People often ask me what’s my favourite country I’ve visited, and it’s hard to choose one out of the 55 I’ve been to 😉 But Georgia is definitely near the top of the list, with the sincerity of its people and its unending natural beauty, like this melting glacier flowing into the valley outside of the town of Mestia in the Caucasus Mountains. This little Asian guy felt so foreign and out of place in a land I knew little about, and yet I yearn to go back and experience more of it …
The town of Kazbegi in the Caucasus Mountains is a 3-hour marshrutka ride north of Tbilisi. Though perhaps a bit uncomfortable in a cramped marshrutka, the drive up to this mountain town was simply spectacular and the passionate traveller in me was only concerned about watching the magnificent views of Georgia while staring out the window. After spending 8 days in Tbilisi (with day trips to Mtskheta and Gori), I really felt like I was going to a special place and that I would finally get to embark on some amazing hiking in the country after hearing about such opportunities at the hostel in Tbilisi the previous week, and from fellow travellers during previous journeys. (I should also mention that this experience was a memorable chapter from my Eurotrip from two years ago in August 2013. I’ve wanted to write about this hike for awhile – better late than never, I guess!)
The picturesque Tsminda Sameba Church (Gergeti Trinity Church) overlooks the town from atop a hill, and I hiked to this point a couple hours after getting into town, taking an “off the beaten path” sort of route. I spent the late afternoon simply admiring the vibrant green fields and the majestic mountains before descending back to town to relax for the evening, knowing that the next day would be a long one.
Confession: When I’m travelling, I can be someone who does things without much thought. I’ll get an idea and simplistically think that it will somehow just happen. My trek to Gergeti Glacier was one of those instances – I read some stories online about the logistics of the hike, went into town and bought some water and freshly made, steaming hot bread made in a tandoori-like oven, and walked and walked and walked, one foot in front of the other, in my hiking boots that took me across Spain and up one of the Alps.
I had a job interview yesterday and by far the most interesting question posed to me was to describe an achievement, personal or professional, that I have experienced and why it was so memorable.
Immediately, my mind floated back in time to March 2009 and the memory of Volcán Villarrica outside of Pucón, Chile. The past couple months had been filled with unforgettable days and nights of novel experiences – hikes to Incan ruins, new friendships, living in the jungle without electricity or internet, 24 hour bus rides, running down a sand hill in the Atacama desert – why not add climbing a volcano onto the list? So I joined my friends in planning to climb this volcano, blissfully unaware that it would be the most physically demanding activity of my life at that time and still is to this date.
Why was it such an accomplishment? Because the climb consisted of 5 and a half almost merciless hours of ascent, stopping periodically only for nourishment and rehydration, and being frequently reminded by our guides that we had to get to the top before the increasing winds and cloud cover threatened to prevent us from making it all the way. Part of the volcano was covered by a glacier, and we even had to sport special gear on our hiking boots part of the way to avoid slipping on the snow and ice. Continue reading