Georgia – High Caucasus Round, Part 1

We enjoyed the last days in Tbilisi very much and visited together with Dario & Lisa besides some sightseeing the music festival “Lisi Wonderland”. It was nice to breathe festival air once again 😍!

Soon it was time for us to say goodbye to the capital. Namely, we wanted to explore the High Caucasus and the area around the famous village of Mestia.
Since the route from Tbilisi to Kutaisi is along dangerous and not very spectacular main roads, we decided to take the train. We emailed “Georgian Railways” and asked how and if you can get on the train with the bicycles. We didn’t get a clear answer, only that we should pack the bicycles (same answer also when asked at the ticket counter) -> as we found out later, you can take the bicycles on the train without packing for only 5 Lari.

On the off chance we went towards the station and still wanted to try it without packing the bicycles.
In front of the station building, however, a Georgian approached us and asked if we needed a cab to Kutaisi.
We could agree on a fair price (about 80 CHF incl. bicycles for 250 km). We agreed; what we regretted already after the first kilometers heavily!
Nicole sat in the back fighting nausea, while Beni sat in the passenger seat, but felt like he was sitting in the trunk of the car in front of us. It was hair-raising, constant overtaking maneuvers in blind curves at breakneck speed past cows and pilons. We were seriously considering getting out. Nicole was out of action because of nausea, Beni’s nerves were at the end and he tried desperately to make the driver believe with hands and feet that we don’t have to set a speed record.
The driver just laughed, typed into his smartphone (logically while driving) the number of years he had been on the road without an accident.
It felt like our cab driver broke all records; no one overtook us, but we all of them 😡! Once we arrived in Kutaisi, we swore never to get into a Georgian cab again!

In the city we stayed then one day. There are two/three attractions to see, but the highlight for us was the reunion with Michael, whom we met in Vardzia.

Finally back on the bicycles, we set off on this challenging round in the High Caucasus. In part 1 we will report about the route from Kutaisi to Mestia:

At first it goes rather leisurely through small villages, here the world still seems to be in order. On the streets various animals cavort and to each house belongs a magnificent garden with corn, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and much more. These gardens are used for self-sufficiency and is still common in rural Georgia. This has also benefited them in Soviet times and is currently benefiting them during the Corona crisis.
For those who want to know more about the impact of the Corona crisis in the country, we can recommend the audio podcast: “Tourismuskrise in Georgien – Saatgut statt Schlauchboot“.

The animals on the roadside made us stop again and again; simply fantastic how they can move freely on the road and how both pig and cow don’t let themselves be disturbed by anything.
During a photo shoot with a pig, a gentleman beckoned us to join him and his family inside. Immediately he showed Beni his completed work/installations around the house, during which the women dished up plate after plate. As soon as Beni also took his place at the table, plenty of homemade wine and chacha (schnapps) was poured. Once started, the host was unstoppable πŸ€ͺ🍷. At the end, of course, the family photo should not be missing and as if they had not already hosted us more than enough, they gave us an additional gift of fabulous 2 liters of homemade wine, half a liter of chacha and a bag full of fruits and vegetables. We were very happy about these treats, but at the same time we thought about the upcoming 3’600 meters of altitude up to Mestia and swallowed three times empty (about 5 kg of additional luggage).
As a thank you, we again presented one of our Swiss Army Knives, which brought great joy to the family.

In order to camp for the night at a hot spring that evening, we gladly accepted a small detour. The place was magical, in the evening light the hot streams and the associated waterfall steamed away beautifully. We would not have expected that we would even find a “hot shower” right next to our tent 🀩.

Through the small detour to the spring we drove through various other small villages, where we could even watch water buffalo bathing! A little further on we looked for a shady place to prepare our lunch and found an abandoned bus shelter. Not 5 minutes later came out of nowhere a road preparation vehicle, a man with cart and horse and from somewhere half the village towards us – strangely enough, such circumstances happen to us often, no idea why πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ. After a short small talk they disappeared as fast as they came and we enjoyed our delicious meal.

Shortly before the first longer climb we meet 2.5 other Swiss bike travelers 😁. Morgane, Jean-David and their child, who want to travel the same route. The two seem incredibly fit, their bicycles incl. trailer for the child are incredibly heavy, yet they make it up the mountains πŸ’ͺ🏻. Jean-David’s bicycle with luggage, child and trailer weighs over 100 kg 😱!!!
Since we are planning a break day in Mestia, we decide to meet there again, since we are traveling a bit faster.

On this day along the huge Enguri reservoir it is really hard for us to find a campsite for the first time in Georgia, because all free places are littered with bee houses. We give up and spend the night in a guest house.

The next day we continued to fight our way up the mountain, when suddenly someone shouted β€žGo Switzerland” at us from far behind. We were amazed when we recognized our Swiss friends in a undersized van. They accepted the offer of a Georgian to take them to Mestia.

For us, it meant in sweltering heat at over 35 Β° C to scramble further up the mountain. We were rewarded with beautiful landscapes and a super great, even fenced campground.

The higher we get, the more spectacular the landscape and view. Only the constant up and down is very exhausting, so you are in Mestia after driven 3’600 hm on only 1500 meters above sea level.
Mestia selber ist bekannt fΓΌr seine zahlreichen WehrtΓΌrme und ist Hauptort der historischen Region Swanetien. Mestia itself is known for its numerous defense towers and is the capital of the historical region of Svanetia. The village was modernized to a large extent between 2009 and 2012. In the process, many of the original houses were tear down and replaced with new Swiss chalet-style homes (at least they tried πŸ˜…).
We especially enjoyed climbing up to the roof of a defense tower, on ladders that were sometimes dizzying. Also highly recommended is a visit to the “Pub & Cinema DEDE”, where the film “DEDE” can be seen. It is a drama that takes place in the neighboring village of Ushguli. The content is about a love story and shows the difficulties that certain Georgian traditions still bring with them today. For example, until a few years ago, kidnapping and forced marriages of women were legal and commonplace. The exciting thing is that the director is always present on site for questions and she told us that only a few years ago a law was introduced to be able to report men who kidnap women.
Otherwise, we did not like Mestia with its touristy flair very much and we were glad to escape the hustle and bustle after a break day.

In part 2 we will then report on our onward journey to the Zagari Pass (and even higher) as well as the return journey to Tbilisi πŸ˜ƒ.

For even more insight into our everyday cycling life, check out our latest video:

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