After years on the road, I’ve realised – it's rare that a place is ever as good as everyone says it is. Even more rare that it exceeds what you heard. Georgia however, has been one of those places.
We came here last year (with my wife and daughter). We hadn't even visited the high mountains, yet we already fell in love with this tiny, but geographically diverse country.
As soon as we came back, we decided to head to those high mountains. The Landrover Defender had been waiting for us, parked in a backyard a few kilometres from the capital – Tbilisi. The car’s the perfect setup to explore the more remote and rough regions. There’s a tent on the roof and I’ve had the seats inside converted into a fold-out bed.
Our first stop wasn’t actually in the mountains. A new friend told me that a few kilometres off the route there's a beach. So, off towards the beach we went.
It’s funny how expectations work. I never expected much from Georgian coastline. As a result, it wasn’t as huge of a disappointment as it could have been to discover that the bit of coast we came to was one of the dirtiest I’d ever seen. It might have been the first time in my life that I came to a beach and didn't want to swim.
Despite the beach being uninspiring, the place where we camped was just beautiful. We stopped by a swamp and as I flew the Mavic drone, I saw little islands and rivers.
A combination of the sea and the wetland area made for some spectacular images from above.
I love the moments of camping with my daughter. I’m not sure that she fully appreciates everything yet, but it does seem that she enjoys nature and, she's especially energetic when she's outdoors! At times doing something like putting her atop the Landy is the only way to prevent her from running all over the place.
My daughter Mia star gazing as we set up camp.
Since there wasn't going to be any swimming in the sea, we headed for the mountains soon after waking up. After a couple of hours, the mountain peaks started to become more prominent. As we got higher, the haze faded. The mountains seemed to be right there next to us. The peaks - close enough to touch.
The plan was to drive to Ushguli – the highest settlement in Europe where people live year-round. The all year thing is no easy accomplishment. The village is blocked off by snow for large parts of winter.
We didn’t make it to the planned destination the same day. Too many stops, too many photos along the way. Instead, we decided to head out of Mestia (the capital of Svaneti) and to camp somewhere scenic.
I found a spot by following a beautiful view of one of the mountain peaks. We ended up in a small village of mostly abandoned houses. At the edge, the view was at its' best. One of the few remaining residents, a woman, was talking on the phone outside her house. I asked if we could stop there for the night. "Yes" was her answer, so we did.
A couple of children were playing with a little dog and getting the cows back home. Beautiful scenes were all around.
Sunsets over mountains are generally pretty spectacular. They're one thing I feel it's impossible not to be in awe of.
As the sun was setting, the father of the household came back from herding the animals. Slightly drunk but very friendly, he immediately invited us to the house for dinner. The man even offered us beds to sleep. We accepted the dinner invitation.
The Svans, the inhabitants of Svaneti, are legendary for their hospitality. We were seeing it on its’ full display. The father started up the oven in the photo, so that the wife could bake Khachapuri (traditional Georgian bread filled with cheese). He instructed his daughter to make a salad.
All the food was ridiculously tasty and fresh. It was simple, but when the ingredients are so good, and cooked with heart and soul – you can’t go wrong.
In general, the Georgians seem to be in awe of Mia’s blonde hair and blue eyes. I guess it’s somewhat exotic in these parts of the world. It’s also heartwarming to see how even the toughest of men go soft for kids here and, especially for Mia.
I remember, as the father of the house shook my hand and gave me a welcome hug, he seemed to have inhuman strength. A truly physically tough man shaped by his unforgiving environment. But when it came to Mia, he kept making silly faces and smiling at her all the time.
Cartoons – the universal pastime of children around the world. Even in these remote parts of the planet, children are glued to the TVs as soon as there are cartoons. Mia is no exception.
Tanya and Mia ended up sleeping in the car. I slept in the roof tent. It’s so comfortable there that is makes no sense to sleep in someone else’s bed. Usually, the sun is what wakes you up in these situations, but this time it was one of the curious kids. He climbed up on the roof and started fiddling with the boxes. I woke up and showed him around.
The Svan villages must be located in some of the most spectacular settings in the world. I shot some drone photos. We thanked the family for their warm welcome. Drove the kids around, while they hung on the side of the car and left for Ushguli.
It’s great to be back here, in this tiny, spectacular country. I have enough time to explore it in more depth too.