“There are not many places in the world without internet.”
This was one of those places.
Several months ago, a team of men ascended the Greater Caucasus Mountains in Georgia. They led horses loaded with electrical wire, solar panels, batteries, toolboxes and drills powerful enough to grind through rock.
With jagged ridgelines above and shadowed valleys below, the men were on a quest to bring the internet to one of the world’s most remote places: Tusheti, a rural province on the Russian border.
Tusheti’s clean air, crisp blue skies and mountain-studded landscape already attract some tourists, but government officials think there is potential for many more. Access to the internet will make it easier for travelers to book reservations online, but it will also stir e-commerce and local business development, and give a lift to health care and education services in the area.
For now, though, Tusheti has little electricity, and maybe more sheep than people.
For centuries, Tusheti’s rugged terrain has encouraged a nomadic lifestyle that continues to this day. Shepherds roam the mountainsides with their flocks in the summer, and then move down to more temperate pastures for the rest of the year.
Many people who aren’t shepherds do the same. For much of the year, they live in lowland communities near Tusheti that have schools, hospitals and, yes, internet service. Come summer, they return to the rocky slopes.
Tusheti spans about 370 square miles – an area a bit larger than Berlin – but only about 50 people stay through the winter. Temperatures can drop to near zero Fahrenheit, and snow covers the main roads for up to six months.
In Shenako, one of several dozen villages in the region, only one couple stays through the winter. As the weeks pass, other people arrive by helicopter, hitching a ride on the Georgian Border Police’s monthly trips to change crews at border outposts.
For the workers on the internet mission, time could feel short.
Dusk was coming on fast when the crew reached Bochorna, a tiny hamlet whose 7,700-foot elevation makes it the highest continuously inhabited village in Europe, according to the Georgian government. The workers’ chief focus: establishing an internet connection for the lone year-round resident, Irakli Khvedaguridze, a 76-year-old doctor.
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