Sunday, May 8, 2011

How Canyoneering Prepared Me to Live in a Post-Soviet Country

You will often be cold and wet. Just deal. However, I must say that at least when canyoneering thanks to Kokotat drysuits, neoprene socks, and the 5.10 Canyoneer (a God-send) the coldness and wetness could be dealt with. I’ve been warmer hiking the Narrows when the water was 38 F, then when I walk to school here on the sidewalk. I will be bringing neoprene socks back with me for the next winter.

Cleanliness takes on a new definition, and is really just a state of mind. You and your clothes will never be completely clean, just less dirty.

Headlamps are always a good idea. You never know when the power will go out for extended periods of time.

Be prepared to say yes to anything. You never know what might happen.

You will need to learn a whole new vocabulary. If only in Georgia I had more chances to talk about Piranhas. Last week at the Batumi Tourism Expo I almost had tears in my eyes from seeing a Petzl GriGri.

Always wear something that says Zion Adventure Company. Especially if it is a black Marmot fleece jacket.

Layering clothes is essential. You can never have enough.

You will find creative solutions to everyday problems. I recently fixed my umbrella with dental floss…very MacGuyver.

People will think you are crazy even when you do things that you think are completely normal. For example, wearing sandals when it is in the 70s.

People not doing what you are doing will stare at everything you do. (Think the last rap in Mystery Canyon). Especially if you have blond hair, you’re American, and your name is Charlotte.

Toyota LandCruisers are the ideal vehicles. High-clearance, rugged, and you can buy one new in Tbilisi.

Have your permits in order and ready to go. Especially your visa to Turkey to get milkshakes at Burger King.

Use your safety devices to their fullest. This includes friends, expats, the US Embassy, the Burger King in Kemalpasa, the rare shipment of peanut butter to Goodwill, adaptor, cell phone, the internet, Facebook, Skype, YouTube, and the coveted US passport.

You need to use route-finding skills to maneuver around the potholes, puddles and road construction.

Pack carefully. You can only bring so much.

Make sure you have a right shoe and a left shoe. Georgia is not the place to have to buy shoes as they are over-priced, ill-fitting, and horribly uncomfortable.

Wear or have protective gear with you at all times. This includes knee-high rubber boats, several pairs of socks, Kleenex, hand-soap, a few laris, quick-dry clothes, and an umbrella even on sunny days, etc.

You have greater capacity for growth and change then you ever could have imagined.

Always have bottled water on hand.

Space can be very limited. Personal space is non-existent and you will have less space than when you go through the end of Snake Alley. Or you will end up on a packed mini-bus with no ventilation in 100 F weather with 100% humidity.

Suggested times are just that. A suggestion. Be prepared for things to take a lot longer.

The correct footwear is essential. Stiletto heels on Batumi streets do not fall into that category.

Downclimb with care. This also applies to walking down the uneven stairs at school made from questionable Soviet-era concrete.

Always do your own research or use a trusted guide (aka Tom Jones’s Zion: Canyoneering). Georgians often will tell you very wrong information, such as you need a body guard to visit Mestia. Not true.

And, ultimately:

The first step is the hardest, and JDZ or Calvin or Rob or anyone else will not be there to encourage you. You simply have to do it by yourself.

Moreover, if I can successfully master the tricky and ancient art of using Turkish toilets, I can do anything in canyoneering.


  1. Charlotte, if I would be in charge of Georgian Tourism department I would ask you to write a Frequently Asked Questions about traveling and living in Georgia if you are coming there for one week, one month, one year:

    What to bring
    What to expect (or not to expect)
    How to move around the country
    What to see based of preferences and interests
    How to interact with locals
    How to make your stay enjoyable

    Because you are great at this. Honestly.

  2. Hi Charlotte: I'm currently in Moldova and the same advice is useful here, just wish I had read it before I arrived, ha ha!

  3. I agree with what you have just said be prepared for things to take a lot longer. Those are things that we need to work on.
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