When Viktor and I I travelled to Georgia for a holiday, we thought it would be exciting to find somewhere to dive. The Black Sea, which washes Georgia’s western shore, did not attract us; it is dull and lifeless, the same as the waters of the Russian coast. We couldn’t find anything else on the Internet, and so we decided we’d need to do some more digging….
Via National Geographic Georgia, we finally track down Irakli Julakidze, a professor at Kutaisi University; he is an avid traveller, and head of the youth travellers’ club “Tetnuldi”. We ask him about places to dive, and, at first, he just shrugs. But then he shows us a short video that has been taken by some members of his squad – young guys having fun splashing about in a mountain river in a beautiful canyon. The water looks calm… and quite deep!
Water is the world’s greatest sculptor, and here it is displaying the very best of its artistry. The rocky canyon is carved into whimsical patterns, like something from the pages of Tolkien, a place elves might dwell. Clear waterfalls, falling from steep cliffs covered with ferns, hanging branches of ivy resembling festive lights; everything is insanely beautiful. Viktor is immediately inspired to go and explore, to dive and photograph this “undiscovered” place…
“Beware! The water is so cold!” Irakli tells us, frightening us into our 5mm wetsuits. And we are off.
For two hours, we walk along a riverbed of ankle-deep water, as the sun rises ever higher. The heat is unbearable. Even the stones along the river can’t withstand the onslaught of the scorching sun on one side and the cold mountain water on the other; punished by these extremes of temperature, they crumble into dust.
I am no longer able to play the lady and start sitting down in every puddle, using my helmet to pour water over my head to cool me down. Finally, the canyon begins, the temperature drops, and we all perk up a little. But after just one hour, Irakli informs us that the “difficult part” is yet to come.
Telling us that the path ahead would be risky for our photographic equipment, he invites us to bypass that part of the route, and take a detour guided by another club member. We are to meet him on the other side.
So, we crawl into the jungle in the 45-degree heat, and wander there for six hours. The thorny creepers make it impossible to strip off our stifling wetsuits. From time to time our guide approaches the edge of the canyon and pitifully shouts down, “Irakli!” There is no answer.
This time, Viktor’s photographic vision is left unrealised.
So, it’s hard to explain why we would agree to go looking for undiscovered canyons with Irakli again. Maybe because the blessed land of Georgia casts a spell that puts everyone into a warm and happy mood? This magical sorcery is probably the reason why Georgia has survived for thousands of years – all invaders quickly lose their sense of aggression and forget why they actually came. The only other reason we can think of is that Irkali is the only guide we have.
And so, we set off again, in search of a new canyon. The road leads us through many villages, lined by the typical Georgian landscape: wooden houses with intricate staircases, buried in greenery and vineyards. Cows block our way from time to time, standing idle or lying prostrate in the road, determined not to let us pass. The only other place we have ever met cows with such a blatant sense of entitlement was India. We ask the shepherd for directions. He explains there is a fork in the road, and that we need to be sure to take the correct path. “I know, I know!” answers Irakli – though, of course, taking the wrong route…
Yet finally, incredibly, we do find the canyon. We put on our wetsuits and masks and descend into the clear, cool water. At five to six metres, it is certainly deep enough. But only for a while; rounding a bend in the cliff, the river grows shallow. And again, we find ourselves wading through water up to our knees. Wetsuits quickly dry in the hot summer sun. Irakli throws up his hands, “Only one in every 30 expeditions is successful! Therefore, we must also be wrong 27 times, and by the 30th, we’ll find what are looking for!”