What happens in Georgia

Doesn’t really have to stay in Georgia. So much so that I am writing this from my hotel bed in Astrakhan. These last few days I’ve been really very tired, exhausted even to write anything. Sometimes I even start downloading the pictures or videos to the computer and fall asleep while it happens. I’ve been tired because of the long rides and the bad roads but my Russian adventures are something I’ll tell later, maybe from Kazakhstan. I just want to put into pixels and truetype fonts things that happened in Georgia because I had such a good time there and I don’t want to forget. There won’t be a lot of details, I hope you understand. So here it is, in no particular order.

  • At the border, I met Neil. As I was getting ready to leave Hopa, I saw a biker zoom past on the main road. White helmet is the only thing I saw. As I arrived to Sarp (the border), I made a point of pulling up right next to the other bike. The other Yamaha Ténéré. Wait, what? Yes, same bike, this has to be Neil. We chatted a bit, had a caffeine soda in a red can and we were off to Batumi. The border was a breeze and buying insurance too. Because none was sold.
Two Teneres
Neil wearing his spare helmet
  • I had planned to go to Svaneti but decided against it while I was on the road. There will be other beautiful mountains on the road and right now I feel like going straight to Tbilisi, I thought. There was other beautiful mountains in Kazbegi but little did I know of the Chinese crisis that was brewing (more to come later, not now). On the road I met this other biker on a 650GS. Victor is a Spanish soldier and he’s been to Afghanistan. He had problems with his bike, presumably a Friday afternoon bike at the BMW factory, so I offered to escort him to Tbilisi just in case his bike would die on the way. It did, 300m away from our hostel. The next day he decided to turn back Europe-side to get it repaired under warranty. Too bad, he was planning to go to Azerbaijan, he even had the visa. He was also very generous with me and when he heard I had no mosquito net, he gave me his. That’s going to be useful sooner or later!
With Victor
Glad to see I’m not the only one wearing black pants around the Caucasus
  • On my way to the homestay after Batumi, I left the main road to take a trail because a sign indicated a historical site, a fortress. Tired of the trail I wanted to stop and pulled the brake at the wrong spot, lost my footing and the bike fell. After struggling to lift it for 3 or 5 minutes, the guy at whose doorstep I had dropped the bike took his car to travel the 20 meters that separated him from the gate, helped me lift the bike, gave me cold water and then invited me to come into the house to have lunch. Wait, what? Yes, as soon as he got in, his wife started putting dishes in front of me: ham, salad, mashed potatoes, watermelon, hachapuri and other Georgian specialties I couldn’t recognize (lubia?). When I had finished eating, he took the car and showed me around the sites of the village: an old Ottoman bridge, a fortress and then went off to get some mineral water from a source nearby and sent me on my way to Khulo.
  • Georgians wave at you when you pass by and if you stop they want to know where you’ve come from. Probably invite you home and give you lunch too.
  • Kazbegi is a beautiful place
Kazbegi
Beautiful road in Kazbegi
  • At the hostel in Tbilisi I met more cyclists (2 Finnish women). I’m very fond of cyclists. They remind me of my cycling trips. These two ladies where going to cycle around Georgia and then back to Finland. One of them suffered coeliac disease and had the guys at the hostel write her a sign in Russian and Georgian saying “I’m highly allergic to all wheat and flour products”. I hope she’s alright, with all the bread Georgians eat she could have a difficult time. There was also Andres, Polish guy working at the hostel. Spoke flawless English, no Polish accent whatsoever and gave me good tips about Russian roads and the border. And Eriko, the Japanese girl who used to work at the hostel, who had travelled through Iran on her own and found Georgian hospitality almost rude compared to Iranian hospitality and who now wants to move somewhere else, possibly Ukraine to improve her (non-existent) Russian. Is everything connected in this part of the world or is it me?
  • While randomly strolling around old Tbilisi I ran into Russian Nina and Swiss Matthieu whom I had met at the Eiffel Tower Hostel 2 days before and spent the rest of the afternoon with them on their free guided tour of the old city. Nice.
Oldest church in Tbilisi
Oldest church in Tbilisi

All these and many other things happened in Georgia but now I have to go to sleep. Tomorrow, the road to Kazakhstan awaits and she is a hard mistress, the road.

UPDATE:

  • And Georgia is just such a place for travelers that at some corner on a bad road leading to Goderdzi pass where I spent the night (homestay, Gela, Anastasiya and Maxim, remember?) I saw a bike, an Aprilia parked and 4 people and 2 kids around it. You can’t ride an Aprilia 6-up, or any other bike fwiw, unless you are in Vietnam of course. I hadn’t seen it before stopping but there was also a 4WD with a Lithuanian plate on the other side of the road. It turned out that the bike had intercepted the car because the 2 riders were Danish Erik and Lithuanian Marija who just wanted to talk to the Lithuanian drivers, Janka and Dovydas who are going to Bangkok by car and crossing China in August with a different, better tour company than ours. They were all very nice and we had a short chat and exchanged email addresses before getting on the road again. The kids were just Georgian kids interested in the strange meeting.
Road meetings
Met nice people at a random curve on a bad road in Georgia

Сударь, Astrakhan, Astrakhan, Russia

If you are in Batumi

… chances are you are doing something pretty cool, told me Dan from the Eiffel Tower Hostel when I started telling him about the number of amazing people I had met only by getting out to the streets of Batumi.

This quiet beach city only 14km away from Turkey seems to be a mandatory stop for world travelers. I’ve met Iranians going around the world on bicycles, a Belarusian journalist going around the world with a backpack and a laptop, a young Ukrainian couple just starting their hike around the world, a French woman going around the Black Sea on her boat and her Spanish boathiker (or is it hitchboater?). It must be its position by the sea and so close to the Turkish border.

So, I went out on the afternoon of my rest day with the intention of resting at the beach with my book but it was too hot and the beach is a cobblestone beach so I took refuge at the little park behind the beach, which has benches and palm trees. There I was in that blissful state that is somewhere between reading a good book and taking a nap when I spotted a little group of cyclists that were laying their clothes on the benches and I decided it would be good to talk to them. I like cyclists, they remind me of when I used to travel by bicycle and make me want to do it again. We started talking and a very nice conversation followed, they were Iranians on their long way to Canada, two of them at least. The third one spoke little English. If I have ever complained about any visa issue, forget about it. These guys are Iranians, that’s about as bad as a passport can get and they had just been refused their Schengen visa, bummer. They were also having money problems and selling bracelets to get some money to survive for the weekend until their bank would respond to their message and unblock some funds. They have a nice Unicef flag on one of the bicycles and they are riding the world to remind people that dreams do come true when you get up and work on them. Something I can really relate to, if you know what I mean. They call themselves Dream Makers. Here’s a picture of us where they were selling bracelets and I was eating döner kebap.

with Soma and Soha
Selling bracelets with Soma and Soha

They were taught how to make the bracelets and the basics of street selling by Roman, a Belarusian journalist also traveling around the world but as a backpacker, hitchhiker and general purpose freeloader. A pretty cool guy too but I think I have no picture of him.

I spent the whole afternoon and evening with them, sharing hachapuri and talks with police about the legality of street selling. Actually that last bit was handled by a Georgian teenager who had taken to himself (after buying a bracelet of course) to help them with police. Towards midnight, Roman suggested I should go to the port and meet this cool French woman that lives on a boat, that I wouldn’t be bored if I talked to her. And so I met Maguelonne and she invited me to share some Georgian wine on her boat with her and Xavi, her Spanish freeloader. Maguelonne works a few months a year for humanitarian projects (mostly in Africa) and then goes back to wherever she left her boat the last time and lives for as long as she can on the boat. It’s her home. Xavi, on the other hand is traveling with an undefined route to the East, preferring Muslim countries above others and makes documentaries about his travels. They didn’t give me any website address to share.

Back at the hostel, other world travelers were also to be met. Enter Anastasiya and Maxim, two young (very young) Ukrainians hitchhiking around the world and supporting themselves with their online businesses. They had just started their trip when we met and arrived by ferry to Batumi from Ukraine. As if they knew already that Batumi is such a place. They left the Ukraine with only 130 dollars in their pockets but I’m sure their industriousness will serve them well and their online businesses will support them during their trip. The last night in Batumi they also decided (like me) to go spend the night at Dan’s host family’s summer farm in the mountains, here:

Sunset in Goderdzi
Sunset in Goderdzi

At the farm we shared some tasty home-made food: vegetables, cheese, cream, hachapuri, bread. All of it home-made and delicious. Nastya and Maxim are raw vegans in normal time but they could not refuse the delicious food that we were being served. And it would have been impolite to refuse it too. The family that received us is a Muslim family so they ate after sunset while we had eaten just before. They were all extremely nice, albeit the difficulties in communicating: my Russian plus their English put together are not even at the level of baby talk.

Our hosts in Goderdzi
The family, Nastya and Maxim and I

And here’s a couple of bonus pictures until I upload the album.

With the bike
Gela and his neighbor wanted a pic with the bike
Bike and truck
The Z leaning against one of the immortal Soviet trucks

Bertha and Arthur Suttner's House, Tbilisi, Tbilisi, Georgia