I always encourage my friends to come and visit wherever in the world I find myself. Based on my history of friend visits, 2 in 10 years, I never expect them to take me up on the invitation. Georgia is a fascinating country full of hospitable people, amazing views and wonderful food. This must have been exactly what a pilot friend of mine was thinking of when he told me, with a week’s notice, that he would come for a visit. After the excitement of a visitor faded, the stress set in: How do I entertain someone I haven’t seen or spoken to in 4 years?
The answer came to me sitting in my work bus on the way home as we passed through Kazbegi Road. Use him as an excuse to do everything that I’ve been dying to do since I arrived in Georgia a month before: Run him up and down mountains, take him to wine tastings, monasteries, sacred spaces, and leave one day to wander around Tbilisi. Ideally, he would be so tired at the end of the day that he would pass out and I would have some time for work emails and documents. My plan turned out better than expected.
The pilot arrived at 05:50 and we immediately left for the three hour drive to Stepantsminda, stopping only twice – once at a gas station for refreshments and to fill up the tank, and for a brief sunrise leg stretch at a beautiful Ananuri fortress settled right next to the stunning Zhinvali Reservoir.
Knowing that giving into jet lag would make it impossible for sleep to set in at night, I hussled him out of the Rooms Hotel, through Stepantsminda and onto the path to the extraordinary Tsminda Sameba Church. The goal to make it to Gergeti glacier was, perhaps, a bit optimistic considering that we had just arrived in Stepantsminda, and with check in and a small rest it was 11:00 when we started out. Instead, we made it to the Sabertse Shrine and enjoyed the views before following our hunger back into town around 18:00 to eat at a local restaurant.
The following morning, we loaded our plates to try all the wonderful delicacies the Rooms Hotel serves for breakfast. I tried the pancakes with honeycomb and a twice baked potato. Perfect for a cold morning after a big day hiking. The weather was amazing and we could see noble Kazbegi through breaks in the cloud cover.
We cut breakfast short because I received a text from the Fly Kazbegi company stating that the weather was just right for take off. We rushed 30 km to Gudauri and met the owner of Fly Kazbegi, Micha, and our paragliding instructor, Yaroslav.
Ladies first for the paragliding and, looking like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle with a sagging shell, I ran, laughing, into the air. For about 200 USD, the pilot and I had 20 minutes of airtime each, sailing far above the stunning landscape.