A TOOT AND A WAVE
DAVE AND CREW LEAVE TURKEY AND HEAD ON...
If you are a faithful follower of the travels of Dave and his friends you will be delighted to hear that the next thrilling installment is now here! if you are new to the story and want to catch up with their adventures so far then here is a link to follow...Enjoy!
We were at the border between Turkey and Georgia, a town called Sarp on the Black Sea. There was the now familiar queue of lorries stretching for several miles. Three of us went through the process of leaving Turkey with ease but poor Mr Chip ran into difficulties.
“The Computer Says No”.
Back when we first arrived across the other side of Turkey, Milky and I were registered on our bikes but Chip had to enter his van and his KTM. At the time it took a while but with a help of a translated letter of explanation and some patience we gained entry. But here on the western border the official was asking Chip where his transit was. The letter came out again and explanations were given. It wasn’t received well, so whilst Chip went from one official to another we settled down in the sunshine watching other travellers going through the border crossing. Eventually Chip was taken into the main office block, we wondered if we would ever see him again and started to pick which items we would take off his bike. Unknown to us Chip had found a friendly suit who helped him deal with the various officials that needed placating. Not only did the suit get Chip past the officials but assured him that from now on the computer would say “Yes”.
Lovely man, and with a great deal of gratitude we left Turkey and headed the short journey to the Georgian border. No problems getting in, passports stamped we found some local currency and headed along the coast towards Batumi. Driving cautiously through the busy traffic we zigzagged around the cattle that were hanging out in the middle of most of the roads in a manner that can be seen in India. Traffic was very assertive and at that time we were unsure how the local constabulary dealt with foreign riders. As it turns out we only experienced friendly reactions from police wherever we went on this trip.
A toot and a wave
At Batumi we turned west, it is marked on the map as a main road. Dirk had heard that the route had an unmade surface which excited me but apart from the odd small section where the surface was broken or a stone fallen from the many gorges it was black and fairly smooth. Not far along we passed a KTM Georgia van and trailer. A toot and a wave and a little thought that we should be OK for spares should we need them.
A little further up the road we stopped to eat. The restaurant was up a steep set of wooden stairs on a wooded cliff edge next to a waterfall. The seating was on a deck and the guys running the place looked bemused when we tuned down vodka and beer because we were riding. After the usual questions and ordering we were to be entertained by our hosts which entailed them playing Georgian pop music at full volume on a very powerful sound system. After several tracks the man with the volume control was persuaded to turn it down so we could take our fingers out of ears and eat. The food was much needed and plentiful, not too dissimilar to what we had been eating through Turkey.
Continuing up the valley we could see the hills getting considerably taller with clouds on the top. We went through the obligatory road works and then had ten miles or so of brand new road surface. This was obviously what Dirk had heard about but it was all being repaired, what a shame.
Another twenty, miles another town
Another twenty miles and another town. This one was very busy with a fork in the middle of the main square, I asked a policeman standing in the road which way, and he indicated right. Just out of town the road disappeared and became a very bumpy track so we went back and took the other route. I was at the back of our group and noticed some guys who on seeing us, jumped into a pick up and chased up the road after us. We stopped, they stopped and insisted the policeman had been correct. It is marvellous that we learn so much just from gesticulating! Back to the bumpy track then. Deep joy as the next fifty miles or so was all pretty much unmade road. This was the only road over the mountain that is clearly marked as a main road going through fairly large villages all the way along. It turns out this is a semi-automonous region and our guess is they are possibly starved of some of the resources that other regions have. Anyhow I am all for it as it made for fantastic riding, Of course it meant that stuff fell off my bike but as I was in front I let the others stop and collect it all for me. It gave them some responsibility. As the days went on I did get more diligent at strapping on waterproofs etc.
Going to the dogs
We knew we were getting high up the mountains when we entered the cloud. The track was very wet and the vista a little desolate, not unlike parts of Wales in fact. There was a small village at the head of the pass where we stopped and chatted with a Dutch guy who was on a cycling tour with his son. They had both recently completed big exams and were on a father/son bonding experience and having a jolly time too. They had our utmost respect after we had used our bikes horsepower to get there and they had used their own legs. The trip for them had been great, the only nasty experience was the packs of semi wild sheepdogs that attacked at will. They had to walk between their bikes, shouting and throwing stones to keep the dogs at bay. Scary stuff. Again we had the security of horsepower not to mention boots and loud exhaust.
Going down the other side was just as much fun with a number of stream crossings. The west side was more wooded and as we descended the clouds parted and we were back in sunshine. All the time you have to remind yourself that this is a main thoroughfare for the area, it is well to remember you are not doing an enduro, despite the temptation, as you are guaranteed to meet numerous old transit minibuses that make up the transport system. They will invariably be needing to use the part of the track you want to use.
I wanna go back, I wanna go back!
Then we were down, back on tarmac and undulating farmland. All I could say was:
'I wanna go back, I wanna go back.'
But we didn't, instead we pushed on to the town of Akhaltskhe, absolutely no idea how you say that but it has a fantastic castle overlooking the town and the beer is good, plentiful and cheap.
We decided to spend a couple of nights here, you might think we could have learned to pronounce the name but, no. Instead Chip wanted to do the large and newly restored castle whilst we three fancied a trail ride unencumbered with luggage.
After a brief study of the map we headed west on the main road and sought out a trail. Finding it we headed up them thar hills only for me and Dirk to throw our bikes on the floor in fairly quick time. OK, back to the road and find another route. This time we kinda followed our noses, well just rode where it looked fun. We found ourselves, well I don’t know where exactly but it didn’t matter there were always people around somewhere to tell you, not that it meant much to us either but we had some nice chats with villagers and rode for miles across hills and dales. In the end the need for food got us to look more seriously for our position in the world. Of course we hadn’t gone too far and we headed for a town called Akhalkalaki, mainly because we thought we might be able to have a stab at pronouncing it.
Akhalkalaki is a fairly big market town and so we looked for a place to eat. Georgia is not so big on eating out as Turkey and we had to look hard before we saw/smelt the barbeque. In the small café we were once again turning down vodka and beer. We ordered food and Fanta, the guy who spoke a little English asked about vodka again, we explained again we were on bikes, he shrugged and we were given the bottles of Fanta. There was vodka in it! Ah well if you can’t beat ‘em….Only had the one though.
Worn to gums!
By the time we had lunched the market was winding down and it was time to head back. There was a shock awaiting me when we got back to the bikes. I had a quick look at my chain that had required adjusting a couple of times since replacing the lost wheel nut. I was more than a little horrified to see the teeth on the rear sprocket were worn to gums. Shit! Shit! Shit! I said nothing to the others at this point as there was nothing that could be done. I rode very conservatively on the 40 mile ride back. Not able to enjoy the twists and turns or use the wonderful acceleration coming out of corners. I was just waiting to hear the chain slip over the gummy sprocket. It didn’t, phew, much relief. Showing the others my dilemma we had to have a rethink about the route. Beer was called for as well as a bit of an internet search to find KTM Georgia. The irony is that I had been deriding the constant need for wifi for smart phones as I don’t have one. Now how grateful was I when the location of KTM was discovered?
They live in the town of Rustavi south of Tbilisi about 150 miles from where we were staying. So plans were moderated because for me it was an essential diversion that I needed to do with a steady throttle. Dirk was happy to come with us as he wanted his rear tyre changed. The first fifty miles or so were on a lovely twisty road that wound its way through valleys and gorges. Then the scenery flattened out and the road became straighter, normally this is not a good thing but I was relieved.
A luncheon stop had been planned in Gori, a town of note about 60 kms west of Tbilisi the capital of Georgia. Gori is the birthplace of Joseph Stalin and there is a museum in his honour. A not to be missed attraction that includes his personal railway carriage. It is everything you might expect it to be.
Busy in Tbilisi
Then on through Tbilisi, which is a very busy place and very hot too. Sadly no time to stop and sight see.
On the outside of Rustavi there is a large new motor complex. Apart from a race circuit and associated businesses there is a big administrative centre for registering and importing vehicles. It is one busy place. We were certain KTM were there but it took us a few attempts to find it. Eventually we found their showroom and it had everything in it except for a KTM! Well that’s not quite true as there is a KTM racing car. There was a large Honda tourer though?? Anyhow we found a nice man who explained that there was an off-road tour going on (we had seen them a few days before) so the bikes and guys were not about but a mechanic would be around the next day.
On to a hotel on the edge of the town, a town that is predominantly made up of hundreds of Stalinist East European blocks of flats. Having negotiated a reasonable price for a room we went into town in search of food. No restaurant could be found so plentiful supplies from a supermarket and back to our hotel to watch the disappointing match between England and Uruguay, nuff said. During the evening it became clear how the hotel owner made most of his living. A taxi would arrive dropping of a couple who after making appropriate noises in a neighbouring room, would then leave a while later.
The mechanic did not show up too early but once he arrived we were taken to a garage at the race circuit where a new sprocket was produced.
I had fitted a small rear sprocket to give better road speed but of course as KTM run enduro machines for off-road tours they only had large sprockets but needs must and a new piece of chain was also added to mine to allow it to get round the expanded new sprocket. My comfortable road cruising speed was now reduced to 55ish mph rather than 70. But on the off-road trails it was great.
Having wasted a couple of days diverting to Rustavi we had to decide whether to stay in Georgia and visit some of the places we had wanted to see or head straight to nearby Armenia. Given the time and distance yet to travel it had to be one or the other. Armenia it was as we would be coming back into Georgia on our way back to Turkey.
The trail to Armenia
There was a fair bit of trail on the route south to Armenia, which suited my gearing perfectly. The terrain was undulating grassland all the way to the border but not far over the other side it became very hilly with woods and lakes. We were pretty close to Azerbaijan and I have to tell you the two countries don’t see eye to eye over very much. There are strange pockets of each country in the other, most bizarre but it didn’t affect our progress through this lovely area.
We found a hotel next to a river just outside the town of Aknaghbyur. It was a fairly plush place with a bar and outdoor swimming pool. The owner had put a big screen up by the pool and was showing the football. Local lads turned up to drink a few beers, jump in and out of the pool and watch the game. Costa Rica beat Italy, very entertaining with beer n chips.
Aknaghbyur is a market town so we went to find a café for breakfast. There wasn't one, eating out not a priority so we bought some tasty pastries from a baker and headed on our way towards Lake Servan, taking the smaller road along the eastern shore.
By the top of the lake there were a number of large deserted Soviet style factory buildings. The rest of the area is green fields with hills rolling down towards the lake with the odd village dotted along the way. Looking across to the western side of the lake, the hills rose a lot higher, some were capped with snow.
Stopping at a roadside store we bought some iced coffee which seems popular in these parts and is very nice too. We were joined by four Russians on a tour of the region. They were drinking beer and were keen to chat for a while.
The day was hot and sunny, dipping a toe in the clear waters of Lake Servan was a must but no sooner were the Alpinestars off and feet in the warm water than we were covered in millions of midge type insects that took all the fun out of paddling. Couldn’t get back on the bikes quick enough.
Go Go Go!
At the foot of the lake in the town of Martuni we turned south and headed up high through grasslands till we reached the Vardenyats Mountain Pass at about 2,500 meters. The view was stunning from the “caravanserai”, a place for weary travellers and their animals to rest. We didn’t need to rest as the ride down the other side was tempting us to go, go, go and it was as fantastic as it looked from the top.
Into the valley
From the bottom of the valley we followed the road that ran by another border with Azerbaijan, up high again then west towards the other side of the Turkish border where we had been the week before. This time on the western side of Mount Ararat. Descending to the valley floor from the hills was amazing. The scenery had changed from grass and trees to harsh rocky terrain and it was very, very hot. The steep road passed through one of the strange pockets of Azerbaijan, no idea how that works. I undid my jacket and lifted the visor to get fresh air, there was none. Along the flat valley floor there was an abundance of lagoons where trout are bred and sold at the side of the road. We were running north now, parallel to the route of the previous week, looking up once more at the legendary Mount Ararat. But now we were just a short ride from Yeravan, the capital of Armenia and our half way point.
Ah so ends the story for today folks - but plenty more exciting adventures to come - watch this space and thanks very much to Dave.
If you have travelled any of these parts and want to drop us a line about it email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER
Sign up to receive updates and new posts straight to your in-box.