This city is a frenzy! There are only 50,000 inhabitants, but they seem to be all at the same time in the car on the same road, there are no traffic lights, signs, crosswalks, nothing. All honking creating a schizophrenic polyphony which they seem to understand since as they say, there are few accidents. We go in search of a bike repair shop because Daniele has to change the chain. A lot of people around us and lots of questions, we barely understand a few... But we understand that the road to Mestia is paved and the work in progress is now done. Good news!
We follow the road to Mestia, very quiet, a little slope begins, quite a easy one.
We get a few miles from the Enguri dam and we stop to sleep along the river surrounded by cows that roam here, always free, everywhere. A really nice and peaceful spot, water is too cold for a bath...
Let's get back on, the mother of Messi has not yet returned, we drink a beer and wait.
Back around 20:00, only four hours in late, says there was mad people on the minibus... It's not hard to believe.
We found out she is a professor of English though, to tell the truth, she doesn't really speaks good (probably the son speaks better)... but the important thing is that we understand each other! Apparently the standards for teaching English are not very high. Zura is also a teacher, of mathematics. We have dinner, accompanied by the wine made from them, a red wine, almost black, very good. We talk about the dam project, tells us that there are no plans to relocate people in other villages or cities, but that they had been promised to be paid, how much nobody knows. Ia (that's her name) tells us that Zura is the biggest opponent of the project because, if taken to the end, "there would be no more Svaneti", he says, and he has no intention of going to live in a city, want to stay here in the mountains of his ancestors. She, however, Ia, is from Zugdidi, she says there is nothing to do in Khaishi and she would prefer to have the money. We do not know if her husband knows that this is her opinion... However it seems that tomorrow they will help us to get some interviews.
Today we wake up calmly, we have just ten kilometers to cover to get to Khaishi, a wonderful road, apart from the constant danger of landslides. There are fallen rocks and landslides in progress everywhere. We stop to eat, our contact, the wife of Zura will be home at 4 o'clock, she writes that we can go to the village and that his son will be there to meet us. Around 13 we arrive, there had to be an uphill slope greater than 25% but we have not met it, every now and then, fortunately, the map is wrong. The country is fully developed on the right of the river, above and along the main road, that is the only road. There are a dozen shacks that are shops of various things, in practice beers, candy, ice cream. Only three are open and no one sells food, neither fruits nor vegetables, nothing, just a few cans of corned beef. The river is loud, runs very fast and does not seem to want to become a placid lake. After a few minutes the sons of Zura come to take us, one of them speaks a good English, 13 years old, he likes Messi. Accompany us on a dirt road until their house. The first floor is in stone and the second as all the houses here, is wooden with a large terrace, always made by planks of wood. In the house there is the father, Zura, is in front of the computer, is a small man, with blue eyes. He does not speak English. They bring something to eat, his son tells us that he'll go to school to meet some friends and tells us that we can go with him. We go, since the mom has not arrived yet, should arrive with the marshrutka but seems to be late. The school is really close to the house, will be about fifty meters. It 'a rectangular building, probably from 60s, since then hasn't undergone many renovations, it seems that only the windows are new... more or less.
The pastime of the boys is cycling ride around the school, of course there's no asphalt but at least it is flat! They want to try our bikes, we buckle under making a thousand incantations and in the meantime we enter the school for a glance, is now closed and will reopen on September 1st but the door is always open and there are people inside, probably teachers. Upon entering we meet a black and white sleeping dog, he found a good shelter from the sun. Inside the school is a bit worse than outside, but nothing worse than the Italian crumbling ones... Yes, the style is older, the desks are still those of the sixties but i do not see why to trash them if they still do the job.
A man speaks a little 'English and guides us in the back of the bar. For the first time we see the basin of the Enguri, green, emerald, magnificent. The man explains that it is not possible to swim, says that there are fishes of about 2.000 kilos, perhaps dinosaurs.
Hit the road again, and after a few meters begins a short descent. The descents are always short. To our right a waterfall, at least 30 meters. Routine here. And then finally the Enguri reservoir, in all its majesty. We follow for 20 miles, often feel the need to stop and admire it. Night falls, there are still 15 kilometers to Khaishi, for the first time we see a plateau ideal for camping, protected by landslides, that all along the road are hanging over our necks like guillotines, with large boulders challenging gravity, a challenge they often lose, we sleep next to a Christ. Here too, the cow poop is everywhere.
Enguri Dam - Leburtskhila
The last dream of the morning is a friend of my teens attacked and torn apart by the cows. I wake up, sweating in the tent. The heat is already unbearable. The Enguri river murmured reassuringly. The cows are not in view but their feces stud the grass like big, gray polka dots. Dry, do not stink, they're there to remind me who owns this place. The dam is just behind the mountain, very close. I do not see but perceive it clearly. The enormous burden of millions of cubic meters of water as a liquid, gigantic sword of Damocles. I walk a hundred meters that separate me from the river still stunned by the dream, I try to bath in the Enguri but the water is too freezing to plunge into. I rinse apart. I raise my head and see a "Lushnukor", a typical Svan defense tower. Is on the mountain above me exactly over the tent, fifty meters. We had not seen it yesterday. So we are officially in Svaneti, no doubt. We dismantle the camp, got on the bike and hit the road, the cows are there, impassive.
We climb towards Potchko Etseri, the village below the dam. Apparently built in the Soviet era for the plant workers. And finally I see it, massive, imposing, crazy as a temple, as human ambition. We climb again up on a gravel that leads to the top, hoping to be able to ride on the dam. There is no way. There is a gate, the guard is polite and tries to intercede for us with the boss of the control tower, but the boss is inflexible, does not care if we have to ride ten kilometers more of uphill because of his inflexibility. We just have to go back down the gravel, and down again to the river, greet the cows and face the climb, the real one, the Great Caucasus. After a few hundred meters Elena is already pushing the bike, I go, out of breath. Breath, change of state of consciousness, and go. The sweat is often a veil that obscures my sight, I go. The water ends up too quickly.
Fifteen kilometers without rest, fifteen thousand meters of fatigue, fifteen million centimeters of sweet suffering. I remember them all, one by one.
We wake up, Ia has prepared something to eat and she's already cooking again. She says she can help us for the interview as soon as she's done with cooking. I do not know why, but today she does not seem in the same mood as yesterday. However, when she finishes cooking she disappears. And if she sees us, she tells us nothing. So at the end we go for a walk on our behalf, immediately behind the school there is a small church with an adjoining cemetery, all of these graves will be flooded and we don't understand how the parents should ensure the movement of coffins. Until now we had not thought of this other aspect of the construction of the dam. Just got home Ia invites us to eat again. We watch the football match with the kids and then with Zura we look at videos on youtube: interviews with the people here, his participations on television debates about the project, and we understand the exact spot where the water should go. In practice it will engulf everything up to the middle of the mountain. It 'a pity not to be able to communicate with Zura.
One of the children asks us the bike, again we say ok. While we're going back to sleep he came back with one of the lights of my bike in hand and with an air of innocence (badly managed) asking "what is this?"! I think my ears started changing different colors. He lost all the lights in my bike. All of them! We're pissed off. Really pissed off. We order Messi to go back to the school to look for them. Ia and Zura join the expedition, of course we too. It 's dark and even with the flashlights it's hard to see, we find one, we will return tomorrow with the daylight to look for the others. Moreover Ia defends his son saying that probably we lost one of the lights before coming to Kaishi! I give up, go to sleep. Ia reaches us and makes a speech which we understand little, eventually wants money from us. We point out that she had told us that we could stay at her house and she had not talked about money, surely we would have given something for the expense but not the price of an hotel room! We're even more disappointed now. At the end we give something, and tomorrow we'll go, we do not know where!