On Wednesday 13 July we left Georgia well rested after an untypically super lazy week in Tblisi. We had to stay this long to wait for our Chinese visum to come through, which it did. We got the 90 plus 90, double entry, six months until first entry visa. This is happy bike traveler-speak for the best kind of visum we could have wished for. Through the ever useful Caravanistan site we found out that the Chinese embassies of Bishkek and Almaty are no longer issuing visas, so we were very happy with this Tbilisi solution. There is no bureaucracy stopping us now, at least not until we get to the border of Laos where we will hope to get a visum on arrival.
We used our visum limbo to sleep in, to shop for some camping supplies (to other bike travelers: most things you would be looking for are impossible to find in Tbilisi) and to enjoy some of the sights as a non-cycling tourist. One day trip that I would recommend to anyone would be the bus from Freedom Sqaure to Davit Gareja, a cave monastery on the border of Azerbaijan. The frescoed caves that make up the monastery are spectacular, as is the desolate and arid landscape around. We left our bikes at home since Tblisi is total mayhem traffic-wise and the public transport is virtually free and easy to navigate. The first two days we were in a busy ‘work’ mode: dropping off our passports at the embassy, running errands, not finding camping gear we were looking for. We then snapped out of the hectic state of mind and headed for the classical boiling hot sulfur baths. Our minds and bodies went into a deep and total relax mode from which we only fully emerged once we got back on the bicycle. These lazy days are needed too, and the recuperation means we are 100% ready for the Armenian mountains.
We managed to pick up two words of the unique Georgian language during our stay: Gamarjoba means hello and madloba means thank you. On our last day we finally remembered one more: Nakhvamdis means goodbye. Nakhvamdis Sakartvelo!
Also: we added more pics to the Georgia photo album
Since the last blogpost in Ushguli we climbed to the 2600m Zagar pass, descended to the lowlands via a very tough dirt track and have come back to the ‘civilisation’ of Tbilisi. We are by now getting a little bit skinnier despite the khachapuri caloriebombs and Cyrils beard is getting pretty wild. Three months on the road already, it is flying by.
After Ushguli we made the final 8km and 500m altitude push for the Zagar pass in perfect weather. The track was bad but again doable because it wasn’t too muddy. No traffic, just us, two French cyclists and snowtopped mountains all around. On the other side of the pass the weather turned foul and we started our descent in clouds and rain on an even worse track. Water was gushing down around us and we had to navigate big stones and rocks. We ended up doing 20km in total that day because the descent was even harder than going up to the pass. We camped in someone’s garden in Tsana village, the first inhabited place we came across. In the following two days we kept descending through lush green and wet mountainland, on narrow roads stuck to steep rock cliffs, riding through the occassional village. The track through the villages is made of mud and a collection of puddles ranging in size from saucer to SUV, filled with a greenish mixture of rain water and cow dung. We slalom around the puddles but sometimes we have to splash right through them. This was too much for the bikes, even for the Rohloff: the shit glued all our moving bike parts together and we had to wash our bikes in a mountain river to be able to keep cycling. We didn’t realize the region would be so uninhabited so in the end we ran out of food and had to do the last 20km to Kutaisi on an empty stomach, including some Ardennes-like steep little climbs in very hot weather. On one of our last nights of camping before Kutaisi we met a group of hiking Ukrainians who had a cooked a very tasty soup and shared some of their food with us.
We loved the 10 days of wildcamping wilderness of Svaneti, but at the same time we were also really looking forward to putting all of our gear through the washing machine and exploring Tbilisi. Again we find ourselves questioning the notion of civilisation as soon as we enter the city: the pollution and the noise of the traffic are overwhelming. Tbilisi has a small old town which is geared towards tourists with souvenir shops, wine bars and guest houses. The rest of the city consists of mostly Soviet housing blocks and new high rise development. It stretches long and narrow from North to South in a river valley between two hill ranges. Insanely busy North-South roads full of shiny new 4WD’s, taxis, beaten up yellow minibuses are impossible to cross for pedestrians. There are no cyclists. Still, the vibe is relaxed and we are quickly finding our way around town by public transport.
We love Georgia and we are very happy with choosing to do the tough but stunning Svaneti loop. It is such a small and quirky country, and considering it’s small size it is disproportionally full of natural beauty, history and culture. The people we have met are kind and funny even though we can’t always share a language. We are happy to find that they love our own quirky little country right back because of Sandra Roelofs, the hugely popular Dutch former first lady.
Today we went to the Tbilisi Botanical Gardens which is a lovely quiet oasis just South of the old town. We have found a bench in the shade next to a river where we are writing, editing photos and reading up on Armenia. Close to the gardens are the Byzyantine sulphur baths which we will enjoy tonight. On Wednesday we will hopefully pick up our Chinese visum before we continue South to Armenia and Iran. We are after all cyclists, we want to keep moving.