We hadn’t cycled more than 1km from the Georgian border and we were already being offered a cup not of tea but of homemade wine. An immediate change from the multiple daily çay invitations we had become used to.
Besides this, the large numbers of (white) Renaults we had become accustomed to in Turkey, ranging from the ancient to the brand new, were replaced with the Soviet Ladas that we had grown to love in Bulgaria. Impressive how crossing an imaginary line can still bring about sudden change.
After spending almost two months in Turkey we were perhaps a bit spoiled with all the chai and other sorts of friendly offerings and invitations. Spoiledness aside, it would be dishonest to fail to say however, that Georgia and us got off on the wrong foot. It took nearly a week of cycling for Sarah to warm to the country. Pedro acclimatised perhaps a bit better.
It started with the driving and the honking. We love a friendly wave, a bemused smile, or even the occasional beep from a car as we pedal, but in Georgia the greetings mutated to another level. Every other car overtaking or passing towards us would honk, sometimes accompanied by an excitable smile, but most times with a blank expression as the driver zoom past us at 70km/h with just a handwidth between ourselves and the tonne of steel that they were trying to drive.
After being subjected to a relatively continuous stream of beeps for several hours one tends to end up feeling rather irritable and a little bit on edge. In an attempt to teach by positive reinforcement, we imposed a ban on returning any form of greeting to drivers that honked unless otherwise accompanied by a less aggressive smiley salutation.
In need of refreshment after shouting at so many drivers, we stopped to fill our water bottles by the side of the road. We gestured to an old lady (referred to as BOLSHY* from now on) selling honey, to ask if it was safe to drink, to which she replied by taking a drink herself. After playing with her glrandchildren for a while, who were quite curious about these sweaty strangers and their bikes, BOLSHY invited us to have a cup of coffee in her house, which we gratefully accepted.
The playing continued and escalated and we tasted some of their homemade yoghurt and honey. Both were really delicious and so to return the favour of the coffee and the chance to rest on their sofa for 15 minutes, we decided to buy some from them. BOLSHY hurriedly wrapped a pot of honey in a bag. The next day we understood the reason behind her quick bagging of the honey, which we discovered was significantly diluted with sugar water. The most painful fact wasn’t the money she had essentially stolen from us, but the fact that we had wasted our energy carrying a kilo of nasty glucosey syrup up a mountain all day!
The nail in the coffin was the morning we woke to find that a (assumed) canine had risen before us and snaffled Sarah’s freshly baked gf bread from the fire, made with our last ration of gf flour. Why couldn’t he have eaten the normal bread?! Buff…
I guess Georgia was teaching us a lesson on the desperation that animals and people can be lead to when they are hungry or have very little…
Thankfully we had the good company of @stefbikestobeijing – a guy from Munich called Stefan who is er… biking to Beijing). We had first met on Patara beach, in the south of Turkey, and then after pedalling for half a day together, had shared the catamaran experience together before heading separate ways. Aided by a trail of lost bike gloves, our paths crossed again however, 100km or so to the East of Batumi. And, so we became a pedalling trio all the way to Tbilisi. His good humour and shared frustation at the honky honking horns made us laugh and diluted some of the irritability.
We had ample time to reach Tbilisi before Pedro’s parents arrived, so we happily had plentiful breaks together snacking on our remaining rations of our favourite Turkish delicacies discussing bike and gear geekery, and having leisurely evenings sitting by a campfire enjoying the luxury of cooking dinner with two campstoves. We even crafted a makeshift grill and supplemented our more usual “pannier surprise” dinner with barbecued veggies and grilled not-quite-halloumi cheese.
In the week we cycled across the South of Georgia we got to experience amazing varied landscape, ever changing after each pass we crossed. From an alpine snowy landscape, to raw edged cliffed rocks, through green lush Eden hills and forests, quite often on terribly surfaced roads. Each of them provided us awesome camping locations, with great views and surroundings.
In between we contemplated isolated mountains or rural villages, with their old pink Soviet bricks, visited countless shops in the search for veggies and fruit and experienced many overly salted cheeses.
All of this somehow lessened a bit the noise of the honking that our ears were subjected to.
On our last cycling day before Tbilisi, we were looking for a place to camp before descending into town the next morning. As it happens, our spot of choice turned out to be a currently snow-less ski slope giving us our first glimpse of the city we’d been cycling towards for the last few weeks, Tbilisi.
The next day a crazy 1000m descent into town awaited us…
*BOLSHY : B*tchy Old Lady Selling HoneY