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Published: November 6th 2010
the towers of Mestia and a huge mountain
The night train from Tbilisi to Zugdidi was surprisingly comfortable. For 15 laris, roughly $8 we have 1st class berths, only 2 of us in the room which was good. The night before, arriving from Kazbegi we went straight to the train station but the train is full so we have no choice but to stay the night in Tbilisi which worked out well and I had a chance to see Tbilisi once more. it was a 7 hour trip on the train, we both fell asleep quickly as we did not get much sleep the night before in the hostel, very noisy people and someone was snoring loudly in the dorm and its not me! We heard a knock on our cabin door and we woke up to get ready to arrive in Zugdidi, there we we met 5 other backpackers coming out from the train, all Israelis, we found the minivan for Mestia, we got on and then got taken to the bus station where we waited almost 2 hours for the bus to fill up before leaving.
The drive was quite scenic, we went past a beautiful lake, greenish gray in color we stopped for breakfast for
more than an hour because the driver and 3 other older men in the minivan started drinking tsacha, when they came back to the car one man was really wasted he was swaying all over the place, couldn't even get himself to the seat. We keep stopping for so many reasons, they stop for friends on the road to say hi, to smoke, to drop off some package, the trip was 6 hours could have been less if not for that. There was a section that was being cleared by bulddozers, there must have been a recent landslide here, that explains why one Israeli dude told us his friend was tuck in Kashi the day before because the roads were impassable, this must be it. We waited for a big truck ahead of us to be towed by a caterpillar truck then we went through without problems. We stopped again at some point, something wrong with the van we were told and have to be transferred to another van where there was 3 other gringos.
On one of the stops we have one of the old Georgian men light a cigarette in the car, one Israeli dude politely asked
him if he can smoke outside, the Georgian man was not happy, and with tsacha in his system went on a rampart and was yelling at the poor Israeli dude, all we understand is "Palestine", he keeps repeating it as if chastising Israel about the issue, went on and on but not once did the Israelis, there's 5 of them in the car answered back they just sat quiet and pretend or try to be ignoring the guy, after half an hour he stopped.
When we transferred to another van the drunk guy was left with no seat this time as he was last in the van and he sat on my backpack i want to kick him but he was too far away, fortunately nothing was damaged in my pack. we arrived in town, its all a mess everything is being reconstructed or repaired just like Sighnaghi 3 years ago, we tried to call this number given to us by Rob a guy we met in the Tbilisi hostel, they stayed there and had good experience with the family, anyhow, it's a stiff competition here all homestay owners are pining for our attention, we went straight to the
map in the square and found the street now which direction? One guy spoke good English, he also wants our business but I explained we have already someone in mind, he was nice enough to try and call the number as my beeline sim has no signal here, before he could do that one lady pretended she knew them and was on the phone right away, she gave me the phone, the woman on the phone spoke good English and told me, yes they are so and so where my friends stayed and told me to follow the lady and she will take us there, uhuh...
An Aussie/Swedish couple tagged along with us so we have more bargaining power, we were walking towards the homestay when suddenly a van stopped next to us and a lady was forcing us to get in! She said we are going to the homestay we wanted, the lady with us was trying to make us stay with her, in the end the couple went with the van thinking we will meet up there and we walked with the woman only to find out we were taken to her own home! They will do
anything to get tourists stay with them even to lie, really stiff competition, and you would think they will bring down the price but we have to haggle extremely hard, I was on the phone with the English speaking daughter from 40 laris we tried to bring down to 25 but she said no only up to 30 for breakfast and little dinner, we begged off and was about to walk out of the compound when 2 Dutch tourists arrived from a day hike and told us they got 30 laris for 3 meals, now the lady of the house is willing to negotiate, she really wanted our business, so we stayed for 30 laris, deal was sealed.
We asked for lunch as it 4pm now and we are starving, great spread, maybe to impress us like in Kazbegi but that was our dinner too! cheeky locals! we were hungry again by 9pm but we just went to bed to rest, the beds were sinking in the middle but somehow still comfortable and we slept well. The next morning it was raining hard, the family has a big area with fruit trees and chickens and pigs roaming freely about,
the kind woman who took us in while freezing in the rain waiting for the bus out of Mestia
we watched them a bit as we were bored, then after a light breakfast the rain abated a bit and we decided to hike towards the cross, getting some directions from the daughter we walked towards the hills, it was still drizzling but the scenery is dramatic, at some point it stopped raining and sun came out briefly then rained again, we encountered the towers that made this place famous aside from the scenery. as we walk a young boy purposedly side swipe Till as we were walking and made faces, Till was not amused and wants to deck the boy, I told him the boy was just playing around.
The rain got worse but we kept on, following some dirt trails past some streams, and we had to take shelter from the rain in a small forested area and had our lunch there, then continued on until the trail was a dead end, we saw 2 old men with 2 cows, the baby calf was on the other men's shoulder maybe they got lost and refused to go home.I was soaking wet already, boots soaked and my bag is dripping when we made it back home, I was
freezing and wanted to take a shower but there was no water in the house! The toilet is inside the kitchen area where everyone in the family congregate for warmth as the stove is there, so when you walk in across towards the toilet, the whole family stares at you, but no one told me no water, i got butt naked and ready to shower not even a drip! I was annoyed but the daughter can only say, the town is under rehabilitation and sometimes water is iffy, try again tonight she said.
I went and curled underneath my comforter and slept for a bit, the family is quite noisy, all the time they were walking or yelling or something going on in the kitchen, we wonder if we made the right choice, Till wanted to wait till after lunch tomorrow to hike the area so we can get a big lunch as the box lunch was quite meager! Rained again the next day early morning we woke up to see if the weather improved, not so and after breakfast we waited for the rain to stop, meanwhile we sat in the kitchen where it is warm and watched
the women of the family make sauces and marmalades, one woman picked huge mushrooms and she will pickle it for the winter, we put our wet clothes too near the wood fire oven to dry them. It was still drizzling when we decided to walk to town and visit the tourist info which is located in one of the towers the lady was helpful giving us info on the glacier hike we wanted to do the next day. From there we walked following the road out to town and took some fotos, then slowly went back to town and to our homestay for lunch, the Dutch couple had lunch with us, then Till and I went again for a walk to some villages up on the hill behind our homestay, lots of towers around and we took time walking in the small narrow streets, then we hiked up following some trail until it was a dead end, rain was on and off again.
Beautiful day the next day and we decided to go hike the glacier,after breakfast i went at the back of the house and picked some plums and apples for snacks for the hike, the sun is
out and the clouds are below the massive mountains behind the village we can see it clearly and we can see the snowline distinctly, it's been raining for days and snowing in the mountains, we walked to the other side of the river, it's quite muddy and lots of deep potholes, they are building the airport and lots of big trucks and bulldozers, we kept on walking and just past the airport I need to go to the toilet, being lactose intolerant, the milk from breakfast wants to get out! Found a nook and did my business and caught up with Till who is waiting on the side of the road, a young woman backpacker was walking on her own, we saw her yesterday while hiking the hills around, we learned later she is from Czech republic, anyway we followed the road which became a trail to the mountains eventually, beautiful scenery, crossing a few rivers and potholes,we rested near the river after walking 2 hours and then found the suspension bridge and crossed it, 2 soldiers were crossing it too from the opposite way and one talked to us, he pointed to our front is the Russian Caucasus and
he said the border with Russia is very close so just follow the trail towards the glacier and not to go astray.
We met 3 people, locals picking mushrooms in the forest trail, we decided to pick some too and maybe eat it for dinner, there is heaps of them only e are not sure if they are edible so we picked what we thought might be, it started to drizzle as we near the boulders, and the huge glaciers started to show itself, beautiful but dangerous we did not come so close to it, we took a few photos near the cave then retreated to the safety of the trail end mark. The Czech girl arrived 30 minutes later and chatted with us, we had our lunch and then it got cold and drizzly so we left, it hailed when we got to the forest, we did not see the Czech girl again as she was slow, meeting the dirt road again we managed to get a hitch from one of the passing trucks until the airport runway and walked the rest of the way. We presented the mushrooms to our homestay mom and she told me they
are all not edible! what a waste. Dinner was ok but meager and we leave tomorrow, she is not serving breakfast so we hid the rest of the kachapuri on the table for snacks tomorrow. We noticed that as the day goes we are getting less food, cheeky locals are now learning to stiff the tourists, Till eats more than me and always asks for seconds of soups.
We woke up 4am to catch the ridiculously early bus to Zugdidi. We walked in the drizzle towards the main square of the town, we met 2 Israelis there going to Tbilisi, the van for Tbilisi came and filled up quickly we asked to get on but the driver refused, he is apparently not stopping in Zugdidi. we waited in the cold and rain for the marhsrutka to arrive, around 6am the ticket seller woman approached us and in broken German told us no minivan today for Zugdidi, problem she said! The local drunk men earlier told us around 6 or 7 am the van gets here, so we did not know who to believe, Till lost his patience and started yelling at the woman in frustration, she offered to take
us to her house for tea and get warm, free she reiterated, we have no choice but to follow her. She lives nearby, we chatted and found out she is an Anesthesiologist, but working in their family business of minivan shuttles to different places, she told us tomorrow for sure will be a minivan to Zugdidi, we were almost resigned to staying another day when her phone rang and she told us the minivan for Zugdidi will be able to leave today, we were so happy and we got picked up at her house, its raining bad now and he roads are muddy, the van left the town half empty only to stop at one place, must be a homestay at the farther end of the town, and we are picking up 10 Israelis!
The Israelis packed their packs behind the van and no sooner than 2 minutes when we started going the music system came on and they are loud and noisy, Till and I just looked at each other, 6 hours of hell! I put on mt mp3 player Till was annoyed his ipod is acting up and poor guy he had to put up with hebrew
pop music for the rest of the trip and they sing too! there was a point in the road where we got stuck in thick mud and a caterpillar truck has to help us by pulling us out of the mud, we eventually made it and kept on. We stopped at the same cafeteria near the beautiful grey green lake. One Israeli dude started praying behind the truck and all the rest started reading some book and praying as well, we went to have some kachapuri in the cafeteria, after we just finished our order 2 of the Israelis came and held everyone up by demanding to see the kitchen so they can see how the food is prepared before ordering, Till and I just looked at each other. Back in the truck the driver asked for fare money, we paid 20 laris each for Zugdidi, the Israelis demanded the same amount but they are heading to Tbilisi, the driver yelled at them until they finally coughed up the money.
The last couple hours was hell, Israelis had the music on the whole time, reprieve came when we arrive in Zugdidi, the driver transferred them to another van for
Tbilisis while we got dropped off at the train station where we have to wait 3 hours for the minivan to Batumi, continuously spitting we sat in the train station hoping for fine weather in Batumi, locals staring at us all the time.
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