After having spent the Winter and most of the Spring in Gudauri, the Vagabond ski instructor group decided to live on a property in the countryside somewhere in central Georgia. Initially they hoped to stay on a property not far from Bakuriani owned by a family member from the group, however the situation was complicated with someone already living on the property, possibly unwelcome to the idea of a dozen "unruly" foreigners residing nearby. Instead, they found a place in the tiny town of Gomi, in the Guria region, near Ozergheti. They would be helping a friend Lika to build a campsite called Dumbo Eco Camp.
With public transport officially closed, our options for reaching Guria to join them were limited. Our Gudauri landlord gave us a lift to Tbilisi, where we spent about a week. On the first day we met up with our Vagabond friends in the park, many of whom were also en-route to Guria, it was a joyful occasion be be all together in a different place, however our party was interrupted with massive rain storm, we all ran to the nearby highway tunnel to take shelter! That evening, soaking wet, we all made our way to Sasha and Shash's apartment. They are another Russian and Australian couple living in Georgia, running their camper rental business Overlando. As the clock was ticking we were worried we would be stuck before curfew hour of 9pm, but as it happened it was the final evening of lockdown in Tbilisi, at 12am there were fireworks going off like it was New Year's Eve!
We managed to find a covert Marshrutka (mini bus), which took us most of the way along the main highway towards Batumi, with windows shrouded. We jumped out at a service station where the road to Ozergheti diverges and thumbed a ride with a friendly man in a speedy car who took us most of the way, stopping briefly to taste the local spring water on the roadside. In Ozergheti our friends picked us up in Taylor's van and took us to tiny village Gomi just under Gomi mountain next to the river. We began our stay in Gomi by sleeping in our small tent under the hazelnut groves next to the river. It's warm and humid in Guria, with a thunderstorm being a common occurrence in the evenings during Summer. I loved walking barefoot on the grass (careful of the snakes!), and swimming in the cold river with our friends.
One day someone forgot to close the gate, and as I was walking back from the river a cow came crashing through the bushes followed soon thereafter by an old farmer wandering calmly through the forest to retrieve his cow.
A large and dominating middle aged local man recently arrived from time abroad; Lasha invited the group to his property for a lavish Georgian supra (feast) several times. We watched the ducks swimming around in his mud lined ponds, and the brood of chickens crowded and clucking in the shed nearby. He peppered us with overwhelming generosity in what probably turned out to be an attempt to find some people to run his new guest house. We were all rather intrigued by his purpose, and he even gifted a number of antique sewing machines! We went for a drive through the rainforest of Gomi to visit the honey guy to commission some honey for the group. He appeared at the gate shirtless and very comical, probably quite drunk on honey chacha.
One evening someone caught a couple of dogs rummaging around our trash and breaking into the compost bin, one of whom was the slightly beautiful, and very crazy "Bobic", who we all came to love and hate, a major character of the Gomi story. I'll never forget his soft fur, extreme energy followed by extreme friendliness and lethargy, and his lopsided grin with open wounds on the ears.
We made a short visit to our friends Alex and Lena who now were living in Tsikhisdziri, a small town between Batumi and Kobuleti. When we jumped off the marshrutka, while figuring out which way to walk we met a very tanned man wearing a pirate hat, who explained that he and some others were living on the beach, and that we must come to visit. We walked down the road next to the railway track and met Lena and Alex on the road. The guest house hosts were of the friendliest variety, and it was a very comfortable place only a few minutes walk from the beach. One day we decided to travel to the beach with some of the local boys to collect oysters. Along the way Alex and I jumped off the concrete breaker wall at a popular local spot, while swimming back you need to pass under a mini tunnel where I bumped my head, and while stupidly attempting to climb back up the breaker wall in this state I nearly fell back but Alex thankfully spotted me and grabbed my arm before that happened!
The beaches on the Black Sea coast were completely inundated with trash after recent rainfall had washed it out along the rivers. Anya and I spent a lot of time picking it up during our walks. To say that Georgia has a major problem with garbage and (illegal?) dumping of trash into rivers is not an understatement. There appears to be a common indifference towards the problem, people literally swimming in the trash on their holiday look at you strangely when you attempt to pick it up, they will even throw some trash back further into the water. The mind casts back to Gudauri in the Spring where the snow melting on the ski slopes unveils a horrible mess of plastic and unmanaged sewerage problems ready to be washed downstream, the biproduct of this approach to waste management can be "enjoyed" by all during the Summer.
Some of our friends began to make plans to leave Georgia and return to Europe. Anya and I had organised to be married in Moscow, however due to the unravelling COVID situation it became clear that we could not follow that plan. Sitting at the table in Gomi again with all our friends, we decided that we could just make a wedding in 3 days, Lika was a wedding planner after all and she declared it was possible! Before we knew what was happening we had booked for our marriage at the service hall, and planned an informal ceremony to take place on top of the nearby Gomi mountain. We invited our family and friends to join us on a Zoom video call, someone said they had an internet connection on the mountain, but we had no time to test the theory!
Anya spent her bachelorette's party the next day in Batumi with the girls, and I joined the guys for dinner at a restaurant in the hills behind Batumi, and we carried our sleeping stuff down to a beautiful beach near Tsikhisdziri. We were invited over to the campsite of a group of free spirits living on the beach in makeshift tents. Here we met our pirate friend again, thoroughly inebriated, and observed the beautiful cups and table made from bamboo cut from the nearby forest. One of the beach residents was a young man from Turkmenistan, who told us many intriguing and sad stories about life in that country, including how he was unable to return without facing consequences because he had spent too much time abroad! When we woke up in the morning with the sun, we ate a watermelon for breakfast, and watched our new friends dive naked into the waves.
The dress that Anya had ordered from Russia for our originally planned wedding had not arrived in Georgia after 3 months of shipping time (glory to Pochta Russia!), it was stuck somewhere on the border, so Anya rushed around Batumi at the last minute with Eva trying to find something that would work. We were unable to find wedding rings in Batumi, so I spent the afternoon fashioning some out of bamboo from the campsite.
In the morning some of our friends appeared with lush flowers from town, and two Mitsubishi Delicas rolled through the gate to take us up the rocky Gomi Mountain road. Halfway up we paused to drink some wine offered to us by the drivers and to give carsick Diana a break from the hectic road! We were approaching the cloud, and I was nervous that our wedding might have no view, but we broke through into the sun and it was an incredible and surreal feeling. The view opened up, the rolling green hills, and the village of huts on Gomi Mountain, all floating above the sea of clouds extending in every direction.
We reached the cross at the top of the mountain, but the telephone signal quality there was very poor. I was worried we would be unable to conduct the zoom call. Taylor and I ran off barefoot down a different side hill to see if we could find something better, but nothing better could be found. I returned stressed and sweaty, Anya also was feeling nervous. Thankfully her phone must have a better antenna, and managed to get just enough signal for a video call, so we decided to set up just below the cross.
Our dear friends performed the required roles admirably! Chris did a great job as orator. Arina was behind the camera. Cloud drifted in and out, and I watched Anya's happy face gather condensation. Afterwards we cracked the champaign and partied! As we drove down the mountain, I received a text message that our wedding certificate was ready to be collected at the service hall, so Anya and I continued there with our two Georgian friends Sopo and Lika as witnesses, another small miracle that it was ready on the same day as the ceremony (and in contrast to the lengthy equivalent process in Russia).
I drove with Lika to collect the wedding cake she had organised to be made for us, something delicious covered in strawberries. We were soon all sitting for dinner at the newly made table under the shelter in the campsite. Two Gomi locals Anzori and Nadia brought us another cake and fireworks as gifts. We spent our first married night sleeping on a small couch out on the veranda of the house, and the rain absolutely bucketed down during the night, spraying me on the outside.
The next day we got a lift into Ozergheti, and took a marshutka to the Black Sea, where we took advantage of COVID prices and stayed in a nice hotel on a cliff above the sea, which resembled a disney castle! Walking down the road to reach the hotel, we passed many stunning Eucalyptus specimens (which are now probably considered invasive), this region is full of them, and it reminded me of home in Australia.
Thinking back on our wedding we were incredibly lucky to have had this experience, especially during COVID times. We are so thankful to our friends here in Georgia who helped make the special day in such short notice, and also to our family and friends at home who joined us on the call, and look forward to seeing all the Australian side soon.