The 14th century Gergetis Sameba (Gergeti Trinity) walled monastery sits above Kazbegi and below Mt. Kazbeg at 7120 feet above sea level – and reflects light from a glacier that hangs 2,800 feet above the monastery.
The monastery was a place of refuge for icons and relics from the Mksheka Cathedral (Perhaps including St. Andrew’s foot) when southern Georgia was overrun by Turks, Persians or Arabs. In 1988 the Soviets built an aerial tramway to the monastery but when Georgia broke away from the Soviet Union the residents tore it down. For them pilgrimage should not be easy. The tramway was a sacrilege. The Russians also built a road almost to the monastery. It was not ripped out but it has not been repaired. It winds in switchbacks and is, in places, partly washed out. You need 4 wheel drive and high clearance. Most people in Georgia have cars that started life somewhere else and immigrated from their home roads to Georgia. Nicholas has a Mazda that has the speedometer calibrated in miles. It came from the US. During the recession a lot of American used cars that didn’t sell ended up in Georgia. Georgia also gets some of Japan’s cast offs. Since driving in Japan is on the left the steering wheels are on the right. Having the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car can be dangerous. The driver has to get into the middle of the road to see oncoming traffic before passing. On this road the driver being on the “outside” is an advantage. He can look from his window to see how close his tires are to going off the edge and sending the car flipping end over end down the mountain. I hired a driver in a Toyota Land Cruiser. He asked “Have you ever seen such a bad road?” I disappointed him when I said that this road didn’t even come close. I once drove into a fly-in resort in Baja.
Pilgrims hike along the road. There were of all sorts. Backpackers walk with pilgrims in long skirts and sensible shoes. Folks in their Sunday best, sometimes not in sensible shoes, trek to baptisms and weddings. (The Bride, Groom and baby ride in the Land Cruisers.) I had to climb the last few hundred feet to the monastery and found I was horribly out of breath. I was worried until I remembered that I was pretty high above sea level.