On the Road Again: Svaneti


Well, the Jvari-Mestia road seems more and more to be lacking the necessary official attention nowadays, so I’ll continue to try to make up for some of that. Certainly, when it is actually closed the response is reasonably quick to solve the issue; but if it’s only damaged and we can still get through, well, less so!

Aside from the three recent half-road fall-away sections I mentioned not long ago between the villages of Pari and Lakhamula, admittedly being worked on but needing months to redo, there are a couple more between Becho and Latali. But these latter are short enough that we merely maneuver around the new concrete barriers put up around them. As for Shavghele (Blackstream), a bit above Etseri, it is fast returning to “full-time disaster” status…

The big one this time was a rock-slide between Lakhamula and Nakra, a traditionally bad spot for such where dynamiting was also part of the solution in Misha’s presidential terms. The road was completely blocked, and the minivan I was taking to Tbilisi arrived about four hours after the fall, mid-morning, to join two growing lines of vehicles above and below. About two hours after we came, a large machine arrived from higher up the road, with a big front scoop to start energetic work on the mess.

You could walk across it, but you’d better keep a heads up, because new rocks were tumbling down every now and then, some big enough and fast enough to take your head right off as they whizzed by without even slowing down a fraction. They gave the rock-mover’s driver pause too, because they could do the same to him in his nice shiny glass cabin.

But in the pauses, he tore right into the pile, shoving it around, gathering up what his scoop could hold and dumping it over the side of the road to bounce down to the Enguri river waiting far below. None of the rocks, not even the car-size ones, was strong enough not to shatter during this last tumble, being composed of thin layers of slate you could have separated with a hammer and chisel. But they would do the separating on you if those sharp edges made contact at those velocities. So we got as close as we dared for photos and videos, but no closer. A final mighty splash was the fate of every load, covered over by the churning river in full early spring melt flood.

Forty minutes of work later, the road was cleared up enough to let us rush through the bad spot on our ways down to Zugdidi or up to Mestia. We didn’t linger there in case a new fall decided to start in this high-risk zone.

I suppose all of us who live or travel through here enough have always known that the “2-dimensional” part itself, the road surface, was the easy bit. The constant 3D assaults on it from above, gravity assisted, rock-falls, avalanches, thaws and freezes? Not so easy to manage or prevent, though an ounce of this is certainly worth a pound of the cure of the chaos left in its wake. The heaves and sinks of road sections, or outright drop-offs of those whole sections? They, too, would be so much simpler to prevent than to repair once having occurred. Oh well, here we are, watching somewhat helplessly as our precious, once in a lifetime remade road re-disintegrates season by season, year by year, before our eyes. The result will not be pretty.

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 over 1850 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

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


Tony Hanmer

29 March 2018 19:55