50+ spoken languages
7+ distinct biomes
2700+ native plant species
This is the Caucasus: a diverse region with a rich, complex history. As the Transcaucasian Trail traverses these mountains, it connects hundreds of villages and creates a path towards greater understanding throughout the region.
But even when the borders are open, young people from Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan don’t often have the opportunity to visit their neighboring countries and experience the diversity of other parts of the region. That’s why part of the TCT’s mission is to bring budding outdoor enthusiasts from each of these countries together to collaborate and learn.
To achieve that mission, the Caucasus Conservation Corps (CCC) hosted several bilateral international exchanges this year. Armenian and Georgian crew leaders spent time with each other on the trails, working together in the high mountains of Svaneti and the lush forests of Lori. Georgian and Azerbaijani crew leaders-in-training worked together on the TCT in Nedzvi Managed Reserve and Racha, and one of our Georgian trail crew leaders traveled to the canyons of Guba to train Azerbaijani crew leaders in their home country.
Exchange participants were enthusiastic about participating, particularly since many had never been to another Caucasian country, despite being only a relatively short drive or flight away. Why did they choose to participate? Many reasons! They wanted to:
- Learn new trail building skills
- Practice English
- Make new friends
- Learn about another culture
- Go to a new place
- Step out of their comfort zone
Read on to learn more about each of these exchanges!
Wilderness First Responder Course
The first of the season’s international exchanges occurred in May, when six Armenian crew leaders from our partner Trails for Change (TFC) traveled to Laghodekhi, Georgia, to join ten Georgian crew leaders in the region’s first Wilderness First Responder certification training. During the 10-day training, crew leaders from both countries not only learned about treating medical emergencies in remote areas, but had the chance to bond with each other, teach each other some Georgian and Armenian words and phrases, and make friends with people of similar ages and interests who live across the border.
Read more about their experience here!
Trail Crew Leader Exchange
Armenian and Georgian crew leaders each had the opportunity during the 2023 field season to cross the border and work on a section of the TCT that they had not seen before. In the process, they learned new technical skills and methods from their peers working in different climates and environments.
Armenia → Georgia
In July and August, six members of the Armenian TFC technical staff traveled to the mountains of Zeskho, Georgia, to join their Georgian counterparts in constructing a new trail section that will connect the Svaneti and Racha sections of the TCT.
Artur Karapetyan, a TFC crew leader, joined the exchange program to practice conversing in English, learn new skills, experience another culture, and meet other like-minded people. Although it was his first time in Zeskho, he had already met some of his Georgian crew members in Laghodeki during their Wilderness First Responder training, and their reunion was full of smiles, hugs, and warm hellos.
The exchange participants spent a week building the new trail alongside five Georgian crew members and enjoyed getting to know them better through cooking dinner together, informal language exchanges, and supporting each other throughout the week.
They brushed. They benched. They built switchbacks. They made progress!
Thanks to this exchange program, we made great hiking friends and got to know each other’s culture and language more closely. One of the most significant things was that we got to know the work of the trails being built in Georgia. It provided us with an excellent opportunity to develop and exchange our professional skills. During these interesting 10 days, we also managed to taste the national dishes, explore the picturesque landscapes while hiking, and enjoy the wonderful nature of Zeskho. We have a strong passion for gaining international experience in trail construction, and we feel truly appreciative for the chance to be involved and learn from it.
– Irina Sindoyan, 2023 Armenian exchange participant
Georgia → Armenia
In late September, Georgian crew leaders had their turn and traveled to Lori, Armenia, where they worked with a TFC trail crew and reunited with their Armenian friends who had come to Zeskho earlier in the summer.
Papuna Gozalishvili, a Georgian trail builder and trail crew leader trainer, participated in the exchange specifically so he could learn new trail building techniques and practices. The crew did a lot of benching work, and they hope to incorporate the new techniques they learned during their time in Armenia throughout the 2024 field season in Georgia.
When they arrived at the field camp, the Georgians discovered that it was quite different from the field base they were used to in Zeskho. Because the Armenian camp was far less remote than Zeskho’s and was situated near a well-trodden trail, the field crew was able to take advantage of the permanent pavilion and water pump on the premises. Papuna particularly enjoyed the breakfasts and dinners throughout the week, where he and the other Georgians got to try some Armenian dishes and a different variety of camp fare than they were used to.
Papuna thoroughly enjoyed meeting people who have similar interests as he does and studying a new type of trail building. He and the other Georgians found the exchange incredibly rewarding, and hope to meet their Armenian counterparts again on the trails one day soon.
Trail Crew Leader Training
The CCC expanded into Azerbaijan for the first time this year, and we began the process of training crew leaders who will be able to take the TCT’s work forward. They learned what it takes to be a crew leader and manage a group of volunteer trail builders, and they practiced their trail building skills along the TCT.
Azerbaijan → Georgia
Aspiring Azerbaijani crew leaders came to Georgia to participate in the CCC trail crew leader training program in Nedzvi Managed Reserve, Korta, and Zeskho. After receiving comprehensive instruction in sustainable trail design and trail building techniques, the trainees practiced their skills and applied their knowledge as they maintained various sections of the TCT. The work was tough, but rewarding, and they saw a great difference in the quality of the trail due to their efforts. They also enjoyed sampling local Georgian dishes and exploring Tbilisi and Kutaisi on their well-deserved days off.
Georgia → Azerbaijan
The Georgia exchange was followed by a training program on local trails in Azerbaijan, working on a section of the TCT in Guba. The Azerbaijan team was joined by Giorgi Jmukhadze, TCT Georgia’s technical manager, to continue the training they had received in Georgia. The Azerbaijani crew leaders continued applying their skills to improve the trails, and they learned more about the ecosystems in their own country.
The exchange also provided Giorgi with the opportunity to apply his own expertise in a new way, as he transferred the knowledge and skills he learned in Georgia to a different environment and landscape.
When we asked what the 2023 exchange participants valued about the experience, here’s what they said:
- Experiencing other parts of the Caucasus
- Getting to know people who have similar interests and aspirations
- Learning new trail building techniques
- Learning each other’s languages
- Spending a week with another trail organization and learning from their system
- Enjoying each other’s company and having fun!
They learned that despite coming from different countries and speaking different languages, they had much in common. They were eager to learn about and share their interests with each other.
As both the TCT and CCC continue to expand, we hope to broaden our exchange opportunities to engage more young adults in trail building and environmental education and to create stronger bridges between the countries we work in.
We value the collaboration and learning opportunities that these exchanges create, and we have already seen the positive impact they have. These programs not only enable young people to come together and enhance their professional skills–they also foster a sense of community and camaraderie that transcends borders.