May 01, 2017

Pearl of the Caucasus

Pearl of the Caucasus
Metekhi Church and equestrian statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. Paul E. Richardson

We are inching through an October snowstorm along an icy, narrow portion of the Georgian Military Highway, navigating hairpin turns and keeping maximum distance between our rented Rav4 and the underwhelming guardrails that separate us from precipitous drops into gaping ravines.

As we crawl through Jvari Pass (at 2379 meters, it is the highest paved road in the former Soviet Union) behind an ambulance, a squall rises up, delivering near white-out conditions. We crest a short incline and are suddenly mired in a rat’s nest of cars, trucks and minivans, each chaotically jockeying for position, spinning their wheels on the un-salted, un-sanded peak.

A Jeep has run off the road. Its driver stares blankly into the distance, a limp nylon line draped across his hood. A large truck towing a car with a double-knotted rope tries to insinuate itself into a nonexistent breach between two nonexistent lanes. Several drivers get out of their cars and start issuing contradictory and confusing instructions. No one is in charge and the situation looks hopeless. The only saving grace may be that, if we do get stuck on the mountain for hours, days perhaps, at least there is an ambulance nearby.

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