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Georgian Castles

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People have been farming, shitting and eating in and around Georgia for a long ass time.

Start – Stop: Ushguli – Zagar Pass

Distance: 5.6 mi

Elevation Gain: 2150 ft

Riding Time: 2:30

Time Awake Spent in Pursuit of The Trip, Roughly: 10:00

Day 05 Objectives & Points of Interest

  1. Find a local who was in the army with your guide/translator and hire him to round up some horses so that your group can ride horses up to a glacier.
  2. Ride your horse through a freezing cold glacial river.
  3. In August in Ushguli, the weather is fine. Sit outside. Just go ahead just sit.
  4. When you get to Zagar Pass there’s a little road that shoots up the ridge to the left. It leads to a church and some level ground. We camped here. The views were good and we felt like we had a little spiritual support for our decision.

We spend our lives amongst the dead. I’m not suggesting that we live in a Tim Burton film and that phantoms and skeletons are bidding against us on eBay; the physical manifestations of the dead, tissue and bone, are something that most of us rarely interact with. (Yes, there are times we intersect with these points of actual physical decay, but this is either by accident or with reverence in the vast majority of cases. And prudence, probably informed by a built-in biological directive, conspires to minimize these interactions.) But death and the dead aren’t just decaying matter of the physical form in some box below the ground or a vase on Aunt Judy’s mantel.

“The dead are much more than that: they are our past, they are the exhausted realities that have become the memories which fill the world.”

Science can’t identify any physical markers that show the accumulation of memory, as in, Yes. Over the past 15 years, 370 people have gazed out this window and down on that little square blue pool below and wondered, “Is this my life?”, so I could be bullshitting. But then again science can’t even figure out how the big things and the little things go together, so shut up, nerd [Grand Unified Theory]. I can’t shake the idea that space can account for past memories, and that within space, memories are cumulative. Perhaps what we’re dealing in here is semantics: by memory do I mean moment? Are these ideas actually different, is it only a matter of perspective or awareness? Space is clogged with moments, one after another stacked on each other since the Big Bang, or the big Rift Valley bang where the chicken and the egg simultaneously materialized in the form of a thumb-wielding, upright-walking, tool-using hominid.

Follow me here: people have been walking, farming, milling, mulching, eating, cooking, shitting, screwing, killing and birthing in and around Georgia for a long ass time—and they have the architecture to prove it. In the Svaneti region, Georgian Castles plague the valleys like a pox of unwanted back hairs. The pacification of history by the modern eye creates a flat and depthless idea of these castles: they’re old and neat and foreign! Books, movies, and images have trained us to appreciate the noble view of a castle perched formidably against a grand mountainscape, obfuscating the truth that these were instruments of death and mayhem, that they were constructed to both prevent and carry out subjugation and annihilation, that scattered around these towers are the memories of dead invaders and within their walls lie moments of the starved and suffering. But by the fact they’re still standing they also represent triumph, continuation, and survival.

Ushguli is home to many of these towers, clustered on the hillside at the head of a glacial valley. The roads through them are narrow, built to accommodate one-horsepower vehicles and foot traffic, and they thread amongst the towers like skeins of an estuary, branching and converging without any sense of modern order and proportion that is the de facto Western experience. Walking among them one must be vigilant, lest your foot become covered in cow pie. But in this wandering the weight and physicality of memory is felt. The past, the sense of lives started and ended here, the geist of memory is impossible to ignore. What it must have been like to fight off Mongols, Ottomans, and Persians! What it must have been like to hear the howling of wolves blow through thatched roofs! At some point someone was here, in the shadow of these towers, when they heard that news that man had landed on the Moon.

“Humans imbue place with memory and by the simple physics of accretion these ancient places are the most laden.”

It’s not news that we go in search of these locations; from quests and crusades to Lonely Planet and Indiana Jones we long to be connected to the places and the architecture of our past. They help us feel grounded to memory, to the past. Finding and experiencing a place not only feeds our sense of mortality but our sense of immortality as well. It forces us to reckon our moment with and within time.

I could have spent this time telling you about how the host of our guesthouse smoked cigarettes while his wife did all the work, or that there were hordes of tourists on the ridge behind the village doing yoga poses and taking selfies as the sun set. I could have talked about the drunk tourists and locals at the local cafe or the giant dogs who lounged amongst the tables. About riding horses to a glacier. Or doing a five mile bike ride to a church parking lot. I could have described the baby horse and the young kids playing soccer between the tours. But those memories are so young, it will take time for them to create resonance, to find their place amongst the pack. In the future they’ll pluck at the tendrils of our psyches as we walk amongst the garden of these stone towers. But not yet. For now we walk upon the dead and live amongst ghosts, imagined or not. It doesn’t matter which it is, that’s not the point.


A little breakfast followed by a horseback ride to a glacier. So typical.
Got our little breakfast nook sorted.
Today we rode horses. Daniel was like, "Guys. We need to ride horses. Trust me! We need to." Then we sent Tazer to talk Georgian with his bud, and about an hour later... boom. Horses.
Okay so here's the deal: our horses were alright. And their tack... well, their tack was a little worse for wear. For instance, mine had nylon rope holding on the stirrups. But fuck it. Just look at those mountains.
Tazer went full Enduro Equestrian. Also his horse kept bolting, so every two minutes or so he'd be off on a gallop. I am not going to say he looked comfortable; I'm going to say that the helmet was a good idea.
To be honest, the weather has been sunny and hot since we left Tsvirmi. It felt like it was in the 80s and we definitely should have been wearing sunscreen and we even kinda did.
So at first we thought we were going to lock our horses up at this tree and hike to the bottom of the glacier. But Tazer and Tazer's buddy Lasha (who was also the horse wrangler) conversed with this other Georgian bro who was hanging at the horse lock-up.
I don't know exactly what was said, but after that talk we unlocked our horses and started heading back to town.
Before heading back to town we took the horses to a mineral spring. A spring that happened to be on the other side of the glacial river, which we got to ford. On horses. We didn't even get our feet wet. Horses are okay, I guess.
Lasha is in the 12 O'Clock Boys of Georgia.

Ushguli Bar & Cafe

It was hot and we only had six miles to ride, so we passed a little time in this cozy little joint.
I am so glad that Daniel got this photo because the girl behind the bar had THE MOST INSANE eyebrows. We asked her if we could take a portrait, we laid on the charm, we even tried to bribe her. Her answer was always no. I mean, it could have been that the bribe was a grip Clif Bars and the promise of some Yonder Journal sticker packs in a few weeks, but that's not nothing.
So, this is a replica of the Svan King's throne. We all got to sit in it. Obvs, Tazer looks the most natural.
Machiavelli much?
Brian is doing your archetypal Conan the Barbarian pose.

Zagar Pass

It was short but that didn’t stop it from being steep.
Today's ride was going to be a short one, I think like eight kilometers total. But we got a late start given that we rode horses in the morning, and then, because we got back to Ushguli around 1:00 pm, decided to lounge for a couple hours in the cafe while the heat of the day passed. This worked for a while, but eventually we got antsy. Fuck it, let's go.
Tazo is a champ. Did we mention that already? Dude is so rad. Here's the deal: you probably need to go to Georgia, and if you go to Georgia you need a guide/translator. Well, you cannot do better than Tazer. If you need his contact information, ask us. Of course, we'll have to vet you beforehand, but that's just part of the process.
This is the side road to the good camping spot. All you have to remember is that it is about 5.5 miles northeast of Ushguli. If you remember that, you'll find it.

Zagar Pass Church Parking Lot Campsite

Did I stutter?
The camping spot has an abandoned church and brick shack on the property. It also features a really fine pit toliet with an incredible view. #vistadumps
Hang Ten, Tazer.
"What? Me, worry?"
Luxury Home.
Jury-Rigged Starter Home.
We drank that bottle of vodka and then we started arguing about stupid shit. Nothing serious, nothing personal, just stupid shit friends argue about. I'm pretty sure Tazer just zoned out. I blame you, vodka. I blame you.
"I love the WAD KA."
Note that at this point the bottle is only half-full.
(Side Note: I wrestled with half-full and half-empty. I think my first inclination was half-empty, but then I was like "I want my readers to think I am an optimist," so I opted for half-full. But fuck, now that the cat's out of the bag, this bottle was destined to be full-empty no matter what.)
Even Tazer got into mix. Would you look at that handsome devil!?
Caught contemplating.
Daniel doesn't even drink, but he was a good sport about doing a pose. You can def tell he doesn't 100% want to be there (maybe it's the pursed lips). But dude is a team player.
Just a splash or fourteen.
Who wants a Christmas card? Please send your address to If we can afford it, you might get this or another wonderful picture on a postcard in your mail slot this holiday season.
Step aside Daniel, and let the pros take some shots.

Shut Up, Nerd!

A Brief Scientific Explanation of a Particular Georgian Experience & the Conversation That Sparked It. Science by Brian.

Tazer: “Guys, the night is so beautiful it is like hope, while you might think that it is dark, the closer you look you will always see stars, see light. This is like hope.”

Daniel & Kyle: “…”

Brian: “Ever wondered why the universe isn’t just filled with light? If you think about it the universe is infinitely large containing an infinitely large amount of stars, and it all emerged from a single point of origin (i.e., the big bang). So then why isn’t the night sky filled with an infinitely large amount of light? Why is the night sky black? (“Why is the sky blue?” is also and interesting question.)

“There’s a name for this question: Olbers’ Paradox. The answer comes in two parts. First, although the universe is infinitely large with an infinite amount of stars, the universe is not infinitely old. Our (the) universe is about 13.7 billion years old (Happy Birthday Universe). Therefore, there exist stars in all directions that are emitting light that hasn’t had time to reach us. The speed of light is only 3.00 * 10^8 m/s.

“However, this first explanation doesn’t account for the light that existed at the point the universe originated. This light should still be abundant everywhere. In reality, it does exist everywhere but has been shifted in wavelength outside of the visual spectrum (towards the infrared) due to the rapid expansion of the universe. Similar to the tone shift of a passing ambulance, the Doppler effect causes…”

Daniel: “Shut up, nerd.”

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