21 July 2016 – 18 September 2016
Packed in our poncho’s and rain jackets we crossed the small Georgian border with no waiting queues joehoe! The joehoe lasted until we bought some bread which was twice the price compared to Turkey. When we were looking for a toilet we had to pay money to use it, and the granny in front of it did not seem to know what a smile meant. The faces of the people seemed to look a bit less friendly and we concluded we had to get out of the border area. So we cycled two hours in the full rain up to Batumi! The roads were hard to ride. Thereby are Georgian people famous for there crazy drive style. There was no space next to the roads and lots of holes and/or cows, so it was important to stay focused in this dog weather.
After two hours we reached the famous coastal holiday place Batumi. This is a modern city with exciting architecture, and everyone is telling it is such a booming place, especially in summer. The most Georgians like this city, and Claudia was planning to stay in a recommended hostel. We prepared our vegetables at the beach where met two sweet 14-year old girls that could learn us some basic Georgian. We remembered two words. We could camp in the hostel’s garden, only this still costed money, and Sara was tired because of the rainy day and all the changes, so she and Chris decided to walk around and explore a bit.
This turned out to be a great idea. We stopped at a little bakery to see how they make Georgian bread: they stick the dough on the inside walls of a clay oven. And here we met crazy Lasha, the greatest introduction to Georgia. A bread was pushed in our hands and two minutes later we were shotting away local Georgian cognac, to cool down our mouth and taste with zips of wine. A good way to get drunk. In a bakery.
Lasha explained us some Georgian traditions, like the Tamadar. Later we heard it’s not typically Georgian, but comes more from the Soviet period. The tamadar is the boss of the table that gives all toast and orders people to drink. If he says you have to drink, you have to drink, there is no escaping. Every glass has a nice toast that comes with some life lessons. The one we liked was that Lasha says remember you as travelers there are always people at home that miss you and that want you to return. There are always people that care about you and that you should ever forget that. It was hard not to let a tear.
Lasha invited us to stay the night at his home when he heard we had no sleeping place yet. We met his lovely wife who could speak perfectly German and his cute kid. The next day we obviously woke up with a hangover. In the morning we were offered some coffee, but suddenly Lasha said with a very serious face: ‘do you want a beer? A beer? At 10 o’clock in the morning? ‘It’s good for the hangover’ Lasha replied. We could skip the beer, but an hour later with breakfast it was inevitable to escape the vodka. So at 12 o’clock we had several shots of vodka in our stomach that made us take a nap till three, until Lasha kicked us out because he had some other guests coming.
From west to east
Chris and I left Batumi in the late afternoon and found a camping spot just outside of the city. This evening we had our first Kachapuri. This is famous Georgian bread with melted cheese inside, you also have a variant with an egg in the middle. Very heavy, but delicious when homemade. It took some minutes because the old grandma could only speak Russian, could not walk so good and was overall not so in a hurry. It looked like she was surprised she had some customers. But it was worth the waiting, it was the first and one of the best kachapuri’s we had. In the dark we looked for a spot, riding small roads to end up at a somewhat quiet spot.
The thing is: we wanted to get to the Rainbow festival that was already running for some weeks as fast as possible. So we cycled and hiked our way around from west to the east northern part of the country as fast as we could. Sara was a bit sad to skip suddenly great parts of the country, especially because we got some great tips for in the northern western part of Georgia. But under the motto: we will just go back, we rushed our way to the Rainbow.
The next day, we had a good cycling day, trying some other Georgian food, chinkali (dumplings with meat inside) and we noticed that we ordered way too much. In Georgia it’s important to always choose the small portion, because the normal portions are huge and heavy. In the evening we ended up at a grass field in a tiny village. After asking one or three locals for permission, we build up our tent; to notice quickly we had become the talk of the town already and everybody was gathering around us. The Georgian mothers seeing a tent for the first time in their lives and sticking their heads inside to have a look around. Also they were very curious about our mattresses and sleeping bags, like they had never seen such things.
We even had to defend our tent place, because the middle aged man in the town was not agreeing with our spot. He tried to drag our tent two meters aside. We pulled it bag with smiley faces, because it was not flat enough. And then the drunk man of the village came. He became a bit of a pain in the ass talking very loud, insisting, grabbing us firmly by the arm when we did not pay enough attention to him. He gave our present: a chinkali to get a bit sober, to the dog and for a minute we thought he would never get away. Then fortunately his son came and after multiple attempts he was taken to his home. Welcome to Georgia!
Here we also met Giga, a 30-year old father that could speak very well English and invited us to sleep at his place. However we already had built the tent, so we agreed for coffee the next morning. That was a great idea. They invited us for breakfast: fruits, kachapuri, self made lemonade, coffee, sweets and a glass of their self made wine at 10 o’ clock in the morning. His beautiful wife could speak German and the old Grandma, the boss of the house, was a joy. Giga gave us great tips in Georgia, they gave us some Georgian history lessons which were a bit subjective we had the feeling. But it was nice to hear some local opinions. We thanked them for their enormous hospitality and left the road Jack!
We cycled some hours until we stopped at the road to try our first hike. In two minutes we got lucky, a Dutch van stopped with a German caravan at the back and with a Georgian driver. In Georgia you see thousands of second hand vans imported from Germany, the Netherlands and England. He could drove us 200 kilometers closer to the Rainbow until we decided to stop at a restaurant/shop where we could built the tent at beautiful spot just before dark. The next day we cycled the last 110 kilometers. We could always take a hike at the end of the day, only then we met fellow biker Oleg. A Russian German that was also on his way to the Rainbow. This became our longest cycle day with heavy sunshine and lots of ice creams and salty sticks.
The moment we arrived at Chinti at 7.30 P.M, a town just before our last big hill to the Rainbow. Chris and I got tempted to stay at the village after this long day. When Oleg took off one his own we were soon greated by several Rainbow people that took a break from the gathering. We met Oner, a lovely Turkish guy that was at the Rainbow with a healing caravan and the lovely Aidan from England that was also on a bike.
We camped at a beautiful spot at the river. Th next day Sara woke up with pretty bad nausea and stomach problems. This combined with the heat made it a bit hard for her to cycle the bicycle up with no concrete roads. After an hour in the full sun we arrived at the Rainbow sign. We met groups of people that already left the gathering, because the full moon moment had already passed. For us that was a bit ashame, but eventually it turned out to be awesome anyway.
However this point was unfortunately not the end station, we had to climb up another steep steep road that seemed endless with our heavy bikes. But with Rainbow people walking down welcoming you so warmly with cuddles and nice smiles and also helping to push the bike it made it easier.
Eventually, we arrived at the Rainbow! We took a breath and for ten days we had a great experience. It was our first Rainbow, but we were integrated quickly, singing songs among the sacred fire, enjoying the workshops and the nights in the healing space run by Vladi. Vladi is an amazing inspiring figure that travels with a healing caravan to Asia. He had already a healing caravan in South America for five years. They do meditation, sound healings, and live a vegan lifestyle to say it shortly. We grew pretty fond of this group of people and it was a joy to spend time with them on the Rainbow.
At this Rainbow there were mainly Iranian, Turkish and Russian people. The west-Europeans were in a minority. I can write pages about the gathering, but actually it just a thing to experience yourself, weeks in the woods without electric, living a vegan lifestyle although if you want to get out to the village to snack some cheese or drink some beer that’s totally fine too. However not preferred at the Rainbow. And every Rainbow differs of course. We met Bodi, a 40-year old German that had experienced Rainbows from the 90’s. It was great to hear his experiences.
Tblisi, here we come
Mark arrived the last five days, which was great to see him again. And even Julian visited us for a day with his brother and wife, but quickly left when we started singing in a circle holding hands. Haha. We left the gathering with lots of love, songs, great contacts, henna’s, colorfol wool in our hair. And not to forget with Mark! We were a cycling group again joehoe going up to Tblisi, where we would meet Koen en Julian and by surprise Claudia!
The road to Tblisi was nice and in the early evening we arrived in this beautiful historical capital. Just when we were on the main street and thinking about how to cross this crazy road by not getting hit. A guy run towards us in fast speed: it was the French Matthias of the Rainbow! He had chased us down the street when he saw us and about to meet up with Said, our favorite Iranian! So we decided to look for a place to put our tents later and join them for some beers.
This became an awesome night. Said brought some Georgian friends that brought us to nice restaurant where we could charge our devices and enjoy some awesome food and company. We sang a Rainbow song before eating, just to keep the tradition alive. The Georgian friends were super friendly and one of them cycled in the night with us the hill up to the botanic gardens for a good sleeping spot. And this spot could not have been better, we found ourselves in the middle of nature in the capital, next to a river.
The next day we drove to the hostel of Julian and Koen where we surprisingly met Claudia. And Yulia, a Russian Rainbow girl that was working at the hostel. She gave us great tips for Georgia and we could shower at the hostel. Waauw that felt good.
We decided to join the walking tour with Koen and Julian. Koen had a great time with his friends in Georgia and Julian with his brother of course. His finger was getting better and he would just continue his travels. Great to hear. We did a 2,5 walking tour through Tblisi which was a nice introduction and we discovered even more the beauty of this city: waterfalls, cliffs, beautiful old historical buildings, castles, and fortresses, and not to forget sulphur baths. The thing Georgia and Tblisi are famous for.
This night we had some beers in the park. But unfortunately Chris and I got so tired while the others continued the night with bar personnel and lots of cay cay, the Georgian vodka. Our hangover was less heavy though.We camped now in the main park, which was more crowded, near a national museum where we could do a little cat wash in the morning, had a toilet, and a water source.
The next day we had a shopping day at some second hand and flee markets. We were in need for some new shoes, a lit for our pot and some other useful things. We almost got them all! Unfortunately we could not find (open) bike shops, so the new tire Sara desperately needed for her back wheel had to wait. This night we made a fabolous vegetables meal thanks to Mark shopping skills in the hostel and chilled at the hostel. With again building up our tent at 01.00 in the night to also escape the security guys.
The next morning we took a sulphur bath with Julian, Koen headed for Yerevan and Mark had to stay in Tblisi for his visa. Chris and I decided to take the 2 lari (0,80 cents) for a 4-hour train ride back to the west, to Borjomi. This became a bit stressful, we had to find the train station on time and in the train Sara got again a flat tire. Getting out in Borjomi we were tired and sticky. We disputed about the right direction of a camping spot and decided it was better to first order some cheap food. This was a good idea and eventually we drove in a street where we saw a good grassfield after the last house.
The dog started barking, an old mother came out of the house and then her 30-year old son. We asked if it was okay if we camped in the grass field. The guy, Leon, spoke Georgian but also Spanish. So with our little Spanish we eventually got invited by Leon to spend the night at his house. Which was so awesome, the bed was so intensely great, it was super quiet and after having camped two night in a busy park it was heavenly to wake up in a big house and to take a very luxury shower and to get delicious cookies.
Leon was talking a lot. In Spanish. Also a lot about work and about the fact that he did not like Georgia and that you cannot trust people. He also was very repetitive in his talks, and a bit of a downer, so we were also happy to leave the next day. His mother was a cutie pie though. We went off to the national park office to see what kind of tracks we could do with or without bike.
This day became a big challenge, because Chris noticed now that he did not feel so well, he was sad to have left the others and Tblisi and to now be in Borjomi. He was in need for some alone time, while sometimes he is not feeling free. Sara found it hard to deal with this feelings while she was looking forward for the next adventure. It became such a heavy topic that we discussed about splitting up. Though eventually we decided to continue the “original” plan and that was to go to the national park to do some hiking. We camped nearby a monastery where we got stalked by a little dog that kept biting us playfully but he was a bit annoying because he was a barker. So this night we did not sleep the best, because of the little troublemaker.
We woke up and headed our way to an old monastery that was under construction. We continued with a little hiking tour in the national park with the idea to do the small black hiking trail. However we missed the black somehow and found ourselves on the red hiking path which turned out to be 16 kilometers instead of our aimed 8. However this was not a punishment, because the trail was beautiful. In six hours we walked up a mountain range and the last hour, while it was getting dark we had to run our way down from an enormous steep way that gave us five days of muscle pain. We got some big blisters and wounds on are feet with our new achieved second hand sandals and hiking boots. We made it just before total darkness and it was great to have been in the mountains of Georgia with the knowledge somewhere in the deep forests there wolves and bears living.
We camped nearby where we left the bikes, not building a tent but sleeping underneath the stars next to our campfire. The next day another crucial point had arrived. Chris was up for getting south to Armenia and going to south to the lake of Tabatskuri Yulia had recommended us. Sara had the feeling she did not see a lot in Georgia and as a Dutchie really was eager to experience the mountain feeling, so she wanted to go up to the north of the country. Or to Svaneti (in the northern west or Tuscheti (nothern east). Again splitting up was discussed, but eventually we decided to go to the lake with the idea we could do the mountains later.
Unpaved roads, flat tires and hikes
When we cycled out of Borjomi the next day, fortunately we did not feel the many blisters on our feet on the bike. It was hot and we knew we had to make some altitude, around 1200 meters up to Bakuriani, a famous winter ski resort in Georgia. Around five we jumped in the river to cool down and at 6 P.M we decided to try to get a hike or otherwise camp.
In five minutes we had a hike to Bakuriani. The road was beautiful: up the foresty mountains. In Bakuriani we decided to cycle a bit up the unpaved road in order to find a good camping spot and maybe even get a ride to Tabatskuri which was another 700 meter uphill in a unpaved road. There were no cars on this way and after half an hour uphill Sara got a flat tire on the way. Chris in the meanwhile headed forward to search for a flat camping spot. Just when Sara fixed her tire a minivan drove by and three Georgian guys could give us a ride! We looked for Chris on our way and the next two hours we were in the back of the minivan and going this crazy wobbly road up: but what a view.
We arrived against dark in Tabatskuri. It was very fresh up in the mountains and we were eager to find a camping spot. Soon we were accompanied by a local farmer that walked with us to show a good camping spot. At least that was what we thought. Instead he dragged us and our bicycles into a house, where a mother and two children received us with big eyes. These people lived a very basic lifestyle and from the interior from the house you could see they did not had much. Soon we were offered tea and bread and cheese and had some body language talks. We thanked them and asked where we could built the tent. No, we could just sleep in the room next to the table there was a one persons bed, but it would do. Especially in this cold and when we were so tired.
The guy that had taken us to the house started to act strange. He had a strange dodgy look on his face, did not communicate at all with us, but was only making remarks about the camera and he was constantly standing next to our bikes. It gave a dodgy feeling, so we took all our important belongings with us to the room. That night we slept with one eye open.
The next day was not better, the guy still acted strange. He wanted our chain plus lock for the dog while this is our only good bike lock. He was very insisting and repetitive and for half an hour we had to make him clear he was not getting our bike lock. Instead Sara offered her winter pullover, hand gloves and an extra little lock. They would only take the hand gloves and the little lock.
After tea we decided to quickly get out of this weird situation. The mother of the house who had been very smiley and communicative all the time, now called Sara to the other room and wrote down: 20L and 20L. So 40 Lari (18 euro) for spending the night. She was accompanied by a strict grandma that raised her voice and said we had to pay. Sara was a bit intimidated but because it felt wrong, she had some feet to stand on and made it clear it was really not nice to ask money he day after, while we repeatedly said: ‘palatka’ (tent) where? When the grandma raised her voice again, Sara also raised hers and that seemed to work. Eventually we left with smiley faces and without giving them money, but it sure did not feel nice. The little boy Armen went with us and had a ride on Sara’s bike. Thatwas the best goodbye we could think of.
So up to the lake where we would have a base for four nights. On our way we stopped at the minimarket where we met a nice 14-year old Armenian girl that was the only one in the village that could speak English. In order to get milk we had to come to the house of her grandma. We parked our bikes and were invited by the family getting coffee and watermelon chatting with the girl that translated for her family.
When we arrived at the lake we met the sweetest Georgian family from Tblisi that was just starting a BBQ with a lot of meat and wine. But first we had a swim with the cute kids David and Dali. Chris went with David on a mattress float while Dali and Sara where sunbathing at the base. We got some delicious meat with salad, fish, lots of bread and cheese and some wine. The kids and the woman could speak English very well. And after spending some hours with them and waved them goodbye, them leaving us three breads, juice and water.
The next days we red books, washed our clothes, made some food and just chilled a bit. Chris had made some young new friends in the little village when he was getting water that also gave him free vegetables and coffee for Sara. Some 14-year old boys came to visit our tent once a while to make some contact. One of them was Armen, the most chatty guy that wanted to give us a horse ride, so later that day he came back with a really cute, quiet white horse and Chris got the change to ride it. Also Sara did a round. Also these days some kids of 7 year old or something came to bring us a back full of candies, that was the cutest.
When Chris made his third round on the horse we bumped into Torkin and his friend. Torkin is 18-year old Armenian guy that could speak perfectly English and invited us for the feast his father had around the corner with his friends. There around 10 Armenian man were enjoying with lots for vodka, cay cay, wine, beer, vegetables and meat of the sheep they had slaughtered just some hours before. This became a crazy night, guys insisting us to shot away cay cay, we got the most delicious pieces of the sheep and we danced with 80-year old grandpa’s. It was a feast.
The next day was a bit more harsh. Chris had became really sick of the liquors and meat and we were not worth much this day. The next day we left this hospitable place, driving to all kind of little villages on a unpaved road to end up at a police station in the evening to charge our devices. We camped next to it at a Beautiful spot near a forest and a view on the hills. The next day Sara did a hike in this beautiful environment and we headed our way to Akhakalaki. We found a great bazar full of vegetables and fruits, bought many, even found wifi on the central square and were invited by government personnel that had the office next to it for tea. This evening we camped just out of the city next to a river and the cutest young puppy spend the night under our fortent.
Going north west
We woke up with cows and a herder that just watched the whole morning what we were doing. After breaking up in Tabatskuri we had te redefine our travel ambitions and if we still wanted to travel together. Again Chris noticed that he had no travel motivations for Georgia and Sara still wanted to go to the mountains. In the end we decided to go direction west to Vardzia, a historical place with ancient caves that everyone had recommended us. Which was indirectly also direction north to the mountains.
We decided we could just always take hikes. And oh my, what a great decision. The road to Vardzia was down and So amazingly beautiful. Lots of plum trees on our way. Chris collected sage, mint, nettles, and even marijuana! But the male one, still good for tea though. In the evening we camped nearby the beautiful Khertvisi fortress and just set up the tent before it started to rain and thunder. After the rain Sara charged the laptop in the little town and got invited by two sweet girls of a shop for coffee. In the end we had a great movie night with some snacks.
It was still 16 kilometers to Vardzia and we had to come back the same way. We decided we could always take a hike. Unfortunately this way not so easy as we thought, however after some hilly beautiful road we arrived at two in Vardzia. On our way we got supported by a doggy that ran with us and by a big car full of people that honked loudly at us. The big stopped at a beautiful viewpoint. When we arrived this viewpoint with sweaty red heads, they waited for us. Hugging the dog and they took their camera’s out and started to photograph our faces, as if we were part of a tour de Georgia. They were 5 Russians and one Armenian guy, after a little chat we would meet again at the gates of Vardzia. There we met Lova, the Armenian guy and Niko, one of the Russians. Both motor bikers fan, that was why they got so excited when they saw us. Lova lived in Achaltsiche, our next destination and he invited us. He told us just to ask for a certain bicycle club and just ask for Lova. However it was still some kilometers and we just arrived at two in Vardzia.
Mr. Lova Lova
Chris and I got into Vardzia for 1 Lari (0,40 eurocent) because of our public transfer and health insurance cards that we used as student cards. We soon met two Swiss girls that we spend the Vardzia experience with. For us it was atcually just another Kapdokya, however still impressive with beautiful painted churches inside After seeing so many caves, it unfortunately began just another cave. So it was nice to chat with the Swiss girls, they telling their Georgian travel stories and we ours. They were for two weeks in Georgia and did “expensive” stuff as hiring a driver to spot the beautiful places. After two hours we said goodbye and we decided to try to make it to Lova’s place today. We soon got a ride all the way to Aspindza and from there we cycled a part to get a ride the last kilometers into Achaltsihe. We were dropped of just around the corner of the motorbike club bit the name Lova was a bit difficult at first. However after 10 minutes we stood in front of his door and Lova’s face was a bit in shock. Happy shock. But still in shock.
Apparently he had already invited the Russians the day before and he tried now to make some place for us too. In the meanwhile we were dropped at the greatest kebab place of all time where Lova paid kebab and lemonade for us. We had to wait here until he came back. Soon we were joined by two the two awesome Russians guys, so the drinking started. The first beers were ordered and slowly the Russian ladies joined friends of Lova joined and before we knew it we had a private drinking room in the kebab place with lots of wine, beer and company.
Soon we met Arthur, the president of the motorclub and a dentist in daily life. Arthur is building a crazy villa 10 kilometers up in the mountains, and we could sleep at this place because Lova’s wife turned out to be a bit fed up with Lova’s social skills. When we arrived the Russian somehow were already there. The Russian ladies were preparing food in the kitchen with music and soon the party continued in the garden. This became a crazy night full of dancing, tricks and eating. It was amazing. Lova was the entertainer of the night. His loved the make jokes, his favorite oneliner riddle was: “Life is Life la la la la la.” And he kept making jokes about Georgians with their Kachapuri and about everything actually. Sometimes his wife called which he promised too that he was not drinking and having too much fun. Ooh Lova.
The next day Chris and I woke up hangovered in the villa where we got welcomed by the nice Armenian workers. One of them could speak basic German. They offered us coffee, chocolates and were sad when we left. But not before we had seen Rabati, an ancient castle which has become the symbol of tolerance and peace according to the folder. You can find a synagogue, a church and a mosque all in the same place, because it got conquered so many times. It is renovated really well and therefore it looks a bit artificial. But definitely some great ancient treasures can be found here, like old bibles, poems, weapons, jewelry and clothes exhibited in the museum.
Borjomi National Park hunters
After Rabati we picked up the bicycles at Lova’s, thanked him for everything and gave him some cha cha as a goodbye present that we got as a gift at Tabatskuri. We headed our way to another Borjomi National park. This was supposed to be our shortcut to Svaneti. Chris and Sara had agreed to do one part of the mountains of Georgia: Svaneti. So we had some kilometers to make and some mountains to climb and hike. The start was difficult. It was extremely hot when we left Achaltziche, the road was super shitty, unpaved and lots of cars, and Sara got her thousand flat tire, we also discovered that Chris had lost his favorite multi-tool and was even willing to drive 100 kilometers back for it. After some discussions and fixing the tire, we decided to move on and ended up just before the national park in the center of a holiday destination. We slept next to abandoned buildings, close by sulphur baths.
The next morning we treated ourselves with a bath which was great, we felt so clean and refreshed afterwards. It was still very hot and in the afternoon we continued our way to the national park. We knew we had to climb a mountain of 2100 meter, we were now on 1000 meters altitude, so still 1100 meters to climb. It was a pretty deserted unpaved road, and so we climbed and climbed and climbed, drained in sweat and chased by flies. After 600 meters of climbing we stopped one of the few cars to ask is he can take our bags or maybe even bikes. It was a quite small car, only Chris bike fitted in there, but a minute later his friends arrived and they could carry Sara’s bike. The friends were named Otto and Lasha. Otto could speak perfectly English, he was an IT-guy during the week and in the weekends he escapes into the forests. We were so happy, because it turned out it would still be a hell of a climb. The friends were hunters, joined by there hunting dog Peppy. Hunting seasons had started yesterday, so they immediately took the opportunity. They only got some fish. They were a bit paranoid saying that it was dangerous to cycle there because of wolves that could jump on us. ‘Aah well..that’s only like your opinion man’, is what we thought.
So they took us up to the top, where we could shoot with an automatic gun in the air. This was a crazy loud sound and still a bit scary to have such a destructive weapon in your hands. But it was an experience, Otto gave Sara some tips and the crazy hunter/army guy shot ten times after us. Afterwards they picked some Alp tulips. Chris wanted to get out at 7 P.M to cycle the 60 kilometers down, but Sara had the sentence of the wolves in her head and desired to not ride in the dark. However she regretted this decision pretty soon when we discovered the brakes of the car were not working well which meant the car drove grandma, great grandma style down the hills. It was a painful experience to imagine yourself racing down with the bike and now being locked up in the car that drives like a turtle. After some hours we made it finally to the big town Kutaisi.
The hunters dropped us in the middle of the city center, next to a gas station with a grass field saying this would be the perfect spot to camp. We had some second thoughts and decided to cycle a bit around. It got us at a kebab place with WiFi. Chris bought some fruits next door and came back saying that we could set up our tent in the garden of the owners. What a hero. We met David the neighbor/cousin of the people and got invited for some wine and pumpkin. The next day we even got invited for breakfast by his parents. Super lovely hospitable people, thank you!
When we drove out of Kutaisi in again extreme heat, we thought it was a good idea to visit the Sataplia caves on our way. “Only” 6 kilometers of the main road. Soon we started to regret this decision, because it was the hottest moment of the day. There was no shade and we had to climb intensely steep roads. Phoe, it was a hell of ride, but eventually we got there. We could even join the tour, however Sara did not feel like it, so she wandered around by herself. Sataplia is known for its dinosaur prints in the earth and heart shape stalagmite formations. It was however a bit of theme park screaming loud what they had, but in the end you wondered how real it was. Chris enjoyed however the tour meeting some other travelers. The way back was finally down: what a joy.
We drove our way to Martvili, a canyon. On our way we noticed the cows alongside the road had been replaced by pigs. But that is just a small detail. We stopped at a small river and decided to camp there, and also to cool ourselves down in the water. It was a lovely night where we got again joined by a skinny dog that did not bark and we had a campfire meal underneath the stars.
Svaneti here we come
The next day we got four rides, we wanted to escape this intense heat and at the afternoon we arrived at the foot of the Svaneti mountains. Martvili we did not see unfortunately, because it was closed due to a national holiday. There was a big river where locals enjoyed their time and we joined them. Again happy to cool down in fresh water. The end of the day we decided to cycle up and try a hike. After climbing some kilometers we stopped a small pick up. He was going all the way up to Mestia, a place in the mountains and he could take us! So we drove some hours with Beka and Beko. We had to sit outside in the back with our bikes. It was awesome to be in the fresh air and to see the landscape change. Unfortunately it got dark soon, especially because we made a few stops because our driver had to drink some beers and wine. Typical Georgian driver. The second stop we got invited too. It was a bit a shame that we drove the second part in the dark. But also romantic to sit in the back of a pick up underneath the stars surrounded by the shadows of the mountains. Svaneti, here we come.
Beka, the driver offered us to set up our tent in his garden, a great offer that we immediately took. The next day we met the brother who could speak German, a nice guy that gave us a map and tips.The family is building a hotel on their ground with 25 rooms. However we could notice that we had arrived in a touristy part. The family was a bit stressed and not so hospitable as we are used too. Their faces were serious and there were not so many smiles. However it was still so nice that we could sleep in their garden getting terrorized by their young puppy Richie. Woow, he was in puberty. Crashing kamikaze style into our tent, biting everything and just really did everything which was not allowed. But he was as soft as a teddy bear.
The brother gave us some tips, like Hatsvali. A ski lift that brings you up to 2400 meter. It meant we still had to climb 8 kilometers by bike though. While we had just decided to make an “easy day”. Aah well. Sara got rewarded by the ski lift. Everything with mountains gets her nostalgic, reminding her to wintersports, so when there was a ski lift we had to take it. Chris decided to walk to the end of the mountain path, while Sara we wrote at a place with an awesome view. However the hike of Chris took a bit longer than expected and the ski lift was closing at 6, so we missed that one. After we made a bet, Chris was in the end right: it was only half an hour to walk down, not 1,5 hour like Sara dramatically had thought of. We cycled the 8 kilometers down joehoe and before dark we arrived in Mestia again.
The next day we left for Ushguli. Ushguli is an area of four villages and is one of the highest settlement in Europe. It is located on an altitude of 2100 meter. We had to climb two hills this day, the first of 500 meters we got a ride in an old soviet van. He dropped us on top of the first hill. Even with a ride Chris got a flat tire, so we first needed to fix this. The way down was on an unpaved road, we cyclists had less difficulties with all the holes and stones than the few cars that drove it. We had lunch with an amazing view and some boys of the local village nearby chased next to us on their horses.
The road to Ushguli was somewhat more difficult and longer than we had expected. We could not take a ride, because there were only some small touristy buses or family cars on this crappy road. However, the views were amazing and it was a bit less hot up in the mountains. We did the last climb at the beginning of the evening and got rewarded by the sight of Ushguli. It was beautiful: all these Svaneti towers on the top of the mountains and seeing the glacier from so close. We treated ourselves with some overpriced beer and kachapuri. To compensate this luxury behavior we also ate the still delicious food our neighbors left on the plates. Afterwards we quickly set up our tent, because the sun went down and it started to get fresh. Everybody was asking if we wanted a guesthouse, but just before the towns there was some nice farmer land where lots of campers had set up their tent next to the ice cold river.
We woke up with some cows and had an ice cold shower in the river. We decided to cycle and walk through the old settlements and have a look. We climbed a tower where Chris went all to the top and after two hours we decided it was better to continue, because this was again a touristy place (UNESCO heritage) and we looked forward to the little towns on our way that did not had this vibe (no smiley people) and prices. So while most people go back to Mestia and go the same way down as they went up. We decided to continue the road to Lentekhi. You would think that we are on the highest point of the mountains, so our road only was supposed to go down, but unfortunately we still had to cycle the first 12 kilometers up.The roads in the mountains are made for horses, not for bikes or cars, so the ride was intense. Intensely beautiful, intensely difficult and intensely rewarding when we were on top. Seeing all these mountain tops, glaciers, and even still a bit of snow on our left side.
Lentekhi paradise road
We said goodbye to Ushguli valley and said hello to a new one, with another glacier, the road was decorated with colorful flowers and suddenly in the middle of nowhere on our way down we met a German cyclist who was carrying his bike up. He drove all the way from Lentekhi and was now on its way to Ushguli. He did not had a mountain bike, so it was extra hard for him to drive this road. It was nice to meet someone and share the suffering and beauty of the road. He still had to go 10 kilometers up though, we wished him good luck and hoped he made it before dark. We continued to avoid holes, rocks and slides for the next three hours down. When we finished the steep part getting down from the mountains we ended up in a valley/forests where the roads where wet and we had to deal with mud. Mentally you think you finished the down part but we had to drive still lots of kilometers to come to the next town. There are no signs, so its very handy to have some google maps at your side.
When we finally arrived at the first town which we thought it was Lentekhi but this was still 30 kilometers to go. Sara quickly bought some chocolate and salty sticks. We got some apples and peaches for free and we headed for our camping spot. Just outside the town Chris had found a perfect spot to spend the night. I think it was one of the most beautiful spots we camped so far. Surrounded by the oft silhouettes of forest mountains, where the last sunbeams enlightened the hills. Next to an idyllic river and some hills were cows were grazing. We made a great vegetables meal with campfire, till the light show started. There was some extreme thunder which made you think you were at a laser show. We both never had seen such a natural phenomenon.
The next day the sun was shining we dried all our stuff and took it easy at this beautiful place. In the early afternoon we started to cycle, Sara was really happy because the unpaved road was over, we had a normal road again! So it seemed. Reality was that after 500 meters the concrete road turned into wobbly bubbly road again. After some kilometers Chris discovered he only had one front bag, so he decided to cycle back while Sara continued the road alone. We agreed to meet after 30 kilometers in Lentekhi. This way was amazing. It went all the way down through some small villages where farmers gave Sara a handful of little apples and you got chased by the village dogs and rivers were crossing the road. A good opportunity to do a little catwash. Amazing views and suddenly the last 12 kilometers the good road started. So hairs in the wind and race down to Lentekhi. Just when Sara had arrived and wanted to pay her ice cream, chocolate, candy and okay also some bread and vegetables at the check counter of the mini market, Chris stood next to her with an ice cream in his hands. Haha, he had also just arrived, perfect timing.
We continued our way down. I want to say amazing roads. Agaaaaain? But imagine: you climbed for days all these wobbly roads full of holes. Suddenly you get treated by such a smooth road and it only goes down! Next to you, you see foresty mountains, and it seems there is no end to it. You see some old castle ruins on the left and sometimes there is a little village with some ice cold water coming from the mountains where you can fill up your bottles. Sometimes you need to avoid a cow on the road and you wave at local people. For the rest there is nothingness, only this speed down the hills surrounded by nature. Doesn’t this sounds great? Or even amaaaazing?
Until we reached the crossroad. It turned out that our way to Ambrolauri, was not going straight but we had to turn left. When we looked left we saw a road going up a mountain. Of course..
So at 6 P.M we decided after all these downs we were fit enough to climb this hill to Orbeli “we could always take a hike”. Well, this turned out not to be true. We couldn’t hike. We were able to climb this pain in the ass road though. For the first 4 kilometers everything went well. Okay we were sweating our asses of in the heat, but your legs are still strong, and your willpower is also still present. However the last 2 kilometers this slowly disappears, because at every corner you think this sure must be the top! We are there! But noo, delusion upon delusion. So after 6 kilometers we were pretty exhausted. We could see a lake down in the valley though, a perfect place to camp. After some tired troubled argument where Chris wanted to check out a camping spot on top of the hill and Sara just only wanted to go down, we arrived in the village to buy some salty stick, Sara’s addiction, and to get some sunflowers oil for free at the local mini market. We arrived at the lake and prepared an amazing vegetable meal again. It was a great spot and in the night we got treated by a lightning show again.
Back to Tblisi
The next day we woke up with cows trying to steal our breakfast and Sara went to defend it. We then had the privilege to cycle a beautiful part down, through a sort of small canyon. But soon our way to Ambrolauri turned out to be a gravel road again. It was pretty hot and we decided to try a hike. We got picked up by two guys that were dropping off sunflower seeds at mini markets in the towns we passed on our way. On our way we got some nice tips of people that made us change our plans. Our drivers were driving all the way to Oni ” a must see” and from there on we could go to Shovi resort in the mountains where even Stalin had his residence. That’s a promise. We even got a bottle of cha cha, that we as a thank you gave to our drivers, because we promised ourselves never to drink this devils drink again. We passed the most famous wine area in Georgia, but unfortunately the drivers had to rush through, Georgian style: full speed even in little towns and avoiding on occasion some cows. It is always an ambiguous feeling for Sara when hiking. You always feel so nice to reach a town by bike and reward yourself with an ice cream or salt sticks. Again she became a bit uncomfortable with hiking this great road and rushing through.
After three hours we thanked the drivers and suddenly we were in Oni. Sara needed Internet to arrange something for her fathers 70th birthday. Somehow finding Internet seemed impossible at first. No one knew where and even at hotels they said because of the mountains its very hard to get some descent internet. After preparing some salad in the park, Chris eventually found Internet at a great guesthouse run by a family, mother and father are artists. Of course we could use the Internet! We sat down in their beautiful house full of soul: her paintings on the wall, he had made the branches and tables out of wood. A liter of local wine was placed in front of us with some home made Lobiani (bread with beans). Chris asked if he could shower. The father and son had a better idea: drive us with another Russian guest to the Sulphur spring nearby. So we had some sulphur shower. Awesome people that just helped us even though we did not sleep there.
We slept in the park that night. The next day we were tired and not so enthusiastic to cycle up a 2000 plus mountain to have a walk in the forest. Okay amazing views.. okay Stalin was there too, but it was so warm, we were tired and we decided to just take it very easy. So we had a card game and picknick beside the road and at the same time tried to hike. But it was a sign, an omen: Shovi resort was just not in the cards for us. So we headed back made a visit at the famous beautiful synagogue that was not in use anymore, because they need 10 Jewish men in order to have a service and they are with 7, among them are several women. We were the only visitors, a guy came with the key and was eager to show us around. That was very nice. In the heat of the day we headed our way back to Ambrolauri, two hours of beautiful cycling in plus 30 degrees though.
When we arrived in Ambrolauri in the afternoon we decided to try to hike again. It was 800 meters altitude up to the top Nikortzminda. At the road we met several Georgian hikers. They first couple easily got ride. Two others we had also met in Oni, gave us wine, we had a nice chat with them and we agreed to meet later that night at Shaori lake to finish the 2 liter bottle local wine. We decided to cycle after an hour of trying to hike, and they soon got a ride. Well, this was an interesting ride. It was up, the first 10 kilometers were not so steep as the hill in Orbeli, but eventually it became pretty challenging. Chris decided to stop for some plums and Sara continued the next 8 steep kilometers alone, because she wanted to finish the hill and relax with the guys we met. Chris and she decided to meet at the lake. The hill up was challenging but super nice. Nice views and it went through cosy little towns. When Chris and she finally met at the lake, it was covered in a big mist of clouds. Sara was surrounded by three drunken locals and was glad to see a sober face. Chris had been given some Kachapuri on his way and locals had given Sara a bag full of hazelnuts. Nice.
The lake turned out to be pretty big, we did not had contacts of the guys so eventually we did not even meet them. Locals were celebrating Maria Nova an local holiday, we got invited when we cycled by, but after setting up our tent we just decided to make some vegetables and sleep. It was great to wake up the next day. The lake was beautiful and we had a private beach in front of our tent. In the early afternoon we hopped on our bikes to climb our last hill and to enjoy the downhill. We had a great long break at a third lake surrounded by cows. Here we called the Georgian family that we had met in Tabatskuri and who were in need of help with renovating there flat. We asked if they thought it would still be a great idea to get some extra help. And they did! Nina, the mother was so kind on the phone and said she was waiting for us. In the late afternoon we cycled 30 kilometers to the big road.
Then suddenly we were back in Babylon: a big road with lots of traffic, heat, business and not a pretty environment, it was still hot and Sara needed severely a break. We took a long food break at a restaurant next to the road where we had the best Lobi, bean dish of all times. Chris was excited at 8 o’clock to still try to take a hike to Tblisi and at 9 he succeeded, finding two middle aged men from Azerbaijan that instantly offered us several shots of local cognac from a coca cola bottle. They could only speak Russian, so we had to do it with body language.
This turned out not be a great hike though. We were squeezed in the van. The friend of the driver was high on cognac and was raising his voice often and a very dominant man: Sara was not “allowed” to sit on Chris his lap in order to make it bearable to sit in the car, instead we were sitting with the three of us on two seats while Chris tried not to get the pooking stick upon his bottom and Sara had her knee almost in her ear. Also the driver became a bit too friendly to Sara at the break, so after an hour Sara decided to move in the back of the van with the bikes on a blanket that covered the hay. She could now lay down and listen to music, that was pretty awesome. 2,5 hours later we were dropped in the middle of the city center. The guys were upset, because they did not expect to drop us there, but to take us to the border of Armenia. In the end they became really unfriendly, rushing our bikes out of the van, we could not really check if we left stuff. But we were glad we were out. In Tblisi!
Tblisi, second time
However, the next challenge came: sleeping place. The awesome quiet nature sleeping place in Tblisi was at the botanical gardens, but that was way up. So eventually we decided to sleep in the park again. This turned out to be a night full of turmoil and we did not sleep well. The next day we went to the old Soviet flee market to buy some presents for Sara’s dad. Pictures of Stalin, Hitler, old medallions with the face of Lenin, amazing antique LP players, it was all for sale. After we did some herb shopping the cheap, huge market near Central station, we finally left for Vartekili: the area full of Soviet apartment blocks where the family lives.
In the early evening we arrived at the central square in this suburb. Ten minutes later the family came to pick us up. To read more about our time and work at the family, click here.
Back on the road
After our great time at the family we had to get used to be back on the road again. Our way south to Armenia! We had some strong headwind, a few hills to climb and we made occasional stops to eat Nino’s heart cookies. However when we drove into the next valley we ended up on a pretty road with lots of green on the side and nice hills, the sun was shining on our faces, it was good to be on the road again. Just before camping we stopped to ask someone in front of his gate to fill up our water bottles. The man was very sympathetic and suddenly he came back with a 2,5 liter own produced wine, as a gift. After we had a zip, we could not say refuse this tasty gift.
That evening we found one of the most beautiful camping spots, surrounded by beautiful hills, camping on farm land and in the last sunbeams we collected wood, set up the tent, built a campfire and the we found farmland around the corner overloaded with cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant and peppers. So we got our bags and had some amazing vegetables meal, with some wine. It started with one glass, then two and for we knew it we had finished the 2,5 liter Pepsi bottle. Oops. We were in extremely good mood, celebrating the beautiful sunset and moon rise. A moon as big and colorful as an orange. Because of this happy ending we slept like babies that night.
The next day was a very easy going day, taking long pick nicks hiding from the sun while the border was 30 kilometers away. We crossed it eventually around 4 o’ clock. What a difference with Turkey crazy busy border. Here there was almost no car, it was a very friendly transit. We learned our first Armenian word from the border police: Baref! Hello! Welcome to Armenia!