The whole day through
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind
Well, this is getting embarrassing… after ten looong years, here is the continuation of the travel entries on our trip to Georgia last February (hay Janelle, anong petsa na?!?). Boy do I know how late this entry is! We went during winter and Georgia is already enjoying spring and summer! Haha! Don’t worry, I can still remember our trip clearly and I can still write about it like it just happened yesterday because Georgia is one of the most memorable trips of our lives! Anyway, the haj vacation is coming soon and most expats travel outside Saudi Arabia to enjoy the long break. Georgia is a nice country to go to because it’s not too far from Saudi Arabia and we already experience European landscapes. Here are more snippets from our trip to Europe’s “balcony”. (Again, for our guide to airfares, tour packages, etc. you can visit our Planning for Georgia and for the first entry in this Georgia In Our Minds series, you can read it here.)
We spent our second day in the winter resort of Gudauri. After our breakfast in the Hotel London Palace, we were picked up by our tour guide Mari from the Kabayans and Pinoys in Tbilisi Georgia travel group. They were our travel agency for this Georgia tour. Mari is a different girl from our tour guide Merri the day before. Both are well-versed and knowledgable. They made our trip more worthwhile. Our transportation for that day was a van and not a coaster. It presented a problem because after all of us tourists went inside (or tried to), the van was fully-packed! Some of our friends were complaining of how small the space was and we couldn’t manoeuver properly. Mari called for reinforcement and they sent in a smaller car to take three in three passengers. That created more space and after that was sorted out, we set out to our destination.
On our way to Gudauri, we stopped at several scenic areas where we took photos.
We also stopped at the Ananuri Fort, a castle complex on the Aragvi River. It is 72 kilometers from Tbilisi. The castle was the seat of the duke of Aragvi during the feudal dynasty in 13th century. It was the scene of numerous battles. In 2007, the Ananuri complex has been included in the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. We had a short time taking photos in the grounds of the castle. It has a wonderful view of the Agravi River which was covered in snow. So whiiiite! Such a beautiful scene!
Outside the castle grounds were vendors of souvenirs and churchkela, a traditional Georgian candle-shaped candy made of grape must, nuts and flour, threaded into string and dipped in thickened fruit juices. Seriously, we thought we were entering a church at first because we thought these things were candles! Haha. Anyway, the candy was sugary sweet and I’m not sure I can detect much grapes in it. It’s a nice souvenir treat for families and friends though.
We then spent an hour on the road to reach Gudauri Ski Resort located on the south-facing plateau of the Greater Caucasus Mountain range. The place is 2,200 meters above sea level making it a great place to ski. The slopes of the resort is completely above the tree line and considered to be avalanche-safe. Apart from skiing, guests can enjoy other activities like riding the cable cars and snow mobiles. There’s also paragliding! Here’s the thing: physical activities like these are not something I want to do but for some reason, even before we went to Georgia, I’ve been thinking of paragliding. PARAGLIDING for this lady considered as a couch potato through and through?!? Haha! Is paragliding scary? Jaw-dropping? Heart-stopping activity? Yes, yes, yes! Am I willing to do it? YES. I was the only one who raised my hand when Mari asked who’s going paragliding! Hahaha! Looking back, I didn’t know why there was such a push in my mind to go for it. Maybe, my travel mantra is always ringing in my ears: Andito na tayo eh, eh di go! (We’re here already so let’s do this!)
When we arrived in Gudauri, it was already past lunch time and we were starving do the first order upon arriving is settle down on our seats inside a restaurant even though what we really wanted to do is to jump and play in the snow! Oh well, stomach over heart.
What we didn’t anticipate was how long we will wait for the food! We wasted hours waiting for our food that we didn’t have enough time to try other nearby activities like beginner’s skiing and riding the ski lifts and cable car. We just went out the restaurant and took pictures in the snow (because hello, this is what we came for! haha!).
After our late lunch, we need to decide if we’re going to paraglide. The resort closes at 5:00 PM and we need to get going if we really like to paraglide. I managed to convince Reina. It took time and countless shouts of “YOLO!” to convince our friends Raquel, Jamila, and Jou. When everyone relented, we gave a go signal to Mari and she arranged for our team to go and meet the paragliding team in another part of the resort. We rode the van and met up with Zack, the man-in-charge for paragliding in the resort. While mulling our next activity, our hearts were thumping loudly (wahhhhh) while gazing at those who are in mid-air paragliding above us. We were going on a tandem flight meaning we have an experience paraglider with us when we fly, woohooo! However, when we reached the paragliding section, Zack informed us that it was getting a bit late for us to paraglide. We didn’t know if we were sighing with frustration or with relief when he told us that.
BUT… what he actually meant was, it was too late to jump off at the winter launch area. He and his team will take us to the summer launch point and we’ll jump from there. Now, it just so happened that their summer jump-off point is higher than the winter point. UHUHHHH. The winter launching area is nearer the resort and the view is the resort itself and the nearby mountains. In the summer launching area, the view is the valley of Kazbegi and the nearby cliffs. The guys were telling us that the latter is better and more beautiful but during that time, we were thinking they were just saying that. Haha! And so when every paraglider was ready, we rode a van with them and we were on our way to the summer launching point.
At the van, the guys were already giving us instructions. Because we need all the time we can have to launch and soar, they were already briefing us on our way there. We asked how safe paragliding is and all of them were saying “very safe” with a thumbs up. Don’t know if we believed it then but what the heck, go! Haha! When we reached the launching area, which is basically just a cliff in the middle of snowy nowhere, the paragliders immediately prepared their glider aircrafts which is basically a complicated parachute while we stood in front of them. The guys clipped us with our harnesses and just told us to run as fast as we can when they say so. Here’s the thing: I nearly died doing this but I am still telling you to go and paraglide. YES. Lol. OA much?
Here’s what happened to me: each one of us has our own paraglider. They were each doing their own thing, clipping their stuff and checking the safety equipment, and putting our harness on. Jou and her paraglider launched off first. We saw them running, their wings billowing and poof, they’re airborne! Jou was shouting so loud. Hahaha! So, up next was me.
My paraglider was checking if I was safely harnessed in and Zack who was more of a support person for the team was showing me how to use the Go Pro that they provided. And here’s where it got blurry for me. I guess my paraglider realized that the right gust of wind suddenly came and he decided that it was time for us to launch. There was no 1, 2, 3 whatsoever… Zack pulled me towards the direction of the ravine and started screaming “run run RUNNNN!!!” and the guy behind me started running fast and I was caught unaware in the middle of all this. When they started running my mind was still on the Go Pro so when I started running, it was a bit late and a little too slow that I fell down and began trudging the rocky slope on my knees. All I can think of was “OMG I’m falling, I’m falling, I’M FALLING!!!” Only I didn’t fall on the deep ravine; I soared over it!
The wind finally caught up with the wings of the chute and the next thing I knew, we were already soaring high over the valleys of trees without leaves and land blanketed with snow. It was exhilarating! I didn’t know which came first: my loudest shout or my huuuge sigh of relief that I was alive after that hitch. Or yeah, both. To me, it looked like it was a minor glitch but to my friends who were watching me tumble and being dragged on that slope, it looked like a nightmare. All Reina could think of was what to say to my husband in case something bad happens to me. OMG. (Our husbands didn’t know we were paragliding that day whoops!) After what happened to me, their paragliders made sure to do a count down before the start of their launch. 1…2…3…RUNNNNNN! And run as fast as you can, even if your feet are no longer on the ground. Run with the wind, my friends!
Paragliding is a scary but fulfilling experience. It’s scary to think that there’s nothing between me and the air all around me. At least on an airplane flight there’s the plane protecting us from the harsh conditions on the sky. In paragliding, I felt the cold on my skin, I can see nature from above, I can feel the wind whipping the wings, I can feel every inch of gaining and losing altitude. It felt awkward sitting in the sky with a person behind me too. Haha. I needed to adjust my ass so that the ‘seat’ can accommodate me properly. During the first few minutes, it was crucial to adjust my legs and help the paraglider with whatever it is he needed to do with the ropes and equipment. It’s hard to understand and hear each other and all these are done airborne, haha. After a few minutes, the air starts to relieve me from my doubts and fright. The beauty that surrounded me calmed me down and I started actually enjoying the flight with the Go Pro on my hand. My hands were freezing to death and I was afraid they will freeze and fall off once we landed. I’m not a talkative person so my paragliding video showed more sights and the sounds of the gushing wind rather than my shouting and cursing (I didn’t, don’t worry, haha). The view from above is truly priceless.
Despite of my awful launch, we had a really smooth landing. In landing, I didn’t have to do anything. I just have to wait ’til we glide slowly in the snow in the ground and stop. My friends enjoyed their paragliding experience too and we are glad we did it in Georgia. I had really big bruises on my legs and they looked so awful that my husband wanted to take me to the hospital when I got back in Riyadh. There were bruises on my knees and a huge ugly bruise that was on my right leg for days! But, I’ll go on paragliding again; it’s one of those moments when I feel truly proud of myself. I had the guts to paraglide, guys!!! Me who spends most of her time in the couch and in the bed reading, checking Facebook, and playing games on my phone. Dormant as a rug. Hahaha. Amazing achievement! *slow clap* ROFL. So remember this… if I can, YOU CAN! Go on that extreme adventure once in your life. And do it in Georgia.
We got back to Tbilisi a little over 6:00 PM. We decided to just go out for dinner again. We went back to Meidan Square and look for a cozy restaurant that doesn’t serve Georgian food. Of course we like the traditional food in Georgia but we wanted to take a break from it and ate Japanese food instead. We found this Japanese restaurant and we filled ourselves with delicious maki rolls and sushi. After that, we capped our night with some desserts at a nearby coffeeshop.
All in all, it was a whole day of fun and fulfilling adventures for our Georgia Team!