IREX has taken on a new partner, Radio Nor, a community radio station, in Ninotsminda. Ninotsminda is located near the spot where Georgia, Armenia and Turkey meet. The Lonely Planet guide mostly ignores this part of Georgia. There isn’t much tourist infrastructure. We drove south from the mineral water center of Borjomi past several 12th century castles and terraced fields running up mountains to Akhalkalaki. At one point a bridge crossing a river is an old Soviet train car, but there is no track anywhere near the “bridge.” How did it get here? The road is in need of repair. The IREX office told us that we were to stay at the Hotel Ararat. As we passed through Alhalkalaki, the nearest big town to Ninotsminda, we saw signs for the Hotel Ararat. We followed the signs along a road that rivaled the worst that Juba, South Sudan could offer. The Hotel Ararat was half finished. There were exactly three habitable rooms, and there were three of us. The rooms had nice furniture, hot water and wi-fi but had the overwhelming smell of mildew. The Ararat didn’t have a reservation for us but the lady running it said “So many people call, I lose track.” The woman showed me my room and could see my reaction (to the smell) and defiantly said; “It’s very good…. It’s ok… It’s NORMAL.” We checked in.
On the way to the station or driver, Gela, called Ararat, (also the name of Radio Nor’s station manager), who said that we were staying at the Hotel Ararat in Ninotsminda not Akhalkalaki. There were reservations awaiting us. So we returned to the first Ararat and pulled our stuff out of the mildew infused rooms. The proprietor shrugged. “It happens.” We drove the 20 minutes from one Hotel Ararat to the other Hotel Ararat, just a few meters from the station. The Ninosiminda Ararat had much smaller rooms and was not as well appointed as the Ararat in Akhalkalki, for instance the doors didn’t have locks, but they were relatively clean and did not smell of mildew. The Ararat Ninotsminda had the only restaurant in town. Each table had its own private room. The dinner menu had three items, kebab, barbeque pork, and fish. Both the kebab and barbeque were excellent. Breakfast was eggs, good fresh bread, local fresh cheese and tea.
Ninosminda was named for St. Nino in 1991 after Georgian independence. Its Russian name was Bogdanovka. It is now ethnically Armenian but it had a large Russian population in earlier times. The town is more than 5000 feet above sea level and has rich black soil and good agriculture. It’s famous for dairy products.