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Last trip in Georgia

Mountains and sea. Svaneti, Batumi and last dose of Georgian chacha

Finishing the job in Tbilisi, the time has come for the final trip in Georgia. This time to the furthermost part of Georgia – Svaneti region. Svaneti is a mountain region, and supposedly one of the wildest ones in Georgia. It’s home of Svans, an independent ethnic group with its own language.
This time we rented a proper monster – Nissan Pathfinder 4WD – to get us up to the mountains on an unpaved road. It took a loooooong ride to cross Georgia and get to Mestia, the gateway to Svaneti. Just few years ago the road to Mestia was unpaved, but by now the road it freshly paved, but still causing vertigo - sharp curves, deep chasm. Mestia bears marks of typical Georgian approach – mixture of very modern glass buildings with ancient buildings. Svaneti region is most famous for its defensive towers, which date many centuries back. Thy served to defend families against invaders or upset neighbors – “blood for blood” used to be the guiding principle of Svaneti ever since Svans settled here. They look amazing, rising high from the villages.

We spent the night in Mestia and next day we continued through an unpaved road much deeper into Svaneti to Ushguli. Originally I wanted us to make a 3-4 days trek from Mestia to Ushguli, but it seemed it was too early for such trek – it would be impossible to cross the rivers, and we also didn’t have so much time left. So we drove through the marvelous mountains all the way to Ushguli on what was probably the most adventurous road that I have ever driven.

Too bad that weather in Ushguli was really bad. We spent there 2 days, but we were mostly “blessed” by rain and hail, so it was impossible to make any hike into the mountains. But even so, Ushguli is a fascinating place. Reachable only by 2,5 hour drive on unpaved road from Mestia, which itself it reachable only by 3 hour drive from “normal Georgia” which itself is reachable by 5 hour drive from Tbilisi, this is Georgia’s end of the world. Only few families live here and the decaying village is peppered by those defensive towers. It claims to be the most elevated village in Europe, but I slightly doubt it, as its elevation was “modest” 2 100 meters above the sea. While it looked like a really harsh place to live for human (I don’t even want to imagine how the winters are there) it seemed like a paradise for livestock - cows, sheep, horses. Never ending green pastures in the midst of untouched nature, no fences, all animals roaming free. In my next life I wanna be a cow living in Svaneti. In a local pub (no beer, no wine, just chacha spirit) we met a Georgian soldier who kept on telling us how we got shot by the Russian army during Russian invasion to Gori and he was mostly saying “motherfuckin’ Russia, MOTHERFUCKIN’ RUSSIA!!!”

As we were getting from Ushuli, after heavy rain, the unpaved road to Mestia was very adventurous so to say. It’s a tiny piece of dirt road clinging to a side of cliffs and it was pretty covered by rocks that fell down from the cliff due to the heavy rain. If you get hit by a larger piece, you can bet it throws you down the chasm on the left. Fuck I was scared. 100% deep mud, rock falling, this was a stressful ride. Even the paved road from Mestia down to Georgia I had to hit the brakes when a rock bigger than me suddenly blocked the road. Pleasures of driving in Georgia.

But Svaneti was not our last destination in Georgia. It was Batumi, Georgia’s #1 summer resort on the coast of the Black Sea, just short distance from Turkish border. It’s a strange town. Surprisingly modern. Everything reconstructed and well maintained. Not like crumbling Tbilisi. In Batumi everything is perfect. Grass is green, facades are new, fountains are singing and dancing, … Actually it is downright kitschy. But very well maintained. Funnily, in this modern summer resort, obviously heavily sponsored by Georgian government, these modern buildings seamless mingle into an old communist district with those typical concrete blocks that you can see all the way from East Germany to… Georgia. It had been 28 years since I’ve seen the Black Sea for the last time. I had seen it in Bulgaria when I had been 3 and 5, on my first two holidays by the sea with my parents. I was excited to see the Black sea again. Unlike in Bulgaria back then, where the sea was pretty rough, this time the sea looked like a lake. Perfectly calm. As those who have seen the Black Sea know, it’s is indeed bit black: it’s not transparent and its salinity is very low. I figured out that it must be due to the fact that so many big rivers flow into it and at the same time its connection with the world’s other seas and oceans is so narrow, that it doesn’t really get the chance to exchange its waters with those other seas, and so it remains non-salty and relatively murky, from all that water brought by the rivers. As Irene looked around the beach made of dark pebbles, with no cliffs or anything else to break the scenery (although green hills backing Batumi are truly nice) and into the calm, dark water she commented this: “I don’t like the Black Sea. It’s very Soviet.” I guess she was right. It Soviet Union would have a task to engineer a sea, I’m pretty sure it would look like this :-)
It was too cold to swim at the endless pebble beach, so at least we took a mandatory holiday photo in the morning, left back to Tbilisi, returned the jeep at almost midnight and 4 hours later we were flying out of Georgia.

But it wouldn’t be Georgia if we managed to get to Tbilisi without getting drunk on the way. Not us, me, to be more precise :-) We stopped near a small waterfall and there was couple of locals / Russian-Israelis having a picnic and of course we were requested to try their home made chacha. Irene didn’t really appreciate that I got drunk again, but in reality I only did to save her life :-. If she would drink that homemade chacha, she would drop right dead! I saved her by signing up for the task myself. Man, that was the worst alcohol I’ve ever had. It tasted like old Czechslovak communist glue Kanagon. Nice last experience in Georgia.

Good bye, this beautiful country, with super-nice people, great food and good memories.

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     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak