FOCUS - MAY 2018 55 The views from the slopes of Mount Kazbegi were spectacular. What is 30 degrees, always sunny and very hospitable? I’m sure your mind is wandering all over the globe, but mine goes directly to the small, Asian country of Georgia. Although technically in Asia, Georgians consider themselves part of Europe, due to their culture and history. The country lies in the southwestern part of the Steppe Mountains, and until 1991 was part of the former Soviet Union. The region was subject to many takeovers, but in the 4th century Christians whose descendants still remain settled it. In 1917, Georgia declared independence from Russia, but it was short lived, as the Bolshevik revolution led to the an- nexation of many countries to form the Soviet Union. Today however, Georgia is democratic, safe and filled with history. I arrived in the capital of Tbilisi and was immediately taken by the friendliness of the people. I was expecting a ‘So- viet’ type of presence, similar to what I experienced in Belarus or Russia, but was pleasantly surprised. My guide immediate- ly explained how safe the country was. In the past ten years there had never been so much as an auto theft. This nation of four million is very progressive, but is hindered financially by neighbouring Turkey and Russia. Ten years ago the Russians decided to take back part of the country, and simply bombed a large section of it during the night. The next day they invaded and have been there since. There was little if any mention of this in western newspapers, and if it were not for Facebook, no one would be aware of the hostilities. Times were tough during the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union. Georgia was one of those countries that were simply left behind. People woke up with no electricity, little food, no protection and no government. It took several years for the infrastructure to take shape and for three years there was no electricity or running water. Food was rationed and people were confused, but the Georgians are resourceful and contin- ued to rebuild their country. Even today, online shopping is not available, Internet use is limited and the economy is still weak. The country however, is beautiful and should be explored to its fullest. You need at least a week to get a good feeling of the people and the beauty. Religion plays an important part, and many churches date back to the fifth and sixth century. After spending a few days in the capital I travelled to Udab- no, a forgotten village with spectacular history. I was told there would be some walking involved, but when I stood at the foot of Mount Gareja and looked up at the 6th century Monastery, my heart sank. The climb was steep and took about 2 hours. My guide explained that most tourists stop at the bottom and never go up. Once at the top I realized it was all worth it. ...................... Please turn to page 56 BY JONATHAN VAN BILSEN Country of Life on my mind