Dated: 27 May 18
Tblisi is in stark contrast to the countryside it over looks. As you walk along the streets lined with the likes of Gucci and Tommy Hilfigre, between the towering glass clad buildings you catch glimpses of the distant Caucasus Mountains. Its a bustling metropolitan with the aforementioned shopping opportunities, casinos and the appropriated dressed clientele. I’ve noticed one or two women walking along in their finery, shinny handbag clutched over a shoulder and a suspect pair of bloated lips amongst other things; its not a flattering look.
Its a great spot, vibrant and modern, gone are the rural villages, dirt roads and cattle drawn carts which are just a mere days cycle away. I’m stuck here for far to many days waiting for my Chinese visa application to be processed. So I decide to consume some Georgian culture by sampling some regional wine and beer. But on a budget. Off to the corner shop with empty plastic bottles where you can purchased draft beer; with our flagons now full we set up shop on some pallets a fronting a row of trendy bars, known as hipsters paradise (we its not but should be). The punters spill on to the street and mix with me and all the other bright sparks with the same idea. Its perfectly acceptable behaviour, locals and back packers do a like. It reminds me of Parisians sitting along side Canal Saint-Martin drinking wine and eating picnics of bread, cheeses and olives at post work sun downers on a summers evening.
Its funny, I thought that I would be in need of a days rest after a pretty tough stint from Istanbul but on the first afternoon I’m wondering why I’m not breaking ground and exploring the country; a city is a city. I could be amongst the fields, cows and open spaces. Rather than swilling cheap beer and chatting to this clown (and I mean that literally, this chap Matthew is a real life clown, though he prefers the term ‘street performer’). I could be pondering other places I would like to explore after this jaunt; track the Trans-Siberian Railway, Alaska to Quebec or Nepal by bike, instead my thoughts become increasingly hazy with each glug of beer.
My tent has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ to it though that might just be the smell; its like a teenage boys bedroom which never has the curtains drawn or a window cracked open, but its my space. I sleep far better in that fug filled green canvas bag than in the hostel though that could be on account of the snorer. There’s always one. I’ve met a few couples who cycle and share a tent, it’s cramped and smelly enough with one let alone two.
Now having been stopped for a few days when I sit idle my legs twitch or spasm sporadically kicking out, its very annoying but when cycling I don’t get this issue, sometimes I even get stirred awake. I’m told quinine prevents this so maybe I should take some more tonic with its partner in crime gin. That’s my kind of medicine. It’s the Georgia independence day celebrations on Saturday so I will have ample opportunity to take my medicine.. but I give it a miss, I’m escaping the concrete jungle.
At the Chinese embassy I met a German couple who are touring and we head off to those Caucuses Mountains. With Elis and Lucas in the cab of a builders van I am sat on an old tyre in the hold, with me is Adam another cyclist who met the Germans on the road. Lucas and Elis are the sort of people who you know are vegetarians without asking, who practice yoga and probably pick up rubbish by the road side as they cycle; I guess this at first impressions and they do not disappoint. They are good people. Adam is a tall smiley Englishman who didn’t used to be. A former signals engineer for London Rail (yawn) he decided that he needed a paradigm shift if we was to get more sunlight and more smiles; a life change; a yes man; he to is good people to. So he downed tools and left the UK by bicycle escaping the rat race in a fashion not to dissimilar to myself aside from the fact that I’ve never had a place in the race.
In what is probably my first hitch hiking escapade we are bound for Mt Kezbegi bordering Russia to the north. This hitching lark is a breeze, we were waiting less than five minutes before being picked up and we are joined by let another tourer who piles in the back of the dusty van not long after us. On our way Elis and Lucas enjoy the panoramic of the mountains as we weave our way along the narrow roads. In the back after discussing as to whether we have just been voluntarily kidnapped we catch just snap shots of the steepening slopes though a small cracked window as we loll side to side with the erratic turns of the van.
The following morning, I’m sat on the Kezbegi Mountain side on a grassy hump amongst our camp at about 2500m. They are a lazy bunch, its gone 9am and I’m sat on my lonesome watching the clouds totter past in the valley below which is home to the Gergeti Trinity Church; it rests on a small hill commanding a view of its parish below. We are planning to hike up to the foot of the Gergeti glacier. Already hikers have marched past, perhaps aiming to reach base camp, we don’t have the kit for that, unfortunately there is only so much one can carry on a bike. A vast flock of sheep and the occasional goat can be seen shearing the grass on steep slopes, their shepherds were up in time for sunrise. A porter on horse back leads two more animals past. They are burdened with mountaineering equipment, food and supplies for mountaineers aiming to summit the next day. Not a bad job, no office has a view like this
I cant help but laugh at the goats which are amongst the flock of sheep. They are quite amazing to behold, great horns and fine beards protrude from the billies heads. But its not this that amuses me. Their mane or hair is long and straight almost reaching the grass. In Zambia I saw real human hair for sale in shops and salons, Brazilian of course on account of it being straight and black. They are missing the biscuit what they should be buying genuine Georgian goats hair.
Despite a slightly dubious forecast we decide to reach the glacier at about 3600m. A simple jaunt up the hill. Simples. It is a great walk for those with appropriate foot wear but I cant say I have my hiking boots with me. Crocs it seems aren’t the all terrain footwear I had envisaged. To say that my toes were in a state of discomfort is putting it mildly for it turns out there were a fair few snow fields to traverse. At times I lost a snow filled croc in crotch deep snow when all of a sudden a leg would disappear from beneath me. So I fleeted between bare feet and the infamous crocs. Lucas on the other had with his ginger dreadlocks, probably hemp hoody and bare feet seems to walk as if he were Jesus on water. His face would suggest that he was strolling on a warm sandy beach not toe numbing ice and snow. Unflinching.
Was it worth the grief? I perhaps had ten small cold reasons why it wasn’t, but yeah of course though not for the view as there was barely a glacier in sight let alone the peak, on account of the clouds. You just cant beat mountain air, cheese and bread and a good perch on a mountain side. As with all these things the return leg is always faster, at least it was for me as I was practically trotting across the snow with an “eh” here and an “ouch” there.
Once back on warming grass our path was blocked by the flock of sheep. Now it seems harmless enough but their guardians are a tad more fierce. At first there was one, then there were five in a small semi circle around us. Sheep dogs here are rather large and it turns out that they have sizeable white teeth which were all on display with a side of growl and bark warnings. We stop and hold our ground but this is the only time I have thought that I might have a biter on my hands, make that five biters. They are a big Georgian molosser breed of sheep dog designed to fend off wolves in the night. Fortunately up pops a small and gruff looking Shepard from behind a tussock of grass, the sour face was probably on account of his life of early mornings, we follow in single filed silence through the wall of dogs and continue back down the mountain to the village below.
It was simply a delightful little weekend in the mountains, with good people and good mountain air.
This Polar Bear of a dog was at the church, I wanted to take him with me.