After doing some fantastic hikes around Kazbegi we wanted to explore some different valleys in the area so we enquired about a taxi to the Juta Valley. Taxi drivers wait at the village square for business so we asked an old chap in a trilby hat how much he charged to take us there and return 7 hours later. We were told taxis charged about 150GEL but Arnold, as I’ll now call him offered a ride for 70GEL (€23) so we told him to meet us the next morning. Our American friend Tim came along too which meant we could split the cost. We had a superb start to the day with clear blues and a few clouds drifting around the peaks which we viewed from our balcony. Arnold was waiting as promised at 8am but after two minutes driving he pulled over to buy something from the shop and came back with a 2litre bottle of beer and a lolly pop for each of us. None of us wanted beer but the concerning thing was that we knew he’d probably drink it while he waited to pick us up later. His driving was a little erratic with sudden jerks to the steering wheel but after about 30 minutes we were rumbling along a gravel road with piles of rubble from previous landslides. In fact he couldn’t drive us all the way to Juta because the road had severe damage so we walked an extra few kilometres.
Juta was a cute little village with a lush green hills all around and a mountain backdrop. We headed uphill and the views just kept getting better. We were walking though a beautiful valley with the jagged peaks ahead of us. Cows roamed the grassy slopes and it looked more like Switzerland than Georgia. We had to cross a rather fast flowing river and while we were searching for the best spot we saw a couple on horses head to the river. The guide tried to encourage the horse across but it wasn’t having it. After some tugging the rein snapped and the horse (carrying a tourist on it’s back!) made a great escape up the steep slope with the tourist barely clinging on. The guide managed to grab them in the end but we figured we’d find a differed spot to cross the river. We found a nice section where it was knee deep but without rapids so we made our way over.
We passed a beautiful A-frame wooden cabin sitting on it’s on with the most spectacular view. It seemed to be used as a cafe but it was closed today. Just behind the cabin was the lake that marked the end of our hike. I’d read that the views don’t really improve after this point so we were happy to just do a more casual hike today and enjoy a picnic at the little lake. The water was crystal clear and the mountains were reflected on the surface. There was a perfectly situated platform beside the lake where we spent a couple hours basking in the sun and enjoying the view.
It was a really lovely area actually, we only saw a few other tourists so it felt like a great place to escape the crowds. We strolled back down to the road to meet Arnold our driver but we were a little early so we continued walking which gave us a good view of the damage from the landslides and to be honest we were happy being on foot for these dodgy sections instead of in a car with a potentially drunk man. Arnold was 5 minutes late which was absolutely fine but he was most definitely drunk. He was driving too fast and turning for bends at the last second. We had to ask him if he was ok to make a point that we noticed he was driving like a dick and he just smiled, pointed to himself and said “Schumacher” to which we all responded “nooo Schumacher!!” Getting onto the main road was even worse as he kept drifting across the road and making sudden jolts with the steering wheel. What a stupid man. Had he of not been drunk we’d of used him again to visit another area but alas, we couldn’t wait to get out that car and never see him again.
The following day we headed to Truso Valley and after getting very high quotes from other taxi drivers we opted for the Marshrutka. They seem to have a monopoly with transport in this area, the journey was only about 20km yet they charged us 10 lari per person when it costs 15 lari to take this Marshrutka all the way to Tbilisi four hours away. But we didn’t have much of a choice as it was cheaper than a taxi.
The Truso Valley was going to be a long hike of about 25km but luckily it didn’t gain too much elevation. It wasn’t the most thrilling of walks, we followed a dirt road through a valley beside a raging river. There weren’t many cars passing us but as soon as we arrived at the main part of the valley a chain of 4×4 vans pulled up which kind of ruined the hike as it didn’t feel like we were in a remote area even though we’d already been hiking for a couple hours.
The valley is home to mineral springs and the first area we passed had an amazing amber coloured travertine style floor. Across a bridge was a blue, spring-fed pool where we could see the water bubbling up from underground. A bright orange stream flowed out the spring and the colours looked fabulous against the green valley. The trail went a little vague as we traipsed through a marshy area and up onto a hill with an old defensive tower. A huge dog started approaching us and we were getting worried as they can be extremely aggressive around here as their trained to protect flocks of sheep. Luckily this one just wanted to socialise and beg us for food.
We decided to walk as far as the village of Abano where we stopped to photograph horses roaming through a flower filled meadow. The back of the valley was lined with the snowy peaks of South Ossetia, an area of Georgia annexed by Russian. For the route back we crossed a makeshift bridge and saw the other side of the valley, passing another saffron coloured spring.
It was a long old walk back that seemed to go on and on but a friendly Spanish couple gave us a ride for a few kilometres. We were very happy to get back to our guesthouse and relax on our idyllic balcony.
We wanted to explore a little more of Georgia other than the high mountains so we opted for Lagodekhi National Park. It sits right by the border with Azerbaijan and Russia. The weather was forecast to be around 35° and after the fresh mountain air we were a little shocked by the heat. Our guesthouse was a very rustic wooden house and our room didn’t even have a lock. Just to make it a little safer we had an additional door in the room that led to another room – which was lockable on their side but not ours so anyone could come into our room. It was hard to be annoyed though as the host was very sweet and welcomed us with iced coffee. There was a nice garden area too with a shade canopy created from grape vines and kiwi plants.
We met a really interesting American guy staying there who walks absolutely whopping distances. The national park has a popular 3 day, it’s around 52km and he was planning on walking it in one day…and he succeeded. He also told us in Spain he was hiking 80km a day!! He was a tall lad but still, that’s just crazy, our longest hike was about 32km and my legs were buggered afterwards.
We headed into the national park for a much tamer walk to the Ninoskhevi waterfall. To get there we hitched a ride and we were very surprised to see an 18 wheeler truck pull up!! He told Craig to take his shoes off and sit behind him on his lounging area and I sat in the passenger seat. It was quite a novelty viewing the road from such a height! The hike was much longer than we anticipated and it didn’t follow the marked route on my map so we constantly felt like we were lost or walking the wrong way. It was a horribly hot hike even though we were in the forest as it was all uphill via endless switchbacks. The waterfall was very beautiful though, I think it’s the second highest in Georgia at 40m tall and it plummeted down a cliff into an emerald pool. We would of liked a swim in one of the lower pools but there were so many people lounging around that we just decided to give it a miss and head back, that’ll teach us for visiting on a weekend. We ate dinner and breakfast at our guesthouse but once again the food didn’t agree with Craig, or he still hasn’t recovered from his food poisoning in Kazbegi. So we had a day relaxing in our sweltering hot room that lacked any privacy, lovely.