It’s easier to say Kazbegi (the old name) than Stepantsminda (the new ). A major stop on any trip to Georgia, this place is famous for the Tsminda Sameba church, built high on top of a hill and still vastly overshadowed by the hugeness of Mt. Kazbek (over 5000m).
When I went to bed the previous night, looking out of the window I could see the church, but behind it all I could see was cloud. As soon as I woke up in the morning I opened the curtains and the view took my breath away, the same church of course, but now a vast snow capped mountain behind it, gleaming in the sunlight. Such an incredible sight!
Our plan for the day was to hike to the church, but I now understood that the hike was along a dusty road well-traveled by jeeps – it would make no sense to walk behind in the dust for a few hours. We found a driver who agreed to take us up to the church, and we would call him on his cell about 30 mins before we were ready to go back down.
The drive up was exactly as I had understood – very dusty, and we drove past many hikers trudging along the road behind us, literally eating our dust. It didn’t look like they were having that much fun.
The church itself was small but the position was incredible – Mt. Kazbek on one side, and a string of other giant peaks all around, with the town seemingly tiny in the valley down below.
We decided that we would hike up towards Mt. Kazbek until we were tired. The actual Kazbek hike takes 4 days, but we were only going to hike for a couple of hours. It was uphill all the way. Eventually, the girls dropped out and it was only me and the boys who decided to carry on for a while. We finally reached a meadow full of wild flowers with great views all around and that became our turnaround point. We were passed by two hikers from Germany, fully geared up for the assault on the summit which they hoped to be making about two days later.
Half way down we called our jeep driver, and by the time we were at the church he arrived.
Back down in the village we were stunned to see that the hotel had taken the liberty of moving all our stuff out of our room – when we booked in, we had “understood”
that checkout was at 3pm, though its true that most of our conversation took place in sign language! Now at 1pm they had vacated us! The manager, dressed in military fatigues, was shouting at us in Georgian. Customer service is still a total unknown in Georgia!!
Heading out of Stepantsminda, Malchas searched in vain for a gas station. Eventually he was directed to a little shack, where an attendant appeared from nowhere and laboriously pumped gas out of a decades old gas pump into a jerry can and from there into the car. If I hadn’t witnessed this myself I would not have believed it.
PS: These days I help plan trips for families to destinations on five continents. Click here for more info.