Sweaty in Svaneti: Day 03
08/18/2016 | Mestia to Tsvirmi
Georgian cuisine, much like everything else about Georgia, was a very pleasant surprise.
I Day 03 Stats & Intro
START – STOP: Mestia – Tsvirmi
DISTANCE: 14.6 mi
ELEVATION GAIN: 5195 ft
RIDING TIME: 8:00
TIME AWAKE SPENT IN PURSUIT OF THE TRIP, ROUGHLY: 10:00MAJOR SUPPORT PROVIDED BY
POINTS OF INTEREST / OBJECTIVES:
- The Mestia town square and civic buildings.
- There is a tree at the crossroads near Heshkili. If it is raining, it’s the perfect place to hide.
- Backyard Olympic-level gymnastics in Tsvirmi.
- Courtyard graft and political gerrymandering.
- Interloping about an ancient Russian Orthodox Church service in order to listen to the chants of the spiritually somnambulant coming from within.
CUE SHEET: KML DOWNLOAD
WEATHER: Today it rained. When we woke up the sky was slate grey and dew clung to every surface; rain was inevitable. It first struck while we were climbing the paved road out of Mestia, though at this point it was intermittent and gentle. But when we reached the crossroads at Heshkili it was coming down hard. At this point we decided to wait it out under a tree. We were cold, sealed in rain jackets wishing upon a wish that it would blow over. It did. Then the sun came out and the rest of the day was gorge, simply gorge.
Georgian cuisine, much like everything else about Georgia, was a very pleasant surprise. I don’t want to give you the impression that we travel to foreign countries without doing research, but the majority of our efforts focused on putting together a doable route. Lots of emails/Skypes/WhatsApps/texts about the route. So many. SO MANY. Just look at the pictures we’ve been posting—this route is rad. Basically we did a bikepacking calendar shoot. Which, if you’re interested in a Boys & Girls of Bikepacking Calendar let us know (really, the only issue is figuring out which month(s) will feature Benedict).But aside from the route we hadn’t done a huge amount of cultural investigation. Some might call this willful neglect, I’d like to think of it as having a propensity for surprise. Why take all the wonder out of the world?”- YJ
We knew that Georgia was part of the Soviet Union, that it borders Russia, that we’d be in the mountains. And we assumed that since Georgia had been a part of the Soviet Union and neighbors Russia, the Georgian Cultural experience would conform to our expectations of the Russian Cultural Experience. Not that any of us had actually been to Russia; we based our expectations on hearsay and 20 years of Cold War and post-Cold War action movies. Basic cultural blindness. However we were excited and open to the experience: LET THERE BE LIGHT! We wanted to see, we wanted to dismantle our expectations, we were in Georgia to learn.
There is so much to tell you about Georgia. And for our purposes now, I think you should know that Georgia is not Russia, and that Georgian culture is distinct and captivating. We learned that there has been developed culture in the Georgian region since the 13th century BCE, and given its geographical location Georgia has been a crossroads throughout antiquity, at one time or another in the domain of history’s greatest empires.
So what about the food? Based on our Russian expectations—again, these not even indicative of any actual Russian cuisine—we were prepared to eat foot with a solid beet and radish base, kinda blah, healthy but blah. We expected porridge and vodka, we expected potatoes potatoes potatoes.11As I write this I find myself thinking, ‘Hmm potatoes potatoes potatoes wouldn’t be that bad.’ Yes, there were potatoes in Georgia, but they hardly registered in the hierarchy of Georgian food. Proud of his homeland’s cuisine, Tazer made sure that we surveyed the popular Georgian dishes during our trip. Highlights include:
- Khachapuri: The most common dish on our expedition. In layman’s terms this is Georgian pizza. Basically it’s one of those cheese dips where someone has scooped the innards of a bread loaf out and replaced it with creamy celery and chip-scoopable cheese, usually with some bits of onions and other herbs mixed in. Khachapuri is visually comparable to this suburban mixer hors d’oeuvres, except the cheese and bread are baked together, the cheese is white and a bit sour (not overly so), and the bread is a mix of Naan and top-tier pizza crust. It’s delicious, and the Georgians think it is delicious too. Or at least that’s our guess, because it would appear that they eat Khachapuri everyday. I mean e-v-e-r-y-d-a-y. We were served it at every meal, without fail. Now, I am a lover of pizza, and there have been times in my life when I have lived that #slicelife, but pizza everyday can beat you down, and after six days of Khachapuri we all needed a break. Too much of a good thing? Yes. But if you offered me a bite right now I would savor it. ★★★☆☆
- Lobiani: Whereas the Khachapuri is the distant cousin to pizza, Lobiani shares ancestral roots with calzone. We didn’t discover this dish until about halfway through our trip, but once we did we couldn’t get enough. Basically it’s a pizza sandwich or savory pie, or a closed-face tart. It is round and flat with a layer of meat, cheese, onion, and spices, all enclosed in sleeve of thin, flakey bread. Basically it’s a Hot Pocket, but since for some of us Hot Pockets recall sad and lonely memories of being a latchkey kid, or quietly eating by ourselves in our first apartment after getting out of high school, looking around at the dirty brown carpet and bong water stains while the flat blue light of a halogen strip flickers above you, I won’t call these Hot Pockets. They’re not Hot Pockets and should never be associated with Hot Pockets. ★★★★★
- Homemade Yogurt: Hey, I like yogurt. But I don’t love it. It’s totally fine but my life doesn’t depend on it, not like Benedict’s does. I mean the man can’t live without it, it’s an addiction, and like all addictions it’s maybe a little sad. Point is he’s mentioned a number of times that he plans on making a pilgrimage to the birthplace of yogurt. Well, we might have beat him to it. Every day we were treated to warm, gamey yogurt fresh from the yogurt bucket in the back of the farm. At times the yogurt was so young that it retained a hint of the manger. ‘Authentic’ is the only word that comes to mind. Now, we love Benedict. It’s not hard to do—to know the man is to love the man—and we consider him a dear friend. So we did what dear friends do to each other. We took a video of ourselves eating this yogurt and sent it to him. Were we poking the bear? Batting the hornets nest? Shaking the baby? You bet we were. But here’s the thing: Benedict doesn’t do conflict. He was glad that we had experienced this wonderful yogurt, but calmly made it clear he was upset that we had lorded it over him. For a moment we were remiss: were we juvenile and base? Yes. Of course we were. We responded with a series of videos that depicted our contingent devouring this yogurt and rejoicing in its flavor. We did this because we’re children. ★★★★☆
- Farm-to-Table Boiled Pork at the Guest House in Tsvirmi: This was not good. Maybe the only culinary misstep of our entire trip. Daniel allowed wisdom to guide him in his decision not to eat it. Tazer demurely passed on the experience, “Danny-yell I am not hungry for it.” But Brian and I, fancying ourselves adventurers, decided that we had to try it. Soon enough my stomach felt Bad, as if two medieval armies were clashing inside my stomach. Fortunately I had a week’s worth of cheese from all the Khachapuri in my system, which acted as an effective barrier against any unexpected or undesired “movement”. These partially-digested cheese dikes helped prevent what could have been a major inconvenience, especially when you consider the bathroom and living accommodations of this guest house (let’s just say the walls were very thin). Point is, steer clear of the boiled pork in Tsvirmi. It’s not worth it. ★☆☆☆☆
- Svan Salt: In ancient China the production of silk was a highly protected secret and silkworms were stringently controlled, at least according to the web television series Marco Polo. In the beginning of this series, Marco’s father attempts to ferret silk worms out of the Mongol empire, leading to Marco’s servitude to the Great Khan. Heavy shit. Anyway, we found ourselves in the Svaneti and in the Svaneti they have Svan Salt. What a flavor! According to Tazer Svan Salt can only be found in this region. They don’t even have Svan Salt in Tbilisi. Why? There was something otherworldly about this salt, a fineness of taste that should be shared with the world. But when we asked, when we inquired into how to procure and possibly manufacture this salt, we were met with silence. Our inquires were ignored and dismissed. We were snubbed, and at points we witnessed anger flare up in the eyes of those we questioned. It became apparent that we weren’t getting any answers. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time or resources to crack this case. We expect that if one even wanted to scratch the surface of the Svan Salt mystery, a proper investigative team comprised of the world’s top detectives, anthropologists, forensic scientists, and authorities on the occult would have to be organized. We didn’t have the resolve to risk trying to take Svan salt out of the region, nor did we have a son to give the Svan Salt king. So our investigation continues. If you have Svan Salt tips, or clues that could lead to Svan Salt access in Portland, OR, please send them to [email protected] ★★★★★★
This is by no means a comprehensive account of our Georgian meals. But it is enough to let you know that Georgian food is good, the best food we’ve had on any of our Dead Reckoning trips, and should be considered a strong reason to visit this country.
Mestia Mornings Don't be fooled by the continental breakfast. This motel is naaaaaaaaaasty.
Going Right at Heskili The Dead Reckoning crew takes fate by the leash.
The Hamlet of Leli Where the men said we wouldn't be able to ride our bikes any further and the women called these men fools.
Tsvirmi Stay at the guest house in this town! We did. We loved it.
A BRIEF SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION OF A PARTICULAR GEORGIAN EXPERIENCE AND THE CONVERSATION THAT SPARKED IT. SCIENCE BY BRIAN. "SHUT UP NERD" BY DANIEL AND KYLE (TAZER TOO, BY ASSOCIATION). Shut Up, Nerd
Daniel: “Yeah, I am definitely not going to eat that boiled meat. I don’t even care what animal it is, looks like a pile of kneecaps that were microwaved too long and then stored in a hot tub.”
Tazer: “Guys, I don’t think you should, Danny-Yell is making the good decision here, I don’t know about that food. It looks like someone collected meat with an ice cream scoop and then cooked it in a urinal.”
Brian: “Looks fine, I mean I’ll try it.”
Kyle: “Well if you try it I’ll try it.”
Daniel: “Cool, yeah, you guys should experiment. We’re only in the middle of the Republic of Georgia literally halfway around the world in some backwoods town three days from our van ride out. Yeah, this is the best time to do this, you should let evolution sort this out. Survival of the fittest right? See if your stomach survives this. I mean either you’re here later, or you’re not.”
Brian: “‘Survival of the fittest’ is a misnomer. Evolution (specifically Darwinian evolution) doesn’t in any means demand that there is a winner in the game of natural selection. Survival of the fittest means in reality survival of the good enough. If the goal were to have one winner, the “fittest,” then there would be only a single organism left–without the opportunity to reproduce. The actual goal of natural selection is to preserve the fidelity of genetic information for the longest time, given environmental factors, in a means to overcome (momentarily) the increasing entropy in the universe. In some cases, the best way to preserve genetic information is, in fact, to cooperate and create a biological system that . . . .”
Kyle: “Shut up, nerd.”