A BIT OF POLAND IN GEORGIA, BY WAY OF THE DESERT
You have been to the beach, the mountains, Turtle Lake and all the coolest cafes in Tbilisi. What else is there to do? In the spirit of summer exploration, Investor.ge is republishing a blog from the GeorgiaStartsHere website about Oasis, a hostel and cafe on the road to davit gareji. The original, written by Dariko, was published at www.dariko.net. The blog is republished with permission.
What I love about my research for WHY GEORGIA is that I'm constantly getting pumped with inspiration. Meeting people I can learn things from, discovering things I wouldn't believe existed. Let's say there is a place that is growing to a real cultural hub of eastern Georgia, but is not a fortress from 9th century or an important religious object.
It is located in Udabno, a village that sprang up after the experimental relocating of several Svan families from their remote green mountainous villages to this dry fruitless area, in order to create kind of a defense point against a possible threat from Azerbaijan at the end of 1980.
Nothing has really changed: the dominating ethnic group among the villagers is still Svans, and the conditions haven't became better: +40 degrees in summer, dry winds, cold winter... Udabno means "desert" in Georgian, and perfectly suits this place.
A Polish cafe and hostel in the desert
In each desert there must be an oasis, right? The oasis in this udabno it was created by a Pole named Ksawery. He didn't plant trees or dig a lake; he "only" created a place where international travelers come to have rest on their way to Gareji Monastery or back, and locals can find some entertainment. In the entire village, which has around 800 inhabitants, there is a school and a shop, and endless dry steppes - and not much else, in terms of entertainment. So the Oasis Club is a real oasis for people who have never seen anything like this. After I discovered Oasis, I have been going once a month. Recently my friends and me (15 people from 11 countries in total) decided to spend the whole weekend there, and I got a chance to "put my nose in the situation." Despite the fact that the place was packed, Ksawery found time to tell me more about his Udabno story:
- In 2012, I was traveling with tourists all around Georgia - at that moment I already knew the country quite well. Meanwhile I was looking for an opportunity to start business," he says. Udabno appeared to be a good one: on the way to David Gareji, an interesting tourist landmark; there was nothing at all, so why not do something here? From the beginning I could see how it should look: those white walls, colorful doors...
- Did the locals mind that a foreigner arrived and started doing things here?
- Well, they had their own ideas about renovation and so on, had plenty of advice, but I always stood my ground. First, in 2013, we opened a bar here. All the staff also lived right in this building... The good thing is that Oasis became a place where people can deliver and sell their products, earn something. Our cooks are also Georgian.
- Your menu is very distinctive.
- We consider the peculiarities of Udabno: you know that this village was inhabited by relocated Svans? So, our menu contains Svan sauce, kubdari, and other specialties. We depend on what products we have, so some items on the menu change according to the season. It is important that our food is always freshly prepared. Another idiosyncrasy is our experiments with taste: in Georgia the combination of sweet and salty is uncommon, but we dare to combine smoked suluguni with sour plum and sweet watermelon sauces, for example.
(Author's Remark: It is so delicious, I would eat a kilo of this!)
- So, you opened the bar with this menu with Svan background, and then...?
- Then we opened the cottages, and this year the hostel has been opened. Before we closed for wintertime, but this year, if everything goes smoothly, we are going to have a hostel with central heating and open a small restaurant there.
- Also we started constructing an art center here. The Swiss Embassy helped us with financing, so relatively soon we can show movies under the stars, organize exhibitions (twice a month), concerts (twice a month), and host a weekly Sunday regional market. I think it can positively influence regional tourism, if people from Sagarejo and surroundings will come and sell their products to tourists - as you see, they are coming quite often. Before starting the market, we plan to make several workshops on packing and presenting goods, to explain to locals how it could look better, what foreigners are interested in.
Then Ksawery went back to his work, and I stayed outside with a book and the impression that the question "WHY GEORGIA?" is simple to answer: it is a good country, and one feels comfortable even in a desert, if there is a purpose and willingness to do things. What I know for sure is that I will be going back there for any reason, if I have time. Thank God, there is a daily Gareji Line bus, which drops you there and picks you up for 25 lari... Hard to believe, but God-forgotten Udabno is becoming a small magnet for international tourists. And the most positive thing, in my opinion, is the influence on inhabitants of the village.
I saw our American fellow explaining the rules of frisbee to the local children; I heard them trying to speak English - Ksawery and his international crew also taught them extra in wintertime.
Local guys and girls come for a drink and talk with people from the outside world. There are books and board games in the bar. There is a good spirit and feeling that life _is_ happening - even though a bit slower than in big towns. But actually this is what one needs for a real day off.
P.S.: the other posts from WHY GEORGIA? series can be found at georgiastartshere.com. More materials from me - at this website and my facebook page - Dariko. Wish you a pleasant reading! :)