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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Water is important….
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.
Statistics for Cycling day 59
Distance: 52.7 km
Traveling time 4.39 hours
Cycling time 3.03 hours
Average speed 17.3 km/h
Top speed 32.4 km/h
Altitude gained 321 m
Altitude lost 124 m
Statistics for cycling day 60
Distance: 62.4 km
Traveling time 5.9.40 hours
Cycling time 5.51 hours
Average speed 10.7 km/h
Top speed 38.5 km/h
Altitude gained 1533 m
Altitude lost 386 m
Statistics for Cycling day 61
Distance: 62.7 km
Traveling time 9.26 hours
Cycling time 5.51 hours
Average speed 10.7 km/h
Top speed 58.7 km/h
Altitude gained 913 m
Altitude lost 1314 m
Do you remember our toothpaste quiz?
On April 10 in Bukarest we opened a new toothpaste tube and raised the question where we would be when it gets empty. The closest guess will get a postcard from that place.
Here are the guesses:
Danne Middle of Caspian Sea
Mum we Aqtau
Michael&Jodie Lake Vakhsh
Cousin Marie New Dehli or 15 June
Bootsabong Uzbekistan or 77days which is on July 14.
Jesper&Emma 17 August
We ourselves are guessing too, but not where we will run out of toothpaste but who will be the winner and if there will be any postcard to buy at that place….
It only took us two and a halft days to ride over the mountain pass and maybe it was a bit early for a rest day but we decided to stay one extra day in Akhaltsikhe to prepare our visa applications for the central asian states. Beside doing all administrative tasks we went out for a walk in the town and found the city library.
The following morning Leo’s mother cooked breakfast for us and we are lucky to be cycling since nobody who isn’t doing a lot of physical work during the days could eat that huge amount of food. Fried potatoes, huge pancakes, salad, fried eggplants, fried eggs, lots of bread, tea, coffee and some cake as dessert. That is the kind of breakfast a touring cyclist likes….
We needed something to do during our extra day off the bikes and Leo offered to drive us to the ancient rock city of Vardzia some 120 km south east of Bojormi. We got company on the tour by Chuck who works with organic farming in Canada and who is in Georgia to hold seminars and training with local organic farmers. Chuck is also a touring cyclist and has done many tours in north america and we had plenty of topics to discuss.
Vardzia is located in a narrow valley that has seen invading mongol, persian and turk armies pass by and the local people built the rock city to hide in during times of unrest. The place ias absolutely amazing and there are hundreds of rooms and chambers carved into the rock and even a working monastery with residing monks.
Statistics Cycling day 62
Distance: 50.8 km
Traveling time 4.28 hours
Cycling time 2.55 hours
Average speed 17.4 km/h
Top speed 52.6 km/h
Altitude gained 282 m
Altitude lost 474 m
I have mentioned in previous posts that central asia is the world’s epicenter of bureacrazy regarding visas. These countries used to be part of the Soviet union, but while the Soviet union is long gone, its bureacratic legacy remains unchanged. I think the ”stan-countries” actually are happy to recieve visitors who spend their money in their countries, but that they at the same time have difficulties to shrug off the Soviet bureacratic tradition. Visas are expensive and applications are processed slowly. Where and when the application will be quickest, simplest and cheapest is the given topic of conversation among travelers going into the area.
If the central asian states want us to come, but can’t get rid of their soviet heritage, China is very much the opposite. China doesn’t care about foreign money and is not too happy having western visitors in its troubled western regions. China also prefer travelers to apply for visa in their home country which causes problems to us since the visa’s validity would have run out by the time we arrive to the chinese border.
Applying for chinese visas in central asia has become much more difficult the last few years and all travelers have different ways to get the precious chinese visas. Our solution was to apply for an extra passport and leave it at home. When it was time to apply we had to present bookings for flights and hotels and in order not to create any suspicions we made it look like we were going to the normal tourist destinations in the eastern part of the country.
Our chinese visas were granted a few days ago and this was a great relief to us. My mother has now sent the passports with DHL courier service to Baku where we will continue by applying for visas to Uzbekistan and Kazakstan. The Uzbek visa is a bit of a hassle though since it will be valid only for 30 days set in the visa and not for 30 days during a for example two month period.
The ferry across the Caspian Sea remains very unreliable and we expect to have to wait for a week until we can board it. When we have landed on Kazakh soil we will have 8 days of ride through the dessert before reaching the border of Uzbekistan. Since Uzbekistan is 2000 km long we want to enter on day one of our visas validity and all this will require a very careful analysis before we set the date we would like to enter the country.
Leo’s Mum didn’t disappoint us today either. The breakfast was excellent just like the previous two days and today we were going to cycle so we really needed all that energy.
It takes time to eat a big breakfast and then pack everything and load it to the bikes and we didn’t manage to leave until it was 11 AM.
I take care of most of the mechanical issues and navigation while Wej is in charge of the economy. Since we had stayed at Leo’s guesthouse longer than planned instead of camping Wej decided we needed more cash before leaving town.
After a while Wej started to complain that her knee had started to hurt again. She had hit her knee when falling whilst crossing a creek on the mountain a couple of days ago. We had taken several rest days to let it cure, but now the feeling of uncomfort had returned. To have knees that don’t hurt is very important when cycling and we decided to stop as soon as possible and do the rest of the ride to Tbilisi tomorrow.
All of a sudden the bad road ended and was turned into a new 4-lane motorway with a wide shoulder to ride on and beside it some 7-8 km outside Gori we found a huge and very nice looking gas station with an adjacent restaurant and shop. We rode in, parked our bikes and found the best looking gas stations this far on the tour.
We parked the bikes and took our bag with the computer and went back to the restaurant to google on knee injuries. After a good nights sleep at the gas station we went back to have breakfast in the restaurant. Wej’s knee still ached and we didn’t know what to do so I wrote an e-mail describing the situation to friends back home who are doctor and physiotherapists. They soon replied that it possibly was some internal bleeding in the knee and that the best thing was to rest.
Simon had to rush to meet his son so we exchanged e-mail addresses and said we would try to meet in Tbilisi. As we saw Simon leave we had still not made any decision what to do.
In the morning we saw Marko riding by, by lunch Simon came and left and we still hadn’t started to move. We had now traveled 4630 km from Sweden by our own muscle power but now we seemed to get stuck at a gas station just outside Stalin’s hometown. We still had 70 km to go on the nice highway to Tbilisi but Wej’s aching knee effectively put a stop to it and there was nothing else to do than limp into town and catch a train into Tbilisi.
Georgia is a wine producing country and in our hostel wine and coffee is for free. Thom and the two of us spent the evening drinking wine and sharing experiences and ideas in the hostel’s little lounge area.
The following day we joined Thom and Nick to the Kazakh embassy to pick up their passports. Then the hunt for a decent bike shop started and we all ended up at Tbilisi’s Velodrome which definately has seen better days, but behind it there were some bike shops were skilled mechanics worked. On the floor in one of the shops we found an old and well used steel frame with the logo of ”USSR Race Team”. A retro bike built on that frame would definately be one of the coolest bikes ever to cruise the streets of western Europe.
Statistics for Cycling day 63
Distance: 68.2 km
Traveling time 6.31 hours
Cycling time 3.31 hours
Average speed 17.4 km/h
Top speed 19.4 km/h
Altitude gained 286 m
Altitude lost 330 m
We have had the idea of cycling from Göteborg to Bangkok for at least three years and during these years we have read blogs and books about cross continental cycle touring. The ideas went from dreams to something highly plausible about two years ago and the decision to go was made about one year ago.
The last year we have carefully planned everything from choice of route to what equipment to bring. The route has been changed a few times and we have exchanged a lot of our old equipment in order to make our luggage lighter and less bulky. We knew what lay ahead of us and nobody could say that we did not know what we were heading into.
We have flown across the euro-asian continent so many times that we have lost count and with a minimum of hassle and effort you will board an aircraft in Copenhagen in the night and arrive in Bangkok the following morning. This smoothness is all gone when traveling overland and everyone who has ever tried has run into the visa hassles of central asia.
All this was known to us and we made our best to make a good plan for visa applications. We knew we would have to wait for the visa process somewhere so we tried to make it coincide with longer stops in cities we wanted to visit anyway.
What we didn’t plan was to make mistakes……
When applying for a Uzbek visa a letter of invitation (LOI) is needed and travel agents recognized by the Uzbek government can issue such documents. Already in April we contacted one company and they carefully informed us what we needed to do in order for them to be able to issue a LOI. When the LOI never came I checked our e-mail correspondance I found out we hadn’t sent in all required documents. We had forgotten to mail them the letter proving our employment and the clock hadn’t started to tick yet, but it does as of today….
Getting a LOI takes 10 working days and we can’t apply for the Uzbek visa until we have received the LOI which probably will be on Friday June 21. The Uzbek visa will then be ready around June 28.
We still haven’t applied for our visas for Kazakhstan, but we will do that in Baku. Rumours say it is a straight forward process that takes 4 days since there is no requirement of letter of invitation. Our initial plan was to arrive in Baku today and start the visa process for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It will take around 7-9 working days to get both visas and then we would try to get on the unreliable ferry connection across the Caspian Sea.
I got very upset when I understood that my negligence to provide all required documents will delay us with one week, but this mistake also provided us with an opportunity for Wej to let her knee rest properly. If everything would have been according to plan there would be a risk that we had pressed forward too early.
We planned 10 days (Monday-Wednesday) for the visa process and then budgeted 7 days to get onto the ferry. Now we will have to spend the 7 days waiting for the ferry to wait for the LOI instead and to make up for the time lost we will try to find a flight that will take us across the Caspian Sea.
It is very frustrating to have to wait for nothing, but we are in good company of a lot of other travelers and cyclist who are stuck in the same situation.
So there is not much to tell more than that we are stuck in Tbilisi….
We are now in Azerbaijan at a gas station with internet connection in Gabala city some 220 km from Baku where we estimate to arrive on Monday afternoon.
Wej’s knee works fine, the heat is intense and the scenery is stunning.
More news will be posted in a few days.
Georgia isn’t a very big country and when we arrived in the country on May 20 we only planned to stay for about two weeks before continuing to Azerbaijan. Then two things happened that would slow us down. First Wej fell and hurt her knee and then we discovered we had made a mistake when providing information to the travel agency that would make the letter of invitation to Uzbekistan. All this made us have to wait and all the waiting have been frustrating.
We have been in good company though and met plenty of other cyclists from many countries. I knew of 12 other cyclist being in town at about the same time. It felt like Tbilisi was the gathering point for the cycle caravan going to traverse the silk road.
Wej and I were in no rush since there was a delay with the letter of invitation to Uzbekistan and we postponed our departure from Tbilisi one day at the time since her knee wouldn’t stop aching. When we finally left Tbilisi last Tuesday (11 June) our aim was to make a soft start and only ride for a few hours. It was raining the day before we left and when we finally got into our saddles the sky seemed to promise rain sooner rather than later.
This decision was not easy to make and I think we both were anxious about the consequences this would have for the rest of our journey. It was already noon when we finally got the bikes loaded and when we were about to cross the road and roll back to Tbilisi Wej said that we could try to bike a couple of kilometers first before we turned around. There was a long but not so steep uphill immediately after the hotel and when we had climbed it Wej said that she didn’t feel anything in her knee and we decided to continue a little more.
It appeared that the pain was gone and that she only from time to time could feel a little sting in the knee. We rode extra slowly and often stopped to rest and this strategy seemed to work. Wej’s knee was back in business again
Statistics for Cycling day 64
Distance: 20.9 km
Traveling time 3.53 hours
Cycling time 1.38 hours
Average speed 12.8 km/h
Top speed 24.5 km/h
Altitude gained 216 m
Altitude lost 45 m
Statistics for Cycling day 65
Distance: 60.9 km
Traveling time 7.23 hours
Cycling time 3.58 hours
Average speed 15.3 km/h
Top speed 44.6 km/h
Altitude gained 571 m
Altitude lost 643 m
Statistics for Cycling day 66 a (Georgian side)
Distance: 81.4 km
Traveling time 9.39 hours
Cycling time 5.02 hours
Average speed 16.2 km/h
Top speed 52.9 km/h
Altitude gained 680 m
Altitude lost 789 m