We flew out of Queenstown as the sky was filling with cloud spaceships heralding a northwest weather change. It was a short hop to Sydney, 15 hours to Doha followed by a 3hr flight to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, nestled in green hills on the banks of the river Mtkvari.
Hostel Fabrika, where we stayed a night, started life as a fabric factory and has been converted to large, ubercool hostel. It was a good place to start our trip with lots of room to put our bikes together, English speaking staff and comfy rooms. The next morning our loaded bikes got to ride in elevators and on escalators in order to catch the 8:10 train to Zugdidi.
We enjoyed the 5 hour train ride, but the strong hot wind outside the air conditioned carriages was not looking fun to ride in. The wind did die down for the 38km ride following rough tracks and roads to Jvari at the edge of the mountains but the mid thirty temperatures lingered. One amusing encounter was with a local woman who invited us to rest in her garden. With only 2 words of Georgian under our belts we ended up communicating in Spanish as she knew a little Italian and a little Spanish.
The next 2 days we climbed our way up to Mestia and the Svaneti region – home of the Svan people who till recently were isolated during their 6 month winters. Nowadays a paved road follows the large glacial fed Enguri river as it drops 900m over 80km after which it is stopped in its tracks by a 250m high concrete dam (2nd largest in the world) forming an ugly 25km reservoir (being presently at low tide and brown with glacial silt).
The forest, river and mountain views beyond the reservoir surpassed expectations (so early in the trip) and Alan commented that being in places like this give hope that the planet may not implode in 30 years because of human interference…
We started seeing the medieval towers that are unique to this area, fortified fortresses, living quarters and treasure chests from the 9-13 century. Nowadays the people have moved into more comfortable accommodation and they are used for storage.
We rested a day in Mestia (town of 80 towers) and had the unexpected trip up 2 chair lifts up to 2500m and a 360 degree panorama of the peaks sorrounding the region. Returning to the town we visited the National Museum, got a chance to climb up one of the towers, watched an amazing movie Dede (filmed in the upper Svaneti based on a true story from there) and had yet another amazing meal of local dishes at the popular Laila restaurant. Time we burned off some more calories..