We are lying in the tent beside the large slit laden Zeshko river, the sun has gone, obscured by the early evening thunder, lightening and rain storm that is upon us. Alan is reading and I am working my pink iPhone hard, choosing and editing photos, uploading to the blog and writing the story. My cheap SIM card and purchased data are locking into the 3G network – impressive! It has been a few days of ‘pinch me’ this can’t be for real moments…back to the story…
From Mestia cyclists normally take the main paved road over a pass, and then follow the diminishing Enguli river up to Ushguli, a cluster of 4 small villages famous for being the highest continually inhabited settlements in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the well preserved fortress towers that date from 9th to 13th century.
Our route was a bit more circuitous taking us through some beautiful forest and amazing alpine scenery, some paved and some rocky roads, steep rough hike-a-bike and flowing single track. We camped high below the pyramidal Mt Tetnuldi (4800m) and had grand views in the morning to Mt Ushba and an amazing ride down to the village of Adishi for a huge breakfast at a guesthouse (camp high, eat low!).
Onwards to Ushguli, a unique place with 1000 year old towers, a scattering of brand new guest houses around the edges for the tourists, all nestled in green hillsides with a wall of mountains up one side valley that culminate in Shkara at 5200m. The river we have followed most of the way into the Upper Svaneti starts below this face.
We stayed in Guesthouse Data, with dinner, bed and breakfast costing us approx NZD$50 or 100 GEL (Georgian Lari). We managed lunch as well with some of the leftover huge breakfast (eggs, khachapori (flat bread with cheesy centre made fresh in the morning), homemade cheese, fat pikelets, honey, jam, tea and coffee. Doing it tough I hear you say.
We crossed Zagaro pass above Ushguli, then a steep rockabilly descent and continued rough road to pavement to more rough road that took us to the large town of Kutaisi. Beautiful gorge travel through dense forest most of the way.
Now we are in Kutaisi, one of Georgia’s older cities, enjoying the warmth and hospitality of Leyla and her family at their family guesthouse on the river. We arrived very tired and hot after a longer than expected day from our river camp. The evening meal prepared by Leyla and her mother- in-law at late notice was a banquet we had no hope of finishing, the same went with breakfast!
We had a look around central Kutaisi enjoying a ride in the tiny gondola to the amusement park, a look at the Bagrati Cathedral and walking the quiet streets and discovering wee gems like the Olympic Park honouring the world class athletes (and chess players) of Georgia. Did you know thar a Georgian team has competed in 4 consecutive Rugby World Cups?!