The World Nomads Podcast: Georgia

Considered the birthplace of wine and with a rich and difficult history, Georgia is emerging from its past as go-to-destination, from mountains to hike, forests and caves to explore and food to devour.

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Photo © Qvevri Maker Getting Wine - Tevali, Georgia - Copyright 2018 Ralph Velasco

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The World Nomads Podcast: Georgia

Georgia, the country not the American state, has a rich but difficult history, invaded from all directions several times. But in 2020, Georgia is emerging as a go-to destination, popular with travelers who love its music, food, wine and spectacular landscapes.

What’s in the episode

00:48 Why a nomad would want to travel to Georgia

01:46 Ralph chats to us from Tbilisi

03:41 Georgia, a Russian holiday destination

08:39 Tim Neville

11:37 Paragliding in Georgia

17:38 Rob Holmes

24:05 Travel News

26:50 Máté shares his girlfriend’s story of life during the war

33:20 The tattoo

34:52 Next week

Quotes from the episode

“Georgia is an emerging destination. It's authentic, it's raw. It hasn't been heavily traveled. It's a new experience.” – Rob Holmes

 “...the cost of living is extremely inexpensive as well. So, if someone's looking for a very affordable destination, Georgia and Tbilisi are absolutely that.” – Ralph Velasco

 “So, they had one word in Georgian, which is Shemomedjamo. And the word means that I wasn't hungry, but I accidentally ate the whole thing anyway and it was delicious.” – Máté Földi

“I think it'd be easier to go through who wouldn't it appeal to. And that would be anybody who does not like music, who does not like good food, who hates stunning scenery, and just cannot be bothered to get on a plane to get there.” – Tim Neville

Who is in the episode

Voted the #1 Adventure Travel Film of 2019, “One Blood: Georgia” explores the roots of adventure in the caucus mountains of Georgia through the lens of a paraglider and his grandmother who are crazy about the air.  Watch the award-winning video produced by GLP Films.  

Rob Holmes is the Founder & Chief Strategist of GLP Films, the award-winning full-service content marketing agency that specializes in authentic storytelling and ROI-based distribution campaigns to support sustainable tourism. Since 2008, GLP’s work has spanned five continents and 40+ countries, creating 200+ films. GLP specializes in digital content strategy, award-winning authentic storytelling, brand strategy, stakeholder development and media distribution campaigns. Recent campaign highlights include being voted 3x winner of the “Best Adventure Travel Film” by travel trade industry; spotlighting the workforce behind the travel industry for Visit California; surpassing 7 million video views for https://georgia.travel/; and winning Travel Weekly’s Magellan Award for “B est Cruise Marketing Film.”

Ralph Velasco is the founder of  PhotoEnrichment Adventures as well as a travel photography instructor, author and veteran international tour organizer. Ralph has organized and led more than 100 international tours, with a focus on photography, in destinations around the world including Georgia.

Gergeti Church and Mountains Kazbegi, Georgia - Copyright 2019 Ralph Velasco

Máté Földi is an aspiring travel writer and full-time foodie. When not scouring the globe for his next meal, you can find him in Paris completing his joint Masters in Journalism and International Affairs. Máté was the winner of the 2018 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship. You can follow Máté on Twitter.

Tim Neville is a correspondent for Outside magazine and a frequent contributor to the New York Times and World Nomads. His work has been featured in Best American Travel Writing, Best American Sports Writing, and Best Food Writing. Read Tim's article on Georgia's traditional polyphonic singing.

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Resources & links

Learn more about GLP Films’ award-winning travel and sustainability storytelling and content marketing at www.glpfilms.com

Interested in exploring the Caucasus Mountains and eating cheesy khachapuri?  Learn more about the emerging adventure travel destination of Georgia at https://georgia.travel/.  

For details on PhotoEnrichment Adventures tour to Armenia and Georgia from September 2020 click here.

Learn how to capture meaningful travel stories and go on global scholarship assignments for World Nomads.

Want to make money while you travel? Check out World Nomads Partner Program.

Next Episode: The Caribbean

About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.

The World Nomads Podcast is not your usual travel Podcast. It’s everything for the adventurous, independent traveler. Don’t miss out. Subscribe today.

You can get in touch with us by emailing [email protected].

We use the Rodecaster Pro to record our episodes and interviews when in the studio, made possible with the kind support of Rode.

Phil: In this episode of the World Nomads podcast, we explore Georgia, the country, not the state.

Speaker 2: Welcome to the World Nomads podcast, delivered by World Nomads, the travel lifestyle and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast. It's everything for the adventurous, independent traveler.

Kim: Hi, Kim and Phil with you for 2020, and kick-starting the year we're exploring, as Phil said, Georgia, the country, not the U.S. state. There must be some confusion at times.

Phil: Yeah, I do sing the song every time I'm talking about Georgia the country.

Kim: What's the song?

Phil: Well, it's on my mind.

Kim: Oh, of course. I didn't pick up on it. So why-

Phil: There is no way I'm going to sing.

Kim: Damn. Why would a nomad want to travel to Georgia, the country?

Phil: Well look, it's got a really rich but difficult history. In fact, it's been invaded from all directions a number of times. But similar to Poland, a destination we explored last year, Georgia's emerging from that dark past as a go-to destination.

Phil: So politics aside, a nomad would want to go there for the food and the wine. It's apparently the birthplace of wine, which you'll hear about in this episode. There are plenty of mountains to hike, forests and caves to explore, all set among a stunning countryside.

Kim: We will touch on pretty much all of that in this episode with our guests, the first of which is Ralph Velasco. We first chatted to him in our episode on Morocco. He runs PhotoEnrichment Adventures. He's got a new brand, Alla Campagna Experiences, Alla Campagna Experiences.

Phil: I was just going to say, what's it called again, Kim? Okay.

Kim: Nothing's changed for 2020. At the time of recording, he was in Tbilisi, and don't laugh at my pronunciations, and had also just run a Georgia Armenia trip. So this destination is really on the radar, Ralph.

Ralph Velasco: I don't think it's on everyone's radar, but I think it's becoming somewhat popular, and there's a really nice tourist infrastructure that's developed and really nice hotels and restaurants and flights, and the roads are getting better. So I think that's always something that certainly helps with more of the mass tourism for sure.

Phil: Give me a bit of a flavor of the place. Is it sort of Eastern European or is it more Asian? Or what is the flavor of it?

Ralph Velasco: Well, that's interesting. It's a great question because it's right on sort of that crux of Europe or Asia, and I feel it's got a very European feel to it, especially the capital city of Tbilisi, which is just wonderful. It's very old. I believe it's from the 500s, but it also has extremely modern architecture, bridges, buildings. But also the Airbnb that I'm staying in right now overlooks the just gorgeous Narikala Fortress. And everything's beautifully lit up at night. I go to Cuba quite a bit and there are beautiful buildings there, but they just don't have the funds to light them up all the time. And so it's just beautiful how they light up the buildings here. And for photography, which I'm a photographer, it can really make for some beautiful shots. But it's definitely got a more European feel to me. But then there is that sort of old-world central Asian part as well.

Phil: So when you say it's set up for tourism and for travelers, from the West, we're kind of only just discovering it now, but it must be a popular destination for some other parts? Is it like a Russian holiday destination?

Ralph Velasco: Absolutely. The Russians obviously have been coming here for a long, long time, and they're the main tourists, but it's very easy to get to because there's no visa required by most nationalities. So as a U.S. citizen, there's no visa required whatsoever. And from the last research that I did, a U.S. citizen can stay here for up to 365 days before needing to leave or to get any kind of visa.

Kim: Phil's trying to get a sense of the flavor, but what is it known for as a destination? Is it somewhere that you would go if you wanted to go hiking? Is it somewhere that you would go if you wanted a taste of history?

Ralph Velasco: Yes and yes. The mountains here are absolutely stunning. Now, I've been coming here for about a year and a half now, and the first time I came last year to do scouting for a trip that I had put together to both Armenia and Georgia, I did not get up to the North to an area called Kazbegi, which is right on the Russian border. But I did get a chance to get up there on this trip, and it is stunningly beautiful. Lots of hiking trails and lot of people go there for outdoor activities. There's parapenting, ski resorts. It's absolutely stunningly beautiful, sort of like, I compare it somewhat to parts of the Swiss Alps. Snowcaps, really rugged mountains. And Stepantsminda, which is in the Kazbegi region, sort of the main town there. The one hotel that we stayed at is called Rooms Hotel, and the views out onto that mountain range are just spectacular. And then you've got these snow-cap mountains, and then there's this tiny little monastery just sitting right on one of the peaks.

Phil: Alright, let's get into a couple of the nitty gritties as well. Food and drink?

Ralph Velasco: Oh, yes and yes again. Yeah, I mean, one of the things that ... I mean, I've owned restaurants. I'm a third-generation restaurateur. I don't do that anymore, but ... I don't consider myself a foodie, but I love food. I do eat three times a day. And the food here is just fresh, it's tasty. I mean, I don't know about in Australia where you are, but for me in the U.S., we've got a lot of agriculture, but it seems like the majority of our food comes from halfway around the world. It's picked before it's even mature, and by the time it gets to the U.S., then it's beautiful red ripe tomatoes, but they taste like plastic. And so here the food is just fresh and organic and plenty of it. Oh, I can't say enough about the food, that's for sure.

Ralph Velasco: And then as far as the drink goes, Georgia's considered to be the birthplace of wine and has been producing wine for more than 8,000 years. And UNESCO's even listed the clay jar called the Kvevri that the traditional Georgian wine is made in, it's held underground to keep the temperature consistent, but UNESCO's listed it on its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.

Phil: You say you're in an Airbnb and you've been there for a couple of months. I'm interested in the experience of living in Tbilisi and interacting with the Georgians. How are you finding that?

Ralph Velasco: Yeah, they're very friendly people. The Airbnb that I have right now is in a neighborhood, just a locals neighborhood, no other tourists whatsoever. But like I said, it does have a gorgeous view of the Narikala Fortress. I'm not sure I'm saying that correctly actually.

Phil: Don't ask us.

Ralph Velasco: Yeah, right. But yeah, but it just, it's in a neighborhood, so I feel like I'm going to the local grocery store. There's not one other tourist in sight. And I love to do that when I travel. But there are really nice and upcoming neighborhoods that are just gorgeous architecture. But the cost of living is extremely inexpensive as well. So if someone's looking for a very affordable destination, Georgia and Tbilisi are absolutely that.

Kim: Thanks for that Ralph. Now that was really, Phil, a great snapshot of an up-and-coming destination, affordable with stunning vistas, great hiking, beautiful architecture, and great food and wine. So let's start picking this destination apart. Tim Neville, as we know, is a journalist and the World Nomads writing scholarship mentor. If we mentioned everything Tim Neville was, it would be the podcast, so we'll have all the links in show notes. But he's recently been to Georgia, and Tim, is Ralph's snapshot on the money there?

Tim Neville: I would say he is absolutely right. The country is just such a treat to travel through and to visit and just hang out in. It's funny, I've only been there once, but I was there with some people who had been there before and every they leave thinking, "Why am I leaving?" And so they tend to come back. One of the people on our trip has been there 17 times. So it's definitely that kind of place.

Phil: Well, as we've sort of doing our research for this episode, I'm having a look at a few videos on YouTube and what have you. It's absolutely stunning.

Tim Neville: It's like walking out of a fable. I've probably ... I don't know if I've ever used that for another place, but it's just, the contrast between these just enormous mountains and then these ancient stone towers and then their traditions and it's, just everything about it is just so exotic on so many levels, and incredibly friendly. I really just can't say enough.

Kim: Well, Ralph said that, it's incredibly friendly. And Phil was kind of talking about, okay, we're only hearing about it now as an up-and-coming destination, but there's this tourist infrastructure that exists. Who's traveling there? He said the Russians. Since that chat, there has now been some issues with the Russians.

Tim Neville: Yeah, there's definitely an uneasy relationship there, and it's really too bad. But the Georgians have been dealing with invaders for a long, long time. And that doesn't make it any easier of course. But they are definitely people that know how to persevere and it's still just an absolutely amazing place to go visit.

Kim: Now you were there last year with a film crew, Green Living Projects, GLP Films. What were you doing? We saw you in a film trailer with a World Nomad buff on actually, that you were paragliding.

Phil: Yeah, when you went paragliding.

Tim Neville: That is, wow, good eye. Yeah, that is absolutely true. Yeah, so GLP, I've known those guys for a while, and they came up. They approached me and said, "Hey, we've got a project in Georgia and are looking for a writer to come along. Would you be interested?" And I was on a hike and I stopped hiking immediately and I was like, "I'm sorry. What? I mean, yes. I mean, yeah, of course, of course. Yes." It's one of those places that's been on my dream destination list for a long time. And so those guys, they're really interesting. They go into a country or into a region and they sort of already have a story idea. They know who to talk to or they've lined up some interviews. And so I basically just tagged along with them and then kind of got to hang out a little bit on my own.

Tim Neville: But yeah, so just, I mean, we did everything from eat ... Oh my gosh, you can't go to Georgia and not eat. Just, you eat all the time and then you leave and you're wishing that you were back in Georgia still eating. So we did a lot of that. Yeah, I went paragliding as you saw, which was just unbelievable. I've never done something quite like that. I've gone paragliding before, but just, I don't know. It's just, there's just something super, super cool about flying into an ancient village with these 8th century stone towers popping up underneath your feet as you're drifting in and these massive snowcap mountains back behind you. So we did a lot of outdoor stuff. And then one of the things that I'm actually writing about for you guys is the singing. Now I didn't sing and I definitely will not sing for you now. But just the Georgian singing tradition is not to be missed. In fact, I just found there's actually a Spotify playlist-

Phil: Oh really?

Tim Neville: Of them singing. Yeah, it's called The Sound of Georgian Polyphony.

Phil: Okay.

Kim: And what is that, then?

Tim Neville: A lot of Eastern countries have this singing tradition obviously, but you go to Poland, let's say, and they'll break out into song and it'll be, "Oh, there was a lovely girl, and how much I love this lovely girl, and she was on the far side of the river," kind of happy party songs. Georgian songs have a much different tone to them. A lot of them ... I mean, some of these songs are literally 1,000 years old now. At least ... Typically they're the men who sing them acapella style, and they'll have three different vocal ranges going on.

Tim Neville: And so the cumulative effect of all of this is even if you don't speak a lick of Georgian, which I don't, you can be sitting, let's say in a bar, just your regular bar, and all of a sudden a table next to you will just break out in this very moving bone-chilling song with all of these different vocal ranges going on, and the bar will just shut up, and everybody will listen. And then it's done. Everybody claps and then they go back to about their business until the next table breaks out and start singing. So it is really like you ... I'm getting chills here just thinking about it right now, because it's just so moving. Something that's really interesting that I found out about their singing is one, their singing is actually listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. So it's that special. It's something that deserves its own recognition.

Tim Neville: And this, my friends is the coolest, coolest thing I've heard. And that is right now, as we speak, untold millions of miles from Earth, there is a satellite with a gold record plastered on the front of it that has, among other songs and other "sounds of Earth," a Georgian song on it. It's track number 16. So if we get some aliens that find this thing, they're going to be exposed to this kind of music.

Phil: Yeah, the Voyager or whatever-

Tim Neville: It's Voyager 2, yeah, launched in 1977, and it's got a gold record, sounds of Earth.

Kim: Now, you said the singing is listed as one of UNESCO's Intangible ... finish the sentence-

Phil: Heritage.

Kim: Heritage, yeah. Ralph was saying that the wine is also listed.

Tim Neville: That wine is definitely intangible once it's around me, that's for sure. I will admit that. But yeah, it's cool, and what's really neat about it is the way they make it as well. You can go ... I'm sure he talked about this, with the holes in the grounds-

Kim: Yes.

Tim Neville: And they'll, yeah, so it's neat. We went to a vineyard in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia and met up with some winemakers there who are bringing back varieties that nearly went extinct under the Soviets because Stalin, who is Georgian actually, Stalin liked one kind of wine, and so that's what the state agricultural system produced. I may be generalizing and oversimplifying that. But it's cool, because you go there and you can see these winemakers are very proud of their traditions obviously and are bringing these delicious varietals back.

Kim: This country, who would it appeal to do you think?

Tim Neville: I think it'd be easier to go through who wouldn't it appeal to. And that would be anybody who does not like music, who does not like good food, who hates stunning scenery, and just cannot be bothered to get on a plane to get there. I mean, no, seriously. The place is just ... Tbilisi, the capital, I knew nothing about it really, just other than it had a funny spelling. And I show up there the first night, and you're jet-lagged, you're tired, and we arrived kind of late, and I was just immediately jazzed. I was like, oh my God. This place just has an energy to it. It's just a stunning city, just the way the layout is, all sorts of fun little places to go eat, to hang out, and incredibly safe. I mean, of course, common sense will see you through, but I mean, we would stay out till 2:00, 3:00 in the morning and then walk back to our hotel. No problem at all. It's just unbelievably great.

Kim: Fabulous. Well, thank you for your insight, and Phil, for 2020, not a bad way to start with a destination that we desperately want to go into.

Phil: I'm so desperate to get there now.

Tim Neville: Yeah, it is absolutely wonderful. Yeah, good skiing in the wintertime as well, so you guys won't go wrong.

Kim: Sounds like it. Now, Tim mentioned GLP films, who he was with in Georgia. They are an award-winning content marketing agency, but they're dedicated to travel and sustainability storytelling. They've produced over 200 films from 30 countries, including Georgia.

Phil: Yeah. In fact, they've got one called One Blood Georgia, which was awarded best adventure travel film of 2019 in the ATTA film contest. And Rob Holmes is here to tell us all about it.

Rob Holmes: The story around One Blood Georgia came from just our research and due diligence in the pre-production phase when we filmed there and really identifying some unique characters, unique people that really represented Georgia, this new Georgia. And I think in summary what I really love about this story is it's a multi-generational story. It's about a grandmother who was skydiving back in the '50s. So again, a grandmother skydiving in the 1950s in a country under Soviet rule. She was part of this renegade group of women who were doing something not normal in a country, in a destination like Georgia and being that skydiving. And then just seeing that profound impact she had on her grandson. And Alex is just a great example, a great character that really represents, in my opinion, in our opinion, the future of a destination like Georgia. He's young, he's energetic, he's outgoing, he's an entrepreneur, he's outdoors-y, he's a media person, he's really representing I think what we see as the exciting aspects of tourism.

Rob Holmes: He works for the Adjara Group, which is one of the largest hospitality groups in Georgia. And his full-time job is being an urban guide. So he takes tourists on walking tours of the capital city of Tbilisi. And so he really has that first-hand knowledge and understanding of what Georgia is all about. It's a melting pot of just rich culture, authentic culture and heritage. And so pairing him with his grandmother who came specifically from the Soviet era to this young new generation in Georgia was such a great pairing. And Alex, his ancestry is Ukrainian and Russian, but he was born in Georgia, and so he's Georgian. And so it was a great I think the connection they had for each other, the respect for each other. You see that in the story, and that's what we're trying to connect. We wanted to connect emotionally to some of the history and the heritage and the respect and admiration that two different generations had for each other and the grandmother really pushing him to get out there, explore.

Rob Holmes: And he's doing it at a very young age, and doing something really exciting like paragliding. So it was really our honor to tell their story and to give people a little bit of insight into really a fascinating country and destination like Georgia.

Phil: Wow, sensational way of describing it. But can I just say, there was one word in there that I think is the magic sauce for travel, and that was the word authentic. If you can find a destination that has authenticity, you're going to have a really amazing experience, aren't you?

Rob Holmes: Yeah, and I think that sort of is why we see, the team at GLP, why we just have a lot of passion and interest in working with emerging destinations. Georgia is an emerging destination. It's exactly what you said. It's authentic, it's raw. It hasn't been heavily traveled. It's a new experience. I was just in Georgia a couple weeks ago, and it's great to go back and see the changes that are happening. But again, it's still an authentic destination that really provides a unique experience for the traveler, for any kind of traveler, soft traveler to an adventure traveler. It has those experiences of it's not tremendously easy to get around. You have to talk to the locals, and English isn't spoken by everyone. And getting around, you have to be creative and be patient.

Rob Holmes: But I think that's what a lot of travelers want these days is they want that unique authentic experience. It's not covered in t-shirt shops and over flooded with too many tourists. Georgia's a destination that's really just coming into its own and it's still unspoiled and just provides that rich experience. And that for me is a traveler, I mean, that's how I got into this industry is when I graduated university, I traveled around the world for a year and continued to do so after that. And that's the travel that everyone wants. And so it was great to tell a story in a destination like Georgia that is new, is up-and-coming, and it just has that unique and authentic experience.

Phil: Hey, do you ever worry that you are creating the next surge of t-shirt shops in someplace though?

Rob Holmes: Well, yeah, I mean, but I think there's a lot of ways to combat that. And I think that's where for us as a boutique agency, a specialized agency, it's all about the marketing. And the better job that we do in the marketing, the targeted marketing, we can reach those targeted travelers that a destination like Georgia wants. Yes, it wants to grow its tourism. But it wants to grow it right. It doesn't want to be the next Venice, the next Barcelona, which are iconic destinations, but they are struggling with over-tourism.

Rob Holmes: So it really comes down to, so yeah, you can have an award-winning film, but also keep in mind, we're not branding locations, we're not calling out specific names. We're talking about the destination. So trying to find the palaces and the cathedrals and the specific mountains and communities that we filmed, it's very difficult to. We're talking about the destination, so. And then I think like I just said, the key here to not create another destination with t-shirt shops is to do a good job in targeting that right audience. This isn't mass marketing. This is modern- targeted marketing so the right traveler is going to be seeing the promotional content for Georgia.

Kim: That's Rob Holmes, the founder of GLP films. Their link's in show notes. Phil, dish us up some travel news, would you?

Phil: Yeah, alright. Look, new year, new start. It's been shared around the office a lot. I love Bored Panda. Well, they recently shared 50 of the best good news stories from 2019 and I thought we'd have a look back on some of those, like the Malawi female chief who came to power, immediately annulled 1,500 child marriages, making them illegal, and then sent all the young girls back to school.

Kim: Good on her.

Phil: Yep.

Kim: Girl power.

Phil: Here's another one. Seven eggs from the world's last two remaining northern white rhinos have been successfully fertilized, which means they might be able to save the species.

Kim: Great news.

Phil: Here's another one. Sweden has rolled out a great initiative. Blood donors get a text message whenever their blood saves a life. Here's another one. Canada passed a bill in 2019 that made it illegal to keep whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity for entertainment. I think we spoke about them-

Kim: I think we did.

Phil: And we cheered that one when it happened. And I love this one. South Korea is organizing daytime disco parties for people over 65 to tackle loneliness and dementia.

Kim: Gee, that's sweet, isn't it?

Phil: Isn't it?

Kim: Anything else?

Phil: No, I think that'll do.

Kim: Okay.

Phil: Let's start with you.

Kim: Mate is an aspiring travel writer. He's a student and he's a full-time foodie. He won the World Nomads travel writing scholarship in 2018. I remember that. His girlfriend is Georgian and he wrote about her going to her homeland of Abkhazia, okay? He says it a lot nicer than I do. It's a defacto sovereign state that is internationally recognized as an autonomous republic of Georgia and under Russian control. So he fills us in on what happened in 2008 and then earlier, which saw people displaced and not allowed to return to their home like his girlfriend.

Mate: Well, that was actually one of the few things I knew about Georgia when I initially moved there was that they had the war with Russia in 2008, that Stalin was from Georgia, and that they had a footballer who's now the mayor of Tbilisi that played for AC Milan, Kakha Kaladze. So it was one of the only three things that I knew about the country, and ... Well, what do I know about it? It was a pretty brutal loss for Georgia in the short few days that it lasted, and it resulted in the occupation of roughly 20% of internationally recognized Georgian territory. And in terms of its repercussions on the international level, it was quite a taste of what was to come from Russian foreign policy that we see today.

Kim: So this story that was a winning entry in the 2018 World Nomads travel writing scholarship kind drew on that. Are you still with the girlfriend that you wrote about in that story?

Mate: Yes, yes, still with her and very happily in love.

Kim: Aww, that's lovely. So her family were caught up in this, weren't they? Can you walk us through that?

Mate: Yes, so they were caught up not in the 2008 one, but the one that happened in the early '90s. So after the Soviet Union fell, there was a series of violent conflicts taking place across the former territory. And the one in Abkhazia was one of the bloodiest, if I have my figures correct. People estimate that tens of thousands of people were killed, and of course, we know that as many as 250,000, even 300,000 people were displaced. Many of them were ethnic Georgians.

Mate: And so the deal with that particular conflict was, to try and sum up quite a bit of history in a few sentences, was that it was based from ethnic tensions between the resident Georgian and Abkhaz populations in Abkhazia. So Georgians had ... Many of them were moved or settled into Abkhazia during the Stalinist era when Stalin undertook with his right-hand man Beria, who was also Georgian, the resettlement of populations, which included a bunch of ethnic Georgians to Abkhazia.

Mate: And this started ... Or no, not started, but it contributed to rising ethnic tensions as local populations began to perceive a Georgian conspiracy against Abkhazia. So it was really simmering from around the '30s. And then in the '90s once there wasn't a bubble of authority, and it was a vacuum, sorry, not a bubble, the tensions just scaled up and eventually it came out into violent conflict. And yeah, so my girlfriend's family, they had to flee the province once her father was killed in the fighting. And they left not long before the fall of Sukhumi, or the capital, which is known as Sukhum today in Abkhazia because they take off the I's, because the I's are Georgian and associated with Georgian names, so Sukhumi is Sukhum in Abkhazia today. And so they had to flee. I believe that was in September 1993.

Phil: Well your winning story started with, "My entry permit was ready. It was time to visit the home of the woman I loved, but she for some reason can't go back there."

Mate: Yeah, so it's difficult for Georgians to enter the territory for a lot of political reasons. There still are many ethnic Georgians living in certain parts such as Gali. It's a little town near the so-called border or the administrative borderline as I believe it's known officially. So they can enter, but it's difficult. You need special permission. But in her case, it's quite difficult if not impossible for her to enter because her father was involved in the Georgian military as well as her father's family. So it's a last name that would be easily recognized if she were to enter. And it's just dangerous in terms of potential retribution but for her to try crossing. It's very interesting because for tourists, for European union citizens and for Americans, Australians, anyone, Western foreign, it's quite simple to enter. You go on the Abkhaz foreign ministry's website to request an entry permit, you give your passport details, you tell them which point of entry you want to come from.

Mate: And it's actually, if anyone does plan on going there, you definitely should enter from Georgia proper because that's the only legal entry point as recognized by the Georgian state. So if you enter from Russia, from the of Sochi, so southwest Russia, it's considered a violation of Georgian territorial sovereignty by the Georgian states, so you'll have a very hard time entering Georgia proper afterwards. So, that's for anyone wanting to go, make sure to enter from the Enguri side. And then you request that you wait a few days, you give your travel details, you tell them what you're going to do, you give your employment info, where you're staying, why you're coming, and then you wait. And they normally approve it. I have not had a problem being approved or rejected.

Mate: And then you just go, you arrive on the Georgian side of the administrative borderline, you wait until Tbilisi, so the capital of Georgia, processes your paperwork. So the people at the crossing, the police, will scan your passport ticket, they'll wait for the green light, and then you walk across a bridge which crosses the Enguri River, and then you see this big gates and big sign, which says, "Welcome to the Republic of Abkhazia." It's quite a sight. And there you get processed by a combination of Russian and Abkhaz military and border personnel. And normally they're very friendly to foreigners, but the contrast and the special treatment you get as a foreigner, it's pretty stark in comparison to the local and especially ethnic Georgian population that have to cross. We got very, very preferential treatment from the Russian soldiers and they were joking with us.

Mate: They let us skip the queue. We just crossed. And yeah, it was a pretty simple process. Then we just crossed, bargained with a taxi driver, and you go on to the capital, Sukhumi, or Sukhum as they call it. But Georgia itself, like the rest of the country proper, it's a fantastic destination. I go back ... Well, I spent my summer again there this past summer. I combined it with an internship because I'm studying doing a master's in journalism and international affairs now, and Georgia is a destination. I would truly recommend it. It's got a fantastic vibrant culture, a wonderful culinary scene, and it's just an all-round beautiful country with ... You've got the sea, you've got mountains, you've got beautiful nature. It's really a mix. So I would definitely recommend it. And it's really easy with visas. I'm sure it extends to a large extent to Australians, Americans as well, but in terms of the visa situation, you arrive and you get 365 days visa-free and even if you leave on day 364 and you come back an hour later, the 365 days restarts.

Mate: One more thing actually, it's an interesting fact about Georgia that I think I would be remiss not to add just because I do have this tattooed on my finger, and it goes back to the whole food culture and the rich culinary scene there, but the food scene is absolutely incredible there with their whole mix of flavors, virtue of Georgia being, well, conquered by a bunch of different empires that over the centuries have brought all their different flavors to create this really rich mix of cuisine. But I think just a funny fact is how rich the language is in terms of their specific vocabulary. So this is the only tattoo I have on myself and it's on my index finger actually. And it's because I finally found a word as a foodie that spoke to my soul and, well, continues to speak to my soul. So they had one word in Georgian, which is Shemomedjamo. And I can send that just so it's easy to-

Kim: Please.

Mate: To spell. And the word means that I wasn't hungry, but I accidentally ate the whole thing anyway and it was delicious.

Kim: That is sensational.

Mate: Yeah. And they have a whole list of words that work with these roots, or I don't know what to call it linguistically, but it's like a whole, "Oh, I didn't mean to accidentally spend that money, but I spent it all anyways." But it's this one with the food in particular, and it's just one word. It's just one word that when I heard about that, I was like, wow, this place speaks to my soul.

Kim: A great idea for a tattoo. Now Memories of Eden will be available to read in show notes. What is our next episode, Phil?

Phil: Lungi, an amazing nomad from South Africa who overcame her fear of water to become, yeah, a sailor and the first African woman in an Arctic expedition.

Kim: Ooh. Bye.

Phil: Bye.

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