When I planned my trip to Georgia, I asked around on Couchsurfing.org for an off-the-beaten track experience, I received a recommendation to get in touch with Devi. After a few e-mails (I lost track after #30), we agreed on an itinerary that would have us visit the Chechen Kist people in the Pankisi region.
Devi is half Indonesian, half German. She grew up in East Germany, hates it when people speak Russian and is married to a guy from Chechnya. She also spent some years in Chechen villages, hiking the mountains to get to know the language, culture and life of her betrothed’s roots. That included a 5 day detainment by Georgia’s secret police when she was mistaken for a Chechen terrorist. It’s kind of hard to explain yourself when you only speak Chechen, don’t have a passport on you and are a single women hiking the remote mountains of Georgia.
When in Tbilisi, Devi is staying in the Hostel Romantik.
‘Hostel Romantik‘ – a rather unique place in that it costs 6 USD a night, is completely underground (no windows), and offers free ‘wine’ and vegetarian dinner. The refugee style sleeping arrangements have a certain charm, though the Hostelworld crowd doesn’t seem to approve, so it clocks in at 69% approval there.
She was delighted when I showed up at her hostel with the Thai spices and Bamboo hat she requested and in return presented me a solid walking stick she had acquired for me. Next up was a shot of the local’s favourite moonshine – Chacha – with her last customers. One of them it turns out had drunkenly fell of a horse … one of the better road rash excuses I heard so far. We went over a basic shopping list for my trip (candy, filter cigarettes, Chacha, tea, coffee) and were all set.
As for a few of the fun things I found out while trekking Pankisi with her:
- She’s a chain smoker. This was probably the first time I had a guide that needed more breaks than me.
- One of her past customers got bitten by a livestock guardian dog (‘Herdenschutzhund’ – not to be mistaken for their rather tame relatives, the ‘shepherd dogs’) when he went out to pee at night without an anti-dog melee weapon (sometimes also referred to as ‘walking stick’).
- She once had a hiking accident in the region that left her stranded without food, help or the ability to walk for 11 days. After that, luck would have it that some of the far and few hikers in the region found her.
- On another occasion she was carried down the mountains by horse after suffering a knee injury. She was thrilled at getting a free horse ride.
Ever read a fantasy novel that featured an ominous character, sitting in a dark corner of the village tavern, rumored to be insane, and willing to guide you to places where no one else dares going? That’s Devi. Quite fittingly for that stereotype it turned out mid-trip that she didn’t know the entire route (‘Just the start and the end. Never did the middle part’). That missing part? Turned out be practically impassable (unless you fancy a hike up a nearly vertical slope of wet grass with no equipment and a free ride to sea-level below you’).
In a nutshell, Devi is the person you hire for a real adventure if you can do without comfort for a few days, able to look after yourself (maybe not a first-time hiker) and seeking the thrill that you get from really, truly going off the beaten track. While I didn’t perceive any situations as actually threatening or dangerous, a certain willingness to compromise on safety might be not a bad personality trait to have as well.