Talking out of his assphalt
Top travel tip: ask locals for recommendations to find unforgettable cycle routes.
Let us introduce Giorgi (not his real name). We met Giorgi at a crossroads in Georgia, about 200km from Tbilisi. Giorgi is in his late forties, has five day stubble on his low hanging jowels and looks like he drinks considerably more than is healthy for him. He works in road maintenance and has stretched a small hi-vi jacket around his large frame. He holds a ‘GO’ traffic sign in our direction but looks like he stopped a long time ago.
Not to be deterred by first impression, we give Giorgi a big smile and approach him on our bikes. We have a decision to make: to the north is the busy Georgian tarmac-ed highway, to the south is a quiet route which weaves its way through a beautiful Nature Reserve. But we have 50km of climbing ahead and rain from the night before means our heavy bikes will struggle on muddy unpaved roads.
If anyone knows about local road surfaces it is going to be someone, like Giorgi, working in road maintenance, right?
Matt approaches Giorgi, points to the southern road and using Google translate shows him ‘Is the road good or bad?’. Giorgi reads the translation, smiles and gives us a thumbs up. Matt looks at Harriet and shrugs. Harriet is sceptical so tries a more pointed question on Google translate ‘Is the road surface asphalt?’ and points to the southern road. It’s 50km of uphill with more rain forecast; we needed to get this right. Giorgi reads the translation, smiles again and gives us a bigger thumbs up.
We leave the highway, smug that we are finding the undiscovered cycle routes in Georgia.
We don’t know if Giorgi was hurt by a cyclist as a child, hates tourists or is simply an evil person, but he told us a big fat lie. About 5km into the southern road the asphalt disappeared and our wheels were slipping and sliding in mud.
The muddy road was very slow progress and it took us almost 4 hours to cover 45km climbing uphill. We managed to stay upbeat by joking about what we’d do to Giorgi if we ever managed to track him down.
Of course, we saw some fantastic sights in the Nature Reserve, but we refused to let the amazing scenery spoil our resentment of Giorgi. There were mountain villages untouched by time, spectacular natural rock cliffs and friendly locals offering us vodka - not that we’d admit this to Giorgi.
We’ve made it to Tbilisi for a couple of days off the bikes. Sadly the land border between Georgia and Azerbaijan is still closed to tourists and the boat across the Caspian Sea isn’t taking foreign passengers. The alternative land routes via Iran or Russia do not look practical, so we’re flying to Aktau in Kazakhstan on Thursday and will pick up our route on the other side of the Caspian Sea in the Kazakh desert. Until then, the bikes are getting some TLC and we’re making the most of Georgian wines before hitting the dry, dry desert.
This week’s highlights
Befriending an old, wee, one-eyed Russian-speaking farmer who was delighted to find out we were from ‘Shot-landia’ and, as a parting gift, stretched up to give Matt a couple of wet kisses on his neck, unable to reach his cheek as Matt desperately strained his head away
Sitting on a curb eating our breakfast and being called over by a friendly local to use his garden seats. He gave us plates, fruit and brought out a litre of his homemade wine insisting we try it with our breakfast. At 09.30. He then gave us the whole bottle to take with us for the day’s cycling ahead!
Staying with Claudia and Kristoff, a German couple who had travelled around Europe by campervan for 1 year before selling it and buying their beautiful Georgian home
Georgian food. Local and hearty
This week’s lowlights
A couple of Georgian men getting a bit too close for comfort to Matt (we know, who can blame them?)
The rainiest night we’ve had on the entire trip. Luckily we were under some trees and, unlike the tent, the spirits weren’t too dampened
This week’s major lowlight
The sad death of Dervla Murphy. A true pioneer of cycling and adventure. Imagine cycling from Ireland to India on your own in 1963?! Wonderful stuff.