Walking in Circles, 2: Svaneti


Looks like I have to buy a new tent for the tour after all: the fabric of the old one is actually starting to rot. Fortunately, there are several good-looking outdoor equipment shops in Tbilisi, browsable online, with a variety of tent choices. Size, quality, brand. There’s even one which pops up all by itself, thanks to built-in poles tensed ready for action. You just throw it in the air and it lands open. I like the look of this one, if it’s not just a toy. A good tent is worth spending money on, to have for decades.

At least the waterproof match holder from my 1989 set is still useful. So are the 2 nesting rectangular pots with foldout handles; and a tiny stove which uses all sorts of liquid fuel, from white gas to diesel or kerosene and more. Not sure about this one, though, because I might find a much more updated one in the shops which uses wood or other combustibles instead, meaning we won’t have to lug any extra liquid. On this trip of about 400 km, every spare gram counts!

I wanted to have some form of dried meat, for which the main candidates would be American style beef jerky, or South African biltong. Neither of these seems to be available in Georgian shops, though there are excellent recipes for making your own online. However, a third version reminds me of itself: Armenian basturma. Ready-made and certainly able to be found, it can be cut into thin slices or even grated, as I sometimes do with sausage when cooking at home. The aim is to minimize food preparation during the trip, with as many ingredients as possible already cut or otherwise made ready in advance. Why take a cutting board?!

My friend Jan Richard Baerug’s other recent book, which I also have, The Essence of the Caucasus-Svaneti, features an amazing 96 tours originating from his hotel in Becho. By foot, on skis, horseback or by bike, from short and easy to long and difficult, some putting you on certain mountain peaks, others showing you the famous ones together in one landscape, such as Elbrus, Shkhara, Ushba and Tetnuldi. I am poring over this lavishly photo-illustrated, exhaustively detailed tome to find all possibilities which might be useful on our trek. We likely can’t take the actual book with us, but I might photograph the necessary pages and have them on my phone, or print them, or both.

I also really wanted to take something from the first walk I did, in summer of 2007, for continuity. This will likely be the two double-walled steel mugs we bought just for that trip, not quite big enough to fall into and drown, light enough to consider, able to keep coffee or tea hot by insulation.

A certain TV station at which a friend of mine works might take on our journey as a subject; they are considering this at the moment. We would upload new material from our phones daily (almost the whole route has good internet connection). They would edit this into useable form, possibly adding from the huge collection of videos I started shooting soon before the original walk and through my first winter stay in Ushguli. One could make many comparisons from then until now: the road, the infrastructure, tourism, even our current world crisis and how it affects everyone. Fingers crossed that this will work: it will be my first TV appearance which originated in a pitch from me, instead of from the TV side.

The excitement continues to build in me at the thought of the upcoming adventure. We will start in as soon as two weeks, with plenty of further planning to go through until then. More details to come.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer and photographer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti

By Tony Hanmer

04 June 2020 19:35