Walking in Circles: Days 1-2


The time had come to begin our 400 km, 3-week walking and camping tour of Svaneti. My young friend Joshua Pearce has been a visitor to the region 4 or 5 times over the past several years, and is also an Eagle Scout in the USA, the highest qualification of scouting. Lots of outdoor knowledge and experience to join to my own.

Backpacks loaded, we set off from my Etseri house, saying goodbye to my wife, and began walking up the road towards Lake Meziri, our first stop for the night. Taking our time as we adjusted to the weight on our backs, a new thing for me as until now I have only had a small day pack with me. Plenty of pauses for a moment to catch my breath. I had done plenty of extra walking in the weeks leading up to departure, but none with this extra 15 kg added on!

It was taking a while to adjust straps so that most of the weight would be on my hips, not shoulders, as is best with backpacking. This would actually come to plague me in the next few days.

After a few hours we trudged up to the day’s pass, and there was Mt. Ushba, dominating the landscape with its magnificent profile as it does from much of Svaneti. A good point to stop for photos with the late spring wildflowers, of which there are so many varieties, colors across the spectrum. Then mostly down from there to the little lake, which provides wonderful reflections of Ushba as a bonus. Set up camp: 2-person tent for me, covered hammock Josh’s preference. Lots of evergreen firewood, along with resin-rich pinecones and needles, already fallen on the ground and waiting to be used. A cup of coffee and some mushroom noodles with peanuts later, all was well with the world as we experienced it.

Next morning was also clear, the lake mirror-still. A man who had spent the night in a nearby hut gave us best directions down to Mazeri, top hamlet of Becho village, our next destination, and we were off. His huge but totally benign Caucasus Shepherd dog joined us all the way down, which was fine too.

But either the directions were false, or we simply got it wrong. We ended up in a steeply downhill pathless forest, knowing that Mazeri was below and hardly missable, but really struggling from the angle. Huge trees lay all around, felled by deep snows of previous years and now in various stages of decay. Josh’s phone was guiding us towards… a road halfway down? We crashed through, the backpacks doubling the difficulty of movement: no way of reversing our way to go anywhere uphill: we just had to press on.

Finally, the actual road appeared, but just a path, and we were out of that nightmare. At one moment Just had crossed a long fallen trunk about 10 feet above a dip, as had the dog. But when I tried it, the backpack just gave me too much wobble to feel anything like secure, unafraid though I am of heights. I’d had to turn back and force another way through the undergrowth. Glad that was all over, NEVER again, I told myself!

Lunch at a friend’s guest house in Mazeri, and we packed up enough leftovers for the next two meals, also leaving a bag of less necessary things with him to collect later, lightening our loads a bit. Then we would begin the next challenge, the start of the Guli Pass route towards Mestia, reaching 2000 m that day before stopping for the night next to a tiny church in a ruined, abandoned part of Becho. There was running spring water, a covered and benched eating area, even dishes and dish soap! Light rain that night could not spoil our euphoria. A new, ¾ view of Ushba loomed over us, and we slept another peaceful night. The next day would test us considerably further with its huge ascent and then descent, but that was still 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

09 July 2020 18:45