Walking in Circles: Days 9-11


As Josh and I continued our trek south and down through Lower Svaneti, new landscapes opened up before us, ones much less seen by tourists, myself included. This road has been open only from May through October, roughly, for some decades now, otherwise closed by snow. This might change once it is paved, but we’ll have to wait and see whether it is doable or not. I had only been on it a few times in my two decades in Georgia, and never on foot until now.

The weather was much cloudier, though, obscuring the views of Shkhara, Georgia’s highest mountain, and others which should be dazzling us, offering only glimpses and threatening more rain. We were as ready as we could be for this, but a real downpour would certainly make things much harder.

The ongoing road work was very gratifying to see; it has been a very long time coming. In the end, I found myself overnighting in an empty shipping container-size box belonging to Award Construction, while Josh hammocked outside it. We did manage to get a fire going that evening to cook on, and I put a few bits of wood inside to keep dry for the morning, but we decided just to press on instead. Lentekhi was still a couple of days’ walk away.

My backpack was now at about an optimum weight for me, and I remember this time as a day or two of the easiest walking so far on the trip. I was finding new strength instead of getting broken down by all the extra exercise, hardly noticing the weight on my back because my hips were carrying almost all of it. I felt like I could continue all day, and indeed one of these days was our longest recorded walk, about 31 km or nearly 20 miles.

In the end, though, we decided to accept the offer of a dump-truck to get us farther along, to Lentekhi itself, looking at worsening expected weather. Josh rode in the back, crossing another form of transport off his list, while I joined the driver in the cab and chatted. Our walk was certainly turning into a bit of a compromise, but each non-foot part had its reasons, and we had nothing to prove to ourselves or anyone else about getting thoroughly soaked just for the sake of “being authentic”. We got off in Lentekhi, capital town of Lower Svaneti, found a campsite for the night, indulged in some k’ubdari (Svan meat pie), and turned in.

The next morning, I phoned an old acquaintance whom I’d last seen here about 15 years ago, on my first trip though this province towards Ushguli. He most gladly came and took us home for a couple of days’ stay with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, with all of whom we hit it off splendidly.

The museum was opened early for us to peruse. Here are stored a great number of local treasures from up to millennia back in time, along with details of local heroes from more modern times and paintings of important events in Svan history, such as the visit of Queen Tamar in the Middle Ages. What the museum lacks greatly, though, is proper conditions for all these things: sealed cabinets, controlled temperatures and humidity, labels and explanations in English as well as the current Georgian. I think of how Mestia’s museum has been brought up to world standards, and hope much the same for this place, with its hundreds of unique, important items. Of course, it’s all down to money and how loudly the wheel is squeaking: enough to get the needed attention and funding for changes? Soon, I hope.

We said our final goodbyes to Nugzar Liparteliani and his family and continued on one more changed route. Instead of walking down to Tsana and then north-west through Samegrelo’s villages to Jvari, we would avoid the coming two-day downpour by taking three minivan-buses to Tsqaltubo, Kutaisi and then Zugdidi, where we would stay with more friends for two more days, before heading up to Jvari and, in several more days, home. This cut about 100 km off the walk, and a few days, but again made much more sense after looking at forecasts, which turned out to be spot-on.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer and photographer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti

By Tony Hanmer

30 July 2020 20:50