We are not able to update as frequently as before so this is a long post about three days:
Day 59 (Batumi – Keda)
We stayed in Batumi not only one but two days longer than planned and the reason was that we needed more time to take care of our bikes and to do administrative issues such as preparing visa applications for Uzbekistan and China. I have read blogs from other cyclists telling about these preparations taking a lot of time and I then had problems understanding why – now I do understand why….
The evening before we left a Polish cyclist arrived. He is on his way to Sydney and will take just the same route as we so we had a long conversation with him regarding routes, visa applications etc. He will wait a few days in Batumi for his brother who is hitch hiking there, but I think we will see Bartek again since he seem to ride quicker than we do.
When we finally left the gueshouse it was already 2 PM but since we only planned to ride 40 km to the village of Keda it didn’t really matter. We are waiting for an important e-mail and need to pay for our letter of invitation to Uzbekistan so we needed to find internet somewhere. The receptionist at our hostel said there are guesthouses at Keda so we planned to go stay at one of them and do all our internet business there.
Batumi isn’t big but we got lost on our way out. After asking a couple of people we finally found the road that leads up to the mountains. Georgia, and especially its hinterland, is cash country and to be on the safe side we stopped to get some more local currency at an ATM before leaving the last suburb.
Keda sits at 200 meters altitude and the road there was very good. It was never steep and there was not much traffic, but best of all was the surroundings that were wonderful. The road was in a valley with a little river in its midst and on both sides were farms growing wine. The steep hills on booth sides were covered with a lush forest with lots of oak trees and since there were so little traffic we could hear birds singing and bells from the cattle all the time.
Keda is straight to the east from Batumi and since we started late we had the sun in our backs and the during the late afternoon the sunshine made the valley look even more beautiful.
Right before Keda we stopped at a gas station. When we asked the staff where the guesthouses were they told us there weren’t any in Keda. That was bad news since we needed to find internet and for a while we considered to do the Turkish trick, i.e. to camp at the gas station but we decided to go on into the village center.
Keda was a small village, but big enough to have a roundabout in its center. We stopped there and I asked a police officer where the hotel was. He pointed at a pink house 50 meters away and we went there to ask at the restaurant on first floor. I tried to use my poor russian to ask if this was a hotel and the lady working there said ”no”….
The only reason we wanted to stay at a guesthouse was to get to an internet connection but since there seemed to be no hotel or guesthouse in town we decided to camp and went to a grocery store next to the roundabout to buy some supplies. A rule of thumb is to always doublecheck any information and the lady in the store also she pointed at the pink house. When I told her we had been there but got a negative answer, she sent someone over to ask again. The runner soon came back and told us it was closed for some reason I never understood.
The whole town seemed to be engaged in our struggle to find a guesthouse and when we had already given up a man came walking and told us we could stay at a private homestay for 10 GEL each (40 SEK, 4.5 €). Since we only needed to check our e-mail and make a payment we asked if the homestay had an internet connection and he said yes.
We walked to the homestay with the guy and he introduced us to the family and then left. An older man showed us to our room and where the bathroom was. He then said that we needed to pay 2 GEL each for showering. I didn’t feel a shower was necessary and I thought it was a bit expensive so we tried to negotiate and got it down to 1 GEL each.
When we had settled in our room we asked how to connect to internet. The man then turned on the large TV….. Not really our definition of internet. When two 10 year old girls (probably grand daughters arrived) they also said there was no internet and the computer they were playing games on was also not connected.
So much fuss for nothing. But at least is was a cheap place to stay at and the view from the balcony was outstanding. We didn’t know if dinner was included so we fried the few eggs we had together with some salami at the balcony. Dogs are usually the biggest problem for cyclists, but cats can be a nuisance too. One cat bit off our computer cable and now the one in this house was feasting on our expensive salami that I left on a table in the room for a minute while cooking at the balcony.
Day 60 (Keda – camp at 1360 meters altitude)
Our breakfast consisted of coffe prepared at the balcony, youghurt and some sandwhiches with salami. The cat only ate a little part of it and we cut off a large chunk between where it had eaten before having what remained ourselves.
The family’s house was at about 220 meters altitude and the mountain pass some 75 km east is 2025 meters above the sea level. Our plan was to ride as high as possible during the day. We knew the road up to the last village would be good but from there everyone we talked to said it would be in bad connection.
The ride between Keda and Khulo was wonderful. In the beginning it was not steep at all – only slowly going upward. The scenery was breathtaking and we stopped many times to take photos and vide clips. The road was now no longer in the middle of the valley but on the side of the steep mountain surrounding it.
Somewhere between the two villages was a little chapel that had been restored and that nowadays is often used for weddings.
The large crucifix inside showed that our saviour had a very well developed 6-pack.
We don’t have a proper road map – we only use a simple one from the tourist information that we got second hand from someone at the hostel in Batumi. On our map Khulo is the last village before the pass and we decided to stay there to have lunch. Just as usual when we stop at the centre of a small village we were soon surrounded by curious men. One of them spoke very good German and he invited us to his restaurant.
After taking our order he sat down to talk to us and we got the reason why he spoke so good German. He used to be a professional Greco-Roman wrestler and had competed for Stuttgart for 6 years in the Bundesliga.
When we left Khulo the road immediately got a lot worse. It was unsealed, full of potholes, fist size rocks and sometimes it was crossed by small creeks. It was still as beautiful as before and the cycling was very fun. We like to ride on this kind of roads and slowly climb towards higher altitudes.
What was the last village on our map was not the last village in reality. It seemed to be one very long village with houses along that road where ever it was flat enough to build one. This meant it was hard for us to find a spot to pitch our tent but we finally found a good spot. In order to not draw any attention we hid our bikes and luggage behind some trees and took our food and cooking gear and climbed up a hill where we could enjoy the sunset in the valley while cooking and eating our dinner.
Day 61 Camp at 1360 meters – Akhaltshike
When we woke up there was already some traffic on the little road below us. Children walked to school in the village further down and people leading their cattle out to the nearby fields. They all waved and smiled and used sign language to ask if we were going up our down.
When we started to roll it took us another 5-6 km of slowly climbing the poor road until we left the last settlements behind us. We were now at about 1700 meters altitude and the road got a little bit better.
Water is important….
But sometimes it easier to find beer and vodka in places like this little stall…
Close to the pass we saw big constructions of a skiresort going on. Skilifts were already built and now they were building hotels and a better road. We wondered if it wouldn’t have been smarter to start by building a good road so that all material and equipment could be brought up much easier.
An old russian truck loaded with cows standing tight to each other overtook us slowly. 10 minutes later we overtook it when the driver had parked and were pooring water on the overheated engine. It then overtook us slowly again only to not long after see us overtake it again when the engine once again had gone too hot. This happened a few times and we felt we were racing to the top of the pass with this old truck and felt pity for the cows. It can’t be easy to stand up when the truck bumps into all those potholes.
The pass was above the tree line and as we got closer we found lots of snow that hadn’t yet melted.
At the top of the pass there were lots of activity going on. A group of men invited me to come and have vodka with them and I declined as politely as I could. There was also a little magazin (shop in russian) where we bought some eggs to make a lunch omelette. While we sat eating there 2-3 old drunk men kept coming to us and we think they asked for money. We are happy to make a contribution but not when it is obvious that the money quickly will be used to buy more vodka.
During more than a month in Turkey we only once saw someone who was obviously the local alcoholic and here in Georgia we a few everytime we stop in a village. Turkey is a secular society and people can drink if the wish to but maybe the religion has created a tradition of drinking less. If so, it is a good tradition because I think the number of people constantly unsober can’t be good for society.
It was now time to roll down the 20-25 km to the next larger village. The road was only slightly better on the other side and only for some parts. Normally riding down is easy but although we didn’t have to pedal it was hard work of constantly applying the breaks while balancing down the rocky road. After a while I started to get blisters in the fold between my thumb and index finger due to all the breaking.
Eventhough we like riding on poor roads we always it is always a nice feeling to get back to a smooth paved road again. The good road started at an altitude of about 1400 meters and from there we cycled the remaining 35 km to Akhaltshike in about 1.5 hours. Quite a different speed than we had got used to the last couple of days.