After Tushetia, the Georgian Military Highway and the villages of Shatili and Mutso, I still wasn’t done with the Great Caucasus. Further to the west, there is the region of Svanetia. But to get there, I had to ride around South Ossetia, occupied by Russia, the regions borders gradually creep deeper and deeper into Georgian territory. At its southernmost point they are just a few hundred meters away from the principal highway, connecting the capital Tblisi with the city of Kutaisi and the Black Sea coast. So, I took the highway to ride eastward, but turned north as soon as possible to get back to the mountains. After crossing the region of Racha-Lechkhumi, I planned to follow the valley of Zcheniszchali river, cross the Zagaro pass east of Ushguli and descend into Svanetia.
Svanetian mountains are high, valleys narrow, the scenery spectacular and the roads tricky. Just below the pass, I set up camp at 2300m with a clear view to the peak of Ailama that reaches 4500m. The night was clear and the remote location together with the altitude made for an amazing night sky (and the low temperatures made for frozen fingers as I tried to capture the moment on camera). In the next morning I continued over the pass and into Ushguli, where I had a second breakfast and a short stroll through the village and its monastery. The rest of the road through Mestia and towards Poti at the Black Sea was a smooth ride (it’s the main access to Svaneti for all the tourists, and tourists don’t like a bumpy roads I guess). It could have been an easy day, but, while turning around, careless me drove over some pieces of wood and the wood drove two nails through my front tire. Luckily, a third nail, stuck in the rear tire, did not puncture the tube. So, unlike last time, I was on my way again after successfully changing the tube.
Leaving Svanetia, I was at a turning point. Until now I was always – albeit not always in the spatial sense – moving in one direction, away from familiarity and towards the foreign and unknown. Originally I planned to go back more or less the same way I came, but I never liked the idea of crossing Turkey and the Balkans in the opposite direction; it felt like rewinding a tape. The moment I met Filip in Tblisi, a czech motorcyclist on the way to Batumi to catch his ferry, I found the solution: board a ship to Odessa in Ukraine and cross eastern Europe. Buying the ticket in Batumi meant, that from now on the new direction was home.