September 15: Gergeti, Georgia
9:00. My back isn’t feeling any better than it was last night so I decide to join three others and hire a 4×4 for the half hour ride up the mountain to the 14th century Gergeti Trinity Church. I know little about the church other than what I’ve read on Wikipedia: “The church is a popular waypoint for trekkers in the area, and can be reached by a steep 3 hour climb up the mountain, or around 30 minutes by jeep up a rough mountain trail.”
9:45. It is indeed a rough mountain trail. And 30 minutes was more like 40. Our driver, a gruff 60-year old Georgian man who does this every day, crossed himself at least three times as we climbed the boulder strewn path. The view from the top makes it all seem worthwhile though.
“The Gergeti Trinity Church was built in the 14th century, and is the only cross-cupola church in Khevi province. The separate belltower dates from the same period as the church itself. Its isolated location on top of a steep mountain surrounded by the vastness of nature has made it a symbol for Georgia. The 18th century Georgian author Vakhushti Batonishvili wrote that in times of danger, precious relics from Mtskheta, including Saint Nino’s Cross were brought here for safekeeping. During the Soviet era, all religious services were prohibited, but the church remained a popular tourist destination. The church is now an active establishment of the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church.” – Wikipedia
10:45. I decide to walk back to the village. That’s Mistake #1 and it’s only mid-morning.
11:30. On the way down I overtake four people who seem to be doddling. We end up walking together for half a hour. Giga Zurabiani is with his mother, sister and cousin. He claims to be the #2-ranked wrestler in Georgia, or as he puts it, “Number 2 in world because everybody know best wrestler in world from Georgia.” He has an invitation to compete in a Triple Crown event combining wrestling, judo and arm wrestling to be held in November in the UK but at this point he doesn’t know if he’ll get a visa. “Very hard to travel to UK and Canada,” he tells me.
11:50. I make it back to the village in one hour and 10 minutes. This won’t break any records but neither will it help my knees or back.
13:35. We leave Gergeti for the 180 km drive to Mtskheta. You probably know as much about Mtskheta as I do. I still can’t pronounce it and I’ve heard Sopo say it 10 times.
17:25. The Natuka Guesthouse is a little less opulent than the one we stayed at in Telavi. No Steinway piano in the common room here. However, they do provide very nice 4 gallon plastic pickle buckets that are great for laundry. I sit on the sun drenched balcony and swirl my clothes in soapy water for an hour. We’re having fun now!