Cycle, eat, dance | Bike touring the mountains of Georgia

Cycle, eat, dance | Bike touring the mountains of Georgia

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That’s why the bus stations in Georgia are full of cowshit! We found them! The culprits are here… Which bus are you waiting for?! Welcome to part two of us cycling through Georgia, the country. After nearly half a year and thousands of kilometres on the road we are on our way to an electronic music festival, high up between the steep slopes of the Greater Caucasus, a giant mountain range between eastern Europe and western Asia. Last episode we already reached the centre of the country and have a few more days left to make it to the Magic Mountain Shovi, up north in the Racha region. So, come with us, as we navigate breathtaking mountain passes, and streams of Chacha, eat our way through piles of delicious food, and even move into an abandoned building of the soviet times.

You will turn left, there is a river, after the small river there is a small house. Where are you from? From Armenia. And he? He is from Germany. I suppose your husband, yes? Yes, yes! Where have you started cycling? In Germany. With bicycles all the way from Germany? Yes! I served in Germany.

Served? Where? At the Soviet Army. There is a small town… Drachhausen, Drachhausen! Cottbus, Cottbus! Cottbus. Former GDR. Okay! I served there 40 years ago. In the army, I see. So, Arev talked a bit with Simon, an old man from the village here. He said if we go back a bit and take a right turn, apparently there is kind of a white house that is empty, and we can stay the night there.

So let’s see if that’s true. Are you sure this is the right way? Left or right? I don’t know, I think right, but I don’t know. Yeah, there is just this river in the way, so… As we don’t like cold and wet feet in the evening, we pitched our tent right next to that small river.

We’re crossing the mountains from Khashuri to Sachkhere on our way to the Racha region. It’s very humid, that’s what mushrooms like, so they’re selling a lot of mushrooms at the side of the road and they are utilising the bus stops. Gigantic mushrooms, wow! Hello! We are in Sachkhere.

We’ll be resting here for two nights, before we have to climb up the mountains … there. Always those people with the white powder on the nose. Good morning from Sachkhere. Arev had her birthday and now we’re heading towards Oni.

It is a 1800 metres climb to the top and then down again to Oni. It’s almost 12 o’clock. I guess it’s the slowest start we’ve had… For a long time. Maybe all the time?! So, let’s go! We just bought some last supplies here in this little shop. We have some cookies and crackers and stuff. Oh, wow.

Now he gives us an ice cream, that’s so kind. Thanks! This will get us up to speed. Oh, rain. So, a perfect day for cycling.

2:40 PM, we did roughly 700 metres of climbing and close to 20 kilometres. Every few metres there is a new sign announcing how steep it is for the next 500 metres to 1 or 2 kms. Yeah. Getting hungry. Soon we’ll pass the last village. I think there is about 900 more metres of climbing, or 1000.

Something like that. Never seen so much sweat on our body. I’m just dripping. We’re at about 1500 metres of elevation now. There are roughly 500 more to the mountain pass.

It’s 4 PM, so we have at least 2 more hours left. Let’s go a little further and then we see what we can do. Somehow we actually did it. We’re at the highest point right now.

I didn’t think we could make it, but a very new road really makes a big difference. The quality of the surface is fantastic. It was completed less than a year ago. Somewhere there, there is sunshine. It seems like we reached a new personal daily record with about 1700 metres of total ascent. As it is already late and we are quite exhausted we decide to camp close to the top, almost able to touch the clouds.

Woah! That’s really good! That’s a lot of Tkhemali! The next morning is warm and sunny and we look forward to the descent into the Rioni river valley. That was a Mashrutka. This is the public long distance transport in Georgia. Apart from a few trains they really only have those Marshrutka. They buy the large passenger vans, typically old Mercedes Sprinter, Fiat Ducato, Ford Transit and the like.

They install as many seats as possible and that is what they use for travelling. From personal experience we can also assure you that they drive like madmen from hell. But well, a 1000 metre descent with an average -10% is pretty mad as well. Our V-brakes are smoking, as we fly down the myriad of hairpin turns.

30 kilometres to Shovi. We’re looking for a little place where we can have something to eat. Hello. Do you speak Russian? A little bit, yes? Yes! Is there a small restaurant around? Yes, over there.

So, we were hungry and we ordered a little bit of food. We went a bit nuts, as you can see. So, Arev was like “we might not have enough bread, let’s order some cornbread” which is also typical Georgian. But I don’t like it so much, so she’s like “Okay, then obviously, let’s have a Khachapuri” which has about 10.000 calories per bite, because it's double layered bread, and it’s stuffed with cheese.

So, if we would have one Khachapuri together, that would be enough. If we would have this potato and meat with a salad and some bread that would be enough. If we would have this soup with a salad and some bread that would be enough, but we have all of it! Don’t go to a restaurant when you’re hungry! But it’s tasty, so we’ll spend a lot of time here, eat everything and then probably not cycle so much. As the weather forecast predicts a fair bit of rain for the coming 24 hours and we are ahead of schedule we decide to rest in Oni and Arev found just the perfect place. So, our house is built. Now I’m going to show you the actual house.

By the way, don’t be fooled by the appearance of the roof, because the roof doesn’t look very waterproof. What do we have here? This used to be a veterinarian pharmacy. Unfortunately I can’t read any Georgian. Some Soviet cupboards. Those are funny old Soviet light switches, I know them from Armenia.

Oh, this place is full of bottles. Okay, let me see. This room is a bit dark.

Oh my god. There are still so many documents here. A poster from 1991. I know this cartoon! Yes, this is it.

We’re going to stay here. How do you feel, Mathias? Pretty cool. I think this is the first good abandoned house we’re staying in.

We tried once but the place was full of… trash…. In a country that has operated under communist command economy rules for several generations you are bound to discover some oddities, even now, 30 years later. Our temporary home, the old vet pharmacy, is located in a big backyard some 50 metres from the mainroad. To our surprise we discover a basic and very old canteen hidden behind it.

There is not a single sign mentioning its existence, not on the road, and not on the building itself. Had we not wandered the surroundings asking the 3 old people inside that very building where we could get some food, … Well, needless to say, apart from us they would serve only 2 other customers that whole day. Luckily we have a roof, because it’s raining a lot. Sorry? Shall I prepare the three pieces? *Speaking Russian. Do you want three? What? Do you want three more Khinkali? No, thanks. We might stay here for another night, and we’re not late for the festival.

We still have one day, so tomorrow we can just cycle to Shovi. And I have someone here. I think he’s hungry.

They don’t have much choice, but they have Khinkali, which is amazing, because Khinkali are always amazing. Wow, they are gigantic. What is this? Oh no. Chacha. Thanks.

Thanks. We stayed the whole day in our palace. But today the weather is great and now… Festival, woohoo. Oh, it has been so many years since we’ve been to a festival.

I don’t know any of the artists, but it doesn’t matter. It will be amazing! Also you will be able to see the rough and extremely steep mountains of the High Caucasus of Georgia. I’m struggling a little bit because it’s steep, but also because yesterday I had an encounter with a nice go from Svaneti, a Svan… Oh my god, holy shit! Wow, that was a little… again… I’m a little bit afraid of heights, and here it’s a little bit high. Look at this.

Yeah, but that guy ordered a bottle of Chacha, which is the local vodka. But when I say vodka, that’s really not a comparison, because vodka usually has 38 to 40% of alcohol. But what they sell as Chacha here is homemade liquor with 70% to 80% alcohol, which is… yeah… So today I am struggling a bit, but yeah… Fresh road. Good for us, but to be honest, the old one is so bad, so I’m not sure why they do it. But now my tires make a very strange noise. After taking a right turn over the Rioni river it is only 10 more kilometres to the festival location.

Onwards, to the Magic Mountain! What a fantastic place to be, Shovi at 1500 metres above sea level. We are surrounded by 3000 metre high peaks of the Greater Caucasus and less than 7 kilometres from the border with Russia, Georgia's northern neighbour and nemesis. Here we get to spend some long overdue lighthearted worry-free days, in the middle of beautiful nature, with a lot of dancing, way too much Chacha, and together with plenty of nice and like minded people. We set up camp a little away from the major crowds and next to a bunch of van lifers - mostly from Germany. They are also on longer journeys and while our new friends think that we are completely bonkers for coming all the way on bicycles, we have an awesome time together, visiting concerts, dancing through the nights and into the morning sun. A day after the festival ended most of our group is still there and we eventually take them up on their offer to slap our bikes on the top of one of their huge vehicles for a few days.

To avoid cycling all the way to Tbilisi via the extremely busy main road, we also decide to take the train from Kutaisi instead. This is a very typical house here in Tbilisi, over 100 years old. There are wall paintings from 1909 up there. Different families live together sharing one yard and we happen to stay in one of the apartments.

Talking to our hosts Arev quickly discovers that they are also Armenians, and that we actually had booked our room in the Armenian quarter of Tbilisi. Mathias will we reach Armenia today? Most likely. It’s not too far, it’s not too steep, so it’s definitely possible. And I’m so excited, because that would mean that we reached my home country by bicycle. We’re ready to go. Goodbye *in Armenian* We didn’t show much of Georgia, but we kind of needed a little break from filming.

We were tired. It’s a beautiful country. Behind us as we’re leaving Tbilisi you can see the typical high rise apartment buildings of Soviet times. They tend to be around 60… Hello! *in Georgian They tend to be around 60 years old. Pretty much all the same. They look very similar to the ones in Armenia, which also used to be part of the Soviet Union.

We’ve already taken this very road a few times before, which feels strange after thousands of kilometres of the unknown. We’re approaching the border to Armenia. It’s very interesting, because here in the border region lives a mixture of people of Georgian origin, Azeri origin and Armenians. All happily together. Hello! Also, we have a cyclist from the village. I think it’s less than 5 kms to the border.

A little rain is coming up right now, but just a few drops I hope, it seems like. So still mostly dry. We’ll head pretty much straight to Yerevan and make an extensive break there and cut a lot of videos there for you. That will be a lot of work.

Let’s hope they are good. Will be funny to see ourselves. Also chubby me one year ago.

I think I lost about 10 kgs in the meantime. Pumped up to go to Armenia. Georgia however is a fantastic country to travel to and there is so much more to see, like many different landscapes, climates, and awesome food, but also a rich history and countless very old buildings, like churches, castles and the like. While Georgians sometimes might seem a little grumpy at first sight, especially in the mountains, they are very friendly and hospitable, especially if you greet them first. Just don’t ever try to keep up with the Chacha consumption and you will be fine.

If you stay away from the busier roads it offers countless stunning, albeit pretty challenging cycling routes and we will certainly come again. We just got stamped out of Georgia. Now we are in between. This was really quick. We waited maybe a minute. Very good.

Woohoo, we’re in Armenia. We made it! Welcome to Armenia! *in Armenian Join us next time, when we continue our Amazing World Bike Tour through my home country and to my birthplace Yerevan, where we want to spend some time with my family before heading on, further and further to the east. Hey, we Arev and Mathias, a couple of independent amateur filmmakers on an unsupported journey around our planet. In late 2021 we sold our belongings and set out to explore, grow and show the world as we see it, in the hope to inspire some people along the way. If you like what we do, it would be great if you could help us out.

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2024-01-31 20:29

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