Welcome to Jurassic Park

No, this is not click bait. My friends and I actually camped where the dinosaurs once lived. I will admit, the campsite site is not called, “Jurassic Park,” but rather, “Sataplia- Imereti Caves Protected Areas.”

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The entrance sign

Here is your Georgian lesson for the day, “Tapli” means “honey.” The kind that you eat, not the nickname that your grandmother has for you. The Georgian language has some logic to it, whenever the “place” for something is, you add, “sa” in front of it. Therefore, “Sataplia” loosely translates to, “the place where the honey is.” So, why am I referring to it as the Real Jurassic Park? Well, Sataplia is well-known in Georgia for the dinosaur footprints and its beautiful caves.

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Katharine, Peace Corps Volunteer, took this wonderful picture of the dinosaur footprints

The plan was to leave in the morning on Saturday, November 25th, 2017. We originally wanted to go to Oktase Canyon, but they were not allowing any visitors because of the snow. Many of us traveled far for this camping trip (I did not), so the snow was not going to stop us from camping. So we settled on Sataplia because it was close and mainly because they were open to visitors.

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Sataplia National Park has this viewing balcony that you can view the mountains and the city of Kutaisi. (photo cred: Erin)

Everyone who knew we were camping thought we were crazy. The other American Peace Corps Volunteers thought, “Don’t freeze out there!” Thanksgiving weekend has been the first snow of the season for many parts of Georgia. The Georgians were simply dumbfounded to why anyone would want to sleep outside- by choice. I was able to get a local Georgian friend of mine to call his uncle to drop us off at Sataplia. His question was, “Where are you going after Sataplia?” Our answer, “We are staying at Sataplia.” He kept on repeating the question, because why on earth would anyone stay in Sataplia in the snow. From then on, we coined the theme of the camping trip, “#Campingordeath.”

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Outbound to camping! Front right-hand corner: Neil. Second row (left to right): me, Joe, Erin, Katharine, and Cherish. Back row: Tyler’s hand (you can only see him waving) (photo cred: Neil)

When we arrived, we definitely looked like the crazy Americans. The park rangers were confused as to why we had so many things with us. When we explained to them that we are Peace Corps Volunteers who want to go camping, they welcomed us with open arms! The director of the park had hosted (as a host family) a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2013. So within minutes, some of them left the park to go buy some cha-cha (similar to vodka), wine, and bread to celebrate!

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“Quick! Do the T-Rex!” Sataplia has a couple of dinosaur models in the park. (photo cred: Lasha, via Erin’s phone)

In the meantime, one of the park rangers, Lasha, took us a personal tour of the caves and the park. Lasha embodied the hospitality of Georgia. Of course, the entire tour was in Georgian, but we understood most of it 😉

For the next couple of hours, we drank and ate bread with the park rangers in their office. We shared with them our pretzels and snacks that we bought for the trip. You simply cannot get a better cultural integration moment than that! We laughed and ate and just enjoyed each other’s company.

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Neil and I collecting firewood! The snow was slippery, especially when walking with a huge log downhill! (photo cred: Katharine)

By the time we finished drinking and snacking with the park rangers, it was almost 4:30 p.m. We immediately started setting up our camp and collected firewood. It was the first time in my life collecting firewood. For bonfires in the U.S, we would just buy the wood at the store. Nope, I spent the next couple of hours looking for dead, fallen branches in the woods. I’m not going to lie, I surprised myself with how much I carried and contributed.

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Collecting firewood during sunset! I loved this photo that Erin took of me. It just captures the beautiful Georgian nature.

The park rangers let us borrow their shovels, so we used that to remove the snow where our tents would be. Then, we set up our tents and our sleeping bags. I inherited an old sleeping that has been passed down several Peace Corps generations in Georgia. I am very thankful for it because it kept me alive throughout the night.

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One of my favorite pictures of the trip. Erin captured our campsite with the set setting down. It is picture perfect, to say the least.

We spent the night telling each other stories, huddled around each other to stay warm. Tyler kept up the fire most of the night and he did such a good job. Yay us for collecting enough firewood! It was definitely a fun experience camping. Now, would I do it again in the muddy snow? Debatable.

I also found out that on our way back, the park rangers had given the office key to one of us. They offered their indoor office in case it was too cold outside. So, it was nice knowing that they did not want to find seven, dead American bodies lying in the snow the next morning.

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