Saturday, May 28, 2011

Multicultural hike

Today was another spectacular day in Kazbegi. This is fast becoming one of my favorite places in the world, and today's hike helped to make it so.

After yesterday's hike, James, Katherine, and Maria opted for less elevation gain in their adventure for the day, so I didn't get to hang with them much today; but the rest of us wanted to try to get to one of the glaciers that is on Mt. Kazbek. A guide book said that it would be a ten-hour hike with an elevation gain of around 5,000 feet. So, at 10 o'clock, after a great breakfast at our guesthouse, I set out with Thomas, Mattias, and Gil to see how far we could go. The mountain weather forecast called for clear skies in the morning with possible rain/snow in the afternoon. We decided to set out toward the glacier and see how far we could get before the bad weather moved in.

Thankfully, the weather forecast was wrong. The entire day was clear and glorious.

We were able to get to the highest pass before Mt. Kazbek, but because of the amount of snow still on the ground, we couldn't reach the glacier. We saw it, and that was good enough.

It took us about four and a half hours to get from our guesthouse in town to the the pass. It would have taken two more hours to reach the glacier, but most of us weren't dressed quite well enough for a trek across so much snow. We were perfectly happy to view the mountain and the glacier from a distance.

There were so many moments during the hike today when I was completely blown away by the scenery. It was so spectacular, it was almost surreal -- it was too beautiful to be real. The funny thing about such grand places is that the brain can't comprehend the vastness nor distance nor depth nor height nor magnitude of what's sitting right there in front of you. The mountains were certainly real -- we huffed and puffed our way up to over 10,000 feet. I felt the effects of that reality. But visually, I couldn't grasp the distance or the volume of the over-15,000-foot peak in front of me. It was too big for me to comprehend.

I love those moments. Moments when the magnificence of nature makes me feel so very small.

One of the great parts of today's hike was the multicultural aspect of our ascent-group. Of course, I am American. Thomas is Dutch. Mattias is Belgian. Gil is Israeli. And half-way up to the pass, we were joined by Kieran, an Irish-man. A hiking party of five, all from different countries. What fun!

Our conversations were fascinating -- we talked about religion, politics, economics, education, human rights, national debts, and our various stories -- what we do, where we're from, where we've been, who we are, who we are becoming. With five different nationalities, our outlooks were all different from one another -- yet, we all found each other to be kindred spirits.

As we hiked along, engrossed in some deep topic of conversation, I noticed that one of the things that connected us all was language. We all speak multiple languages, but our common language was English, and that is what we spoke together. Some of the other languages came out now and then -- Mattias and Thomas spoke Dutch together. Gil sang in Hebrew. We all compared words in various languages that we know: Spanish, Russian, French, Portuguese, Georgian, Hebrew, and German. We all spoke English with different accents, but our communication was that much more special because of them. New words and phrases were learned and explained (it's amazing how anyplace can become a language classroom), and meanings and translations were discussed and compared in our various languages. But we kept coming back to English.

It made me think about a couple of things. First of all, how thankful I am that I was raised speaking one of the most desirable languages in the world. I often take for granted that I speak English, yet it is one of the languages that the rest of the world works very hard at learning. Secondly, I am so thankful to be here in Georgia, teaching this language to teachers and students who are going to be much better off for knowing it. I am making a difference in the lives of these people, and that is no small thing. How fortunate I am to have this opportunity to be a part of something so grand and vast with results much more far-reaching than I can begin to imagine.

It's as difficult to comprehend as the amazing scenery I saw today.

And, speaking of the amazing scenery.....

Stepanstsminda Cathedral from the opposite side from where I saw it yesterday.
Against the backdrop of the Caucasus Mountains, it is truly spectacular.

The higher we hiked above the church, the more fantastic the view became -- wild horses, included.
(The slope to the right of the church is what I hiked up yesterday. Steep.)

As high as we went -- me, Thomas, Mattias, Gil, and Kieran in front of the glacier and
Mt. Kazbek under that cloud.....

It wouldn't be Georgia without a cross at a high-point.
This cross sat in the pass at around 10,000 feet.

Finally the clouds moved off of the peak of Mt. Kazbek -- me, Gil, Mattias, and Thomas
posed for another photo with the amazing mountain.

As we hiked down, the sky grew more and more clear. The peak of Kazbek was
beautiful from the church at the end of the day -- a very satisfying day.

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