We continue our review of the Caucasian Challenge 2016 with Day 5, crossing the Zagar Pass.
The driving on day 5 is always one of the highlights of the Caucasian Challenge. It can be challenging, especially after the party in Mestia on Day 4, but it’s so worth it: the scenery as we ascend to the highest permanent settlement in Europe, and then cross the dramatic Zagar Pass, can take your breath away. And after a long day’s drive, we end up a town famous for producing the best wine in Georgia. Only half a year till we’ll be there again! Let’s look back on the day.
Hangovers and Stone Towers
Despite the previous night’s festivities, the rally participants gathered early in the morning awaiting a long day of off-road driving. Almost as soon as we started out, it became clear that it would be a stunning but difficult ride. The first stop on our scenic adventure was Ushguli, famous for being the highest settlement in Europe that is inhabited all year round;the teams had to pass mud, streams, and deteriorating roads to reach it.
Once there, we headed to Cafe Koshki, to bathe in the sun (and the views) and try to some more Svaneti delicacies. It was here that the previous evening began really taking its toll on Belgian Tom, who looked so ill laying in the shade of the courtyard that the friendly cafe owner grew concerned. However, he had the perfect Georgian remedy: chacha! He explained with confidence that the Georgian spirit was the only possible cure for Tom’s hangover, insisting that “100ml good, 200ml super!” However, Tom foolishly rejected the man’s wisdom.
Crossing the Zagar Pass
Then came perhaps the most exciting driving experience of the whole trip: the 2600m Zagor pass. We were lucky that there hadn’t been much rain in the previous week, which often makes the road undrivable. However, that didn’t mean the trip was simple either: the path was bumpy, littered with rocks and frequent streams. We rose slowly, winding round the mountain, with perilously steep drops to our right but were treated to astounding views of mountain peaks, luscious valleys, and the remains of glaciers. On the descent our off-road journey took us through thick forest, past abandoned buildings and no other traffic for miles. You know you’ve been somewhere remote when we seeing cows blocking the road ages feels like returning to civilisation!
On to Ambrolauri
The end of the day’s driving included another dramatic mountain pass (thankfully with asphalt this time) before we drove riverside on the way to Ambrolauri, famous as the home of Stalin’s favourite wine: Khvanchkara. While the hotel wasn’t the easiest to find, helpful locals were quick to provide directions in exchange for a cigarette or two. The night ended in a local restaurant underneath the Town Hall, where a Georgian Saturday night was in full swing!