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An abundance of mountain flowers, Kazbegi, Georgia

Georgia. The Caucasus begins here from one second to the next. At the place where my Russian taxi driver drops me off, the valley is broad, and the mountains look like adolescent boys. The border crossing to Georgia is one kilometre south in the notch of a mighty canyon. The three thousand meter high peaks rise in self-confidence on all sides and command awe. Instead of the military, the border is guarded by a monastery. There, I take my first break and congratulate myself on crossing the border. I have started to celebrate the small stages because sometimes the stretch in my head is so much wider than the kilometres, I physically travelled.

Georgian Military Road, Stepandsminda, Georgia

The Kazbegi is right at the beginning of my journey on the Georgian Military Road. The Georgians know this place as one of the most beautiful in their country. They know about the particular energies and the wonderful things you can experience. Everybody knows this landmark of Georgia, and yet I am almost alone up here.

Mountainscapes, Kazbegi, Georgia

The ascent is difficult. At the top, I am exhausted and can't move anymore. My heart is beating so hard that it seems to blow my chest. My head feels light. For the past two hours, I have had to take a break every hundred meters. Every time, I remove my backpack and gasp. The end of my strength is near. With just over ten thousand steps and having mounted the equivalent of 53 floors, I am mercilessly overwhelmed with my twenty-pound backpack. After six hours, I finally arrive. I climbed from 1700 meters in the valley to 2170 meters, and yet, I will never make it to the top. It rises above me in the distance to a proud 5047 meters. The first night, I pitch my tent in a hollow, directly opposite the monastery. At this point, I am convinced that this must be forbidden, but I don't have any vigour left. (My German mind always thinks in the same patterns. But of course, nobody has anything against my tent. I'm in Georgia. As long as nobody is endangered, everything is allowed.)

Gergeti Trinity Church in the first light, Kazbegi, Georgia

Although a steady stream of tourists passes in the distance, I speak to no one. Three days I venture deeper and deeper into the mountainscape, without ever losing sight of the monastery. I stay at about the same height and wander down to the Bergbach only to bathe my feet and cross it. When my diet of water and bread bores me, I pick wild blueberries and sleep in the shade of the small trees. Time gets a whole new meaning here. I watch the shepherd, his sheep and the crickets with their red wings. I wonder at the number of flowers, beetles, and spiders that inhabit this mountain meadow. Everything is busy up here. I'm forced to stay. I don't have the strength to go further up the mountain nor do I want to go back yet. I enjoy this decision-free space with no future or past.

The herd of sheep, Kazbegi, Georgia

As I finished the bread, I had to think about going back. With a heavy heart, I shoulder my backpack and walk across the mountains towards the valley. Like one of the goats, I climb over dried-up river beds and loose stones. Even though I had looked at these meadows for a few days from the other side of the mountain, and had begun to understand where I would have to go, I inevitably chose the most unfavourable path. I climb down dried-up waterfalls where I am never sure if the big stones on which I balance are reliable. In the end, only thanks to my excellent shoes, I return to the creek and can safely follow the path of the sheep herd, which shortly after, I meet, up close and personal. What a lucky coincidence.

Mountain creek and bathtub, Kazbegi, Georgia

I test the water with my big toe. It's freezing. It will not be easy to wash my hair. But after four days in the mountains (+2 days in the train), I don't dare to present myself to the village population unwashed. I take a deep breath and step cautiously on the wet stone floor. The water flows vigorously around my legs. After a short time, the cold reaches my bones. It reminds me of ice swimming in Finland. I give myself a push and sit down in my little natural bathtub. As it only reaches my calves, I have to lay down in the current to get my hair under water. The coldness burns my scalp. Brain freeze. A surprised gasp escapes me, I close my eyes and hope that no one is watching. I repeat this procedure twice.

I hurry onto the dry ground and quickly put on my orange silk dress. Not for the first time, the thin fabric serves as a protective cover, towel and wind collector. Slowly the warmth returns to my skin. My hair dries, and an all-embracing feeling of happiness fills me. After these four days of climbing, observing, and slowing down, I have arrived in the here and now.

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