Trip Start Jul 29, 2007
55Trip End Dec 20, 2008
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A couple of days later I was at the Georgian border. I dunno if it was a language barrier thing but they told me I could have a transit visa for 3 days plus 10 days. "So 13 days I asked". "Yes" she confirmed. Sweet I thought.
I rode into Batumi city, looking for a roadmap of Georgia. Talk about scarce. I must have asked over 20 people. They just don't seem to exist. Equally scarce is the English language here. I ended up settling on a semi accurate tourist rout map after tracking down a bookstore & headed out into the countryside towards Armenia.
I saw an ideal camping spot in a field by a river. There was 70 yr old man carrying a stack of firewood over his shoulder walking along the road so I asked him if it was ok to sleep in my tent there for the night. He broke into a massive grin and beckoned me to follow him, up some stairs, through a gate, between a fence & a shed. He opens this door to a little kinda early miners shack. Its got two single beds and a stove in the middle of the room. Old man stinks. He throws a whole lot of shit off one bed onto the floor and turns around and smiles. I'm saying no, I'm gonna put my tent over here on the grass. He explains there will be rain tonight. No problem, my tents waterproof and I'm not staying in a filthy shack 1.5m from a stinky old man. He grabs me by the arm and pulls me back to the door saying this bed, you, this bed, me. Then he drops the bombshell... and starts rubbing his two forefingers together (this means jiggy jiggy over here). My eyes widen and my bottom jaw drops. I pick up my bike and start to manover it between the fence and shed. He grabs my arm again and is pointing to his mostache licking his lips saying "it good".
Its getting dark so I put as much distance as I can between me and him in a 20min sprint until I find another field down below the road near the river. No asking permission this time. I stealthily sneak down and pitch my tent and crawl in, realizing I've still got my red flashing LED light going hard on the back of my belt. Yep, Stealthy!
I check my new visa before dozing off. 3 Days?!!! Fack! Dunno what happened to the other 10.
I got out the map and did some rough calcs on distances to the Armenian border. About 280km, 140 for the next two days. No problem on a flat road with a tailwind.
The rain came down. It was heavy. The wind came up. It was strong. My tent flapped around all night. The shitty old trucks don't have much in the way of mufflers over here so the noise and the vibrations from fully loaded ones rumbling over the lumpy road continually woke me up all night and the stress of the visa situation made it near impossible to get back to sleep.
The next morning there were puddles all around and I packed my sodden tent in the rain and started out on the huge task ahead of me. The road was falling to bits, loose metal roads back home are so much smoother. After an hour I stopped at a shop for water & a group of local men gathered around. One of them, well dressed and elderly, explained that there were massive mountains ahead, he made howling wind noises with shivering actions which I took to mean blizzards. He'd said enough, before he went on to explain that the other northern route to Tbilisi was almost flat all the way, to make me decide to turn back. Yep, fack that!
I rode all the way back to the border to get my visa rectified, which meant going back into Turkey and coming through again, this time demanding the 3 month tourist visa, which I got for another US$60.
I blasted north up the coast to Kobuleti that night and was enquiring about accommodation When I met Pascha. Fluent in German but very little English. He disappeared into a bank and re-appeared with Khatuna, A local Georgian lady that spoke perfect English. She had me follow her and Pascha behind their car and led me to a nice homestay right on the waterfront, cheap as chips too. She then translated for me to get me settled in and then said hurry up and get ready, we'll be back in 10 mins to take you to a good restaurant. And it was good! I had a lavish feed of salad, chips, meat, mushrooms, and an introduction to Geoigian beer. Sweeet! I went to ask for the bill but Pascha wasn't having any of it. He went and paid it while I was still trying to fit all the food in. Bless them! I'd heard of Georgian hospitality, and was now experiencing it first hand.
They dropped me back at at the homestay. It was raining heavily outside, but I was snug and warm. How could such a shit day turn into something so good I thought. Karma. The day was balanced.
Pascha lived about about 150 km from Kobuleti in the direction I was headed. So the next night, after a hard days ride, I caught up with him again. While I waited for him in town, some of the locals handed me a plastic cup and gave me plenty of refills of the local brew. The cold fizzy beer went straight to my head on an empty stomach. Pascha then turned up and bought me more beer and food from the shop and refused to let me pay for anything. He arranged to leave my bike in a local garage and then drove me to his house. I went to put my seatbelt on in his car, as they all drive a crack away from death over here, but Pasch quickly said NO! no! not permitted in Georgia. I think its like wearing a dress. You're not a man if you wear a seatbelt in this country. V sad.
At his house I met his ma and pa, who had the table all set for dinner again. We managed to converse a little with the help of frequent phone calls back to Khatuna, our now remote translator.
I tried going beer for beer with Pa but this guy was a pro, and had the stomach to prove it.
Ma noticed a spot on my face and, after making me a special garlic brew to keep potential colds at bay, wiped some ointment on it without question. Ahh. How motherly! A family away from home.
The next morning the hospitality didn't stop. Pascha's brother giving me dry insoles to replace my wet ones, two more puncture repair kits, another head torch, and offerings of warm clothes and a spare inner tube. I was truly touched by their gestures of kindness and thanked them heavily as I left the next morning.
The next day I was to experience my first Georgian tunnel. At the top of a mountain, I had the choice to keep going up and over the bypass but I'd gone up enough for today so took on the 2 km tunnel. The lighting was ok - just, the road surface pretty rough but the dangerous thing here, the reason I wished I hadn't entered when I was half way through, was the ventilation. Non existent! And the diesel engines here are old. Very old and very smokey. I was wondering about carbon monoxide poisoning and trying to monitor myself for dizziness etc all the way through. It stank, so I let out a rather verbal Homer - style Woo Hoo as I flew out the end towards the toll gate. I decided that wasn't worth paying for so went around it to be chased by a dog which I easily burned of on the slight downhill slope.
I called into a shop in Kashuri to ask for hotel whereabouts and was struck by more generous Georgian hospitality.
After explaining my situation in a rather jokey manor, I got two of the boys to point NZ out to me on a small globe he had for sale. They were close, looking all around Australia, but not under it. I was on my bike about to ride the 20km to the hotel they'd directed me to when the shop owner got me to follow him 50 m up the road to his house and said you must stay here tonight.
His mate Gorcha, then came in from the shop across the road. He was just closing up his automotive parts shop for the day and about to take all his staff to the pub, me included.
His workmates knew enough English to make a bit of talk, pointing out that Gorcha was a boxing champion in his heyday, "He is Mike Tyson" . I covered my ears and reeled backwards saying "leave my ears alone" to the laughter of the whole table. High fives all round.
He fed me up on wine and beer and their national dish, meatballs wrapped in a pasta type set up.
Once again, I wasn't allowed to pay a cent for anything.
Gorcha cautioned me about wearing a seatbelt on the way to dropping me off to my host family for the night. Eddie, the 15 year old son of my host family was studying English at school and made a pretty good translator, allowing me to treat the whole family to some pre-dinner entertainment with stories of my travels, and life back home, backed up with photos on my Ipod. It was a little embarrsssing when I left them to flip through the photos while I went to the outhouse and came back to find father and son had somehow found the porn strored in there.
While waiting the 3 days in Tbilisi for my Azerbaijan Visa, I met Cyruss (Hi Cyruss), the most interesting guy I've met in a long time. He's an Iranian that had spent the las17 years in USA and was returning to Iran after not enjoying the USA way anymore.
He explained a few things to me that I've never been aware of before:
The Bahai religion.
How to survive a nuclear war.
A brief outline on American politics and history.
America is threatening to Nuke Iran if they invade Iran next March.
Iran has over 200 Nuclear weapons up its own sleeve to use on a variety of selected targets.
USA will be devastated.
It will be the start of WWIII.
2 in 3 people on the planet will die.
The survivors of the holocaust, or clensing, will look back and blame it on religion.
The Bahai faith will become the biggest of all religions in a few more hundred years.
The importance of travel huh? I just cant get this sort of information in Warkworth.
Heading out of Tbilisi about a week later, the trees and hills disappeared as I rode across the Azerbaijan border out onto the flatness of the desert.
The first night out there I found a nice bit of grass a couple of hundred meters off the road to camp. As I cooked my pasta, 3 guys, that had been working on a digger nearby came over. They were all smiles and handshakes until I explained I was gonna sleep here for the night. No! one of them said shaking his head with a really serious expression on his face and went on to make kyote sounding howling noises, and explaining rain was due. I'd been dealing with dogs chasing me since Turkey and had my golf club, so wasn't too phased. Before they left I asked 'would I be ok?" They shrugged their shoulders and turned the palms of their hands upwards.
I ate my pasta and it was starting to get dark by the time I'd pitched my tent. Sure as hell, the boys were'nt lying. There came a chorus of howling in the distance.
I got inside my tent and slept for a few hours but was woken up at 2 am by more howling, this time not too far away. Suddenly it dawned on me what I sitting duck I was. This tent was going to be no protection for a pack of hungry wolves. I could hear the constant barking in the distance of sheppards dogs trying to protect the flocks of sheep against these attacking beasts. I could remember Philipp the Swiss speaking of these packs of dogs and mentioning that they have been known to attack and kill people. Now the worried look on the face of the digger driver hit me with such gravity and the reality of the situation sank in. Would I be quiet? Would I yell at them to try scare them off? I could take on 1 or 2 with my golf club but this howling frenzy sounded like they were in pretty large groups. I thought I should go and climb on the digger roof for the rest of the night, it would be freezing and possibly wet for another 4 hours but at least I'd be safe. I put on my raincoat and wooly hat and grabbedmy headtorch and kitchen knife. I looked out of my tent in the direction of the digger, it was too far away to even see in the darkness of the night. Abort that mission I thought and craweled back into my tent. I imagined getting torn to shreds and eaten alive as they sink their teeth deep in. What a hell of a way to go. I'd rather drown. It was now 4 am. I'd been worrying myself sensless these last two hours and decided if I was gonna die, I might as well get in a bit more of my favourite thing before I get eaten - sleeping.
6:30 it was getting light. There was still howling in the distance but I wanted out of here so packed up in record time and got the hell out of there. No more camping in Azerbaijan for me.
Another 3 days hard slog got me across the flat boring plans until I hit the Caspian sea, where I turned north to reach Baku. I checked into Hotel Araz and got a single room for US$17.40 /night. A bit steep but its an expensive city, smelly and polluted too.
It was Friday. I had to get a Chinese and an Indian Visa here so I tracked down the Indian Embassy first. It was closed due to an Azerbaijan public holiday, and to make matters worse, the following Monday was a public holiday in India, so the consular staff had decided to take that one too.
I used the Monday to get my Chinese visa, paying an extra $30 to get it processed in one day. Sweet.
Tuesday I applied for the India visa and was told to pick it up on Friday afternoon.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were spent doing bike maintenance,(see photo) and cleaning my panniers.
It must have been the trip to the India embassy that induced the fear of catching Delhi belly in my stomach and it acted accordingly. I produced a weeks supply of brown spray paint, keeping me tied fairly closely to the stinky hotel toilets.
Thursday night I discovered the 'On Your Bike' section of Lonely Planet's Thorn tree. It is so useful that I'm absolutely spewing I hadn't found it earlier. Post your question up there and you get a handful of answers from people that have already been there and done that. The important point is; one lad had the same 650GBP speedhub as me. He was asking for advice as his was developing cracks around the spoke holes.
Friday at 5 pm I got my India Visa. Coming out of the Embassy, for some reason, I remembered the posted photo of the cracked speedhub on the thorn tree id seen last night and decided to check mine. Sure as fack as I glanced down, there, right on top was an identical crack to what I'd just seen. My mind reran the list of solutions I'd read, and the most sensible one was 'phone the supplier, they've been known to courier out replacements free of charge, within a few days.
That's exactly what I did and pretty much exactly what happened. Top marks to them for aftersales service. I'd paid a premium price for all my equipment and now, for once, I was getting value for money. Over the phone I explained my problem of continually snapping spokes too. A design fault, the spokes pointing towards the centre of the wheel, needed to be bent outwards to meet the large diameter flange, causing excessive stress at the threaded (wheel) end. So asked for the new hub to be accompanied by a whole new wheel, and with a slightly larger sprocket to gear it down a little.
My new hub and wheel arrived on midday Monday and I was still up till midnight trying to fit it. The new larger sprocket not fitting into my tight new chain. I'd thrown away the spare links and the chain's slightly too short to allow the new wheel to sit in the dropout slot properly. It's just barely sitting there. Clamped in place by the quick release skewers. I'm hoping the chain will have worn enough by the time I get to Tehran to fit properly.
On Sat night I felt well enough to go out to a few bars with a group of 4 Croatian lads I'd met in the Azerbaijan embassy in Tbilisi, A few beers and the Scotland-Italy football match made for a goodnight out for a newfound teatotaler like me. 3 of these fine young lads will be traveling down under in March/April next year. They're doing a world tour of 80 countries and so are on a pretty tight budget. So if any one back home (NZ & OZ) has an unattended couch or livingroom floor they could kindly provide for the odd night, they'll greatly appreciate it. (their English is near perfecr).
These Embassy seem to be a great place to meet people as I met an English girl in the Indian Embassy here. Arpana kindly took me out to a fantastic Thai restaurant, on the 17th floor of a hotel building- way too flash for my worth but an absolute treat for a budget traveler like myself.
She is even saving me a couple of nights rent by letting me sleep on her couch in a flat. The only catch is, I have to share it with her 5 cats. There was a bit of a fight to stretch out on the end of it last night and I lost, enduring a 3 inch claw mark, which came straight through my sleeping bag, along my foot. It was dark so I don't even know which one it was. I'll see if I can get their pics up for you cat experts to pic the guilty one...
Hopefully blog you all soon from Tehran!
All the Bez