Friday, October 23, 2009

Kazbegi

Mountain villages in the Caucasus are, if anything, a challenge to get to. In this region, reaching your destination is considered a success. Single track dirt roads are the norm. They hug cliffs, take you around wicked hairpin turns, and skirt streams. Timid drivers need not apply.

The road to Kazbegi is true to form. It rises north out of Tbilisi, sauntering through the foothills past rivers and shepherds herding sheep. You think to yourself, “This ain’t so bad. Maybe I could stop off at one of those kebab shops we keep passing. Driver!” Instead, I was stuck with sausages falling on my head from the storage rack above. I rectified the situation and then after a while of no aerial bombardment, the jolly guy sitting next to me remarked, “It looks like the sausages have fallen asleep.”

In an instant, the minibus starts its grueling ascent up over the pass. It starts with hairpin after hairpin as the road emerges from the tree line. You’re still travelling on asphalt at this point, but that is soon to end because the ski resort of Gudauri is fast approaching, at which point the pavement stops. Rumour is it that the president has a villa there and, therefore, has no reason to travel any further.

It is after the ski resort that things get remarkable. It isn’t snowing but there is a wall of snow as high as the minibus on either side of you. The road continues up to the pas, winding its way through a series of tunnels that I can only compare to the old tunnels of the railway grade above my parents’ house. Water drips from the ceiling, there are puddles and potholes everywhere, and it is pitch black!

Your escape from the tunnels leads you into a long valley that eventually ends in Kazbegi. The road is again asphalt and the scenery is spectacular.

Kazbegi itself is wedged in a rather narrow valley. One one side you have giant mountains, on the other side you have the granddaddy of them all: Mt. Kazbegi, which stands at some 5,000+ metres. Highlights in the city include going up yet another dirt road to a church that is perched on top of a hill overlooking the town and imagining what it would be like to continue further up the road to Russia. As fun as that would be, I think I’ll just leave it up to my imagination.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Protest Pictures

Saakashvili is a marked man.


The huts in a row.

The sign speaks for itself. This is in front of parliament.

Opposition party supporters. They gave me some tea so I took a picture with the promise to announce their cause to the world.


I believe that gesture was in response to the question "What do you think of Saakashvili?"

Huts sponsored by GeoCell

Street Protests – Georgian Style

Please note that this information is woefully out of date. Pretend, for a few minutes, that you are back in April 2009.

 

It’s the middle of what is now affectionately called “Protest Season” - a time of year when the opposition get together to protest maligned president Mikhail Saakashvili. It has been going on for so long that it become about as predictable as the winter flu. And it seems to be treated like one: it shows up, affects some people, and then eventually goes away.

The opposition has good reason to protest. It claims that the president has done nothing for the Georgian economy, he plunged the country into a war it could not win, and is generally not fit to lead a country. There was another guy, who recently descended from power. that fit the same mould. In fact, there is a street named after him in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.

What is fascinating about a Georgian protest is its permanence. The protesters are ready to block the main street for months on end using makeshift huts. Each hut is covered in thick plastic, has a number, and is sponsored by GeoCell (a Georgian mobile service provider). These huts are not big, maybe 6ft x 10ft, and provide only rudimentary accommodation to the dwellers (people who come from the countryside and have very little to do other than sit in their huts and drink tea/vodka).  

Another interesting element is that a quick walk down the Main Street from the parliament building to freedom square (maybe 500 metres) will lead you past 7 or 8 different opposition parties. This has long been the bane of the Georgian opposition. They spend most of the year uniting against Saakashvili only to fall victim to the president’s divide and conquer strategy. Once the opposition starts disagreeing with each other, the protests fizzle out and plans for next year’s protest season begin.