Arkhyz (Архыз)/Russian Caucasus

January 2016

If you have read my stories' section, you already know that I drove 19 hours down to the Russian Caucasus from Moscow with my friend Anya in January of 2016. And while the journey was a bit crazy, the destination was absolutely worth it. Most of our time was spent in and around a small village called Arkhyz that rested in a valley between the mountains and was so small you could easily look across the entire village, end to end, in one view.

One thing people often fail to realize is just how diverse of a country Russia actually is. If you only visit Moscow and St. Petersburg, it will seem like everyone is just Russian, but venture further out, and you'll see that this is not the case. And nowhere is this more apparent than the Caucasus. Within these mountains, there are many different groups of people, each with their own culture, food, traditions, lifestyle, and in many cases, language. Yes. most people I spoke to said they had to learn Russian as a second language and do not speak it when they are home with their families. And they were all incredibly welcoming, almost to the level of Georgians (read the Georgia section and you'll see just how big of a compliment this is). Everyone I met, from the baristas at the mini cafes to the babushka who sold me wool socks to my ski instructor Ramazan, did everything they possibly could to make me feel welcome.

This niceness, however, was just an added bonus on top of the real reason Anya and I came: the nature. I had already seen some of the Caucasus the previous summer, but now it was the winter and the Russian mountains are the biggest in all of Europe. I was determined to take it all in, and luckily for me, a Russian trekking group led by a seasoned, rugged middle aged mountain man named Oleg (soon to be in awesome people section) just so happened to be staying at the same lodge as Anya and I. Needless to say, we decided to join in on one of their expeditions during our second day of the stay.

I was told they were going on a 2-3 kilometer trek in the woods, so when we started, I was expecting a lice little day out. I didn't have snow pants because, like an idiot, I had forgotten to pack them, but since it'll be a quick adventure, I thought I would be fine in jeans. I was wrong. Terribly wrong. And it was not a 2-3 kilometer trek (I think I misheard initially), it turned out to be closer to 10. And the further we went, the worse outside conditions got. The calm, overcast sky began to churn and spout a mixture of rain, snow and sleet. Before I knew it, I was soaked to the bone and shaking like California during an earthquake. (This will soon be in the 'Stories' section). But thankfully though, I managed to survive it and actually began to develop a bond with the group as a whole. And when it was all through, they invited us come visit the nearby planetary observatory (3rd biggest in the world) with them the following day. We agreed without any hesitation

There was no way we could have planned it, but for the remainder of the trip, we ended up tagging along with the group, making friends with several of the members including the trek leader, Oleg.