Wednesday, 14 December 2011

James meets Bond in Borjomi, Georgia

It was late when we got off the train in Borjomi and we jumped into a taxi. After driving about trying to find somewhere to stay the taxi driver asked whether we were married. We said we were. Reassured he offered us a room in his house. He introduced himself as Bond, James introduced himself as James, and much hilarity ensued. Bond and his wife had aspirations to open a homestay and cash in on the tourists visiting the area. We were their first guests. The house wasn't really suited to having people to stay; to access the bathroom they had to walk through our bedroom. Bond did not speak English but his son had worked in London, and spoke perfect colloquial English with a Cockney accent.

Bond was a fusser, and the next day it took us about an hour to extract ourselves from the house, eventually managing to convince him that we didn't want a taxi. The whole point of coming to Borjomi was to go walking in the National Park; a densely wooded area of the Lesser Caucasus, and one of the largest National Parks in Europe which encompassed nearly 8% of Georgia's territory. We popped into the National Park office, located just out of town, where we registered and picked up our free map. Whilst unsuccessfully trying to get a marshrutka to the start of the hike we also picked up a dog, a little black and white collie cross, who followed us along the busy road to where it turned down a track into the forest. We later found out that she was called Alma.

Not far along the muddy track I spotted a distinctive animal print in the mud. After many trips to North America I could easily distinguish a bear print. This discovery made our forest walk a bit more exciting. The leaves were wonderfully autumnal and the air crisp. We turned off the track onto a little path that zig-zagged up the steep slope eventually popping out on the brow of a ridge where we could get glimpses of the wooded hills beyond.

James complained that it was the hilliest forest he had ever visited. Alma, however, seemed to being enjoying her walk and would wait for us to catch up. The final leg took us through a steep sided gorge where the afternoon sunshine streamed through the autumn leaves, casting a dappled shade on the ground. There we saw the first other hiker of the day just before reaching the park gate. The park warden checked our registration form as we were exiting at which point his huge mountain dog attacked Alma. The howling and yelping eventually subsided and she seemed unharmed. The warden asked us where she had come from and we explained that she had followed us from the park office. He made some phone calls and a man from the village walked up the track to get her. Alma didn't want to be caught and she ran to me, where I reluctantly handed her over. It was I good thing really, I don't know how we would have got her back to Borjomi on the marshrutka.

Borjomi is most famous for its mineral water, which is one of Georgia's primary exports. Although a boycott of Georgian products by Russia after the most recent South Ossetia dispute in 2008 had reduced demand. James had trouble understanding its appeal, describing it as tasting like carbonated sea water. Still, we felt like we should visit the park where the mineral water springs were. This also gave Bond the chance to drive us somewhere, which he was so desperate to do. The park had the usual tasteless amusement rides in typical soviet decay, but we enjoyed the autumn leaves for a couple of hours, and watched people bottle their own supply of the water, before returning to the town to pick up our bags, say a lengthy goodbye to Bond and catch the marshrutka to Kutaisi.

James checks the map

Autumn leaves

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