Day #2 – Registration and First Tourist Encounter in Novi Afon [Photos]

Day#1 (2) Monument of post-war Abkhazia: Council of Ministers

The next day I had to register in the ”Department of Foreign Affairs” to get my actual visa. I had discovered the building the day before, so it was easy to find. Yet, I found myself in a crowded, dim, sticky waiting room. Waiting took time since everybody only was interested getting through the same single door for visa application. People were called either ”Tourist” or ”Georgian”, since the Georgian had their own visa application department. People were generally impatient and every few minutes a short argument about who is the legitimate next would break out. When I finally got close to the door another man even claimed he had never seen me before and that it was his turn now, although we stood side by side for almost an hour. Eventually I got inside after the angry guy and the well dressed man behind a slightly messy table gave me my visa quite uncomplicatedly and without further questioning.

With my shining green visa in the pocket I decided to walk all the way, instead of taking one of the iconic trolley busses, to the old railway station where a mashrutka to Novi Afon should take off. The way was quite long and the sun was strong. Consequently I was very happy when I saw a mashrutka with the right sign behind the wind shield, short distance from the station. I asked if I could join and got in when the grey haired driver accepted with a grim nod. As most local men, he wore long trousers and a short-sleeved shirt. Small talking in Russian he eventually teached me some more Abkhazian phrases by yelling them at me. I was the only passenger. After I told him, I was from Germany he reacted the usual way and praised his van (a Mercedes): ”Very good car!”. I asked him about the Abkhazians and who uses the language. As it turned out, indeed Russian served as lingua franca, since ethnic Abkhazians were only one part of the population. For instance Armenians and Abkhazians would talk to each other in Russian, he explained. Also would many Abkhazians still live in the mountain regions, he said, what again reduced the number of Abkhazian speakers in the main cities and sights. While we were talking we drove on quite a decent road along the coast with beautiful views of moutains reaching the se and little canyons. He quite often yelled at me again, to make me take fotos of certain objects or sights. When he dropped me off in Novi Afon, he was all calm and nice and wished me a safe trip – I guess. He used one of the Abkhazian phrases, that I hadn’t written down. I smiled politely and started walking towards where I believed the monastery to be.

Walking down the main road of Novi Afon that also was the highway that connected all major Abkhazian cities, I got hungry. I looked for a quick snack and found a wagon with boiled corn. I went for it and a tanned shirtless guy in swimming shorts and flipflops came to sell me some. He noticed I was a non-Russian foreigner and after he heard I was German, he got very excited, saying, he never met a German before. He introduced himself as Armen. The conversation started fairly interesting since he told me that he was Armenian, but born in Abkhazia and that he had never been in another country, not even Armenia before. Sadly the questions he had for me stuck to how much money I was doing, a day, a week, a month. I felt uncomfortable answering these questions, since this was an unusal topic for me, but at least I didn’t have to talk about German cars and football players again. With my stomach filled up with corn I walked up to the famous monastery. The way was unexpectedly long, though not indefinetly distant…. naturally the closer I got, the more tourists I saw. It was the classic touristic sight. People buying overpriced souvernirs close to the attraction, doing group fotos and being called from their guide to go on. The monastery itself was in a quite okay state and impressive to look at. Inside the church it had the typical smell of wood, paint, candles, and some person wearing to much perfume. We all wore skirts to hide away our bare legs and stood there as a crowd in the church trying to suck in its atmosphere. But as it often is, it didn’t work 100% since a walking horde of toursits is noisy, smelly and more focused on taking pictures than on staying for a moment and … ya just stay. The view from the monastery was again fantastic with mountains to the right, coastline to the left. The viewpoint was guarded by an almost greek looking white balustrade. I walked down from the monastery to the waterfall, the old train station and the park with the animals. It was a strange sight. Seeing an ostrich in a far too small cage together with far smaller chicken … in Abkhazia. I got annoyed and was looking for some more food. I found a place that seemed nice and sat down, got the menue but no time to choose something because the waitress would stare at me and frequently ask what I’d like. I had a very typical Abkhazian… pizza. It really is some kind of national dish I guess, since every restaurant says ”pizza, shashlik, and khachapuri”. Especially the latter to my surprise, since I thought every mentioning of Georgian tradition would lead to anger. Novi Afon really had nothing of a post-war city. It was the average touristic host of a famous sight although the surrounding nature and its location were exceptional. I had enough of the place after my typically bad pizza in a touristic place and hitchhiked back to Sukhumi, where I found Sergej in the guest house. We made some fresh juice and talked for hours, with his family joining after swimming and like the day before we had dinner together. I asked about their relation to Abkhazia and the consensus was something like: ”well, it is a nice place and cheap as well”. Suitable for a dacha. They had no relations with the history and Russian aspirations. Also they denied to have a strong Soviet notion about this place. They were northern caucasians and wanted a cheap dacha at the sea. Krimea was further away, Russian coast was too expensive, and Abkhazia was close and cheap enough. Quite sober. A perspective that I would hear more about the next day.

© Jan Fjornes

Next chapter of the “Abkhazian Diary” will be published on 20 of September. Title: Day #3 – Ritsa Lake – A Russian Bus Tour.

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