Exploring the Wondrous Waters of Eden

Breathtaking landscapes, gorgeous river valleys … and ancient cultures.

“The drive into Upper Balkaria gradually developed in me a sense of wonder, and then, all of a sudden, the moments became surreal. Vast landscapes teeming with majestic mountains silhouetted against the setting sun. The car slowly turns a corner and as the world opens up before your eyes, you begin to see and believe in something greater.

“We would call Hotel Tay-El our home for the coming days. Imagine a rustic mountain-cabin nestled in between great rocks jutting out from either side. It was an honor to be amongst such beauty. Our first day was spent exploring the ruins of a 17th century village. We trekked up a steep ascent and traversed the arching hills, making our way to an ancient Balkarian home. Once inside the remaining cobblestone walls, the home seemed to be given life. The walls were once protection, security. The doorway was once concealment from uncertainty and a pathway to freedom.

“Mohadin, a local native of the village, took us to several sites of interest, bringing new meaning to each one. Hearing old stories from men to whom the tales were all too familiar created a greater respect in me for what I was hearing. The people of Upper Balkaria have a passion for their heritage, and what a joy it is for them to share a large piece of their identity with everyone they encounter. The village offered more than enough to experience. On our last night in the hotel, several men from the community joined us for dinner. What better way to interact with another culture than at a common table? I was rather intrigued by the Balkarian customs surrounding a meal. As the men entered the room, we were invited to stand and greet them. Respect seems to be synonymous with love amongst the Balkarian people. We patiently waited for the elder men to be served before we could fill our plates and stomachs with the incredible food that seemed to flow constantly from the hotel kitchen. Toasts were given, stomachs were filled, and happiness permeated every corner of the room as two worlds collided ever so gently into one.

“The following days were filled with camping in varied settings. On Day One, we parked the cars, threw on our gear, and made our way across a river valley. The rolling, green hills seemed to have no bounds. Hidden about 70 meters from our campsite, a cave was waiting to be explored. We set our packs down, strapped on our headlamps and entered into the unknown. The night was spent around a bonfire, where we all shared stories and hot chocolate. At this point, one might think that the landscape would become less astonishing. That couldn’t be further from the truth on this tour. Each mountain was unique and miraculous, not one the same as another. The next night, we made camp on the shore of a turquoise lake which was surrounded by a fence of mountain ranges. The landscape alone was enough to win me over, but, as if on cue, there was more.

“El-Tebu is one of Kabardino-Balkaria’s smallest villages. Around 50 families call this quaint, yet grand place their home. We entered the village and were immediately welcomed by several locals. One of the men who greeted us was Marat. About five years before, Marat had created a paragliding mecca right outside the village. When we arrived, he welcomed us in with tea and sweets. Spending time with the locals always turned into conversation with tea, coffee or both. Within 24 hours, I was being harnessed in and prepped to paraglide. The wind grabbed hold of our chute and off we went. The homes along El-Tebu streets became miniscule and the sky became home for what will always be one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Eagles soared below my feet, mountains looked up to the red and blue chute, and time ceased to exist.

“The final stretch of this unforgettable tour was spent on our feet, finding refuge and wonder within landscapes once unknown to our eyes. Pictures can do their part, but there is nothing like actually being there and trekking across picture-perfect landscapes. I feel more than privileged to have been a part of such a unique and impressive tour. Landscapes, culture and companionship has become for me gifts to embrace and adventures to share.”

Alex, Birmingham, Alabama, USA