I took advantage of having the Friday before the fourth off to travel to Borjomi for the weekend. Built along a valley in the lower Caucasus, the city itself is small, though famed for its unique tasting mineral water. I had the chance to take a sip from the same spring used by Russian Czars to treat a variety of illnesses. I promptly choked on the water’s “unique” taste. I have since read the spring water is a lot like Rye Whiskey; some people love it and some people can’t stand it. Even if the water was a bit questionable, the scenery was exceptional. Despite being considered a city by Georgian standards, Borjomi is exceptionally narrow and snakes along the river Mtkvari and is surround by untouched hills, or mountains by Eastern Seaboard standards. I stayed at Leo’s homestay. Actually, to put it more accurately, I stayed with Leo’s neighbor in a flat occupied by two middle aged woman, an infant, and an older grandmother. At first, when I saw the baby, I was nervous, but the child cried only once for the three days I was there. Most the time, the only sound in the whole house was a lullaby being softly sung in the next room. I stayed in a small room off of the entry and enjoyed a homemade breakfast every morning for 30 Lari a day.
On my arrival, I dropped of my things and took a Marshuka, which is a sort of mini bus used by Georgians to travel between towns and in cities, to a neighboring city Akhaltsikhe. My coworker encouraged me to visit Rabat Castle, and I was far from disappointed. I enjoy Islamic architecture and had the chance to visit the Alhambra a little over a year ago. Rabat Castle’s beautiful geometric gardens and striking fortifications brought me back to Spain in a way, but Rabat’s restoration was far more complete and exceptionally beautiful. The castle yard was practically empty and I felt as if I was alone in a ruin untouched by time. I stayed there for hours in order to climb every tower and explore every nook and cranny of the fortress that once protected the famed Silk Road. The castle also hosts a small museum dedicated to the craftwork of one of the longest occupied regions in human history. Despite being thousands of years old, some of the porcelain pots and tempered jewelry shined as if waiting for a priest or priestess to emerge for a ritual to animalistic idols.
The next day, I went into Borjomi National Park, which is Europe’s largest nature park. The rangers were exceptionally welcoming. The trails were well marked and natural springs had been covered to allow tourists access to pure, fresh water. Upon entering the park, I felt as if I was transported home to Yellow Stone. The trees hugged the sides of the beaten trail and small creeks often crisscrossed pathways. The canopy kept the ground cool and shaded, while small animals ran in surprised disgust at my passing. I only encountered three groups on my 14 kilometer trek and was able to get intentionally lost as I completed trail six, which climbed up a kilometer from the valley form to snake across the top of a hill and back down into a neighboring valley. High mountain meadows presented striking views of Georgia’s rolling high country. Wild flowers were in full bloom with morning glories hiding in the shade. I chased butterflies with my old camera and gazed at the ruins of long forgotten fortifications far off in the distance. The trail ended in another town down the highway from Borjomi. I felt so refreshed by my hike that I decided to walk home. In the end, I walk till sunset for a total of 22 miles, which required fleeing from the occasional stray dog that found my character questionable. I passed out from exhaustion when I arrived home.
Overall, I had a fantastic trip and I can attest that Georgia has some of the most beautiful countryside that I’ve ever seen and the most patient people that I’ve met. My English tongue was met with enthusiastic smiles and hand gestures that carefully directed me to the proper entrance or bus.