The Unmatched Hospitality of Abkhazia, by Megan Starr
Megan Starr | Special to Abkhaz World
Before entering Abkhazia, I tried obtaining a little bit of information about the place. I was mainly concerned about border crossing procedures and my safety as a solo female traveler, but I also tried researching a little bit about the culture and Abkhaz people in general. My searches came up empty.
Why? Well all information out there in English pertains to politics and government.
I found this to be an opportune time to travel somewhere void of information and make my own opinions of the place. This is how my trip to Abkhazia began.
Upon arrival, I was thrown into a state of shock as I realized my English skills were not going to be getting me anywhere in Abkhazia. My Russian skills are limited to ordering beer, wine, spirits, and saying ‘thank you’. I knew I should have brushed up on my Russian prior to venturing here!
Challenged by the language barrier, I was in absolute shock at how many people tried desperately to help me, even without me consulting them for help, find the way to Sukhum. The bus driver from the Ingur border was the most helpful guy and was doing his very best to ensure I had a comfortable trip up to Abkhazia’s capital city. A girl on the bus, around my age, also was helpful in finding me a toilet (I had been at the border for around five hours!) in Gal. I couldn’t help but wonder if the rest of my trip would go so smoothly and if the people of Sukhum were equally as friendly and hospitable.
And they were. Taxi drivers and locals all helped me find the place I was staying (which was not easy) in Sukhum. I had made friends with a local who treated me to the most incredible Abkhaz dishes at Nartaa for lunch on my second day in the city. I am still dreaming about that meal…although I really struggled to eat mamaliga with my hands! I went into an empty bar for a quick beer and the kindest lady working sat down with me and attempted Russian with me. When she figured we were not going to get anywhere, she took my Russian phrase book and we made conversation by pointing to phrases in there for nearly an hour. It was one of the most surreal, magical travel moments I’ve ever had.
Quite frankly, the highlight of my trip to Abkhazia had everything to do with the Abkhaz people and nothing to do with politics or government actions. As I sit here in Oslo, Norway (where I currently reside), I can’t help but miss the family I made in Abkhazia: that bus driver, that girl on the bus, the artist I met on the pier, the taxi driver who helped me find where I was staying and refused payment for the extra time it took, the lovely couple I stayed with, the girl at Hotel Sukhum who gave me a map and helped me find some sights in the city, the English speaking waitress at Nartaa who took care of me and helped me try some local dishes, my friend who checked up on me several times and even treated me to a delicious Abkhaz feast at Nartaa, the beautiful couple who bought me a drink at the bar by the sea, the lovely soul who gave me a juicy tomato at a fruit and vegetable stand as I passed it walking back to where I was staying, and especially the woman working at the bar who I conversed with for an hour by a game of point and answer in my Russian phrasebook.
It’s been eight months since I was in Abkhazia. I still reminisce about it like it was yesterday. When I try talking to people about Abkhazia, they are very quick to attempt to switch over to its recent history or politics. I switch back and tell them about the majestic mountains, the hauntingly beautiful Black Sea, the to-die-for cuisine, the crisp wine, and the rustling palm trees. And then I tell them about Abkhazia’s most meaningful gem…its people.
Thanks to every single person who inspired this article. You have all individually touched my heart and made Abkhazia so special to me. I can’t wait to make my return!
About the author: Megan is an American from Virginia who is currently residing in Oslo, Norway after spending nearly a year in the Bergen area. She loves traveling and seeing what the world has to offer as well as exploring as much of Norway as possible. In her free time she enjoys Mexican food, American football, and trying to pretend that learning the Norwegian language has some relevance in the world. You can follow her blog at www.meganstarr.com, her Facebook page, or tweet her @mstarr1188.
All photos courtesy of the author.