The internet says there’s a hostel in Zugdidi, but we can’t find it. It’s gone midnight and we are exhausted, having already wandered the city for two hours. According to the website, the hostel has moved into a block of flats for the winter. We are by the flats now, but the instructions on the net are confusing at best, ridiculous at worst. Opposite the flats is a construction site. There is a small porta-cabin in front with neat pink and red curtains, housing the night watchman. Emée approaches the cabin and taps on the door. He tells her that yes, the hostel is in that building. I go again to look, prize myself from the second broken elevator, stomp up and down flights of stairs, scare an elderly Georgian woman by calling through her locked door- “Zugdidi Hostel? Vznietie?” in my worst Russian accent.
“I can’t find it.” I flop down onto the bench with my head on my hands. Emée goes to ask the guy again. “Da, da”, he nods. This time he takes her up there, diligently locking the little cabin behind him, right to the top floor.
Ten minutes later she returns with the news – he knocked at the door and a man came out. He doesn’t speak English but he says this is the hostel. She asked him the price and he says that it’s free. No money. “Really?” “Yeah, that’s what he said.” We trek up the stairs all together to the top floor. The guy shows us two rooms with two neatly made beds in each. They are the only two rooms in the house. We thank him a thousand times and flop into bed.
In the morning I get a text message: “Hi, yes we have space for you. It costs 20 gel per person.” Last night I had messaged the number on the hostel website. So, if that was Zugdidi hostel, where the hell are we staying? We decide it doesn’t matter, synchronisity is with us. Why not stay another night, spend a day exploring the city?
The city is warm and wet; the market full of vibrant fruits, organised by colour: luscious green leaves, rich red pomegranates, deep purple aubergines, bright yellow and orange citruses. Women wander between market stalls clutching chickens by their legs. The chickens hang upside-down, staring about them, bewildered. Three pigs are crammed together in a small cage. A woman lifts in a fourth by the legs. It squeals and kicks. I stare, hurriedly take a photo and stuff my camera quickly into my pocket. I’m always embarrassed at playing the tourist, but it would scarcely be possible to stand out more than I do already.
It’s time to leave. We lay out the wine, box of chocolates and postcards we’re giving our hosts as thank you gifts. We present them with a flourish. The best of all is Emée’s thank you note, drawn in the Georgian characters our host has been teaching her.