TransCaucasus Trailblazers


These people are high on my list of heroes. I just love what they’re doing. Check it out at:

They’ve been at it for several years now, renovating or making new trails throughout the Transcaucasus (south of Russia). Connecting with local communities in advance, starting dialogs, asking advice, asking for approval and blessing. This is important, because they don’t want to just come in and try to do something on this scale without local involvement and understanding!

The trails will bring new tourists, new economic opportunities too, and also be good for local people to use, of course, on a daily basis in their pastoral lives. This is already happening, including right here from where I write, in Etseri.

There can, of course, be slip-ups, misunderstandings, even when 100% local people are working side by side with them. One of the things to deal with, we notice in Svaneti, is potential jealousy when the perception is that a trail on route X will be of benefit to those nearest it, as hosts in guest houses or shop patrons, but not to those further away.

Such a situation seems to have happened with the building of a bridge to replace an old existing one in the village of K’ala, between Ipari and Ushguli, Upper Svaneti. The team, including a Svan from Mestia, went in carefully, meeting with locals formally, seeking their reaction to the project. It all seemed positive. They bought wood and other materials, and spent several days making this amazing bridge.

In the middle of the night, as soon as it was finished, chainsaws could be heard. The next morning the bridge was visible, cut off and cast into the river.

The team, of course, were devastated. All that work, finished, never used, destroyed! It was very discouraging, of course. They desperately sought to learn in the community what had gone wrong; opinions and blame differed. But it does seem clear that not everyone was happy with the project, although this did not come out at all in the extensive conversations before building started. For some reason, it was allowed to be finished before being ruined, a blow to the team.

They came to us to stay for a night before moving on to trails between us and the village of Becho. I had heard the shocking news a bit earlier, and this was my chance to hear it firsthand from the very people involved, an international team of 11 including a Georgian from Tbilisi and a Svan. It really seems that they did all they could to minimize problems and maximize mutual understanding. And still.

They press on, hoping to learn what can be done differently to prevent such happenings in the future. They are very rare in the organization’s experience anyway, as generally things go only positively. And they’re not going to let this setback slow them down.

My feeling is that the Svans’ tendency to be against one another, historically demonstrated, is at play. I’ve seen it in my own village and elsewhere too. It’s not news to people here. I hope they can grow in their understanding; united, they can do so much in and for their communities; divided, they can lose out on a lot of opportunities to improve things in an area very far away from Tbilisi, with long winters and a comparatively hard life. They need each other.

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 2000 members, at

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

By Tony Hanmer

08 August 2019 18:57