Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Walk In The Park

If you visit Georgia you can't help but know the name Borjomi. The town is home to the eponymous, sour-tasting mineral water that is consumed by the gallon by all Georgians, whereas all visitors avoid it like the plague. During its glory days in the 80s people from all over the USSR flocked to the town's many sanatoria to reap the benefits of the water's medicinal properties (though, if you were to believe the locals, every Georgian drink has medicinal properties: wine, vodka and home-made rotgut included). But the town has fallen on hard times since those halcyon days; firstly becoming home to many refugees from the breakaway province of Abkhazia in the early 90s, and just lately its water has been hit by a Russian trade embargo. However, there are still some optimists counting on European tourists to reverse the town's fortunes and are building an amusement promenade along the bubbling Borjomi stream, complete with swimming complex, dodgems and even a (small) roller-coaster. And the objective observer would say that they have a point. Leaving aside the taste and curative powers of the water, the town of Borjomi is beautifully located in a steep, meandering river valley, with forested hillsides all around. And if this attractive setting were not enough it is also the gateway to Europe's largest national park (actually second largest, but the other one is the entire northeast chunk of Greenland, and I doubt if tourist facilities exist there).

Well, I just had to go, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. Perhaps for the first time on this trip here I found a place that corresponded almost exactly to my preconceived image of a country: sharp mountains with hidden valleys and rushing streams; verdant, mixed forests of pine and hornbeam with the latter beginning to turn russet and golden, heralding the coming of Autumn; the smell of mushrooms mingled with pine needles; the last wildflowers being hurriedly seen to by industrious bees; and, best of all, hardly another soul to be seen during my 3 days hiking. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of towns and marshrutkas and "getting back to nature" was very relaxing and rewarding (whilst I was having lunch on my first day I was surrounded by a group of squirrels who came up to within only 3m of me which was all very cute and Disneyesque). This being nature, there were, of course, a few hardships to deal with, most notably the rain and resultant tracts of swamp I had to traverse (it seems that my shoes, although Gore-Tex at the outset of my trip, can no longer be said to be), often surrounded by stands of nettles, just so that I wouldn't get any thoughts of going around. But I kept my spirits up by talking to myself (I'm already resigned to the fact that I'm mad), solving all the world's problems in my head and singing Monty Python's take on "All Things Bright And Beautiful". Anyway, I'm back in civilisation now so that I can get my fix of internet before heading off again.

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