Walking in Circles: Field Notes


Now that the Big Svaneti Circle walk is over, it’s time for some details and specifics. Not dry ones, though.

The route, starting July 3, 2020: from Iskari (Etseri) up to Lake Meziri (day 1), then down to and through Mazeri (Becho) (day 2). Across the Guli Pass (day 3) to Lenjeri and Mestia; two days’ rest there. Then by road past Mulakhi and through Ipari to the Tower of Love (day 6). Next, on to Ushguli (days 7-8), then over the pass between Upper and Lower Svaneti and towards Lentekhi (day 9). Days 10-11 in Lentekhi, then minivan to Zugdidi (days 12-13) and Jvari (day 14), from where we walked back into Upper Svaneti (days 15-16), and Dizi to Etseri (day 17).

Total distance: about 300 km on foot. Just over 17 km/day average, including rest days; about 21.5 km/day excluding rest days. Longest day’s walk, about 31 km; shortest (excluding rest days), 15.5. Greatest 1-day change in altitude: day 3, from about 2000 m to 3000, then down to 1600, over 25 km. Average speeds ranged from 1.5 km/hour at start, with lots of short rests, to 4 km/hour when in full stride and with lightened backpacks.

I have been wearing a FitBit health tracking watch for about a year now, and it was useful to have on the walk. Its daily recommended minimum for an adult is to walk 10,000 steps. Quickest time to reach this: before 9 am. Maximum steps in a day during the walk: over 40,000. (I also reached a yearly total of having walked the length of India during the walk).

Temperature ranges were down to 10 degrees C at night on the heights, hottest about 32 degrees daytime in the lowlands.

Things we abandoned from our backpacks in Mazeri and Mestia, to lighten them: a panduri (stringed wooden instrument); solar charger; 1 small cooking pot; 1 water filter (we still had another); 30-year-old waterproof matches which still worked (we had a lighter and a bit of gasoline); extra spices and soup/noodle packs. Extraneous clothes too.

Things we kept just in case but didn’t use once: paper and digitally photographed route maps (we used GPS, maps.me and trail markers); extra eyeglasses and 1 spare camera battery out of three; most emergency medicines.

Strangest thing we found on the walk: a rubber snake. Best thing: a 1 GEL coin. Worst: all the roadside rubbish!

Most useful light item: My sweatband… I couldn’t have done without it or something similar.

Most important lessons:

—Keep backpack weight on the hips and take care of the backpack, because it’s vital.

—Every gram of extra weight counts, but when the backpack and weight match your physical fitness, you can walk all day. A bit of extra pain or discomfort is bearable, as long as it doesn’t worsen into physical damage, such as blisters.

—Gnat bites can itch for weeks!

—The loudest river noise is still something one can sleep through.

—Mountain weather does its own thing, and forecasts are only a rough guide, so be prepared for rain etc. Light rain is manageable, but all-day heavy rain is to be avoided: change plans if possible.

—Much of staying the course when it gets harder is in the mind: if you can’t change something, you have to either adapt or give up! We were always able to adapt, not being so rigid that we couldn’t change routes or even travel modes when it was much wiser to do so.

The thing we both missed most: light folding chairs.

The main villages we didn’t see: Tskhumari, Latali, Adishi (to which I’ve never been), Tsana, Chuberi, Nakra.

Things I couldn’t compromise on leaving: my big EOS camera and its three lenses (I used them daily, a little or a lot)! A phone camera was fine for taking video, but not good enough for the stills I wanted and got.

And something I’ve said over and over on this trip and will say again: Georgians and foreigners “stuck” in this wonderful little country, virus-wise and tourism-wise, we have it GREAT! So much to enjoy and be thankful for!

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

13 August 2020 14:22