Until the war with Abkhazia (1992-93) we could equally have headed north, to Sokhumi. But now Abkhazia remains closed and in a tragic state of neglect due to the ongoing political stalemate.
About half way there we make a quick detour into Georgia's largest national park at Borjomi. Great furry mountains rise up on either side of the car, covered in lime green trees; below them spring flowers carpet the ground. Soso points upwards. "I used to work here," he says. "It's Georgia's best park. It has bear, wolves, many kinds of eagle, and is chosen by the World Wildlife Fund. They are making tourist trails."
But with no time to follow any, three hours later the jeep is rolling across the Ajarian border. To our right the sun begins to stab out long, orange fingers across a perfectly still Black Sea. Already the landscape has made its abrupt transformation to palms and undulating hills. Tea plantations climb up the picturesque foothills at Kobuleti, interspersed with fruit and citrus groves. In Soviet times tea was a large industry, and it is only now discovering its export potential again.
To our right, fishermen silhouette against the sky. We open the window and the blasting air carries the tang of eucalyptus and sea-borne salt.