Shota and Misha’s Excellent Adventure

We were enjoying a late evening stroll in the Kakhetian countryside with Lali, our guide and host, when we were beckoned by a group of young men having a picnic at the church. Lali and Audrey sacrificed Dan to Shota and Misha, the leaders of the group, and waited out the encounter at a distance.

Picnic with Friends - Kisiskhevi, Georgia
Dan Befriends Shota and Misha – Kakheti, Georgia

Homemade bacon (think glistening white chunks of pork fat) was offered up on a plate while a five liter gasoline jug full of murky white wine was dragged out and glasses filled to the rim. To avoid the fat, Dan played vegetarian. Shota and Misha couldn’t understand the non-meat thing, but gave him a pass. No such pass when it comes to drinking wine in Kakheti, though. At Dan’s pleading, Lali and Audrey finally joined, if only to extract him from the situation.

A few toasts later, Dan was struggling to put back the tainted brown wine. Relief came when the group’s focus shifted and Misha pulled out his guitar and started belting out Georgian ballads. Eventually, we pulled ourselves away, but not before Misha enlisted us in an expedition to some nearby caves the next day. Lali had lived in the region her whole life but had never been. How could we say no?

Our Adventure in Kakheti Begins

The next morning, Misha and Shota proudly told us how they had each drunk three liters of wine the night before and were up at 5 AM that morning to milk the cows. How do you say “you win” in Georgian?

We piled into Shota’s battered Renault and headed for the hills. While Shota drove, Misha played road strategist, guiding Shota’s car over ruts and through sinkholes. When the road literally ended in the woods, we stopped and emptied the trunk of all the requisite ingredients for a Kakhetian picnic – metal skewers, five liters of wine, kilos of pork, vegetables, stacks of Georgian bread, and a guitar in a cardboard box.

After our initial climb to the church ruins, Misha stayed behind to man the fire for shashlik (grilled pork) as Shota led the way up an even steeper hill to the caves. Shota would grab each of us by the arm and vault us up to catch the nearest tree branch or root, all the way up to the cave entrance.

Kakheti Caves - Kakheti, Georgia
Up in the caves in Kakheti, Georgia

The caves were simple shelters from the 8th and 9th centuries when the area suffered frequent invasions. Women, children and old men would retreat there to hide while younger men stayed below in the villages to fight. You could see where wine and water were once stored; black stains remained as evidence of an ancient kitchen. It wasn’t so much what we saw in the caves, but the remote location and experience of getting there that made it special.

After exploring a few more caves, all linked by paths just centimeters wide, we descended, sliding down leaf-covered chutes in a form of skiing. Upon reaching the bottom, Misha handed two candles to each of us and instructed us to light them in the ruined church at the makeshift altar. One candle a thank you for safe passage thus far and the next for safe passage in the future. How prescient the second candle.

A Georgian Feast in the Forest

Our feast included sizzling pork shashlik, tomatoes, cucumbers, Georgian bread, herbs (flat parsley, purple basil), and, of course, wine. Just salted, the meat was incredible. As the eating frenzy subsided, the toasts began. To Georgia and its beauty, to family, to America, to our ancestors, to friendship – apparently each deserved its own glass of wine. Our contribution was to gigari, the Georgian word for passion or spirit, attributed to people who have this inside them. This was met with great applause…and even greater drinking.

Georgian Toast - Kakheti, Georgia
Enjoying a Georgian feast and toast in the forest.

Misha pulled the guitar out of its cardboard home and sang a ballad for Kakheti – coincidentally the same ballad for Kakheti he’d sung the night before and likely the same ballad he sings at each and every picnic.

Crazy Ride Home

The ride home was akin to an amusement park visit – one part roller coaster, another part spinning teacups, with a haunted house thrown in. Misha’s navigation skills were a bit worse for wine-saturated wear. Along the way, Shota decided it was the right time to visit a distant relative running a flourmill. And who could say no to a late afternoon dip in a Soviet-esque cement swimming pool? Shota pulled up the car (almost into the pool), stripped to his underwear in the front seat and dove in. Lali shook her head “It’s dangerous to swim after drinking.” It occurred to us, “Isn’t it dangerous to drive after drinking too?!!”

When we finally made it home, Lali prepared coffee for a late afternoon revival, and Shota and Misha invited Dan in charades and broken English to “we find girls.” Dan explained through Lali, his trusted interpreter, that it probably wasn’t a good idea “to find girls,” especially as the invite was in front of his wife. Audrey crossed her arms in the role of the tough American wife, shook her head “ara” (No, in Georgian). Our pals were shocked. They eventually departed, defeated but not deterred.

Several hours later while we were having dinner and our livers worked through the day’s wine, there was a knock on the door. “Can Daniel come out to play?” Misha asked smugly through an alcoholic slur. Lali shooed him away as if to a stray dog and scolded him not to come back again that night.

We didn’t see Shota or Misha again during our remaining days in Kakheti. Perhaps they were busy nursing hangovers, milking cows, or finding girls.

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Comments

  1. Daisy says

    Suzanne has told me of your travel and I finally have gotten around to checking out your website. Your photos are fantastic! I thoroughly enjoyed this hilarious adventure in Kakheti and look forward to reading of past and future tales. One of my favorite memories of Prague is our dinner together at the little Italian place on a rainy night. Of course there is also the delay at the airport when, already on the plane, I recalled I actually hadn’t packed everything myself…”how well does your daughter know these people?” Only a short delay…about five security people…
    Namaste!
    Daisy

  2. says

    Hi Daisy,
    So great to hear from you. Your comment came at a great time. We’d just come off of some long train rides and visa bureaucracies and needed a lift!

    We got a good laugh thinking back to the dinner at Da Lorenzo’s in Prague and the package we asked you to take back to the States. Hard to believe that was 5 years ago.

    And thanks for your support!
    Cheers,
    Dan and Audrey

  3. says

    Great story! I just love hearing about all your adventures, though I am a bit worried for your safety after some of those experiences. Friends don’t let friends be driven around by drunk Georgians…isn’t that the saying? ;)

  4. says

    Even driving without alcohol in Georgia makes for an adventure sport!! No shortage of experiences and adventures in this part of the world! Stay tuned…

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