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Pictures of our trip through Georgia – Part 3
- Part 3a: From July 31 to August 5, 2013 Zugdidi - Swaneti - Zugdidi - Abkhazia Border
- Part 3b: From August 13 to 15, 2013 Abkhazia Border - Poti - Ferry to Ilyichevsk/Ukraine
Georgia Part 2b July 22 to 31, 2013: Armenia Border - Ninotsminda - Tbilisi - Mtskheta - Kazbegi - Kutaisi - Zugdidi
Armenia Part 2 July 17 to 22, 2013: Nagorno Karabakh - Goris - Tatev - Noravank - Khor Virap - Echmiadzin - Geghard - Gyumri - Georgia
Nagorno-Karabakh July 9 to 17, 2013: Armenia - Stepanakert - Gandzasar - Martakert - Tigranakert - Tnjri - Shoushi - Armenia
Armenia Part 1 July 2 to 9, 2013: Georgia Border - Akhtala - Haghpat - Dilijan - Lake Sevan - Selim - Arates - Nagorno Karabakh
Georgia Part 2a June 24 to July 2, 2013: Azerbaijan Border - Tbilisi - Armenia Border
Azerbaijan June 13 to 24, 2013: Georgia Border - Balakən - Şəki - Lahıç - Baku - Xınalıq - Quba - Laza - Baku - Gəncə - Georgia Border
Georgia Part 1 June 4 to 13, 2013: Turkey Border - Ajaria - Tbilisi - Kakheti - Azerbaijan Border
Turkey May 28 to June 4, 2013: Iran Border - Esendere - Hakkari - Van - Doğubayazıt - Kars - Ardahan - Hopa - Georgia Border
afterwards in the Caucasus:
Abkhazia August 5 to 13, 2013: Georgia - Sukhumi - Tsebelda - Novyy Aton - Lake Ritsa - Gagra - Pitsunda - Georgia
Ukraine Part a – August 17 to 21, 2013 - Ilyichevsk Port - Odessa - Bilhorod Dnistrovsky - Moldova Border
Moldova Part a – August 21 to 22, 2013 - Ukraine Border - Cǎuşeni - Transnistria Border
Transnistria August 22 to September 1, 2013 - Tiraspol - Chiţcani - Bendery - Moldova Border
Moldova Part b September 1 to 4, 2013 - Transnistria Border - Chişinǎu - Orheiul Vechi - Ukraine Border
Ukraine Part b September 4 to 22, 2013 - Moldova Border - Odessa Port - Container/Freighter to Praia/Cape Verde
Cape Verde October 28, 2013 to April 29, 2014 - Islands Santiago - Fogo - Brava - São Nicolau - São Vicente - Santo Antão
Georgia Map
       Mid-East Map           Caucasus Map
latest picture: August 15, 2013
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166  Hidden behind these mountain ridges
lies the "beautiful, wild and mysterious"
mountain region of Svaneti, a valley of about
60 miles’ length. It is situated in the North
along the Abkhazian and Russian border
167  From Zugdidi, the starting point to
Svaneti, we first cross a plain where farmers
especially grow corn. The geographical begin
of the valley starts 4 miles north of Jvari and
ends at Ushguli, about 30 miles after Mestia
168  Our about 60 miles long climb to
Mestia – the main “city” of Svaneti –
starts behind Jvari, firstly along the 15 miles
long Enguri (Jvari) Reservoir, afterwards
through narrow gorges, flanked by heavily
forested steep mountain ridges  .....
„Beautiful, wild and mysterious“ – that is how our Lonely Planet travel guide describes the „Svaneti Area“ along the Abkhazian and Russian border. The sun is shining, the sky is blue when we set off to this remote mountain region, lying 87 miles [140km] away. Through many hairpin bends, narrow gorges, flanked by heavily forested steep slopes, we drove deeper and deeper into the alpine world. Soon we arrive at the turquois shining 13 miles [20km] long Patara Enguri (Jvari) Reservoir, passing little sleepy villages. The more we gain on height, the closer snow-covered mountain peaks of the big Caucasus Range are looming above the forest line.
169  ..... right beside the road lovely
waterfalls cascade down the forested hills
170  The turquoise, about 12 miles long
Enguri (Jvari) Reservoir located on an
altitude of about 1’400 ft. belongs to
the many scenic attractions along
the Svaneti route .....
171  ..... at the entrance of the Enguri
river driftwood has accumulated. Police is at
the spot. They are searching for four Russian
tourists who fell into the reservoir with their
car (one week later, they still weren't found)
Already in Lengeri, the first stunning „Koshkebi“ – the defensive stone towers – appear. They are Svaneti’s emblem of which still 175 are said to remain. At times of invasions and murderous blood-feuds they served as hideouts to villagers. In Mestia, the main town and center of Svaneti, which comprises an agglomeration of 10 neighborhoods, they are particularly plentiful. Here is also an accumulation of guesthouses. Apart from the main square, which has been lovingly upgraded, Mestia however turns out to be a dusty mountain village with broken streets, but framed by a wonderful mountain scenery.
172  We cross the village of Khaishi along
the narrow river valley while we continue on
many hairpins into the mountains. Here
enters the Khaisura river visible on the photo
into the Enguri river. Short before the village
the 661 ft. high Khudoni dam is planned
173  The Enguri river pushes its way
through a deeply forested gorge. The
foreseen construction of the Khudoni
dam would flood the whole valley and
the village of Khaisha would have
to be relocated
174  A small forest clearance, surrounded
by the silent dark walls of the forest,
becomes our relaxing night camp in
this still (!) untouched mountain region
We immediately realize: Here we cannot camp. May be further up the road? Thereby we land at the Hatsvali Chairlift Station 5 miles [8km] further up the road. In this region we set up our camp in an alpine flower meadow and enjoy the colorful butterflies that fly from blossom to blossom, the wild strawberries, raspberries and hazelnut bushes. But especially we are mesmerized by the magnificent high mountain range panorama that presents us in the most stunning evening light. We are on an altitude of 6'119 ft. [1'865m] (43.03054 / 42.73879).
175  The dense forest of the Svaneti
valley is clearing partially
176  Fed by the melting snow, a thin
water stream falls from high up through the
forest slopes down to the Enguri river
177  The first sleepy villages at the foot
of deeply forested mountain slopes come into
sight. The Svaneti valley widens. Here on the
south side of the valley the village of Svipi
It is 2am. Emil is tossing and turning in bed. What's the matter? „The starlit skies disappeared. It looks for rain“. He is affraid that our camping terrain could become marshy by heavy rain. From experience I know that he will not sleep for the rest of the night. „Shall we pack up and move to more solid ground, I ask him half-heartedly“. He immediately agrees.
178  The first snow-covered mountain
peak of the Great Caucasus greets from far:
The 17’037 ft. (16’896 ft.? / 16’627 ft.? /
17’064 ft.?) tall Shkhara
179  In the villages of Lenashi-Lengeri
a few miles before Mestia the first
"Koshkebi" appear – the defensive stone
towers that are Svaneti's emblem .....
180  ..... they were designed to house
villagers at times of invasion and
murderous blood-feuds
Under windy and freezing conditions we rearrange things to get the drivers seat empty, and in the light of our torch (the LandCruiser light just happens not to function) we drive the few yards to the gravel road at the edge of the woods. Duration of action: Half an hour.
181  The Svan defensive towers are built
from local stone and rock. Most are 65 to
80 ft. tall and have four to five floors that
are connected to each other via internal
wooden staircases
182  Our LandCruiser stands beside one
of the 175 stunning stone defense towers,
called "Koshkebi". That many are said
to still exist in Svaneti
183  Mestia (3’000 people) , the main center
of "Upper Svaneti" – in Georgian called
"Zemo Svaneti" – is located 4’920 ft. above
sea level. It consists of an agglomeration of
around ten neighborhoods with another
population of 12’000
At 3am we are back in our warm sleeping bags. At 7:30am we wake up under a glorious blue sky – our hush-hush night operation was in vain. But prevention is better than curing! For breakfast we return to our lovely meadow spot. The snow capped mountain peaks of the Caucasus range around us are cloudless and the glacier that appears like a half moon between the mountains sparkles especially beautifully.
At the Hatsvali chairlift station, 5 miles south of Mestia on an altitude of 6’210 ft.,
we let ourselves enchant by the high mountain panorama with its snow-capped peaks and glaciers engulfed by the morning mist:
184  The high twin peaks
of Mt. Ushba (15’453 ft.)
185  The glacier on the 11'253 ft. high
Dalakora ridge looks like a half moon
186  View towards the Svaneti Range with
the 13'156 ft. high Mt. Lahili south of Mestia
For only 3 Lari (GEL) (US$1.85) per person, at 10am we take the first chairlift up to the „Cafe Zuruldi“ platform on 7‘700 ft. altitude with its viewing terrace. What a magic 360° snow covered mountain range panorama! It reminds us to the Fitzroy region in Chile. But we are not only mesmerized by the mountain scenery but also by the alpine flora. We even spot gentians – the first ones since we left Switzerland almost 30 years ago.
187  Our idyllic camping spot on 6’120 ft.
altitude above the Hatsvali Chairlift Station
with the white-capped peaks of the Caucasus
range in the background. Here, on August 1st,
2013, we celebrate our 28th Swiss National
Day far from home between glow worms
and fire flies
188  We just can repeat it all over
again: Nature is a treasure box
189  We discover these delicate white bellflowers between the profusion
of flowering plants
We savor every moment. Only the increasing cold at the abating sunrays can drive us away. We return to our idyllic camping spot at the edge of the forest. In the darkness glow worms spark like diamonds on the ground, and in the air jumbo fire flies are shining in a competition – a beautiful natural replacement of our 1st of August bonfire back home. Because today our homeland Switzerland celebrates its National Day 2013.
We can hardly get our eyes off all the beautiful butterflies that fly from blossom to blossom in the flower-strewn alpine meadows of Svaneti
190  Is it a butterfly or a moth?
191  "Is there still room for myself?"
192  Even half withered blossoms
are still tempting
We have a hard time to leave this haevenly spot. But we need bread and water. We find bread at an old woman’s tiny shop in Mestia and water at a gasoline station a bit out of town. Only now it catches our eye how really laid back this hamlet still is despite its recent tourist boom.
193  From 7’700 ft. altitude of the viewing
terrace of the "Cafe Zuruldi" in the skiing
and hiking area of Hatsvali, the peaks bet-
ween 13’000 and 17’000 ft. of the Greater
Caucasus- and the Svaneti-Mountain-Ranges
are almost within one's reach .....
194  ..... in 15 minutes and for only
3 Lari (GEL) = $1.85 the Hatsvali chairlift
brings us up to the 360° viewing terrace
of the "Cafe Zuruldi” on an altitude of
7’700 ft. The lift was built by the French
and has a length of 4’800 ft. .....
195  ..... Emil is on a photo safari.
He is especially enthusiastic about the
mountains, but shares now also Liliana's
enthusiasm for flowers. In the back the
7 miles long Lekzhiri Glacier
We go for a spin, drive on a miserable road to the airport and cannot imagine that an aircraft has ever landed there; but that's not the case: The Queen Tamar airfield, pic #208 - ultra-modern - has been regularly serviced by Vanilla Sky Airline since 2011. Queen Tamar, by the way, ruled the country of Georgia between 1184 and 1213. Then we continue over the bridge to the other river side and drive past old, partly dilapidated houses on a even worse earth road back towards Mestia again. And what do we see in the middle of it? A camping on a meadow right next to the dusty path with bicycles and tents.
What can we wish more? A blue sky and a glorious alpine landscape wherever we are looking
196  to the East
197  to the North
198  to the Southwest
How much more romantic is „our“ isolated spot at the edge of the woods to which we return also this night. We have already jacked-up when a black Mercedes with tinted windows drives past and the driver turns down his window. What might he possibly want? He makes interrogative signs why we have jacked up. It is not his business, we think and do not open our window.
199  Not exactly the scenery of the "Fitzroy"
peaks in Chile, but not less impressive: The
11’500 ft. high peaks of the Dalakora ridge
in the Great Caucasus Mountain Range
200  We do what everybody does: We
make a souvenir picture from the viewing
terrace with the 15’453 ft. high twin peaks
of Mount Ushba in the background
201  Always a stunning sight:
Piling-up magnificent cumulus cloud
formations – stands a weather
change in line?
But he doesn't give up. He steps out of his car and ostentatiously starts to phone heatedly, looking again and again to our LandCruiser and gesticulating nervously. We are almost sure that he calls the police. Let him do it, we have nothing to hide! Eventually the cold drives him back into his car. There he waits for at least half an hour. Then suddenly he starts the engine and drives away. Presumably the police has given him the all-clear signal.
202  We never expected to find in alpine
Svaneti a yellow Martagon or Turk's cap
lily (Lilium martagon)
203  Beetle "in the land of Cockaigne" on
cow Parsnip (Heracleum) or chervil
(Anthriscus), which both belong to the same
family of parsley or carrot (Apiaceae)
204  Another beauty of a flower, probably
from the same kind as # 203 (left) but in
pink that makes us a happy day with its
Mestia is slowly awakening when after three nights we leave the region of Svaneti. Reaching the main square we see an Austrian motorhome parked, but there is no sign of any movement. Therefore we move on. Together with us, also the sparkling blue skies of the past couple of days move on, and on our way to the Enguri dam with its 891 ft. [271.5m] tall wall – the sixth highest in the world – they change from clouds to short sunny periods. Reaching the dam wall however, it starts to rain. Haevy downpours follow in short intervals.
205  A beautifully elaborated golden altar
cross at the “Museum of History &
Ethnography” in Mestia. Svaneti's isolation
was ideal for safekeeping religious treasures
during the many invasions of Georgia, also
due to the many towers
206  View of Laghami of Mestia “city”.
Svaneti has never been destroyed by
enemy forces and the life of the Svan
population has been little
influenced from outside
207  View towards the center of Mestia.
Ancient Svan people are known for their
tower settlements, own school for sacred
wall painting, creation of special musical
instruments and tradition of woodcarving
Nevertheless during the short dry spells I still manage to pick a full bowl of large sweet berries from the bulging blackberry bushes surrounding us. Now we are just missing some whipped cream! Back in Zugdidi, the town at the Abkhazia border, at a little supermarket along the road, I think to have found it. But it turns out to be strawberry yoghurt. But we like it nevertheless. In pouring rain we check into the Hotel Samegrelo for 70 Lari. There we learn that four Russian tourists fell into the dam with their car and that their search is going on already for more than a week.
208  The unusual building of “Queen
Tamar“ airport in Mestia, reachable by
a broken-up, potholed and dusty road, is
already operational since 2010, but until
the end of 2013 hasn’t been served
by regular flights
209  Words of the Greek historian and
ethnographer Strabo about the Svan people:
"They are noteworthy for their courage and
power; they reign over almost everything
around them and control the peaks of the
Caucasus" – view of Mestia from the east
210  When will these trees fall down to
the recently built new road? The first
road accessible by car from Zugdidi to
Svaneti was built in 1934. Prior to that
there were only mountain paths passable
by carriage, horse or on foot
Today, August 5th, 2013, is our last possible entry day into Abkhazia. In one of the many currency exchange offices in Zugdidi we change our Georgian Lari into Russian rubels and set off towards the border. As if our LandCruiser would try to prevent us to enter a self declared country where travel advisories are discouraging to visit it, our LandCruiser starts to stutter and does not run on all cylinders anymore. No, it cannot do this to us right now! We do not listen to it and shortly after we reach the exit border of Georgia.
211  Beautiful to look at, but edible?
Mushrooms in the Svaneti forest
212  Also gentian (Gentiana) grow on
these heights – they are the first ones we see
since we left Switzerland almost 30 years ago
213  Busy wasps at their nest, astonishingly
on (and not below) a stone
The first thing the border official wants to see is our „Clearance Letter“ from Abkhazia's capital Sukhumi, i.e. the permit (TIP) that allows us to visit the country with our LandCruiser. At the beginning there is some confusion, because the officer is interpreting its wording „clearance letter from July 25th to August 5th, 2013“ the way that today we would have to leave Abkhazia.
214  It almost looks tropical: Along the
Zugdidi-Svaneti-road a small mountain
river meanders through boulders, moss and
plants and ends up in the large Enguri river
215  Such not very trustful suspension
bridges can be seen every now and again.
A vehicle might be too much, but for pedes-
trians and animals it’s still OK to cross
216  The Soviets had a variety of military
installations along the Enguri river (short
before Khaishi). Probably such tunnels and
walls belonged to them too. Partly they are
now covered and flooded by the Enguri
Reservoir, built 1961
After some phone calls however the situation clears-up. We are obviously allowed to enter during this time. There are just hardly any travelers who visit this special state with their own car. Without an exit stamp from Georgia – Georgia regards Abkhazia as a Georgian province – we leave the country , taking with us wonderful memories of people, landscapes and cheese tarts.
On August 5th, 2013, we end after 14 days our third visit of Georgia – from Tbilisi to Kazbegi and further to Svaneti – and explore
our 177th country Abkhazia. From there, we return after 8 days on August 13th, to our 4th but very short visit of Georgia
217  The 891 ft. tall dam of the Enguri
Reservoir is the sixth highest in the world.
The length of the crest measures 2’460 ft. and
catches 1.4 billion yd³. The planned Khudoni
dam (661 ft. high, 300 billion yd³), 17 miles
upstream of the Enguri river (before Khaishi
pic.# 172), hasn’t been allowed yet to start
218  The Cathedral in the center of
Poti, Georgia's main port, was modeled
after Istanbul's "Hagia Sofia". Besides
Batumi, ferries to the Ukraine run from here
219  Our ferry "Vilnius Seaways" is berthed
in the port of Poti. It will sail during three
days with us to Ilyichevsk near Odessa in
the Ukraine. There we will set foot on
European soil for the first time again since
more than 14 years. On 1/28/1999 we
left Europe at Gelibolu in Turkey
220  8/14/2013 - 10pm: The first cars drive
into the "Vilnius Seaways". It is 625 ft. long
and 91 ft. wide and weighs 11'700 tons.
Together with three other ferries of the
Lithuanian Shipping Company it made it into
the Guinness Book for World Records
221  Guinness Book of World Record
Certificate of January 1991 for the Lithuanian
Shipping Company for their four "largest rail
ferries in the world" – Klaipeda, Vilnius,
Mukran, and Greifswald. Today the ships
‘Vilnius’ and ‘Greifswald’ sail for the
UkrFerry Company
222  From the deck of the "Vilnius
Seaways" we watch the loading. Fare
Poti - Ilyichevsk (Odessa) in the
Ukraine for the LandCruiser $370
and $125p.P. for a double cabin
with shower. Very comfortable,
very clean and very good food
during the 60 hours’ journey
The "Greater"-Middle East trip 2012/13:
Sharjah/Dubai/1st Traveler's Festival/Emirates National Auto Museum - UAE with car Nov. 2012 to Jan. 2013 - part 1
Western UAE - Liwa - United Arab Emirates  with car in January 2013 - part 2
Oman 2013 - Part 1 - February 2013: Musandam Peninsula
Oman 2013 - Part 2 - February 2013: Sohar - Muscat - Rustaq - Nizwa
Oman 2013 - Part 3 - March 2013: Sur - East Coast - Island of Masirah - Dhofar
Oman 2013 - Part 4 - March 2013: Salalah & Surroundings (Dhofar) - Nizwa
Oman 2013 - Part 5 - March 2013: Western Hajar Mountains
Al Ain, Eastcoast & Ras al Khaima - United Arab Emirates with our car in April 2013 - part 3
Iran - Part 1: Ferry Port Bandar Abbas-Shiraz-Persepolis-Pasargad (between Persepolis and Yazd) May 2013
Iran - Part 2: Pasargad (excl.)-Yazd-Esfahan May 2013
Iran - Part 3: Esfahan (excl.)-Chelgerd-Hamadan-Sanandaj-Orumiyeh-Turkey Border May 2013
Turkey: Iran Border-Esendere-Hakkari-Van-Doğubayazıt-Kars-Ardahan-Hopa-Georgia Border May/June 2013
Georgia - Part 1: Turkey Border-Ajaria-Gori-Tbilisi-Kakheti-Azerbaijan Border June 2013
Azerbaijan: Georgia Border-Balakən-Şəki-Lahıç-Baku-Xınalıq-Quba-Laza-Baku-Gəncə-Georgia Border June 2013
Georgia - Part 2a: Azerbaijan Border-Tbilisi-Armenia Border June/July 2013
Armenia - Part 1: Georgia Border-Haghpat-Dilijan-Sevan-Tatev-Goris-Nagorno Karabakh July 2013
Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia-Stepanakert-Gandzasar-Martakert-Tigranakert-Tnjri-Shoushi-Armenia July
Armenia - Part 2: Nagorno Karabakh-Goris-Tatev-Noravank-Khor Virap-Echmiadzin-Yerewan-Geghard-Gyumri-Georgia Border July 2013
Georgia - Part 2b: Armenia Border-Ninotsminda-Tbilisi-Mtskheta-Kazbegi-Kutaisi-Zugdidi July 2013
Abkhazia: Georgia-Sukhumi-Tsebelda-Novyy Aton-Lake Ritsa-Gagra-Pitsunda-Georgia August 2013