By this point, I had learned to take taxis everywhere. They are cheap enough and the streets are too horrendous for wheeled luggage. So I ordered a cab around 8am to take me to the old bus station for a journey that I hoped would end in Mestia if all went well. There’s something exhilarating about the purposefulness of a bus station when one’s final destination is unknown. Around the dented minibuses were swarms of toothless old men, soap sellers, beggars, fruit peddlars, tired women hauling cheap luggage and young men chatting earnestly on cellphones.
It was an extremely bumpy ride to Zugdidi, even though the landscape was mostly flat farmland. In exactly three hours we pulled into Zugdidi which was good since this minibus was much less comfy than the Tblisi-Batumi one. I wasn’t sure whether I would stay in Zugdidi; it very much depended on on whether I could quickly catch a bus to Mestia. Fortunately the Mestia bus was right there with only a Chinese couple. The driver asked us to pay extra 10GEL each as we were only three so we could leave immediately. No problem. We stopped briefly at a market where I bought delicious cheese and spicy bread. Then we made a roadside stop later in the pouring rain for tea and cake.
We climbed up a winding, deeply rutted road with steep cliffs on either side that I wished had wire mesh to protect against falling rocks. The driver crossed himself three times every time we passed a church. I wonder if he was praying for safety. I was. Eventually the rain cleared up and we could see snow-capped peaks through the clouds. The magic of the Svaneti region beckoned.
Thanks to the booking.com app, I was able to arrange a hotel on the way up. Svan House came highly recommended both by guests and by Lonely Planet. By the time we arrived around 5.30, the rain had let up a bit and the cool air was a refreshing change from Zugdidi. Mestia was cool in every way. The wide street that ran through town was lined with buildings short enough to allow views of the jagged mountains that ringed the town. And then there were of course the unique square Svaneti towers. It seemed like a backpacker’s paradise. Maybe the new Katmandu?
The owner arrived quickly and drove me up to his inn. After settling in I left for a stroll to the town centre where I met the Chinese couple. We agreed that we should share a ride to Ushguli if at all possible.
Back at the hotel, I fortified myself with some chacha and chatted with a German tour guide who was there with her driver. The delicious home-cooked dinner was a convivial family-style affair finishing with a flurry of calls and texts around town trying to arrange the Ushguli trip tomorrow. I went to bed optimistic about the uncertain travel arrangements but pessimistic about the uncertain weather.