We set out to Mestia on a little minibus from Batumi. At the onset we had the bus to ourselves, so Kirsty immediatedly sprawled out across the backseat and fell asleep. Her idea of a nice nap was shattered once the driver got started across the bumpy twisty roads. The state of the roads was only a small part of the problem though, the cows and dogs casually laying in the middle of the streets and ‘motorway’ (it doesn’t really deserve such a name as its more a road full of potholes!) made things worse. The highlight was, by far, the driver’s driving antics! He sped down the roads, not a care in the world, zooming in and out of traffic, beeping his horn every ten seconds, and making sudden breaks. At one point he had to break so suddenly that Kirsty came flying off the back seat and crashed straight onto the floor. That will teach her to be so lazy!
The crazy driving continued for five or six hours, picking up a few old men along the way. As dusk began to fall we stopped at a little roadside cafe for dinner. We were immediatedly invited to take a seat with the driver and the two other passengers, and the chacha (Georgian vodka) began to flow. Following the Georgian tradition, the men first had a long toast, sometimes lasting up to ten minutes, before we downed our shots. The glasses were refilled straight away, and the men were unstoppable! We couldn’t keep up! We had no idea what they were toasting about, but there were frequent mentions of “The English” followed by laughters – making us slightly uneasy! But the more they drank, the jollier they were, and by the end the language barrier no longer mattered!
When we arrived in Mestia it was 10pm and pitch black. Slightly tipsy after our ‘chacha’ laden bus trip we weren’t as vigilant as usual and when the bus came to a halt we stumbled out. We were told we had reached our guesthouse, and although peering at the ugly concrete building we were pretty sure it wasn’t the guesthouse we had seen on the pictures, the driver disappeared off into the dark and we had no choice but to enter. The door was left open and some seedy looking young men were sat outside puffing on cigarettes and staring at us. We walked inside and were greeted by a small lady with gold teeth and not a word of English. We had very clearly been dropped off at the wrong guesthouse, perhaps a ploy of our ‘Putin lookalike’ driver. But it was late, no one spoke English and we were exhausted, so we decided to stay the night nevertheless. Apart from satin lime green duvets, a room that didn’t lock and a suspicious pistolet gun in the hallway, we slept well and the next day we headed out in search of our initial guesthouse.
Finding Roza’s guesthouse was an utter relief and were delighted by what we saw. A little house on the hilltop with a stunning view of Mestia and the mountains. What’s more we met loads of fellow travellers, had delicious food, and everyday were greeted by snorting hogs and a friendly blind dog! We spent three leisurely days in Mestia, trekking, trying the local cuisine and simply wandering around the village.
The weather was gorgeous whilst we were there. Sun and clear skys; perfect for hiking and sight-seeing. On our first morning, a lone travaller named Josef politely offered to take us on a less well-known, but very lovely hike. It was a great trek for amateurs like us. On the way we saw farmers collecting and making traditional hay stacks, the odd cow, and were rewarded with wild raspberries and blueberries along the way, which Kirsty had to be pryed away from each time.
When we reached the peak we were in awe; the view was stunning. On our left stood the great twin peaked mountain of Ushba shadowing over the town of Mestia, in front of us stood the pryamid peaked Mt. Tetnuldi and to our right were the flowing, lushious, forested hills of the Zuruldi range. We all had a moment to sit and contemplate.
The next day we were exhausted and slightly sun-stroked; although being nowhere near as hot as Turkey, the high altitude clearly gave us no protection. But this meant we were able to stay in and meet fellow travellers. In the evening we sat with the other guests, of different ages, countries and backgrounds. Georgia is extremely popular amongst the Polish, Iranian and Slovakiens, so we learned alot about these countries, their cultures, and got a few new addresses for our future travels! Despite a big dinner, our host Roza had made potentially the worlds biggest meringue cake which, when brought out, shocked everyone and we all looked to each other, wide-eyed, begging for help! It was a good team effort, but sadly it came back to haunt us for breakfast. That being said, Georgia isn’t a great country for sweet treats so we figured it would be the last cake we’d eat in a while!
Mestia is such a peaceful town to walk around. It’s secluded location makes for a trip back in time to an authentic period, still very much reminiscant of previous Soviet control. Yet the transition away from it hasn’t quite been made. This creates a bizaare atmosphere whereby revolving bus loads of travallers slip through the village, whilst the old, mountain life style continues to function, or try to at least. Inevitably, at times, the two worlds collide with slight unease. New buildings for potential hotels and shops are left empty, unfinished, and occupied only by resting cows and pigs. Yet, as relucant as the locals may be, it seems tourism has brought with it investment. The one and only road into Mestia has recently been redone, and some of the buildings have been renovated. You only have to take a 5 minute walk out of town to see how life is outside of Mestia; Most people live without electricity or running water and within falling down homes.
When we decided it was time to leave this weird and wonderful village set in the valley, we certainly needed to be paitent. From our original expected departure time of 4pm, our diver talked and smoked until at least half 5. It was then that we were frustratingly reminded that we were in Georgia, running under Georgian time.
The other passengers were a group of Polish, equally hot and frustrated. When we did finally leave and reach our destination in Zugdidi, our hopes of catching a night train to Tbilisi were broken. No tickets left. It became obvious that we were going to have to get to know our Polish bus friends a bit more. There were five of us, so we booked five coach tickets instead. ‘Logically’ the driver put us on the five seats along the back of the bus. This is not the place you want to be for a 7 hour, overnight bus journey with no A/C. With barely a wink of sleep, we got off with stiff necks and headed into the centre. Bags were loaded back on our bags; onto our next adventure.