"It is hell! How do you cope with the traffic and all the exhaust gases?" a motorcyclist from Bulgaria asked me when we met in Tbilisi yesterday. He was going on the highway route way from Batumi to Tbilisi, the "easy" way, and I was glad that I chose the "difficult" way across the lower Caucasus. No traffic, no exhaust gases. Instead I had to cope with bad gravel pists, sheep, cows, and the choice between one million places for my tent... Let's have a look on it in detail:

In the lower Caucasus of Georgia

I started late in Batumi, around 5 pm last on Tuesday. My liver was still occupied by the Vodka and the temperature was still in their mid-thirties. I was heading for the Goderzhi pass, 2250 m, following the Adzarisckali river. After 25 km I decided to buy some food for dinner and breakfast in a small village, sort of the last opportunity before night falls. My usual biking diet: Tomatoes, green peppers, pasta, cheese, bread and porridge. I put my helmet somewhere but not on my head and realized it only 10 km further upstream, when I heard a car approaching from behind. It was the eco-police with a huge pick-up car. They stopped next to me, handed me over my helmet they found somewhere (but not on my head), asked me where I was going to go and then offered to give me a lift. It was too tempting to deny it, facing heat, hangover and a long climb. Plus it was super easy to load the bike on the car. After they bought me mineral water and ice cream on a gas station (I declined heavily, but I had no chance. "Take this", they only said), they dropped me 30 km and 500 m of altitude further, on a crossroad 7 km before Khulo. It was getting dark, and steep, and I realized I won't make it to Khulo today. The only flat spot I found for my tent was at a construction site for a water power plant, where the workers had a little "garden" with grass, a fountain and a cozy hut with a table. A perfect spot for spending the night. I asked with my hands if I can sleep there, and they immediately agreed. Where ever you meet people, the first question is always the same, and I don't need to know a single word of any language to give the right answer: "Germania", I said. The oldest worker proudly showed me his tatoo, an olympic torch with the letters "DDR " beneath it. After all, the place was not that perfect since they started to use jackhammers to break some rocks, the hole night, maybe 50 m away.
Despite of the disturbance I started early . Around noon I would be in higher altitude to avoid the worst heat. But I encountered georgian obstactles: After only 2 km the pavement changed into a bad gravel pist, and maybe 15 km later I encountered two men selling honey next to the street. They didn't let me pass until we drank 3 glasses of Vodka. Even hiding the glass in my pocket didn't help. When I escaped 20 minutes later, going in curves that haven't been part of the road, I knew I had to take a nap under a tree as soon as I would be out of sight. Fortunately, I was not far from the top and I knew that once I reached it in the afternoon, it would be just a downhill ride to the Zarzma monastery in the next valley. I reached Zarzma at sunset, my tires finally touched asphalt again, and it was for the first time I have seen these typical armenian-orthodox icons with Mary and Jesus in a kind of armour. Finding a place to sleep was not hard. Along the river there are beautiful meadow banks to camp, unfortunately the water was quite ähm, eutrophic. The same river was beautifully clear before the last village, maybe 10 km upstream... I didn't want to bath in there so I went back to the last spring to fill some water bottles to have a shower.

The next day, I wanted to visit the Vardzia monastery, an ancient city originally built underground within the steep rock of a canyon of the river Kura. So I followed this river upstream for the whole day. When I arrived at Vardzia in the evening I was unmotivated to climb up all these stairs. Instead, I felt like resting and having a beer and maybe a swim in the river. Some tents were already at the river bank and when I went there I found a company of 6 very nice Russians that invited me to beer and dinner. They cooked buckwheat, a traditional russian dish, perfectly suited to refill cyclists muscle depots. Sometimes, I wonder if I am extraordinarily lucky and the things that I wish just occur to me, or if there is some statistical mean of good and bad luck and I just see the good luck. Whatever it is, I think I have an incredible amount of luck. We had a very nice evening with campfire and watching shooting stars, with even some political discussion and flute and ukulele music. They even had an appointment with the guards to visit the monastery in the morning before it opens the gates at 10, so we could see the caves without masses of tourists.

 

The pleateaus between Akhalkalaki and Tbilisi


The next two days I spend with cycling in the dry and hot climate, along the Paravani river to Akhalkalaki and then further on a beautiful plateau to Poka on the Paravani lake, where I saw a sign to a monastery with a "nunnery cheese shop", in the middle of f****** nowhere! Interesting enough and since I was really hungry and craving for cheese, I went into the monastery and bought some special cheese from a nun. It surely must have been special, since I paid as much as I usally do for two days of food. Then I visited the church, which was decorated with tons of gold. It now occured to me: This monastery turns cheese into gold, like Cheesus did turn water into wine. Shortly after, I overcame the Tukmatash pass followed by a nice downhill ride to Tsalka lake. I spend a night away from any village on a plateau of roughly 1700 m  altitude, where I had a great view on the stars again. The next afternoon, I reached Tbilisi.

 

Tbilisi


Tbilisi has a lot of run down art nuveau buildings, next to even older buildings with wooden balconies. It is a shame that the nice work just falls apart, but on the same time this is exactly what makes it particularly charming. And then there is some shiny modern architecture like the pedestrian "peace bridge" and the parliament.

The people's faces show the same kind of contrast. Lots of old men sitting in front of houses, but then there is the young folk partying in the clubs around the Meydan Square.

When I was walking around in Tbilisi, it was Laundry day.

I went to a tiny bike shop on the edge of the town, the only one I could find. The bearing in the front hub seems to be a bit loose and I am afraid that it might get worse and break in the most uncomfortable moment, i.e. in the middle of the Turkmenistan desert on the last day of the visa. When I entered the shop with my dirty, heavy steel bike, the 3 guys in the shop went quite and just stared at me. I think they never saw someone actually USING a bike. I felt like in a cheesy Yakuza movie and the next thing I expected was one of them  dropping a big wrench with a reverberant pling pling noise, but the situation was funny enough. When examining the hub they  just said "big problem" but couldn't help me. So, I will continue cycling, hoping for the best. There is nothing I can really do, anyway.


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