After our final meetings in Tsalenjikha, our guides took us to the border crossing at Rukhi, where on the other side of the bridge is Abkhazia. This is still an area of palpable tension, and photographers are not particularly welcomed, even if you are only taking pictures of the shared sky over the dividing line of the Inguri river. Lines of people are passing back and forth, with limited permission to visit their families on the other side, carrying large plastic bags of various goods – one woman has a shopping bag with just one wheel, as she balances it she veers to one side and them the other, making her journey twice as long. A horse and cart passes a large metal sculpture of a pistol with the barrel twisted in a knot. It points toward Abkhazia and a line of Russian soldiers. (In August 2008, during the war between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, Russian troops used Abkhazia to open another front with Georgia). There are very few vehicles negotiating the border – most people are on foot.
As the sun sets we reach Poti and meet Tengiz Khukhia, General Manager of Poti State Drama Theater (and former participant of summer school), at the lighthouse on the shore where the Riuoni river enters the Black Sea. Here is the point, legend has it, the Argonauts made landfall before travelling into the interior. To the south, Lake Paliastomi, to the north the busy docks of the city. Behind us, Kundzuli cemetery and the Monastery named after the Iberin Holy Mother icon.
We visited the Museum of Colchian Culture, which was originally built in 1907 for a merchant by a German architect. This was a time of expansion and modernisation of the city under the patronage of the mayor Niko Nikoladze (1894-1912). There is a considerable wealth of ancient artifacts gathered here, pre Roman and pre-Greek – though all the more valuable items are currently in storage in the vaults of bank, as the building is in need of much refurbishment. Here is also a room devoted to the story of the Argo, and information about a recreation of the legendary journey by writer and explorer Tim Severin. We are given a tour of the museum collections by the Director, Elene Gabliani.
We then visited a former synagogue, which is being restored for use as a multi-cultural centre, and finally to the premises of the Valerian Gunia State Theatre. A stunning new 800 seater theatre for the company is currently being built in the centre of the town (the older one is in the picture below). The first theatrical performances in Poti date back to 1882, which were initiated by a local priest Kirile Macharashvili.