Georgia – On foot we explore Kazbegi National Park

We will go hiking in Stepanzminda and from Juta to Roshka (2-day hike).

This requires some preparation:
Organize backpack, deposit bicycles in a safe place, find transportation to the mountains, rearrange equipment into backpacks, buy food for 2 days (without stove).

Fortunately, we have already established a small network among Swiss in Georgia. We get the backpack from Rainer, who together with his girlfriend Tato runs the best pizzeria Farina in Tbilisi. We are allowed to store our bicycles with Lisa & Dario, who are also back in the capital.
So far so good, quite unaccustomed we march with fully packed backpacks towards Didube bus station. It’s like a bazaar there, except that instead of food, they trade bus/taxi rides. Quite organized, the gigantic parking lot is divided by destinations. Once the desired destination is announced, you are automatically guided in the right direction.
Our cab driver was a nice gentleman who had to drive from Tbilisi back to his home in Stepanzminda and offered a ride at a fair price. It is a pity that this model is not also available in Switzerland. After 30 minutes the cab was full and the 2.5-hour drive along the historic Army Road, the main connecting road between Georgia and Russia, could begin. Hopefully this trip will be more relaxed than the last one, where we vowed never to get into a cab again 😏.

With a nausea tablet thrown in, the partly winding ride could be survived well, and the driving style was also appropriate.

Arriving in Stepanzminda, we had a mission to accomplish:
At the very beginning of our trip we met Winfried, the district forester from Schellenberg in Germany. We told him then about our plan to cycle through Georgia, among other places. Excitingly, he had recently read an article about the Gergeti Church in Stepanzminda and was very excited about visiting it. Since this was also our plan, we promised him that if we actually made it there, we would send him a postcard with a picture of the church.

So we hiked up to Gergeti Church and were able to fulfill our promise. It is the most photographed church in Georgia, from which you have a breathtaking view of the third highest mountain in the country (5,047m.a.s.l.), named Kazbeg.

Since the journey to Stepanzminda is quite long, we decided to combine the visit to the church with a 2-day hike.
The following morning, the owner of our accommodation chauffeured us to Juta, the starting point of the hike over the Chaukhi Pass (3,341 m.a.s.l.) to Roshka.
Beautifully along a valley it went steadily uphill. We met only a few other hikers and after every turn and every kilometer we covered, an amazing panorama opened up. We had a very special encounter with two Georgians who had a dog and a CAT with them on the hike. Our empathy ended when the black cat lurched beside us, panting, meowing, and looking for shade. We told the owners that it was probably not very pleasant for the cat and they should probably turn back, which they did a short time later (what people don’t do everything for Instagram 🙈).
For us it went over the very steep climb up to the pass. The air became thinner and thinner and breathing became increasingly difficult. But the strain paid off, it was insanely beautiful. After the summit photo and lunch, the very demanding descent into the valley began.
As soon as it finally flattened out a bit, we pitched our tent. We placed it between small mountain streams and right next to a huge boulder where we could enjoy the mountain panorama and dinner.
The next day we realized, the endurance is there, but the muscles that are used when hiking are definitely not the same as when cycling 😅. We had the worst muscle ache. This was further reinforced by the additional 1,200 hm downhill.

Actually, we planned to end the hike in Roshka. From there, reports from others (probably before Corona) said that there should be options for transfer to Tbilisi or at least to a larger intersection. There we were, standing in an extremely remote village of about 10 houses. After a short time we were joined by three German globetrotters who also mastered the hike. All of us went in search of a ride in the village to no avail. After some time we decided to walk the distance to the next fork in the road. It was 2.5 hours downhill on a gravel road, which felt like an eternity. Fortunately, we were able to chat with our companions and share exciting experiences. One of the three Germans has been traveling through Georgia for more than 5 months and told beautiful as well as hair-raising stories he experienced. For example, he helped castrate bulls, pigs and goats and then came to enjoy the freshly prepared testicle stew 😱.
All in all, we waited at the crossroads for another 2 hours until someone was able to take us to a place just outside Tbilisi. From there we covered the rest of the distance by marshrutka (minibus).

This is already the third time we are at the hub of Georgia, in Tbilisi.

Still in the last blog we were sure that it goes on to Armenia. Now the following criteria speak against it:

  • In order to get vaccinated in Georgia, we must stay in the country for at least 3 months. If we were to continue to Armenia, our previous ~2 months would expire.
  • In Armenia, we could get vaccinated with AstraZeneca after 11 days, but this would not be approved in Switzerland. In Georgia, we would get Pfizer – BioNTech.
  • At the moment, it does not look like eastern countries including Iran will open their borders.
  • Dario & Lisa will also stay longer in Georgia, so hopefully there will be another chance to ride a part together.

Furthermore, we have now decided, if after the vaccination and before the onset of winter, it does not getting further, we would pause the trip and spend the winter in Switzerland. All other options, such as flying to Mexico or Africa, are currently out of the question for us. It doesn’t make sense for us to jet halfway around the world for a few weeks.
We are still in good spirits and enjoy Georgia. So we plan to explore the east, which is still undiscovered for us, where we plan, among other things, to drive the most dangerous road in Europe – stay tuned 😉.

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