Archives for posts with tag: hiking

Having spent most of May injured and recuperating, I was itching to get out of the city and be active now that I was feeling better, but I was sure that my endurance had taken a hit from not doing much other than stretching for a month. A friend posted on Facebook that he was organizing a group hike to Lagodekhi, and it was suitable for beginners, so it seemed like it could be the perfect thing for me to get back at it. I’ve heard Lagodekhi is beautiful, but I’d never been there, and it was supposed to be a fairly flat and easy trail. Perfect! But the weather foiled our plans. Weather reports were divided as to whether or not it was raining in Lagodekhi at the time of our departure, but there had been 3 days of rain before, so the trail would have been MUDDY. We decided as a group to go instead to Ateni in Shida Kartli, where the weather was supposed to be lovely. One of my co-workers has a village house in Ateni, and she always brings us the most wonderful fruit from her orchard, so it seemed like a fine idea to me.

Ateni isn’t a very long drive from Tbilisi, so that’s definitely a mark in its favor. It took us a few tries to locate the right bridge in the village to start our hike from, but once we were there we began by following the road through the village up the hill easily enough (the entire hike followed that road, though “road” became a less accurate description the further we went). I was off to a good start, feeling strong on my way up the hill. I started to feel it right before the trail split, though. There was a fortress (I believe it was Veres Tsikhe) off to the left, and we were given the option to either go see the fortress, or take a little break. Though I love fortresses, I knew I should conserve my energy, so I sat and took a break with another girl in the group.

The others returned, citing steep walls and snakes (!) and we were off on our hike again. This section of the trail was much harder than before as it was pretty much straight up the mountain, and I was definitely starting to get tired. Every time I thought we’d reached the summit, another hill appeared beyond the meadow. One time we even left the trail and were climbing a hill so steep the ground was nearly right in front of my face. After I while I was only managing to trudge 3 steps before taking a mini-break, with my hip flexors aching all the way (that was new! Usually it’s my thighs that burn from hiking).

I thought we’d reached the top, but was confronted with yet another hill before we reached the church. But, you know what? I was done. I’ve never done that before…given up and stopped. But this hike was much harder than I had planned, and I was starting to wonder if I would have the strength to get back down the mountain. I’ve also seen plenty of Georgian churches at this point. I was in a safe and comfortable place, so I told the others to go on without me, and I waited in that nice mountain meadow. I made sure the friend I had come with and the hike leader knew where I was, and I dropped a pin on Google maps and sent my location to a friend not in the group, and then I just laid down in that meadow and rested. Actually, I had a really great time there, watching the clouds and thinking. I initially wished I had brought my Kindle, or that my phone had gotten internet reception, but in the end I only got bored about 10 minutes before the others returned. It took them more than 2 and a half hours to get up and back (they had estimated 45 minutes), so it was a difficult hike. Apparently that section of trail was really muddy and slippery, making it even more of a challenge. Staying was 100% the right decision for me at that time. When they returned, some of the others told me they wished they had stayed with me, and even those who didn’t mind the hike said that the view wasn’t so much better to justify the difficult walk (some of them may have been trying to make me feel better, but I don’t think all of them were).

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The church I did not visit atop the mountain I did not climb.

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The sights I saw on this trip.

Refreshed, I kept up with the others and was able to chat and socialize on the way down, which seemed so much shorter! The scenery was pretty and I didn’t re-injure myself, so even though I had to give up, I’m calling the day a success.

Note: I believe the fortress I didn’t visit was Veres Tsikhe, and though I’m pretty sure I located the “road” we followed on the map, I can’t find a name for the church at the top.

The Loneliest Planet (Image from Wikipedia)

The Loneliest Planet

Language: English, some Georgian (not meant to be understood), Spanish verb declensions (good practice for me!)

Availability: available on DVD in the US

I can’t really say if this film was good or bad. It isn’t really a movie, as much as it is a gorgeously-filmed hike. Basically, you watch Gael Garcia Bernal, Hani Furstenberg and Bidzina Gujabidze hike through the Caucasus Mountains and deal with interpersonal issues. It’s certainly an interesting and eventful hike, the scenery is beautiful, and the actors are good (some of it I couldn’t tell if it was scripted or ‘reality show’). I heard a rumor when the film was first released that Gujabidze was a professional mountain guide, not an actor, but I can’t find any corroborating information. Though this was his first film, he has also appeared in a 2015 Georgian film so he may have changed careers. This film will give you a good sense of Georgian “anecdotes” that just do not translate well. There was also a funny bit on swearing in Georgian and English, if you’re interested in picking up some colorful vocabulary. If you are looking for a fast-paced or plot-heavy movie, though, this isn’t for you. As for me, I did enjoy watching the film, but thought it was a bit long given the style and subject matter.

I wish taking the waters were still considered a legitimate medical expense, because after my weekend at Borjomi I feel so relaxed.  (Perhaps I should check with my insurance company, just to make sure they won’t cover this sort of thing?)  My friends and I were looking for something different to do last weekend, and the slightly-more-than-2—hour marshrutka trip West from Tbilisi into the Lesser Caucasus in Borjomi seemed like just the ticket.  A friend of mine connected us with Marina’s Guesthouse, which was a comfortable, inexpensive, welcoming place to base our explorations (and the carrot chutney/sauce she gave us with fried eggs for breakfast was amazing!).  Our main goal for Friday was getting ourselves to Borjomi and finding the guesthouse, so upon our arrival we went to dinner at the Bistro Aguna, where Marina arranged for us to get a discount on the tasty Georgian food.  That evening we relaxed and joined the other guest in playing Czech card games in the kitchen (Czech cards are very pretty, but as someone who is weak at card games using “normal” cards, I wasn’t much of a threat).

We started our day Saturday with a visit to the tourism information center—Arthur was a real gem, and he set us up with excellent directions and recommendations for the rest of our stay.  We decided to start off at the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, and attempted to walk “Trail 7”, an easy three-kilometer introduction to the park.  While the walk wasn’t too difficult (though there were far more steep slopes than you would usually see on an “easy” trail in the US), finding the trail wasn’t exactly simple.  The woods were beautiful, and we amused ourselves playing the game “Contact”, but we had trouble following the trail through the multiple unmarked branchings-off.  Ultimately found ourselves following a stream into the town of Likani, and walking back to the National Park Visitors’ Center along the main road.

Lovely view from the non-trail in the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Forest

We grabbed some lobiani and khachapuri on our walk back into town, and walked to the Borjomi Mineral Water Park.  The Mineral Water Park starts with the groomed gardens you would imagine of a place where 19th-Century Russian aristocrats came to take the waters, complete with gazebos framing the springs themselves and free public wireless sponsored by Beeline.  Further into the park the manicured gardens give way to American mountains (or, to use more familiar language: roller-coasters) and Georgian mountains (the real thing).  In the section of amusement park attractions, my friends convinced me to ride a roller-coaster for the first time, and it was far more fun and less stomach-churning than I expected it to be.

Em in front of her very first roller coaster (or American mountains, if you prefer) in the Borjomi Mineral Water Park

Further and further into the park, the man-made appearance disappears and visitors can enjoy a nice stroll through the woods.  At the far end of the park is a spring-fed swimming pool, but this isn’t the kind of pool to walk to wearing your flip-flops.  One of the bridges across the trail was washed out (according to friends who’ve visited previously, this particular bridge was a log and a rope to hang on to), so we followed a local in scrambling up and around the mountain to reach the pool.  The adventurous walk was well-worth the trouble, though.  This was the best swimming pool I’ve ever been in (and as a former competitive swimmer and water polo player, I do have some basis for comparison).  Although it was too small to swim laps and too shallow to dive, the water was the perfect temperature and the surroundings were STUNNING.

The most beautifully-situated swimming pool I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, not one of my better photos, but you should get the idea…

We stayed in the pool for the rest of the afternoon, and then hiked back to Marina’s house for showers and dinner.  We had an excellent dinner at the Hotel Pesvebi Restauraunt (which may or may not be affiliated with the Shemoikhede Genatsvale restaurant chain from Tbilisi) in the old train station—I enjoyed that since we were further West the food was a bit spicier than we usually get in Kakheti or Tbilisi.  We went to bed early that evening, and I fell asleep with the happy/exhausted feeling I haven’t had often since I stopped swimming every day.

Sunday morning one of our party decided to prolong his stay in Borjomi and take advantage of his “once in a lifetime opportunity” to go on a horseback ride through the National Park.  My other friend and I were a bit less ambitious, and went for a stroll and visited the Museum of Local Lore.  The English-language signs in the museum were of excellent quality, and the museum itself had some interesting attractions.  I found the display of old Borjomi bottles and advertisements the most interesting—one of the old advertisements for Borjomi (in Russian) was a bit alarming, though.  It referred to the water as “radioactive”.  Hmmm….

That afternoon we had to get back on the marshrutka and return to our real lives, but as we told Marina when we left: we’ll be back!  Borjomi has been the first place I’ve visited in Georgia where I’ve really felt like I was relaxed and on vacation, and is my favorite destination so far.

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