2009/08/13: Camp East of Gori 93 km
We headed west from Tbilisi. Much of the population of Tbilisi also heads west to Batumi – a resort town on the Black Sea Coast – at this time of year, so we shared the road with cars packed with beach paraphernalia, and passed stalls that sold hammocks, umbrellas, and beach balls. Our map showed back road options, so we turned off and began to meander through villages, – dodging cows and flocks of geese.
People were remarkably friendly toward us. We stopped to try and buy plums, but found we weren’t allowed to pay for them. The fellow with the plums brought out a cartoon of Jumber Lezhava to show us. Jumber is a legendary Georgian long-distance cyclist, now in his seventies, who lives in Tbilisi, and about whom the French couple Bruno and Isabelle had told us. I think part of our especially warm reception in Georgia stems from the fact that they have a well-developed sport culture, and another aspect is that people, in a country which has seen conflict, now see the arrival of independent tourists as a sign that they are becoming more stable. No sooner had our attempted payment for the plums been refused than an old woman approached us, handed me an armload of tomatoes, and shyly walked away.
We camped in a quarry (which also partially served as the local garbage dump) before reaching Gori. Some of the tomatoes enhanced the one-pot dinner.
2009/08/14: Prickly Trees Camp 55 km
We pedalled to Gori for a second breakfast, and visited the Stalin Museum. Gori is Stalin’s birthplace. There is a Stalin Street, and a grandiose museum with rooms full of memorabilia and black-and-white photos, all labelled only in Russian and Georgian. The rail car in which Stalin travelled during WWll was on display outside. It was in this that he also travelled to Yalta, Ukraine at the end of WW2 to sign the treaty which – some would say – defined the post-war era.
We continued on tiny roads, and needed to stop at each of many junctions to confirm our winding way. At one point we were invited for coffee with a friendly family, and many neighbours came round to inspect us.
At another junction, a woman walked out from her farmhouse with a platter of hot cheese fritters, and the minimum we were able to accept was two each, even though we’d just eaten a large lunch. We ate one in her presence to show our heartfelt approval, and tucked three away for a convenient supper.
2009/08/15: Borjomi 43 km
At one point, before we got onto the lesser road to Borjomi, a policeman called out “Hello my friend!” on his loudspeaker from his patrol car. Only in Georgia!
Borjomi is in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, and is a source of various mineral waters, some for drinking and others for bathing in. We parked our loaded bikes under the watchful eye of security guards – never scarce here, and who never seem very busy. We hiked about three kilometres past gaudy amusement park areas and into more peaceful woods, where we bathed in warm sulfurous water in a concrete tub by the river. On our return, we found a hotel rather than press on into the evening.
2009/08/16: 1st Turkish Camp 75km
We rode a gorgeous road through the National Park towards the Turkish border. Old forts were on every crag and peak.
Forest gave way to meadows, some grazed and cultivated, as we ascended. I saw a sign for an Elkana test plot, and we detoured down a track to inspect it. In Tbilisi I had bought booklet published by Elkana, which shows many of the old varieties of grains that they are trying to ensure are preserved through their agricultural diversity program, so a quick look at the test plot made that more real.
It seemed we had rushed through the Caucusus far too fast. This is an area of exceptionally high biodiversity with many endemic species, a paradise for naturalists an birdwatchers. It cries out to be explored again at walking speed and with binoculars in hand.
We changed our remaining Georgian lari into Turkish lira in the bazaar at Akhaltsikhe, and headed for the border. Madlobt Gurcistan -Thank you Georgia.