The Greater Caucasus

Hello all,

A few weeks back some friends and I decided to check out the REAL mountains of Georgia, known as “the Greater Caucasus.” Don’t get me wrong, the Lesser Caucasus are beautiful, but when I imagined my life in Georgia, I imagined tall peaks that would rival the North Cascades that I had grown up with, and felt instead like I was seeing more of the same.

So, we went to Mestia, the capital of the Svaneti region and one of the most mountainous parts of the country.

The city is famous not only for it's mountains, but for it's ancient watchtowers

The city is famous not only for it’s mountains, but for it’s ancient watchtowers

Getting to Mestia is no small task. The road is long and dangerous, and marshrutka drivers leave very early in the morning from the city of Zugdidi, so an overnight in Zugdidi is required. We found a marginally cheap hotel, booked our 6am pickup for the marshrutka, and spent some time at a bar called Amerikidan, literally “from America.” A former TLG who married a Georgian woman and settled in Zugdidi opened this bar, boasting familiar cocktails, mayonnaise-free pizza with actual mozzarella, and burgers!


I went with a Pina Colada, cheese fries, and a chicken sandwich!

I went with a Pina Colada, cheese fries, and a chicken sandwich!

The next morning was rough, to say the least. I spent 20 minutes knocking on hotel room doors, begging my companions to wake up while the marshrutka driver waited outside the hotel at 5:55 am. Eventually, we all made it onto the marsh where almost everyone promptly fell asleep, but I was dying to see what kind of condition this famed “dangerous road” was in, and to spot the first glimpses of the mountains. The road was narrow with frequent rockslides and a few washed out bits where it was unpaved, but for me the scariest part was when we drove through the tunnels. They were unlit, seemed shoddy, and some even leaked impressive streams of water onto the road. Were we driving under a river? Would this end up like that movie “Daylight?”

We saw the remains of this unfortunate accident on the way up, but the truck was gone by the time we drove back down the mountain

We saw the remains of this unfortunate accident on the way up, but the truck was gone by the time we drove back down the mountain

The scenery was worth staying awake for, especially since I got to watch the sun rise, a first for my Georgian experience. The driver was quiet, but sweet. He stopped whenever someone needed to pee and used the opportunity to smoke a cigarette. Most marshrutka drivers will simply crack the window a centimeter and smoke while driving. I appreciated that he didn’t subject us to that on a road that really requires two handed driving.

First snowcapped mountain sighting on the drive up

First snow-capped mountain sighting on the drive up

After the journey, the “city” of Mestia was a welcomed relaxation. We slept away part of the first day, recovering from our early wake up, then ventured into the incredibly small city center. Our guest house provided meals, so it was a pretty low-hassle adventure. The boys took to hiking while the girls took in the scenery at outdoor cafes. We did try our hand at an expedition, however, in the form of climbing one of the 5 story towers.


I played pioneer and led the way for the girls into the tower. That is Maisah’s reaction to my laughter when I viewed the next level.

Each floor of the tower offered a smaller, narrower, steeper ladder. Sometimes, the top of the ladder was still a few feet from the next floor, leading us to leap up onto our stomachs and worm-crawl to the next level. It was absurd. The final level was a metal ladder, inverted at the top, disconnected from the frame above, it’s bolts long lost in the shuffle. We made it though! And the result was amazing: A sense of accomplishment and an unobstructed view of the mountains I came to see.

Amy at the top of the tower

Amy at the top of the tower

The weekend was great. 4 days with some of my best friends in Georgia, including Amy who I hadn’t seen since our Eurotrip, no agenda, and some lovely snowy mountains. Mestia was small, so we never felt like we should be doing something more productive, but it carried a culture all its own. For one, they speak a different language in Svaneti, known as Svan, and they are so much more cutoff from the rest of Georgia, yet well accustomed to tourism. It felt like a different Georgia.

Sitting at a cafe, enjoying life

Sitting at a cafe, enjoying life

More posts to come friends, I promise!

-Kacie Riann

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