SOCHI, Russia -

A few hundred yards from my hotel in the outlandishly gorgeous Russian mountains, there's a gondola that takes riders to the top of an awe-inspiring peak.

So of course I was trying Thursday morning to talk my way into a ride to the top. Journalists at the Sochi Games are blessed with a credential that offers free access to public transportation, including another gondola many of us ride to our hotel.

No, a Russian woman sitting behind glass told me politely. This upper gondola is for skiers only. Buy a $50 lift ticket, she said. I have no boots or skis, I said. This routine continued for two minutes before I walked away with a smile.

A few seconds later, a group of Russian men caught up to me. They had listened to the woman decline my request. Tomas said they ran after me to offer an explanation. This was nothing personal against me, Tomas said. It was policy.

"I am telling you this so will you not write bad things about us, about Russia," Andrei said in an earnest voice. "Please."

Andrei started me thinking. He obviously is aware of Western journalists who are mocking these Games, which cost a whopping $50 billion, give or take a billion or two.

Yes, trouble stalks these Sochi Games. Some of these troubles are grave and frightening. Chechnyan terrorists protesting these Games already have killed three dozen people with threats to kill more.

And other troubles are not so grave and frightening. Strange-colored water flows from the hotel faucets of some visitors. NBC announcer Bob Costas suffers from a puffy, red eye, perhaps because of that water. Many Olympic hotels remain unfinished. Stray dogs are allegedly being killed.

And not all suitcases arrive at the airport. Trust me on this one. On Wednesday night, a groggy American journalist stumbled to luggage claim after a 24-hour journey from Colorado.

That would be me.

The luggage conveyor turned and turned, and I kept looking for my suitcase to appear. It never did.

This began a day-long search that involved a half-dozen apologetic Russians, who became allies in the search for an elusive red bag.

Olga, in charge of lost bags at the airport, spent several minutes thumbing through notebooks and scanning her computer. This was a mystery she had to solve.

My suitcase arrived a day later. I grabbed my bag from the carousel and went to thank Olga at lost luggage.

She was beaming. The mystery had been solved.

"I was so glad to help you," Olga said in her halting version of English.

"So glad."

There is so much to savor in Sochi. The beauty is overwhelming, with snowcapped mountains almost crashing into the Black Sea. The Russians who are friendly and helpful outnumber the grumpy and scowling at least four to one.

And I have my doubts about the dog allegations. When walking out of the airport on Wednesday evening, three friendly and healthy-looking stray dogs greeted me. Those same three dogs awaited me upon return to the airport Thursday.

Allow me this question: If Russian officials are seeking to exterminate strays in an effort to beautify these Games, would not those officials begin their extermination at the airport, where virtually every journalist arrives and departs?

I made no promise to Andrei and his friends. These Games, filled with light, could turn dark and tragic in an instant. Tragedy invaded the Games at Munich and Atlanta. The same brand of tragedy could arrive here, too.

But as I unpack my suitcase, I'm hoping for the light to defeat the darkness.


Twitter: @davidramz