The final destination of our 3-day trek
Trekking in the Georgian Caucasus
It's hot in Tbilisi. I just finished a nasty taxi ride from the mountains, 11 hours in a packed little van the locals call Marshrutka
and I'm utterly exhausted. I'm putting my backpack on, trying to escape the noisy station, and then heading the guesthouse I stayed in a week ago. As I'm walking along the old neighborhood I'm suddenly getting this sense of freedom. This sweet feeling which makes traveling so worthwhile.
It reminds me of that 60+ couple we met back then in Chile. They were traveling for months already, sleeping in the same low-budget guesthouses as we did, and they looked very happy. At that time I was wondering whether I'll be able to do the same when I'm their age. Well, I guess I still have way to go there… but I surely see the benefits. Backpacking does keep you young in spirit...
Georgia, a small deserted country in the Caucasus, trapped between Russia and Turkey. Two of its districts are actually separatists (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) and tourists are not allowed there. This left us with Upper Svaneti as our destination, a district in Southern Georgia blessed with mountains
Alpine lake on way to Mestia
We landed early Saturday morning in Tbilisi and went straight to Irena's guesthouse. Then went out to buy gas balloons that can only be found in a certain store in the flea market. We gave up the 1:50,000 maps in Geoland which didn’t cover the treks we wanted to do. We then waited 2 hours in the train station to buy tickets to Zugdidi. Georgia is not for the impatient. The night train was horrible. The 4-bed sleeper cabin was hot and the A/C went off every time the train slowed down. Georgian technology.
We arrived at Zugdidi early morning and bargained for Marshrutka (old taxi) to Mestia. The way was beautiful along rivers and lakes up to the mountains. We arrived at Mestia before noontime where we easily found Eka's guesthouse (she's Irena's cousin actually…). We threw our bags in the seedy room and went for a hike up the cross overlooking Mestia from 800 meters above. The way up is not easy. It's a steep 45 deg slope climb which took us more than 2 hours but the views from above of Mt. Ushba and the town below were worth the effort. We ran down
before dark in less than an hour.
Next day we woke up 07:00, had quick breakfast with Eka and her old mother in their kitchen. Lots of pastry. They call it Khachpuri which is actually bread with cheese. Then started the hike to Chalati glacier. The way was easy but long. We arrived at the glacier in 4 hours. The views were stunning. When I stood beneath the glacier a small landslide of few rocks hit the ground just near me which was a bit dangerous. We took the way back and then heavy rain started pouring out of nowhere. Before we had time to put our raincoats on we were soaked to the bone. The rain stopped after few minutes and the air became fresh and clear. Taanoog!
The next three days were dedicated to the highlight of Svaneti - the trek from Mestia to Ushguli. It is based on hops between neighboring valleys, each dominated by a unique village. We started from Zhabeshi by climbing 3 tedious hours to the first pass then descended to Adishi.
It rained all night and the house owner advised us against moving on the next morning. We decided not
to take his advice which proved right. After crossing the river using horses we climbed up another 800 meters pass which was somehow easier than previous day, then descended to Iprari were a nice surprise expected us. Ucha's Margvelani's guesthouse was way beyond our expectations. It's a decorated highly maintained place, with wall-to-wall carpets and even a nice collection of alcohol (though the bottles are all sealed…).
The last day was an easy walk up the river to Ushguli, which is said to be the highest village in Europe (someone must explain how exactly the Caucasus is part of Europe…). We took some nice pictures and took a bumpy jeep ride back to Mestia.
I woke up at 04:00 next morning to catch the Marshrutka back to Tbilisi. The alleys to the main square were completely dark and I had to use my flashlight to walk there. It took almost 2 hrs to get on the Marshrutka! The drivers preferred the locals over the few tourists that were there. The ride was hot and unpleasant - 11 hours in a crowded taxi without air-condition.
I had a nice week of trekking in Georgia. It's not as scenery
or beautiful as Nepal or Peru, but it definitely provides a good combination of culture and nature trip. It is still in its pre-commercialized stage and the costs of travelling there are still cheap. The locals are welcoming although it's a bit difficult to communicate with them (Russian is of great help if you know it). bottom line, catch it before it turns touristic.
~ The title is taken from the song Forever Young
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