I honestly first heard of Georgia a few years ago when they shot into the news as a result of a conflict with the Russians – I remember looking at a map and thinking it kind of lay in a ‘here be dragons’ part of the world for me, not part of Europe, the middle east or where I knew Asia to be. Indeed geographically they are on the cusp of all three regions although they are firmly trying to form themselves into the European mould – the European flag is often proudly flown alongside their flag (which bears no less than five crosses of St George). They’ve had it rough though being caught up in trying to be European and no longer Soviets, and this in part certainly leading to a loss of much territory in the war with the Russians to the now quasi-independent states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (although these are effectively just Russian protectorates). For a small nation they have a wealth of culture and history (including their own alphabet) and are a proud positive fun loving nation even though they are struggling economically.
Fired up and now in convey this naturally led to rally style race-your-mate, fun for them, not so much for us. Three more landslides later and two of the poor ancient earth movers working into dusk before their tracks broke and we were left a little shy of the 3000m pass to camp out amongst the foreboding mountains. Given the importance of tourism in the short summer season here, the locals were not enamoured with this predicament but there was nothing for it and for us retreat was the only option. The infamous Anne Price stare was required the following morning to quell our youthful driver’s further enthusiasm for a morning chacha and more rallying with his mates. Thankfully we survived and later that day were back in Tbilisi plotting another foray into the mountains.
Sandwiched between the two new(ish) quasi Russian states is the Svaneti region, less remote due to a thoroughly upgraded road but no less fascinating and adorned with spectacular mountain scenery. It also offered a train ride to get most of the way there before climbing aboard another marshrutka (otherwise known elsewhere as a minibus). Though we did eventually make it this time it was not before another lengthy delay, this time the locals protesting over their dwindling rights to harvest timber for winter fuel.
The entire Svaneti region is littered with Towers of stone built up to a thousand years ago, which on first glance appear to have been built in defence against invaders. Apparently however, one of their main purposes was defending against blood feuds with other locals, which sure must have led to some extremely awkward neighbourly living!