of oncoming vehicles. At the last second our driver brings us to safety on a gravel hard shoulder, crosses himself three times and prays silently for a few minutes. Then he continues his journey with the same enthusiasm for risk as before. Before long, one of the young women has to stop the car to throw up in the bushes.