by William Drake Phillips on 28 Jul 2012 at 12:39
ABKHAZIA -The only redeeming part of Georgia, which isn't really a part of Georgia.
Melons, because there was more than one. the first came at us by surprise. We rolled up to a suspect border crossing, which we had been assured by all the "well-travelled" was impossible to cross and indeed in quite a dangerous area. What we found was melon.
Cue Astik and a man who could have been Obelix. Astik, the russian commander in charge of the border, informed us that though Abkhazia is a free state, the Abkhazian ministry of foreign affairs were not the ones who made the decisions, and indeed the border was closed for the night. Cue the melon. which was so large it looked like an orange in the hands of Obelix, yet weighed William to the floor, his bony elbows scraping the pavement under its weight.
"BEER?... YOU WANT DRINK?"
Obelix emerged from the metal shed with two liters of warm russian lager and a 5 gallon drum of homemade fizzy honeymead. welcome to Russia. (Abkhazia, free state).
The very friendly, large Russian military men showed us a place to sleep while William braved the trek past the guard dogs in the overgrown yard, across no-mans land and into the SHIT SHACK. It moved in the deep. What it was we will never know. but the walls shook. Splash. Zip. Dash. The prancing figure in 5 dollar sandals emerged back into the light and relative safety of the base.
4am - The night guard strolls over to the van, wakes Charley from his slumber to initiate "conversation" by poking his head in the door, inches from charley's face, and shouting "HALLO! WHERE FROM WHERE FROM??" along with a host of other typical foreigner questions.
6am - Astik screeches up to the gate, grabs the passports from the bored, blundering night shift, and hands them back to us. "Have nice trip. See you in a week". RIIIGHT....OR NEVER.
WE ARE NOT A MASHRUTKA
But that's what she thought. The old lady connected to the knuckles connected to the back of my chair. not sure why she got in, we just stopped for directions, but directions are definitely being given. Question is, where to? Five hundred meters down the road, old lady yells to stop. And off she went, clad in black, swaggering like Snoop Dogg in the Hamptons with her handbag swinging in the breeze.
We drove another 45 minutes in the early morning mist, past the skeletons of former Soviet buildings now filled with plants, weeds, and strays. Past the faded and chipped archways and the facades of mansions with rows of dark eyes leering back at us. Past bombshelled structures, abandoned shacks, and fields of produce being eaten by goats. We were stopped by local police who were beyond confused to see an American and two Irish driving through their land, which, if you believe a word the Georgians say, is a terrorist enclave. Finally we emerged from the jungle and found our way to Sukhumi, the capital, where we had to present our clearance letter, buy our visas, and make good use of government toilets.
When you travel outside of tourist centers in Russia, and you don't speak Russian, you are quickly schooled in the delicate art of "point to a word on the menu, pray for the best, and eat it anyway". This first lesson brought us a lunch of borscht and potato and dill salad all for five bucks. success! Once refueled we set off up the street for the botanic gardens, and the Monkey Nursery within, which I had been chomping at the bit to see for several months. In my head I imagined beautiful smiling monkeys, swinging from the vines, snatching bananas from the air and jumping down to shake my hand and dance with me. I'm known for my fanciful daydreams.
What we found was a depressing display of human ignorance. I would love to put those in charge in tiny cages and throw feces and half rotten food at them, which is better than what they deserve. Rat bastards. The poor monkeys were cramped in these tiny, crowded boxes, which looked as if they were cleaned bi-monthly. Their sad faces seemed to plead with us for help. My heart broke and with that we left sukhumi for a swim at the beach in Gagra, flanked by jungle and on which i found a bone i'm certain was human. We are in the Caucasus after all.