When I Tell People I’m in Russia, They Don’t Picture a Tropical Paradise

Recently, everyone on the AC program in Russia traveled together with several Russian friends to Russia’s third capital: Sochi.  After a month or so in Moscow, where it is actually a challenge to find a hill, my Colorado-raised heart was ecstatic to see the incredible Caucasus Mountains jutting straight out from the Black Sea.  For all the altitude, Sochi is hardly the alpine biome of Colorado. California magnolia trees, palm trees, and lush foliage ring the roads and the populate the green city. Just a week prior to our arrival in Sochi, we had all been wearing multiple layers and making the calculation on whether we would need to don a pair of gloves before we set out for the Metro. Then in Sochi, we could walk around the city in shorts with sandals on. Almost every night we stayed in Sochi we were able to take a dip in the Black Sea, watching the sun set over the water.

One of the best days of the trip was a hiking excursion up to a spot called Eagle Cliffs. We began the day with a steep climb up the side of the mountain right from inside Sochi. After a month in flat Moscow, the burn on our legs was a welcome feeling. The mountain yielded incredible sights. A mountainside meadow held a herd of beautiful horses, grazing in a place where one could catch a view of the center region of Sochi and the Black Sea beyond it. Beyond the meadow, the final stretch of the hike up to the top was along the edge of white cliffs. We could look down hundreds of feet into a valley below. The highlight of the excursion came far from the top of the mountain, though. Down in the forest below the peak runs an incredible river with a waterfall and a swimming hole—though the subtropical climate gave a false impression of what I could expect the water to be. All of us expected the warm water of the Black Sea, but the swimming hole was actually glacial runoff…and freezing.

We also had the opportunity to visit Krasnaya Polyana, the location for some of the Winter Olympics less than two hours away from the city center. While in Sochi, it didn’t originally make any sense to me why the Winter Olympics were held there, but that trip changed my mind. Geographically, Sochi really has it all. A quick ride up a gondola and we were at the top of one of Russia’s best ski destinations. We were 8000 feet up with a view that extended dozens of miles across the mountain range and over the border into Georgia. More than an incredible look into paradise, it was an incredible look into the complex world at the Russian borders.

By: Elias Passas

Program: Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program

Term: Fall 2018


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