Our ferry landed at noon in Batumi – 9000km left to Beijing. Sakartvelo, land of the Kartlians, welcomed us with super weather and amazing views. No more signs reading Istanbul, Athens or Sofia. Now, there were pointing us to Baku, Yerevan, Tehran. No matter which direction we would take, it would be uncharted territory for us.
The scenery after Batumi was absolutely stunning and reminded us of Sri Lanka: hills covered by jungle-like vegetation, the view over the coast, hot air in the valleys, a fresh breeze further uphill, frogs croaking in the swamps. The roads were generally in good condition, yet were made for no more than two cars next to each other so that we often had to ride over the bumpy edges of the tarmac.
What surprised us from the first day on were the ever-present police cars. We witnessed more than a handful of traffic controls whereas, in other countries, this didn’t happen a single time. Once, we shared this impression with a host, and he simply said: “Order is necessary.” (“Порядок же надо.”)
The further we went to the east, the more we noticed that we were not the only “crazy” people. Still on the ferry, we met a handful of other travelers. Shortly before reaching Kutaissi, we met yet another couple of bikers who were going into the opposite direction. Many times, motorcyclists passed us, greeting us with their horn. When we cycled up into the Caucasian mountains, we saw a hitchhiker at the side of the road – a young man with a bag shaped like a musical instrument – and passing by, we both gave him a high-five.
But not always were we in the mood to give away “high fives”. One day riding through the middle of Georgia, we just could not deal any longer with the bad (main) road, the stinking emissions of trucks, the traffic noise, and, lastly, the traffic itself. Our motivation was low because we had by mistake taken a very hilly route with strong inclinations out of Kutaissi that morning. Not a nice thing to start the day with. In our agony, we agreed that enough was enough, and so decided to take the train for the rest of our planned stage. We headed to the train station of Zestafoni (the town we happened to be in that moment), and bought tickets to Khashuri, some 50km east of Zestafoni.
The conductor on the train seemed to have an incredibly bad day. We had parked the bikes in the narrow corridor leading from the entrance of the wagon to the seating area. But the conductor wasn’t satisfied with that and harshly yelled at us in a broken Russian to push them further down the corridor into the seating area. We were not too happy about that because we knew we would block the way for all passengers. Everything went too slow for the conductor, so he grabbed our bikes and literally threw them onto the seats of two empty rows.
Georgia was the first country where we cycled on the highway, more precisely on the parking lane of the highway. Nobody cared, some truck drivers even played melodies on their horn as they passed us. Generally, the highway seemed to be open to everyone: sheep, horses, pedestrians. One time, we saw a cow grazing on the median.
What else can we say about Georgian hospitality other than it made us feel part of the family? Like in Russia, chai (= tea) was offered to us every time we entered a house, and here we were also offered cake, home-made jam and wine. The tea we drank was Georgian and so was the cheese and the eggs and the pickled figs. We paid so little for a breakfast meal (around 3 Euros), yet our plates were filled each time they turned empty. Occasionally, our hosts would go as far as serving us breakfast for free.
Khachapuri, abkhazuri, lobiani, khinkali… The food was both new and familiar to us: while we knew “börek” (similar to lobiani) or “bao tze” (similar to khinkali), we enjoyed the new tastes of Adjarian khachapuri (pizza-shaped bread filled with cheese, raw egg, and a piece of butter) and abkhazuri (meat rolls).
In Tbilisi, we visited a Thai massage, and, boy, that was one of the best Thai massages we’ve had in our lives. Our muscles were so sore that, when Jan’s treatment was done, his Thai masseur was sweating more than him and left the room whispering “Oh my God…”
On our way towards the Azerbaijani border, we saw three single turtles crossing the street in 5km intervals. This was certainly the last place we had expected these animals in the middle of the road. One of them was so little that Jan decided to stop and carry it over to the side of the road.
Half an hour later, we took a break at a small restaurant where we also bought lunch and got water for free by the owners. Still being in Christian Georgia, we were surprised to find a mosque some 100m next to the restaurant. As we sat down to relax, suddenly the amplified voice of the muezzin filled the air and (probably) called for the people to join the worship.
Emigration was a bit confusing because Gratsi had entered with only her ID card and left the country showing her passport which she had picked up in Tbilisi. The border police officer was unsure about how to proceed as he could not find an immigration stamp in her passport. So he called someone else, and a few minutes later, Gratsi received an exit stamp into her passport.
We were then released into a no man’s zone of maybe 100m before heading right to the border of the country that awaited us and would be our home for the coming days: Azerbaijan.
Jan & Gratsi
P.S.: Check out our route map to see where we are!