Our great new friend of the past few years and travel arranger, Dato Urushadze, recently called Lali and me to find out: Did we want to accompany him on a second trip to Tusheti? Our first, when we met him, was a few springs ago, when CoVid made leaving Georgia virtually impossible and reawakened a desire to see the parts of Georgia still new to us. Next came a wonderful October journey to Racha, and now this. In each case, we were free to fill the Delica van he drove with 6-8 people of our choosing. Dato would drive, and take tents, sleeping bags, mattresses and a gas bottle for cooking. We would pay him for the driving, and take and prepare food for all, including him. We jumped at the chance.
This time, our departure for Tusheti would take place just a few days before the snow clearers’ contract would run out. After October 20, staying in the province is at your own risk of being shut in for the whole winter. Unless you are a local, we discovered, in which case you could take your time and make use of the border guards’ helicopter to leave.
We gathered our motley crew of regulars and newcomers, and met Dato at 7 am in the center of Tbilisi. Our road went through Telavi and then north into those wild mountains and impossibly vast landscapes.
This time, I determined not to make a nuisance of myself with too many breathless requests to stop the car so I could get out for photos. Less of that; more shooting from the window with a much shorter stop, or even while we were still moving. Of course, we would still be free to wander around and away from our forest campsite, and also to explore on foot each day the villages that Dato drove us to.
My first major shot was a literal rock face, of the kind I have become more and more prone to seeing in recent years, and not just in Svaneti, but anywhere. This was a stern warrior and defender of Tusheti, in magnificent profile.
Waterfalls; glorious autumn colors; sheep being herded down for the winter; the pass at about 2900 m; the campsite itself, near Old Omalo’s slate towers. We set up camp mid-afternoon, several of us setting out to find firewood, of which there was no end, and dry, so dry. This was my sister’s and my first job as children whenever the family would arrive at our campsite of the day or week, over years in Zimbabwe and then Canada. We were in evergreens now, and their fallen deadwood and cones and needles, still full of sap though not freshly fallen, made an excellent, easy fire, with hardly a pop.
Most of the food was cooked in advance by one of our accompanying friends, along with her sister and mother, who gamely pitched in. So that made food chores much lighter at the camp, which had no table and only one stool. We did, however, have marshmallows (a little small, but tasty) to skewer on the kebab sticks for dessert.
It was cool, as expected, but we all had enough clothing, and winter sleeping bags to boot. (Well, except for me: I used two summer ones, and was fine in all my clothes.) Most of us already being friends, we got along well, and had much merriment together. The crisp air was totally silent except for the incongruous sound of airplanes: it seemed we were on their flight route into and out of Tbilisi airport. But no worry, they were not close enough to be much bother. No food at all in the tents, for risk, however slight, of bears!
That was our first day. To follow would come several villages not far away, mostly the next day, our only full day in Tusheti. It would be plenty. More to come next week.