"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lamazi Borjomi

This past weekend, Mark, Julie, and I had simply the most amazing weekend visiting Borjomi.

Borjomi is a cute resort town and is one of the most popular vacation spots for Georgians.  It's famous for being home to Georgia's largest National Park, and also they bottle Borjomi mineral water here.  (Personally I am not a fan as Borjomi water tastes salty, but it's supposed to be very good for hangovers. :) )  October is most definitely off-season for Borjomi, but despite some cold nights, it being autumn did not affect our trip in the least -- unless you count being lucky enough to see some gorgeous fall colors!

Borjomi is about four hours from Poti by bus, and we were very lucky as a marshrutka does a direct Poti-Borjomi run every day at 2:30.  So after we finished up with classes, the three of us met up at the bus station and settled in for the long ride through stunningly beautiful mountains and countryside.  Once we reached Borjomi, our marshrutka driver offered to take us to a guesthouse he knew, run by his sister-in-law.  It turned out to be perfect -- great room with three beds and a table and couch, right in the center of town, for the very excellent price of 15 lari per person, per night!  We settled in, and then settled right back out again, in search of  dinner.

Borjomi is a really cute town but very sleepy at night, made even more so I would assume by the fact that it is the off-season.  We wandered around for a while, but eventually found an utterly perfect place right near our hotel.  A round of beers followed by homemade black wine, kinkhali, salati with nut sauce, ojahuri, and mushrooms in the ketsi.  SO good!

Texas and Maine, represent!
Mark refusing to stay up late and play, despite peer pressure
 After dinner, Mark pooped out on us, but Julie and I stayed up late, polishing off another bottle of Georgian wine and talking about Stuff.  Good times.

The next morning, Mark surprised Julie and I with an awesome present -- matching sunglasses in different colors. Blue for me, green for Julie, red for Mark.  :)

Our hostess -- also named Julie -- fed us hot tea and bread with butter and jam, and then we set off for the park.  Georgian Julie gave us directions... and I was a little confused because I thought the park was a little further from the town itself.  But we were able to walk to the entrance in only a few minutes, stopping first at a local market to pick up lunch and water.  And cognac. :)

Park entrance
At first, the park was surprisingly commercial, with lots of rides and play areas for the kids, as well as restaurants, cafes, and hot dog stands (all closed due to it being off-season).  We had some fun in a deserted playground, "Fairy Land."

Getting in (and out of) this tiny door was really really awkward.
The weather could not have been more gorgeous and perfect, and it was nothing but lovely to stroll through the nearly-deserted park.  But all of us had come to Borjomi to get into The Nature, and this pristine easy strolling was not what we had in mind.

So it was pretty great when the lamp posts, trash cans, and carnival rides finally fell away into forest.  The trail followed (and sometimes crossed) the path of a noisy river that ended up keeping us company (or guiding us to safety) for most of the day.

Smiling through my terror...
Only a slightly better bridge
 On the other side of this bridge, the main trail ended in a beautiful meadow that had an awesome mineral bath fed from a pipe going up into the mountain.

Of course we did not have bathing suits, but Julie at least declared her intention of absolutely getting in that pool before the day was out.

Like I said, the main trail ended here at this meadow and pool, but there were several narrow tracks leading up into the mountains.  We picked one and set off.  Very quickly our "trail" became little more than a thread winding through the trees and undergrowth.  Definitely not the easiest to follow but I thought that, with the three of us, we shouldn't have a problem finding our way back.  This kind of thing was more like what we all had in mind for the day.

Tiny Julie surrounded by The Nature
Remains of an old logging road.

Eventually we decided to go no higher (I was all for pushing right to the top, but who knows how long that would have taken), and stopped for lunch in a pretty clearing.  Superb picnic of fresh bread, sausage with spicy mustard, apples and pears given to us by Georgian Julie, yogurt, chocolate, and Georgian cognac. :)

Our lunch spot
On our way back down, of course we lost the narrow tiny trail practically right away.  But we could hear the river down at the bottom of the mountain, and knew that the main trail followed the river.  So we decided the hell with trails, and to blaze our own trail straight down the mountain.  This was fine at first, but then things got a little... steep.

Julie deciding it was easier to go down the mountain on her butt.
Not long after that, "steeply downhill" turned into legitimate cliff.  Julie has a particularly fantastic shot of me flat on my back with one arm over my head, holding onto one skinny lifeline of a branch to keep me from sliding helter-skelter into some kind of bodily harm.  But with teamwork and a lot of good-natured laughter, we made it down to flat ground... exactly in front of the mineral pool and meadow where we started out!  All of us had dirty behinds (and dirt almost everyplace else!) but our off-road adventure could not have ended better.

Julie and our cliff
Mark picking bits of Nature out of Julie's hair.  What are friends for?
 Julie was still completely determined to swim in the mineral pool, despite the cool weather and Georgian boys currently making use of the pool, in their underwear.  So she stripped down to bra and jeans, and took the plunge!

I put my feet in, and trust me that pool was not warm.  Maybe in summer I might have tried it, but in October???  No thank you.  I also would not have been at all happy at the prospect of walking home in the rapidly-cooling early evening wearing wet jeans, but this did not seem to bother Julie in the slightest.  We even took a few minutes to play in Fairy Land some more.

Back at the guesthouse, Julie changed into dry clothes and then we walked around the town a bit, taking in the sights before finding a place for dinner.

At our guesthouse.  They all look so happy!
Tiny market 
Cow on Main Street
Terrifying house
 Eventually we settled into another quiet cafe near our hotel.  Dinner was good but not quite as good as last night, and we were all so tired from the day that it was a very quiet meal.  But after dinner, we wanted to stop into a cute coffeehouse that we'd seen on the way home.  Walking over, we met an Israeli backpacker couple looking for possible accommodations.  We told them about Julie's guesthouse, and they said they'd call us if they couldn't find a spot to pitch their tent for the night.

The three of us found our second wind in the very awesome coffeehouse, and enjoyed a superb dessert of coffee, saperavi, and shared raspberry cake.  We watched 80's music videos on a big flatscreen TV and passed a very fine hour until they kicked us out at 10:00.

On our way back to the guesthouse, the Israeli backpackers Sheila and Amir called.  They'd given up on finding a place to pitch their tent and had found Julie's Guesthouse on our directions.  See, Shiela and Amir had made exactly the same mistake we had, and confused the National Park with the much smaller Mineral Park.  (Hence my confusion earlier concerning Georgian Julie and her directions.)  So we (mostly Mark and his Russian) helped them get a room at the guesthouse, and then they came back to our room for a glass of wine and a chat.  Always so wonderful to meet cool new people on the road!  One of the very best things about traveling.

Me and Julie with Sheila and Amir
The next morning, the five of us had breakfast on Julie's back patio, then said our goodbyes and headed to the marshrutka station.  But... turns out there IS no marshrutka from Borjomi to Poti.  Nor is there one to Kutaisi or even Batumi.  Only in Georgia would they not expect a person would want to get to a place and then away from it again.  So we take a local marshrutka to nearby Khasuri, then stand on the main road hoping to flag one down heading to either of those cities.  Fortunately we see one going to Batumi pretty much right away.  After a few hours, we get off at Ureki and finally catch a third marshutka going to Poti.  This is travel, true Georgian-style!

I absolutely loved Borjomi, and was sorry we only got one real day there.  Such stunningly beautiful countryside... and another trip where pretty much not one thing went wrong the entire time.  I wonder when our luck will run out?  Hopefully not this weekend, when we take our trip north up into the true Caucasus to visit Svaneti.  Stay tuned...

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