You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
Excursions Day. The Ministry thoughtfully provided a day of excursions for the Ramsar delegates, three busloads visiting three protected areas in different order to avoid overcrowding.
Kristin and my Communications successor Oana viewing the new wetland interpretation centre at Kolkheti National Park, near Poti to the north of Kobuleti. The 1947 Nature Reserve became a Ramsar Site when Georgia joined the Convention in 1997, and that prompted the World Bank and GEF to financially support its outfitting as a National Park in 1999. The ship model recalls the lingering resentment about Jason and the Argonauts, who came to steal the Golden Fleece from the ancient kingdom of Colchis -- a kingdom founded in about 2000 BC and apparently the origin of the name Kolkheti.
Ramsar staff (and Kristin) learning about management practices within the protected area. Speaking of Greek mythology, Prometheus also got chained up and liver-eaten by the gods here for telling humans about fire, and the Amazon warrior-babes lived here as well. So did Medea. And her auntie Pasiphaë, mother of the Cretan Minotaur. None of that matters now.
We're going out into the reserve, first across the enormous lake Paliastomi just southeast of Poti
Chilly catamaran ride on Lake Paliastomi
A ranger's hut as we pass from the lake up into the Pichori River
A cold day in a normally subtropical micro-climate along the eastern Black Sea coast that makes this river look like a real Amazon.
With an escort of government inspectors and Ministry of Tourism guides
At least it's not a copulating frog
Birds, with the city of Poti in the distance. Kolkheti is on a main Eurasian flyway and supports gazillions at the right times of the year.
Where the river runs back out into the lake -- something about an ancient church being discovered underneath, I didn't quite catch it. The big problem here has been the construction of the Kulevi oil terminal on peatlands within the Ramsar site, begun in 1999 -- Ramsar sent a mission here in August 2005 to advise on likely consequences and compensation measures -- and completed and launched in 2008.
The Ramsar site sign and another bird
Back to the Park's HQ and the docks. Thanks, rangers, and thanks inspectors and boat drivers, too. Time for lunch.
Into downtown Poti for lunch
Very good traditional Georgian food and appalling soda pop in a charming old wine bar. Kristin and my colleagues Montse and Oana.
Each table of four gets enough food for a platoon of the Georgian army for a week. Generous, but alarming.
Out of the wine bar and soon to be off to our next nature spot. But first, I asked if we could have a quick look at the port of Poti.
That's it, through the bus window. In the war of August 2008 the Russians sank the Georgian navy here (a couple of patrol boats and a missile-launcher), and rolled the tanks out into the adjacent countryside. The USA, determined to "stand up" for its client president Mr Saakashvili without taking any risks, symbolically sent a "humanitarian ship" to force its way into Poti port to demonstrate that nobody can push Old Number One's friends around, but nerve failed understandably and the "humanitarian ship" dropped out of the news. I just wanted a good picture, but like the humanitarian ship I backed off asking anyone to stop the bus for me.
Our second stop, Ispani Mires again, and Nick and Kristin earnestly voyeuring the copulating frogs
In fact, everyone is voyeuring the copulating frogs, and the noise is croakingly horrific.
Ramsar and Georgian staff in the swamp, stalked by silent Georgian park rangers. The professionally effervescent young lady in the high heels was from the Tourism Office in Batumi and professed, at the end of the tour, that her life had been changed by having met us.
Informed lectures on the flyways in the region (I was flywayed out by that time).
We're off to see the sphagnum bogs. Normally, visitors here wear a kind of snowshoes to walk atop the vegetation, but since we're short of time today they chose to let us sink up to our ankles in the soup.
Swamp enthusiasts were ecstatic, but I found it a lot of work for sphagnum.
Kristin and a Georgian friend ankle-deep in a sphagnum peat bog
Kristin and a ranger. Now for our third nature experience of the day.
After a fairly hair-raising half-hour bounce up a single track rocky road in those little trucks, we're in the Mtirala National Park in the mountains above Batumi and Kobuleti. Our Iraqi delegates are getting ready to join us on a hike to the waterfall.
After an excellent presentation and traditional treats, Denis and Sandra are taking photographs of the interpretation panels. Probably the one where the English panel identified a 'Black Swan' with a picture of a Black Stork.
We're a heterogeneous group as we start up the mountain trail to see the waterfalls.
Landslides in the region don't slow the Georgian rangers down, so Yasaman from Iran is determined to keep up.
Time ran out, though, and our waterfall hike ran out of steam. Whilst Ramsarians dithered, Kristin led the march back to the crowd of SUVs.
A couple of our guides are explaining to Kristin how we can get back up here on our own sometime, to see the waterfalls -- basically, their advice was to take a taxi.
Tomorrow start the Plenaries!