Into Georgia


I am always slightly on edge crossing a new border, and arriving at the fortification between Turkey and Georgia, I delayed crossing process with chai, and talked with friendly folks, hanging around for one reason or another.
But as usual the officials were as interested in the Honda as with my paperwork. No mention of insurance, and I keep my mouth shut. UK residents don't need a visa either.

It was dusk, and I rode cautiously along the coastal road to Batumi, a buzzing little resort town. It's a refreshing change to have a guidebook (Given to me by Jean the French scooter chap), and I soon found a wonderfully shabby little guest house.
My room was decked out entirely from softwood, giving the feel of a sauna. There was not a right angle between any two surfaces in the room, and the bathroom door was no wider than 24”, looking like a cupboard door right in the corner.

It's a shame to only stay somewhere for a day, it feels like the behaviour of a backpacker with a tight schedule. Batumi feels fun, I come across lovely people without even trying, a local cafe owner plies me with free coffee, guides me to a great corridor-market place for fruit, and we check the port in case somehow a boat might take me to Russia.

Off the next day, and I'm heading North to the mountain region of Svaneti. Navigation by the Georgian guide book map is not so difficult, but I've learned to ask directions from the locals as well; the more the better.
I need to stop at least every 80 miles, and I pick a small village with a single shop the size of a small caravan. There's also what looks like a small brewery with a van loading up; I ask about buying a bottle, and the man gives me one for free.
This kind of generosity isn't that uncommon, and I have been shown enormous kindness on the trip. People have given me all kinds of things; even paying for petrol, hotels, meals and drinks.
During the 2 or 3 minutes I'm in the shop, 15' from the bike, the tank-bag is stolen.

I'm taken aback. I was expecting stuff to get stolen, and I'd packed anything of value in the locked panniers, or in my backpack. I still comes as a surprise though.
It's nothing that important, an engine temperature gauge, the Georgia-Azerbaijan-Armenia guide book, some scribbled notes, batteries and a few other bits.
I give myself a few minutes to clear my head before leaving, and convey what's happened, charades  style, to the elderly shop owner and a passer-by. They show some disappointment, but aren't about to lose sleep over it. As I'm getting ready to crack on, a middle aged woman comes over and asks in excellent English “What's happened?”. I explain, and she replies  “If you agree not to phone the police, they'll bring it back in 15 minutes, they're just teenagers, and they know they've done something stupid” she gestures to a small group of middle aged men, and says they'd like me to join them for a drink while I wait. It all feels strange, but I'm happy enough.
I'm given bottles of beer and packs of crisps, and we chat in pidgin English. The bag's brought back by a sheepish looking lad, and the guys try and convince me to stay the night; beer, wine, vodka and whiskey. Tempting, but I'm keen to head north. They stuff further beers into my bag, and wish me a safe journey.

The road deteriorates as it approaches beautiful snow capped mountains, and I stop at an even smaller, one cafe town. I'm determined not to let the theft incident change me, and I take no more care than normal, trusting everyone. I have a theory that it's better to be relaxed with things, trust people, and get bitten once in a while. If you're too up tight about security you'll sacrifice too much worrying about it, rather than enjoying what you're doing.

The last 60 miles to Mestia, the road is terrible. It's heavily pot-holed or there's no road at all. Alarming drops on one side, down a steep valley to white water below, and no form of barriers. The other side steep cliffs, with constant evidence of rock falls. I come across a large and recent rock fall, an earth-mover has just started to clear the path. Honda and I just slip past, but the few vehicles I share the road with will have to wait.

I'm thoroughly enjoying the off-road. I almost started writing that my fast pace was because I wanted to arrive before dusk, but it wasn't that at all. I was in the mood for it, and I blasted along in complete happiness; pushing it a little, and allowing the back end to skip out just a bit.
The scenery is getting more and more beautiful. Mountains are getting more and more snow covered, everything is luscious green down here below the tree-line. There's very little evidence of human activity, and whenever I stop there is such peace and calm.

Another stop at a tiny shack selling crisps and stuff. Three sons of the owner are messing about, one boy of about 8 is laughing as he rides a donkey about. I'm given superb Turkish coffee, and a look of confused disbelief when I get out my wallet to pay. They really insist that it's free of charge, and will not take a single Lari.

Arriving at Mestia as the sun starts to set, and I understand the lonely planet's description of the mountain village as “Impossibly beautiful”. There are traditional towers scattered about, stone built defences against a range of threats I guess. A river winds its way through the village, there are few motor vehicles, and it feels so calm.
Stopping to ask directions to a LP recommended guest house, a young boy is manhandled onto the back of the bike, and directs me up a few streets to Menoni’s guest house.
I strike a deal at Menoni's place, 15 Lari per night, for camping and 2 meals. Just over 5 English pounds.

I selfishly hope the road here doesn't get surfaced, this little village would soon get overrun with gap year kids and overweight middle aged Westerners. There would be a Starbucks and McDonalds within a year I'm sure. I want it to stay this sleepy and unspoilt.
It's not reality, and it's hypocritical, but it's how I feel.





wordpress stat

Web site and all contents Copyright Gabriel Bolton 2009, All rights reserved.
Free website templates