During our first stay in Tbilisi we would have liked to organize the visa for Iran. Unfortunately, the required reference letter did not arrive in time, so we left for northwestern Georgia without having achieved anything.

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In three days and with a strong tailwind, we reached Kutaisi, the former capital of many of Georgia’s kingdoms. On the way we visited the Jvari Monastery, which impressed us mainly by the beautiful view, spent the night at the very nice campsite of a tree nursery (with excellent house wine;-)) and annoyed ourselves about the 30km long unexpected gravel section of a “main road”. At the hostel in Kutaisi, we found out that the neighboring town of Tskaltubo was a fashionable spa resort for the Soviet elite. Today the palace hotels and bathhouses have decayed and can be “visited”. Of course, we did not miss this attraction on our way to the mountains.

We had a lot of respect for the route over the Zagari Pass (2620m) into the Svaneti region, because it seemed to be a 75km long gravel road. Our fears did not come true, as a large part of the road was paved with concrete plates and the remaining part is so frequently used by cars that we were able to pedal on the hard-packed surface without having to push. However, our breath was taken away by the stunning scenery! Even as Swiss people used to the mountains, we were very impressed by the white peaks of the Great Caucasus.

The picturesque mountain villages of Ushguli with its defense towers gave the icing on the cake to the scenery. Actually, we found the villages picturesque only through the camera lens, as they are daily overrun by countless tourists, who are driven up in 4×4 buses. Since every house is a “Guest House”, there is not much left of the seclusion and authenticity. The “cinema” in Ushguli, on the other hand, seemed very unique to us. It was improvised in an old stone house with a white linen sheet and a video projector. Several times a day the (award-winning and highly recommended!) movie “DEDE” about a family drama, which is said to have happened only 30 years ago in the villages of Ushguli, is shown there.

After a half-day bike/hiking trip to the Shkhara glacier, we left Ushguli on the dust road. Our next stop was Mestia, from where we made two beautiful day hikes. We left the Svaneti region via a road with tedious ups and downs towards the plain, where we were greeted by a stifling heat of 36°.

Nevertheless, we pedaled to the secret tip of the region: 77° hot sulfur springs, which flow into the river Tekhuri and mix with it to pleasant temperatures. We quickly realized that the springs are only kept secret from tourists… we enjoyed the bath in the river together with hundreds of locals. We still don’t know how the whole bathing area gets along without a single toilet…
On the next day, we broke the 10’000km mark of our journey without realizing it – we celebrated it later 🙂

Because we hadn’t cycled enough gravel roads to Mestia :-), we chose the gravel route through the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park for the onward journey. This route is little used, offers wonderful views and a perfect campsite on top of the Zekari Pass (2182m). However, the sleeping spot was only considered ideal until shepherds began drinking in the nearby shelter and started shooting (into the air?) at 1am. We definitely didn’t feel comfortable at this sleeping place anymore when a herd of frightened horses galloped by not too far from our tent.

Around the city of Borjomi several forest fires were raging because of the heat and drought. Fire-fighting helicopters flew in continuous operation. Nevertheless, barbecues and drinks were enjoyed everywhere without any worries.

For lack of an alternative we chose the same route for the return trip to Tbilisi as on the way out. On the whole round trip through Svaneti we met a lot of tourists, especially cyclists. With them we had many nice encounters, but we came little in contact with the local people. Only in the less touristy areas the people were happy about our visit showed us their bakery or invited us for melon or wine.

Once again we are spending a few days in Tbilisi. After a three-hour odyssey between the Iranian embassy and the bank (to pay the visa costs) we are now proud owners of an Iran visa! Before we travel to Iran via Armenia in October, we would like to visit Tusheti, a region in the northeast of Georgia. About Tbilisi we will make a short (photo) post following our last stay.