Last week’s list of possible future articles has grown and grown; more of those soon. Meantime, come with me to the other end of the country from my usual abode...

It only took me ten hours door to door from my house in Upper Svaneti to my wife’s family home in the Lagodekhi region of Kakheti, east Georgia. Not bad, considering the distance and the roads, and the three forms of transport I needed: marshroutka (minivan bus), Tbilisi Metro and shared taxi. Once again I rejoiced in not being over-tall as I traveled, put my journey pillow around my neck, switched on my e-book reader and ignored time out of existence.

And once again experienced the time travel effect when leaving from and returning to Svaneti: you move forward roughly a season as you descend, in this case from a minus 12 degree morning to fruit trees blooming, and reverse the process at the other end (always harder).

I hadn’t been to my in-laws’ place for a couple of years or so, and it was a good time to see them. No one has aged noticeably, but the house is getting some much needed attention in the form of renovation, with a well and in-yard water arranged, as well as in-house water in the process of being finished. My brother-in-law has even sent the outflow to exactly the same kind of destination as I have: an underground rock-lined pit, there to leach into the surrounding land. He might have had no choice, but he did it well. The fig tree whose leaves did a similar job for my wife and me at our honeymoon bedroom’s window as they did for Adam and Eve is gone now, though, its shadow deemed more of a nuisance than its fruit a benefit.

My wife had asked me to take some photos of the udders of her parents’ two cows to compare with those in our Svan village. Being that this pair give a full bucket of milk per session, I can see why she wants people to see; it’s quite impressive. Now that our own two are both giving us all their milk, their heifers weaned off it onto whey and hay, I’m free to use all the milk for cheese-making, with my press from last summer working hard. But more milk than the half of the Kakheti amount which we get, I can’t actually imagine using, or needing; I’m not yet set up for such a volume of cheese, either in storage space or in the time to work with it. We have plenty for now!

I was there for the wedding of my wife’s cousin, and this, in comparison with the typical Svan version, was mercifully early and short- we had left the feast long before it would have even started in the mountains.

Kakheti, too, is in full bloom, so it’s really Svaneti which is “back” in time compared to the majority of the country. Everywhere people were working on their gardens or in the fields, taking advantage of the warmth to get things going as soon as possible. Now that I have seen, and been involved in, the amount of work it takes to coddle cucumbers into fruition, I can tell you that in my opinion they should cost their weight in blue cheese, if not gold. Instead—it’s peanuts, as they say! Backbreaking, not to mention heartbreaking. Not for me.

On the night train back from Tbilisi to Zugdidi, I had decided to go first class (a two-berth cabin), being that it’s a mere ten Lari more than second class’s four berths. My travelling companion was a practising surgeon from Samegrelo, now widowed, returning to his ancestral home to tidy it up. Last year he was the oldest participant in an international run in the east, completing five kilometres. His age? Ninety-three.

The train rocked me to sleep as it usually does, another thing I’m always grateful for. After several hours’ wait to fill our marshroutka to a cost-effective point, it was back up, backward into the fiercely resurgent winter currently affecting us, warmed by my wife’s waiting arms. Our passengers included a couple from Kazakhstan and a young lady from Brazil, who is torn between inability to bear her country’s political crisis and need to know what’s going on back home. A normal party, in other words. Home again!

Tony Hanmer runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1300 members, at


He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:


Tony Hanmer

24 March 2016 20:59