Ups and downs in Svaneti

Juli 2015

Svaneti is a sparsely populated region high up in the mountains. It is scattered with hundreds of ancient defence-towers, some of them dating back to the 9th century. The small town of Mestia was my base for exploring the region. I got lucky with the people I met here, but had bad luck along the road as well. Looking back it’s a combination of good and bad luck that make a trip an adventure, and Svaneti turned into a big adventure indeed.

I explored Mestia and a nearby glacier with two solo travelers, called Damien (American) and Jessica (German), whom I met in my homestay. We decided to go on a multi-day hike together, leaving the next morning. It turned out to be a beautiful hike. We passed forests, fields and an old village with distinctive stone defence-towers. It was a clear day, allowing us to see the snow capped peaks. By the end of the day we reached a village called Chvabiani, where we found a guesthouse to stay the night.

But during the hike I noticed a problem. My big toenail got damaged at home, had grown in a bit, and seemed infected now. I decided to go back to Mestia. Damien, Jessica and some Israelis we met along the way continued the hike. Fortunately there was a road to Mestia, and I managed to hitchhike to a clinic.

I was sitting on a chair in the clinic of Mestia when a nurse approached me. Since we didn’t speak each other's language, I took of a shoe, sock and showed my toe. Then three doctors gathered around me. None of them spoke English (or Dutch of course) and I didn’t speak Russian (or Georgian). Then one of them showed me the way to a room and said “operation’’. I had to lie on a bench, starting to worry about what ‘’operation’’ could mean. Was I able to walk after this? A nurse brought a cart with scissors and knives in, after which she started cleaning the infected toe. When the doctor took a pair of scissors he seemed to come up with a word. ‘’Schmerzen?’’ he then asked. I knew that’s German for ‘’to hurt’’, so I said in German I understood. ‘’Schmerzen’’ he repeated, and started cutting in the nail. The anticipation of pain was way worse than the real pain. He did a perfect job removing a bit of the nail and cleaning. I got bandages around my toe and felt lucky when I could walk out of the clinic myself, though I wouldn’t be able to do more hiking on this trip.

Back at the homestay I met Goga and his friends. They were Mingrelians (an ethnic group in Georgia) on a holiday. He invited me to celebrate his birthday with them the next evening, which I was happy to do. First I went on a tour by myself to Ushguli, an UNESCO-listed village at 2100 meters altitude. Later I joined Goga and his friends. We drank the Georgian way, meaning we gave speeches and downed ‘’Cha Cha’’ (a strong drink) after every speech.

The next morning I left on a Mashrutka (minivan) to Tbilisi. A girl working at my homestay was on the van as well. She laughed and said ‘’I heard the Georgians got you drunk’’. I admitted I was hungover. After a couple of hours on the road the engine overheated. We pulled over. Other drivers stopped to help, and soon a truck and a whole row of cars were parked around our van. This showed me how social, or curious, drivers in Georgia could be. Since any effort to get the van going seemed in vain, all passengers had to wait for another van. Our next van made it to Tbilisi 12 hours after we left Mestia. I arrived with a sore foot and sore head, both surely my own fault. It didn't prevent me from enjoying the rest of Georgia.