Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Road to Svaneti

Shepherd going home, sunset, Svaneti region, Georgia. Photo by Mitya Guimon

As some of you may know, our most recent trip to Georgia was in fact our second time in the country (our first visit was in 2013). The last time we were in Georgia, we went to Tbilisi, the capital, hiked to the Jvari monastery in Mkskheta, went to Kazbegi and hiked from the Tsminda Sameba church to the glacier, visited the Davit Gareja cave monastery on the Georgian-Azerbaijani border (and crossed inadvertently into Azerbaijan), and spent several days in the Kakheti wine region in the east. I really wanted to see the regions of Svaneti and Tusheti, but Svaneti was too far from Kakheti for the time we had left, and Tusheti, though directly north of Kakheti, was only accessible by 4WD.

So, when we decided to come back to Georgia this year, Svaneti was at the top of my list of places to go. Svaneti is bordered on the north by the Caucasus mountains, and can only be accessed through two roads in Georgia, one which goes through South Ossetia and the other through the coast, which was, until a few years ago, unpaved and only accessible by 4WD. In fact, its legendary inaccessibility meant that, in times of war or forthcoming invasion, all the historical treasures were moved to Svaneti for storage. Although reaching the region is not as difficult as it used to be, especially since the main road from the coast to Mestia has now been paved, it is still quite a slog. Travelers coming from Tbilisi have the option of either a) renting a car and driving west to the coast, and then back-tracking northeast to Svaneti or b) taking an overnight train from Tbilisi to Zugdidi, and then a 7 hour marshrutka (public bus/van) to Mestia.

Since we like having flexibility, we opted for the DIY plan and rented a car. And having done that, I would actually recommend it to any future travelers. Having a car really gives you the option to explore a lot of areas in Svaneti (and around) and you can travel at your own pace.

If you went by overnight train, you would never see this cheery sign right outside of Tbilisi:

You would also never see this cool postmodern rest stop:

You would never be able to see and sample all the fruit on sale off the side of the highway:

And you would never see or taste this sweet Georgian raisin bread (some of the sellers put out fake plastic bread and keep the actual bread inside their stands!):

You would miss this former gas station turned coffeehouse:

And you wouldn't see the quirky side of the Georgian countryside, such as this:

And this:

You would also miss this glimpse of a post-apocalyptic world, with cows grazing in an abandoned soccer field:

And once you got to Svaneti, you wouldn't be able to buy honey from the beekeepers along the highway:

And I doubt they would let you out of the marshrutka to take shots like this:

And this:

And lastly, how could you miss this? (Is this really affiliated with Starbucks or not? Hard to tell. Even a Google search doesn't tell you much.)

Convinced now?

All photos by Mitya Guimon.

1 comment:

  1. OMG! Cool post! Seriously!

    Your husband should be lucky to travel with you)