It is not everyday you get to visit a country like Abkhazia. At first glance this place looks like it has been frozen in time and has no interest in what’s going on in the world around it but then you just have to look closer. This holiday season me and my friend had a chance to visit a place that wasn't touched yet by globalization.
Abkhazia is a small country in Northern Caucasus, it is a home to 200,000 inhabitants, ancient monasteries, tangerines, persimmon fruit trees, stoic ancient grandmothers wearing all black, divine red wine, fresh cheese, surreal landscape, tranquil sea shores, ancient traditions, padtzhas (ill explain later) and lots of national pride.
The first time we came face to face with the national pride aspect was when we crossed the border. I had no entry visa, and I did not know I needed one and in fact I did not do my research because I assumed this will not big issue with a Canadian passport, and worse case scenario you pay for one on the spot when passing customs. When my turn came to speak to customs officer he took it to the heart. What bothered him was not the fact I had no entry visa in my passport , but that I did not even bothered to check if i needed one. “Just because we are small doesn’t mean we don't exist” he told me “Miss why didn't you even bother for example to read about Abkhazia in wikipedia” I could barely hold my laughter, he was not angry with me he was genuinely hurt. And of course he let me in and did not charge me a penny, on the promise that ill do my homework… so cute. Thing is, Abkhazia fought for its recognition as an independent nation and there were a number of wars the last one not too long ago, and wikipedia still does not recognize it as a separate country, it is still considered part of Georgia (another very cool place but that’s a different story).
Although Abkhazia was turn by war the little country managed to recover quite quickly and is now reinventing itself as a new eco truism destination. This is not surprising at all, Abkhazian people live harmoniously with nature. As a single produce country they are following the seasonal calendar capitalizing on what mother nature has in store. Starting form September it is the harvest season, everyone and I mean everyone is harvesting their little backyards which are filled with grapes, pomegranates, persimmons, tangerines, feihua, nuts and even kiwi. In January, orange and mandarins come along and all of this delicious all organic produce is heading for export. Spring time Abkhazians switch to flowers, mostly mimosa flower which flood urban flower shops all over Russia. During the summer months Abkhazia is welcoming tourists mostly from neighbouring Russia, they come to soak up the sun and swim in the black sea.
Aside from food and pleasure Abkhazia is a spiritual place, it is a home to a number of very ancient Christian monasteries and churches dating back to the fourth century. Driving into the mountains we came across a female monastery which is build around a medieval Lykhny temple. The church dates back to the tenth century and is still standing in tact, open daily for prayer. The walls are decorated with original twelve century frescos, and astonishingly they were never reconstructed. One of the frescos somehow ended on the outside of the building, painted on the east wing of the church depicting the scene of the annunciation or assumption (not sure).
Abkhazians are ancient people, and so are their traditions, one of such traditions is markets. Since they like to sell and we like to buy we decided to check out what they have to offer, hitting the local village market with vengeance. Shopping in Abkhazia is fun, you get to taste and smell the produce, talk to people and bargain! Most of the sellers are women, and some of them are very old. When I say old, I mean very old, but they are full of vitality and love for what they do. Caucuses is known for its longevity, and some of the oldest people on this planet live in the caucuses mountains. I think I met one of those ancient women on the market that day :)
To round up our trip we decided to feast in one of the locals Padtzhas. These are small houses on the side of the road where the owners cook on open fire especially for you! This is no fancy restaurant, the interior is very modest even ascetic; empty white walls a long oak table and a fire place. When people enter Patzhas they greet everyone in the room, and join. Traditional dishes served are mostly meat based like Ash, which is a type of lamb stew, mamaliga which is polenta porridge served with butter, local goat cheese and red bean lobio, beef and lamb shish-kebab cooked on open fire, hachapuri bread which is type of calzoni with mixed cheese, fresh vegetables, and home made red wine.
All good things come to an end and we had to get going as it was getting late and very dark. As we were driving pass the villages and saying good-bye to the country I was secretly hoping that this place will remain as is, rustic, frozen in time and untouched by globalization.