Snapshots From Georgia: A Glimpse Into Our Two Months

We’ve said to several of our family members and also our new Georgian acquaintances: We’ll have to be careful to not compare the next places we go to Georgia because it has been such a wonderful country to begin our travels in. Can anything top it?

Vacations and travel are never perfect of course. As travelers, Rebecca and I aren’t immune to the shitty and/or tedious things we all encounter in day-to-day living. We’ve already had plenty of afternoons lounging around with a little bit of cabin fever. We’ve dealt with colds. Taxi drivers occasionally try to rip us off. And so on. But there were so many positives during our time in this small country–we’ll let the image gallery do the talking. Here is a link to the above images plus about 70 more.

Please let us know if you have any questions about any of the images!

Hello Carbs, Goodbye Control!

“A breakfast bowl with chia, organic pumpkin seeds, AND sheep’s milk delivered here in high-tech containers that enhance its nutrients ALL the way from New Zealand?! I’ll take that one!,” I exclaimed, wide-eyed and completely in awe of the menu choices spread before me. Paul and I were in a San Francisco cafe, enjoying one last visit with family before we hopped on a plane to Tbilisi, Georgia.

Ever since leaving Kentucky, we had been bouncing around for a few weeks visiting friends and family, making it difficult to maintain a consistent, healthy diet. I figured that this one breakfast bowl would surely make up for the late-night hamburger and chili cheese fries run I had made in my hometown of Portsmouth, NH, along with the uptick in alcohol consumption that accompanies reuniting with old friends. With every spoonful of the chilled, creamy concoction, I imagined the cells in my body were exploding with pink unicorns representing health and goodness.

Welcome to Georgia – Land of the Carbohydrate

Fast forward one month. Paul and I tuck into a homemade breakfast at a local Georgian winery. The matriarch of the family has proven herself to be a culinary force – we had been gorging ourselves on her traditional Georgian dishes for a few days now. I wait in anticipation for what I know will be arriving at the table in no time – Imeretian Khachapuri – a delectable Promised Land of cheese and bread. The steaming hot pie comes in different regional varieties, and is a staple dish in Georgia.

After an unofficial taste-test that I had been conducting with disturbing vigor, this woman’s Khachapuri won first prize. I wondered what made hers SO delicious, such a perfect combination of fluffiness and gooeyness. I can’t say with absolute certainty, but I am guessing butter has something to do with it. During our stay I caught a glimpse of freshly made Khachapuri emerging from the oven, when I witnessed AN ENTIRE STICK OF BUTTER being slathered lovingly atop the pie, causing it to glisten enticingly in the sunlight. My health radars instantly sounded – I was not sure if I should be eating what felt like a pound of bread, cheese, and butter every day. Fortunately, and probably far too easily, I managed to quiet these concerns. When was the next time I would be in Georgia on a family vineyard indulging in some of the country’s best food? I figured I might as well suck it down and worry about it later.

Both in 2015, when Paul and I traveled in central and eastern Europe for six weeks, and now in Georgia, we have noticed behavioral similarities regarding food and health, mainly that in comparison to the United States, the average citizen seems considerably less obsessive about them.

There are likely many social, cultural, and economic reasons for this. Much of America’s health and wellness industry is dominated by choices that can only be easily accessed by the privileged. In comparison to the United States, Georgia is not a wealthy country. Far less people have the disposable income to spend on products such as gluten-free flour and almond milk, if they even have access to these items in the first place. Other factors could include a population’s perspectives on what it means to be healthy, what food is considered to be healthy, as well as differing beauty ideals.

In the United States, one is bombarded with an onslaught of neverending health and wellness remedies. Fats were bad in the nineties, then it was about calorie counting, followed up by eliminating carbs and increasing protein intake, and today whole foods are in and sugar is out. All of this and our obesity rates still soar, along with the high prevalence of eating disorders. In Georgia, Paul and I have noticed less extremes when it comes to people’s bodies. It’s far less common to see a severely obese person or someone who is rocking emaciated-chic. I have no doubt that both ends of the spectrum exist here, but they don’t seem pervasive.

Embracing the Bread

What I love about traveling is that you have to relinquish control of many ingrained beliefs, including those about food, or you are going to drive yourself crazy. This is particularly true in Georgia, where carbohydrates, salt, and meat are culinary heavyweights. You can manage to avoid them, but it takes some effort and you may end up offending a gracious Georgian host who has spent the last two hours toiling over her signature meat Khinkali (pork dumplings with soup broth). Also, it would be a grave mistake, because the food here is immensely satisfying and delicious.

For an American woman who is a self-professed exercise junkie and most certainly not immune to societal pressures, this situation could be anxiety-inducing, but I’ve actually found it to be refreshing. It’s hard to ignore the constant barrage of in-your-face nutrition and exercise trends in America, so-much-so that the process of choosing food and trying to enjoy it can seem like a chore. In Georgia, where NOT eating carbohydrates daily would be abnormal, I feel a little more liberated.

In addition, with the alteration in our dietary habits, Paul and I have also observed a change in our bodies. Shockingly, we both seem to have lost body fat. We are perplexed by this phenomenon, but our fairly uneducated guess is it likely can be attributed to a combination of a less sedentary lifestyle, our gym membership, minimal stress, and less preservatives. Then again, this could all be a grand delusion that we are feeding ourselves. I’m not asking too many questions; I’m going with it.

A Smorgasbord of Satisfaction

To be honest, I think I have reached a peak of carb-consumption while in Georgia that I may never again attain. The other day I picked up two loaves of piping hot bread baked in a tone (a tandoor-style oven) and realized I had absentmindedly eaten half a loaf while walking back to our apartment. My vitamin levels may not be optimal right now, but my happiness sure is!

Paul and I have nine days remaining in Georgia and then we are off to Dubai. In all likelihood, I will probably try to reduce my carb consumption and up my vegetable intake once we leave. I am almost positive that when we finally get back to the States, I will revert back to smoothies, salads, and whole foods, I am a middle class American white woman, after all. For now, I am going to savor our last days eating authentic Georgian food, including these ubiquitous and cheap bread-oriented snacks.

Lobiani

Lobiani

This is my absolute favorite breaded delight – smashed kidney bean filling wrapped in a buttery bread pocket. I refer to it as a Georgian burrito, and it fulfills my occasional craving for Mexican food, which is nonexistent in this country.

Adjarian Khachapuri

Exhibit A: Enough said. 

Khachapuri

Buttery bread with mashed potatoes and a hot dog (aka, the Double Carb Whammy)

Sausage_bread

The title says it all. Genius!

 

The Grape Harvest and the Waterfall

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Bakvha welcoming a neighbor, a bull, and more grapes.

Strung between two pear trees, the shaded rope hammock beckoned me. My legs were cramping–the feeling brought me back almost 20 years to high school football two-a-day practices, when seemingly endless bear crawls, up downs, and sprints dehydrated the heck out of us aspiring gridiron heroes. I’d been hauling forty to sixty pound containers of grapes for a few hours, and the only route from field to press was a single-track path alongside vineyards sagging under the weight of Tsitska and Tsolikouri grapes, two of over 500 hundred varieties grown in Georgia.

There would be no tractor, no wheelbarrow, no cart. Just two legs, a sore back, and determination. The grapes had to be picked and pressed soon: rainy days followed by sunny weather primed the fruit. The bunches were bursting with juice.

I drew some cool water from the well, watching the metal bucket descend almost 70 feet down, clanging the concrete walls as it dropped. I quenched my thirst and settled into the hammock, but I had a hunch that the break would be curtailed. If Bakhva, the vineyard’s patriarch, spotted me lounging, he’d surely grin and point back to the fields, where hundreds of kilograms of harvested grapes awaited transfer. He didn’t seem to tire, plus he was making the roughly quarter-mile round trip in blue rubber sandals. Time and time again.

Sure enough, Bakhva spotted me after about five minutes, gestured for me to follow him, and I gladly pulled myself up. I had to step up my harvest game and push through.

Being in this Georgian village at Baia’s Wine on a brilliant autumn day and being welcomed–for a second time –by this incredibly kind and hardworking family make all the tedious aspects of travel worth it. The waiting around, stumbling through transactions due to language barriers, occasionally being ripped off by cab drivers, wearing the same outfit over and over again (I’m looking good in shades of blue and gray, let me tell you): it’s part of the tradeoff for seeking cultural exchange and insights into places far from our own comfort zones.

Rebecca and I are in transition and feel privileged to be on this open-ended journey, of course. But it came about after a series of unanticipated scenarios. We’d always thought that by now, we’d be moving back to New England with a child in tow. But some significant fertility challenges interrupted our plans. We also thought we might end up in New Zealand for six months next year, but my Fulbright proposal wasn’t accepted. So that’s the hand we were dealt.

Soon after hearing about my Fulbright disappointment, a friend recommended the book Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. This text was a game-changer and seemed to reaffirm some of the impulses we felt to hit the road. Even though New Zealand was no longer in the cards, we still felt a strong pull to uproot ourselves, and Potts encourages everyone to eschew the traditional mindset of waiting until retirement or the perfect situation when making the choice to travel.

“We’d love to drop all and explore the world outside, but the time never seems right. Thus, given an unlimited amount of choices, we make none. Settling into our lives, we get so obsessed with our domestic certainties that we forget why we desired them in the first place,” Potts writes. This really resonated with me–it’s so easy to put off travel, adventure, and choices that will significantly alter your trajectory. Straying from the steady march of moving to a bigger home, climbing the career ladder, accumulating things, and being too busy to enjoy the only currency that doesn’t discriminate based on demographics–the amount of time we have each day–can feel so freakin’ hard to do. But it can be done, and I also realize that it’s easier for me to say this without having to provide stability for a child.

Potts also extols the virtues of earning your freedom. Rebecca and I saved money for this journey, but we are both working remotely with hopes of paying our way as we go. So far, so good. Almost five weeks into our travels, we haven’t spent one cent beyond what we’ve earned, perhaps helping to dispel the notion that you must be independently wealthy to travel the world. Granted, Georgia has a very low cost-of-living, but we also want to test out the theory that it’s possible to commit to remote work and live well.

So here’s Roads and Revisions. Roads, of course, representing movement, the literal and figurative journey. With Revisions, there are usually positive connotations involved with actively making changes, whether they be to an essay, a lifestyle choice, a goal or plan. Several years ago, we thought we’d be at a certain point in our lives. We aren’t. That’s ok. We’re certainly embracing big changes for now.

Back at Baia’s Wine, the work ended when the sun set. Feasting commenced shortly after. Huddled around several low tables, we volunteers and guests feasted on khachapuri, eggplant with walnut puree, lobio (beans in a clay dish), fried chicken, and other Georgian staples. Lots of wine, of course.

After numerous toasts to peace, to family, to Georgia, and to Georgian/US relations, among other missives, I asked Bakhva’s daughter Gvanca to ask her father something for me. Over the course of two visits, we had developed a series of grunts, grins, and gestures to communicate, as I can’t speak Georgian or Russian and his English is lacking. I wanted to tell him how impressed I was that he never seemed to get tired during the physical labor of harvest and that I appreciated the opportunity to help out.

The table fell silent as he delivered a lengthy reply, as it is Georgian tradition for the Tamada, or toastmaster, to be shown deference at the dining table. According to Gvancha, he said “If you think about water, a lake or pond doesn’t move. It gets dirty over time. But a waterfall is clean, strong, always in motion. I prefer to be a waterfall.” What a response!

Rebecca and I may pine for a more stable life with full benefits and a permanent dwelling sooner than we think. I really have no idea. But for now, we’re embracing the Road, Revisions, and the continuous action of a waterfall.