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Svaneti is known for being one of the most beautiful areas in Georgia and also one of the hardest to reach.  After leaving Kazbegi, my goal was to get there, even though it was on the complete opposite side of the country…in one day.    Arch, the father in the guesthouse in which I was staying,  helped me get a Marsruka in the morning and I got all the way to Zugdidi in the western half of the county!   I almost got stuck in our first stop, Tbilisi, but I managed to find one that was bound for Zugdidi and jumped on just before it left!   But I didn’t have a chance to get any food first.  After a few hours we stopped at a little road side place and I got a huge flat bread that tasted like cinnamon raisins.  I just mimicked the order of the Georgian guy in front of me to know what to get.

When we got to Zugdidi, I had no place to stay buy a nice guy came up and offered me to stay in his guesthouse under a big watchtower across form the bus station.  It was only 20 GEL ($12).  It was he, his wife, mother, 4 year old boy and a 10-year old baby!  We played chess on the patio and talked in broken english .  He beat me (or so I thought) , then rotated the board around and beat me again with my own pieces.  Then he asked me to take a family portrait.  The mom made a great dinner and they gave me the only wine they had left (had just drank 5 liters of it for a big family gathering).

When we finally got to Mestia (the main city in Svaneti), there was construction everywhere!  Like almost every building. I was a bit confused about which guesthouse to take because I had gotten so many recommendations along the way, but in the end, after walking around for a bit, I met a father and two daughters, the oldest (10 years) of which spoke perfect English. They invited me to stay with them and walked me up to Eka’s guesthouse. The little girl was very polite and gave me a tour of the whole place. My room was huge! It was about as big as my old apartment and it had a piano, dining room table, two beds, a couch and upholstered chairs, bookcases and an awesome view of the mountains! All for 40 Lari ($24) including meals!  Then the little girl brought me into the kitchen and gave me a heaping plate of fresh cherries and some fresh Svaneti cheese!

It was a bit drizzly so I didn’t set out to hike that evening but I did walk around town for a bit. I bought a firecracker (bomba), from a roadside stand and with the help of a Polish girl, blew it up in front of the police station.  It probably wasn’t super smart considering we were on the border with Russia and there is still a decent amount of conflict. Happy 4th of July!

Then I was trying to debug my broken Kindle for a while and I realized that the book I was trying to read was corrupt and wouldn’t even open on the computer. So I knew I needed to re-download it but there was no internet in Svaneti! So I set about town asking people if they knew where internet was and I was pointed to a gas station about a mile down the road. I walked there with my computer and kindle, and sure enough there was a group of girls huddled around the sole PC in the gas station shop watching YouTube videos. They let me use it for a few minutes, I redownloaded the book to a flash drive, transferred it over and everything was all good!

The next morning I got up early to take a 3 hour Jeep ride to Ushguli Glacier.  Usually people split the cost among several people but I was alone and there were no other guests at the guesthouse that night so I had to pay the whole $100 myself. And it was totally worth it! The driver spoke 0 English so it was a bit awkward sitting in the front seat next to him the whole time.  The drive was beautiful though, passing through farmland, and views of endless herds of cows, horses, pigs,  goats, mountain streams and flowered valleys.

When we finally got to the glacier, I saw an unbelievably beautiful stream flowing through the valley and I was so giddy to run out and start taking pictures.  After my initial excitement, I realized that I was starving so I came back up to the town and got a Kudbari for lunch (like a katchapuri but with meat!).  Then I took off on the walk toward the glacier while the driver kicked it at the cafe and smoked cigs.

I passed ancient villages, stone towers, streams and snow.  The sky was a bit cloudy towards end of day so views of the tops got a bit obstructed then it even started to rain. All in all, it was an unbelievably beautiful walk though.

The following morning, I got up early and started the long walk to Chaladi Glacier.  I had a big breakfast of Katchapuri and eggs because I knew I might not have lunch and I was too stubborn to buy food to bring along.  I walked along through the town, then past the airport, asking a lot of questions along the way to see if I was going the right way. Then I entered a long stretch with several streams to cross. I had been walking for about two hours when the enormous glacier came into view in the distance and I was stunned byt he beauty.  I crossed a big river with a suspension bridge, then walked through a forrest and finally after another 2 hours got to a huge rock and boulder field that led up to the glacier itself. I started making my way to the ice and a few people at the bottom were waving at me and telling me to come down. I was exhausted but I knew I had to make it to the ice. I spent another hour climbing over boulders, watching them fall loose and tumble down the hill, and dodging spiders until I got up to the ice. There were still rocks covering it but I could see huge ice caves with rivers flowing through them. The main ice sheet was still a ways away but it was getting dark, rain was on the horizon and I was exhausted. The ice was groaning and creaking and I saw a few boulder sized pieces break off and tumble down the slope. I spent another 30 minutes scampering down and I saw a couple at the bottom watching me. When I finally got down and introduced myself, they turned out to be a nice Estonian couple and we walked a lot of the way back together. They gave me a bit of kathchapuri to eat which was great because I was starving. Finally after a total of about 8 hours walking, we were back on a main road and a huge construction truck picked us up and took us back.

Before heading home, I stopped at a local bar and met the first American I had seen in Georgia, and he was from New Orleans! He was in Georgia for six weeks traveling around and learning the language. We drank a few beers together, and I ordered some pig on a skewer and some mushrooms in a clay pan. I bought a bottle of wine to take back to the guesthouse (but I learned later that for some reason none of the family drank wine).   They said I was the best guest they had ever had.  I corked the wine (after a few glasses) wrapped it in a plastic bag, and stuffed it in my backpack to get ready for the 4am bus ride back to Tbilisi on the following day.

I got up at 4am to catch the bus to Tbilisi and I was on the street by 4:30.  A bus immediately picked me up and of course I was the only one on it. I was really happy that he actually left immediately instead of waiting around until the bus was full…but then he turned around. He made this lap about 5 times, and we didn’t actually leave the station until after 7am. Bah!

The bus was pretty miserable. It had a stiff seat, my legs didn’t fit and if I turned sideways, the sharp curves would fling me out of the seat. And there were no windows. And it lasted almost 9 hours. The worst part though was that we stopped at one point to get drinks at a shop and the driver ditched me! I came out of the shop and the bus was gone! I looked around dumbfounded for about 5 minutes then apparently another lady on the bus told the driver that they were “missing an American”.  I saw a cloud of dust and heard of screech of tires as he swung back around and picked me up again.

My guesthouse for my last night in Tbilisi was recommended to me by Eka in Svaneti and it was really nice. It was in a lady’s house and only cost 30 lari or roughly $17.  My room had a nice balcony that overlooked the old town and it had a swinging chair and was covered in grape vines.  The owner, Lika, asked me how more Americans could learn about her place and I showed her Tripadvisor and Airbnb.  At some point, I drank the rest of the wine the nobody wanted in Svaneti.  Lika was really friendly until I told her that I was going to Armenia next and then she didn’t want to be friends anymore. This actually happened several times in Georgia. For some reason they seem to think that anybody who would go to Armenia is crazy and not worth being nice to. Weird. I had to go for myself and find out if it was really such a bad place.

  • My Host Family in Zugdidi
  • All This With Food for $20
  • Old House with Svaneti
  • Svaneti Farmer
  • Watchtowers in Mestia Town
  • River near Usguli Glacier
  • Ushguli
  • Church Near Ushguli
  • Ushguli Valley
  • Cow in Ushguli
  • Ushguli Glacier
  • Ushguli Glacier
  • Ushguli Glacier
  • Workers Near Ushguli
  • Watchtowers in Ushguli
  • Old Man and Broken Car
  • On the Road to Chaladi
  • Hiking to Chaladi Glacier
  • Chaladi Glacier
  • Valley View in Svaneti
  • Chaladi Glacier
  • River Under Chaladi Glacier
  • Chaladi Glacier and River
  • Chaladi Glacier and River

Posted: August 1, 2012

Author: Adam and Amanda

Category: Blog, Continents, Europe, Georgia


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