Rickshaw through Svaneti?!


I thought I’d nearly seen it all when, in 2011 or 12, we started getting four new forms of transport up here in our mountains: bicycles, motorbikes, taxis and full-size buses. All, no doubt, thanks to the much improved road and safety which former president Mikeil Saakashvili brought here during his big renovation of the province.

I remember at that time making another mental list of what other modes of motion might arrive. People Walking through were already getting common. Camel? (Horse is ancient here already). Ostrich? Unicycle? How about travelling by rickshaw?

That’s one I never thought of, but yesterday it showed up on our doorstep, having crossed by trail from Nakra over several days. Pulled by a father of two young girls, accompanied by his wife; all Belgians, but living in Canada for about 7 years now. Welcome to the family of Francois-Xavier De Ruydts.

He is an adventure photographer recently switched to film, having earlier specialized in cave and canyon photography in my former home country. He was also one of the discoverers of a new canyon near Vancouver; I had no idea that such finds were even possible anywhere on the planet, but I suppose they are.

They had some months of hard-earned holiday, and were considering Morocco, but with two girls aged less than a year and just over three, it would have been high (to escape the heat) and dry, not to mention rather barren. But Francois-Xavier had done some cycling though Georgia about 10 years ago, and a chance sight of an article on the country at a friend’s house inspired him to rethink this location. There was almost no trekking information on the country online, but his first Google find was the best: www.caucasus-trekking.com/ told him everything he needed to know.

How to travel with the little ones was certainly an issue: avoiding the now busier main road, sticking to trails as much as possible. Eventually they settled on a unique single-wheel vehicle made in a garage in Germany, picked one up, modified it, packed it into a bicycle box, and flew over.

Last night they stayed with us and we discovered a mutual acquaintance in the family of fellow traveler Bruce Kirkby, who also takes his young family on exotic tours, most notably from Vancouver to Tibet avoiding all motorized transport for practically the whole journey. My wife and I had met them in Mestia during a horse and foot tour they made on Georgia about eight years ago, and since then they have only gone from strength to strength.

Francois-Xavier and his family are now taking a few days to go up to Mazeri, and from there to Mestia and Ushguli. The rickshaw’s brake makes a huge difference in safety and stability going downhill, and they have managed some rather challenging descents so far, so I think that what lies ahead they can achieve as well. The girls are taking it all in stride; the elder one, to my delight, is already an avid fan of books, and I hope that this will stay with her for life, as it has with me from about her age. Meanwhile, you can find more details of this intrepid foursome at https://www.deruydtsphotography.com/ to see what they’ve been up to so far. What a life!

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 1900 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

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


By Tony Hanmer

21 June 2018 19:07