Tales from Adjara: “The Lake in the Garden of Eden”

Have you ever travelled somewhere and had the gut feeling that your life might not ever be the same afterwards? It may not happen often but there’s nothing to be afraid of. Instead, embrace the moment and enjoy it as much as you can because you are meant to be there. I have been there. Standing in front of an emerald lake whose waters flow from the very bowels of the earth I come from and I felt it. 

To be honest it wasn’t love at first sight. We crossed the Sarpi border by foot and when we stepped into Adjara, the southwestern part of Georgia, I told my friends: “take me back to Turkey!”. Maybe because I wasn’t able to communicate with the Georgians we met or maybe because it was summer, Batumi was crowded and I found it bizarre and shocking but at the time, I wasn’t fully convinced of the journey ahead. 

Adjara is a region that needs time to dive into. The landscape is breathtaking and so easily fallen in love with, but it took me a second trip, months later, to truly realise this. 

While wandering along the promenade with Max, my travel friend from Ukraine, I realised how powerful the mesmerising effect of the Black Sea was. We were planning to go to Borjomi through the Adjara mountains, a road we hadn’t travelled before but my mind was sailing on the undulating waves and my body was surrounded by a warm and salty breeze eager to jump into the water when I heard: “so, are you ready to leave Batumi?”. 

I’m a traveller who follows his feelings and something was telling me that I should stay a bit longer even if it meant to travel alone afterwards. We all know that destiny is unpredictable but we sometimes ignore the fact that it can hold an unexpected surprise for us. While we were gazing at the orange, darkening after sunset, Jana and Robbe— whom I travelled with by hitchhiking from Ankara to Tbilisi two months ago—were planning to come here the next day. 

It had been a week since we arrived in Batumi and we were looking for a relaxing terrace to have a beer by the sea after our unforgettable trips in the Caucasus mountains. Although everybody relates the city with casinos and gambling, to me is like an open-air museum of modern art: there are novelty buildings like the Italian-style square Piazza, the unmistakable 130-metre-high Alphabetic Tower with the 33 Georgian letters arranged in a neon DNA helix pattern and a hotel designed like the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria. 

We were lucky to have met some locals through Couchsurfing who showed us the underground culture of the second-largest city of Georgia and I invited them to have some drinks one last time with us before our next adventure: four backpackers on a journey into the unknown. 

The clatter of the old green Mercedes van hitting the unpaved road kept Robbe and I entertained while hopelessly trying to find an impossible comfortable position on the

dusty floor of the seatless car. I don’t know how but Jana managed to have one of her famous “German power naps”, Robbe was jumping from one window to another trying to record and take good pictures and Max was sat next to Zurab, a 66-year-old Georgian shepherd from the townlet of Khulo who had picked us by the mouth of Çoruh River. 

The landscape of Adjara is truly beautiful and full of contrasts; stone and wooden houses wrapping the slopes and green valleys, vestiges of stone constructions, antique Orthodox churches, tall minarets of the renovated mosques scratching the clear sky, vast forests and charming clearings where you would like to rest after a hike, pure air and cold water refreshing everything they touch and peace. The Caucasus is one of the few resting places on the earth where you can still relish the silence and solitude despite travelling with company 

Once at the beginning of the Adjaristsqali river, we followed it all the way up through the winding road listening to the cheerful traditional Georgian mountain music, a mix of vocal polyphony, drums, string instruments like panduri and chinuri, flute and chiboni, a horn-belled bagpipe. My mom would say that’s “lively enough to wake a dead man”, but not Germans! 

We communicated with Zurab through Max, our Russian-English interpreter and that’s how we knew that our driver was part of the Georgian Muslim minority in Adjara, a region under Ottoman rule back in the 17th century. He explained to us that locals are trying to get winter provisions these days because from November to March the road isn’t accessible due to snow. Thanks to him we found Adjara’s well-hidden treasure 2.025 metres above the sea level, they call it Mtsvane Tba which means “Green Lake”. 

Zurab dropped us in Goderdzi Pass, and we said Didi madloba! (Thank you so much!) and our paths diverged in the same way they crossed two hours ago: stealthily as if it never had occurred. We had everything we needed in our backpacks and we were there, 8 km away from the place Zurab believed could be “the Garden of Eden’s lake”. As I always say, I travel with no plans nor do I hold any expectations…and yet, there I was, speechless, staring vacantly at the emerald waters. 

We decided to watch the sunset on a hill over the lake right after I hung up my hammock. And then out of the blue, we ended up meeting a group of Georgians who kindly invited us to spend the afternoon with them. I will happily admit that this was a perfect ending to the day. We had dinner and toasted the whole night with white wine and chacha, the famous and strong Georgian vine vodka. Suddenly, when we realised, our hosts were gone like the sunset we missed, as they have never existed… 

And then we danced and sang at the will of the ludi (beer), chacha and tetri ghvino until we couldn’t stand any longer and we collapsed on the slightly wet grass. With the energy of Adjara’s pristine nature and our unexpected trip, we gazed at the universe and admired a sky full of stars. One of the best days of our lives.

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