After a great stay in Kutaisi we sadly forewent another amazing Leyla breakfast for an early start across to the foothills of the Lesser Caucasus to avoid the lowland heat. It paid off and we climbed steadily up to Sairme through cool forest to our first surprise – a full on spa resort – Georgia style, hot pools, outdoor activities, hotels etc. We timed a nice lunch with a massive downpour which luckily passed as the $150 a night resort rooms were not in our budget, instead a steep climb up to a simple roadside camp did us just fine.
Another 1000m the next morning saw us at the pass and we descended to another spa village before detouring up on a diminishing road to a high point before a smooth descent to surprise #2, a full scale restored castle complex in the town of Akhaltsikhe and a sweet guesthouse.
It was another scenic hop up and over the hill to Aspindza avoiding the main road which takes the path of least resistance. Our surprise here was a stunning meal at Cafe Chiko.
At 6 the next morning we were crawling up the steep start to an unnamed pass. Next surprise was our first live snake on the road – not big but it got a shriek out of me when it moved! We passed a couple of herds of cows being moved along with their herders along with a large dog.
The next surprise was not so good – we caught up again with the herders at a water spring. They were controlling the dog – mostly – till it snuck an opportunity to bite Alan’s thigh (luckily not ripping his shorts but causing some damage underneath). The dog got a beating and Alan got some TLC. It was a wake up call – don’t take your eyes of the dogs.
The pass was elusive till the end. A herding family living near the pass greeted us with a Salaam – they were from Azerbaijan.
Down, jarringly down to the intriguing village of Vardzia – next surprise – over 600 hundred caves carved out of the rock high above the valley , connected by ledges and tunnels and featuring an amazing internal Church. The camping by the river was great – it had been a big day.
We had a short day back up to the high volcanic plateau and the town of Akhalkaliki. For peace of mind we got Alan’s war wound checked at the local hospital (thank god for google translate) and he got 2 jabs, one tetanus and one for rabies, which needs a follow up 3 injections which can be done at any clinic. Luckily the next stretch takes 3 days – in time for the second jab in Gori!