Like most traveling, my trip to Tusheti simply left me with a collection of moments with no clear narrative. I’m left with memories, photographs, and now these words. But only the memories hold everything together. Writing words about the crisp mountain air won’t help you really smell it. Looking at the picture of Lana walking through the trees won’t make that decade old, wispy dream of mine float into your consciousness. Still, I have my memories. Here are my pictures with captions. I’m posting them, essentially, so I don’t forget the little things. The flies buzzing around one of the most breathtaking lookouts I’ve seen. The conversations I had. The pictures I regret not taking. The types of memories that can go lost like baseball cards in an attic.
After our first meal in Tusheti, we hiked to some ruins, and I was immediately taken by Tusheti. Here are my memories from the trip.
From the initial hike:
The next morning, after waking up at my guesthouse (not pictured, peasant woman raking grass), we grabbed the others and set out.
The roads aren’t easier to drive once you’re in the region.
First, we made it to the aforementioned lookout with all the flies. After we stopped at the top of the incline, I heard audible gasps. Vachu and I were smiling ear-to-ear.
I tried to get the whole panorama in ten SnapChat video seconds. I failed.
Afterwards, we visited our first new town of the day. At an abandoned house Vachu, Lana, and I talked about culture, religion, and travel.
Soon after we pulled over and hiked to some ruins. We had to cross a waterfall, and the hills were steep. One of us slipped off the side but luckily stopped tumbling after ten feet. We were all relieved. I wished I had brought hiking boots. I spent a lot of this journey staring nervously at my feet, walking gingerly. Our guide tried to communicate with me, I think telling me I could hang back if I wanted, but I felt the need to press on.
After another drive, we continued onto a new hike upwards. We could see the towers, but there was a bigger village up there. We joked that it was a metropolis with a bunch of huts, and two spigots, instead of one, with running water.
We drove on, cutting through a flock of sheep, van chased by an angry sheepdog, making it to the proclaimed highest settlement in Europe (Bochorna: 2345 meters—7694 feet—above sea level). Then we headed back to the guesthouse for our final dinner—Khinkali, the famous Georgian specialty, that I had learned is of Tush origin.
One of the greatest parts of the tour was being constantly surrounded by Georgians for a few days, let into a bit of their way of life. Lana later told me one the women with us (whose name, like the guide’s, I’ve unfortunately forgotten) said I should marry a Georgian and that “I don’t know what you feel about this, but for us it’s a nice thing.” It was. (Especially since I had thought she didn’t like me.) Sofia added, “If you stay in Georgia, you must learn Georgian.” Of course. And speaking of the Georgian language, I had finally mastered the correct pronunciation of TWO whole Georgian words, gamarjoba “hello” and madloba “thank you.” It ain’t an easy language.
No matter what, it always inevitably happens. It was time to leave Tusheti, Time had flown by too quickly—the way it always does—and two nights in Tusheti were not enough. Two nights aren’t enough anywhere. It was raining, and the roads were slippery. We had to walk up the long, steep hill to town to eat breakfast and collect the others. Even when we were on the road, on the way back after the rain, we had to go on foot for a quarter mile—it was the only way the van could pass through the deep mud. Later, after we were all riding in the van again, we slipped and slid through the mud, not far from the cliff. Our guide held the wheel with stoic confidence. I remember saying, “I guess thirty years is old enough.” Sofia laughed, and everyone cheered when we were safe. Soon, the road was no longer muddy. We stopped off at a waterfall, stopped on a steep mountain slope to collect tea leaves, and stopped after our guide bumped into one of his sons.
Like always, the drive back on the road took less time than the ride there. It didn’t take long before we were driving back in the clouds, descending this time.
Soon, we were back driving through the forested part of the mountains. Then, passing the waterfall. Then passing our picnic spot. I felt homesick for my travel group, knowing soon I’d be alone, navigating the way back to the not-super-friendly Fox Hostel. A minute later we were caught in a traffic jam—a flock of sheep taking up the whole road.
But then the paved road came, and our guide and Vachu put on their seat belts. It was weird driving on smooth pavement. We did make a stop at our guide’s house and met his family. It was our last stop before the ninety-minute drive to the Isani metro. Once we arrived, we said our farewells, kissed each other on the cheek, and I took in my surroundings. I was back in Tbilisi; the city that last week had seemed exotic had now become ordinary. Would it be possible for Tusheti to lose its luster? I remember Cory, who first told me about Tusheti, already in his fifth year in Georgia, saying Georgians were “hospitable to a fault. Sometimes, it’s just like ‘No, I don’t want to have dinner at your house.'” Could this happen to me if I’d stay in one place long enough? Undoubtedly.
Two days later I was in Riga, Latvia, getting readjusted to the existence of crosswalks, realizing my memories of Tusheti could have already happened a year before. I was already so far away. The next day I’d meet Guntars, an old friend’s brother and his wife, Rūta, have one of those amazing hours-long philosophical conversations with them and wish I had more time in Latvia as well.