Walking in Circles: Closing


Time for the final push. This last section, more than any others, was one which I knew really well, but only by vehicle. Time to learn it on a different scale: days not hours, feet not km.

We took public transport from bustling Zugdidi to Jvari, gateway village to Svaneti, once the two days of expected hard rain was over. No point in struggling getting soaked by non-stop cats and dogs, especially as that part of the walk wasn’t even in Svaneti anyway, but in Samegrelo.

We were back to mostly uphill walking again, though with several gains in altitude followed by similar losses before getting home to Etseri. But by now we were pretty used to the pace and load, knowing what our bodies could handle, what our food, hydration and rest needs were. Nothing in or on us had seriously broken down (although Josh’s backpack needed some tough resewing in Lentekhi, and now the end was in sight.

The Enguri River would soon roar along beside us in an unnavigable boiling torrent, but first we had to reach the great Enguri arch dam and the 20-km reservoir behind it, dating from some decades before the end of the USSR. It has always puzzled my why there are rarely any boats at all on this long lake, deep and green from the glacial sources which feed it. If I lived closer to it, I would somehow get a speedboat or a houseboat or something and take advantage of its frigid but fine waters.

We had three more camping nights, one hidden, two very much roadside, before a night visiting friends and then the last walking day. The river was by now becoming a huge noise, but a “white” one, something which neither of us had trouble sleeping through. Josh did manage a dip in a natural pool near a bridge, but the water here too was flowing though slowly, and much too cold for my taste. Khaishi village offered us a cooked meal en route, ojakhuri, the “family dish” of fried pork and potatoes, to bolster our energy and provide a break from the usual trail mix and cereal.

I also wasn’t very distracted by photographic sights on this last leg, having had so many opportunities to stop for pictures over decades of travel. Ushba would be out of sight entirely, and our walking view was much more restricted in general by its mostly canyon-like topography.

Our first stop was at my favorite waterfall, a multi-stage affair with a wide veil-like finish. The area has been badly marred, though, by visitors’ most liberal and thoughtless scattering of their garbage, which Josh had the idea of picking up. We gathered what we could in a large bag provided by a couple who stay there and boil corn for tourists. There is no dumpster in sight, just a little piece of what Georgians call “the country God was keeping for Himself”, now frightfully soiled by its tenants. What WILL He say, Georgians (because it’s mostly you, not the foreigners), when He stops by for a progress report?! Apparently this place is under Tsalenjikha’s jurisdiction: so how about some action, hmm?

Eventually, we arrived at Tina Aprasidze’s house in Dizi, source for precious marble and alabaster, when the gorgeously decorated Moscow and St Petersburg Metro stations were being built. Tina is the widowed sister of my blood brother, Nodar, and her whole family are old friends of mine. We left all the night things there to minimize our last day’s loads (tent and hammock, sleeping bags, extra food and so on), said a fond goodbye next morning, and headed off into the last 25 km of the Circle.

Here two things changed the game. One was a brief thunderstorm which caused us to take shelter under trees until it passed. The other was a bout of nausea leading to vomiting which affected Josh, mercifully the only bit of sickness we had on the whole trip. Not knowing how severe or long-lasting this case would be, I opted to start hitchhiking; soon, of all things, a large garbage truck picked us up, there was room for both of us in its spacious cab and sleeper, so by yet another means of transport we ended the trip early, with my wife waiting for us at our house. Josh took several more days of weakness to get over it; I was fine, so it likely wasn’t any kind of food poisoning, as we had been eating exactly the same things.

Anyway, the Big Svaneti Circle walk was over, a years-long dream of mine fulfilled, and we were safe and happy. Time to start editing hundreds of photos and finishing the writing. Georgians, in the absence of any current possible alternatives you have SO much to see right at home!

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

06 August 2020 18:23