The lovely weather of August urged us to make that promised trip into the mountains of Georgia. Mestia, our destination, is a village in the historic province of Svaneti in northwest Georgia. Check out this link for more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svaneti
Day 1. We started on Saturday, August 24, leaving early to get a marshutka to Zugdidi, our first stop. In a few hours we arrived along with the rain. We had arrangements to stay in a Guesthouse that night and our hosts were nice enough to come pick us up. After settling in the rain had stopped so we ventured our to explore the town. Our first impression was that it was so clean! There was one main road through the town and we spent most of the afternoon walking. We stopped at a local café for a pizza which had, of all things, pickles on it. There was a Smart store in the town and we headed there for some extra food supplies. to our amazement, they had some microwave popcorn which we purchased and enjoyed that evening. A Skype message from Costa Rica caused us to hustle back to our lodging for a visit with Stephen, Dana and the boys.
Day 2. It rain through the night and was continuing as we got ready in the early morning. Again our hosts were very considerate and gave us a ride to the next marshutka stop. We rode around the small town for about an hour til the marsh was full of passengers and got underway. Traveling to Svaneti is a most picturesque ride through the Enguri valley following the Enguri river. Mountain views were very reminiscent of our own state of Colorado but the roads were several centuries older! We arrived in Mestia in several hours and connected with our guest hostess, Rusiko, who took us to our guest house. It was up a very steep, cobblestone road and we were grateful to have a car help us.
After getting settled in our room we were invited to have lunch which was served outside under a wonderfully cool grape arbor. Familiar Georgian dishes were served most notably cucumber and tomato salad, eggplant, wonderful freshly baked rolls and delicious homemade jam. After eating we ventured down the steep road and walked into the main part of town. Unfortunately the electricity was out so we were unable to visit the Ethnological Museum or even stop for a nice cold drink. We did meet a young woman who had been on the ride to Mestia with us and spent some time chatting with her. Svetlana called herself a “citizen of the world” with dual citizenship in Russia and New Zealand. Currently she is an IT professional in charge of one of the venues at the Winter Olympics in Soci, Russia, in 2014. Walking back up the hill to our guest house took awhile….did I say how steep it really was??? Fellow PCV, Susan, and her Georgian counterpart, Eka, had arrived and we all prepared for dinner together. Typical of Georgian hospitality, we were awarded with too much food to eat followed by a cup of tea. After dinner we went to take a closer look at the towers that were positioned nearby many houses. These “emblems of Svaneti” are defensive in nature and are designed to house villagers at times of invasion and strife. About 175 of them still survive in Svaneti today. I managed to climb up to the first level inside but Tom, Eka and Susan were adventurers and made it all the way to the top. The cool evening signaled the time to return to our guesthouse and settle in for a good night’s rest before our trip on the next day to Ushguli. See this link for more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ushguli
Day 3. Destination: Ushguli, 7000+ ft. Ushguli is comprised of 4 very small villages but they are close enough to walk to all of them. Ushguli’s claim to fame is a belief that it is the highest continuously inhabited village in Europe. As we approached the first small village I could see no life and thought it looked like a ghost town. A little bit down the road we pulled into the 2nd village where there was the obvious movement of people and various animals. We spent the next 4 hours trekking through the village and meeting its many interesting inhabitants. First stop, however, was a very small window where some items of food and drink could be bought. We had some lunch which our hosts had prepared for us so we bought a drink and took in the atmosphere around us.
The most spectacular view was Mt Shkhara which is the highest mountain in Georgia at 17,040 ft. and the 3rd highest in the Caucasus range. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shkhara
It is quite impressive and breath-taking. Our walk through the village was eventful for the numbers of animals that roam freely including cows, hairy pigs, horses, chickens and sheep. But more interesting were the people. Most seemed very old although we know this way of life ages a person more quickly than city living. We chatted with a man who was a woodcarver and had some of his wares on display along with some items made by his mother (or mother-in-law) that were woven. We purchased a few things there. And then as we continued our walk we stopped to chat with a man sitting on his steps and on the door of his house was a sign that read “Museum”. At his urging we entered and found an upstairs room filled with memorabilia which included all kinds of articles from newspaper clips to full grown stuffed mountain goats. It seemed something like a personal timeline of his life… homey, quaint, interesting and funny. As we talked, or I should say ‘communicated’, he took a Georgian instrument called a panduri from the wall, sat down and started to play and sing a Georgian folk melody. It was a most lovely moment both intimate and generous. We knew we were experiencing a few moments we would never forget. After that we learned that he was 70 years old and his wife 68. Gently we parted ways with them and continued our walk up the mountain to see the new little Orthodox church that was under construction.
“The hills are alive with the sound of….” silence mostly, but the beauty of the setting could make you want to sing. Such a vast expanse of scenic beauty and the pastoral nature of the village left us quiet in thought and memorizing these scenes for the first and probably last time.
Day 4: Our last day back in Mestia was less ambitious. We walked the town again and finally did get to visit the beautiful Museum of History and Ethnography.
The rich history of the Svans is present in many artifacts that had been stored safely in private homes for hundreds of years. Among the most impressive for us were the beautifully illuminated gospels dating from the 9th to the 11th centuries as well as golden crosses and icons dating from that same period. Later we sat in the park in the center of the village and, while Tom napped on a bench, Susan, Eka and I talked about our life in the schools to which we would soon be returning. We also did some souvenir shopping which provided me with a nice jar of local Mestia honey. Early to bed that night and ready for an early morning departure on the marshutka.
Please enjoy some of the many pictures we took during this trip: