When God started to divide the earth among the various peoples, the Georgians were too busy feasting and drinking to go and stake their claim. By the time they turned up, the whole world had already been distributed. God asked them why they had arrived so late. The Georgians answered, that they had been busy feasting and drinking toasts to His glory. The Almighty sighed, because he just couldn’t be angry with the cheerful Georgians and gave them the land, he actually wanted to keep for himself. It was the most beautiful country in the world.
This little georgian version of the story of creation couldn’t describe the country more appropriately. The Georgians are so friendly and cheerful, that it gives you a constant headache. You can find out why in the following lines.
When we leave the turkish border towards Batumi it is already dark. Although the georgian way of driving is hard to get used to (no wonder most of the vehicles are completely dented), we make it through the traffic quite stress-free. The street is covered with big potholes and every once in a while, you have to dodge drunkards, who stumble onto the street. We already pre-booked a small room just north of the city. Unfortunately, our maps have the wrong location of our accommodation and we suddenly find ourselves in a dead end in front of a small substation. While we are still looking a bit confused at our maps, a man steps out of the building. He knows our guesthouse and jumps into his car to show us the way.
The house is at the end of a gravel road behind countless allotment gardens. As we park the motorcycles, “Kussi Bär” (Kiss Bear) already approaches us, fawning like crazy. Kussi Bär is the little black guard dog. She needs non-stop petting and kissing – that’s why we named her like that. The house is extremely rustic with a russian flair. The entrance room is full of junk and old stuff. The second room is the kitchen, where a super steep staircase with fairly short steps, leads to the upper floor. The owner is incredibly warm, but unfortunately does only speak georgian and russian. Whenever communication doesn’t work properly, she calls her english-speaking daughter.
Since it is already late, we just hurry to a small market to grab something to eat. There are no restaurants in that area anyway. Miriam examines a greasy nut pastry in the market, whereupon the nice seller offers her a sample to try. We decide to buy two more beers and are invited to join them at a table in front of the shop. A few seconds later we both have a full mug of Tschatscha (traditional georgian schnapps) in our hands and are fed with cakes. After half an hour the liquor bottle is empty and we drag ourselves up the mountain back to our room.
Unfortunately, the weather is not good here in Batumi either. A huge low pressure area hangs over the black sea and the next few days are supposed to be very rainy. We try to make the best out of it and visit the botanical garden and the city itself for the following days. At noon the sun comes out a bit on both days, before it starts to rain again heavily. Actually we wanted to visit Svanetia in the Caucasus in the northwest, but the weather forecast for that region is even worse. Therefore we decide to ride eastwards to Kutaisi. We saw a picture of a hot spring in the internet, that is said to be on the way to Kutaisi near Vani. It is exactly what we need to compensate the shitty weather.
On the way to Vani in the middle of nowhere, we reach a railroad crossing. Since we can easily overlook both directions and it is not busy anyway, we just cross over it and are promptly stopped by the police on the other side. The officer starts to check our documents. Up to this point I still don’t quite understand, what he actually wants. He walks over to his workmate in the police car, checks something and finally starts explaining, that we ran over a stop sign. “Stop sign?” – I turn around – “Oh – in fact, a stop sign” (in the middle of nowhere, on tracks that we have been following for half an hour and without having seen a single train so far). “Tobias, Tobias that’s a stop sign. You need to stop. One second, two second, then you go!” He hands us two tickets. “As an exception I give you the lowest ticket, which is only 20 lari (~7 €) – usually it would be 50 lari”.
While I’m getting indoctrinated, I watch the traffic at the railroad crossing behind the officer’s back. Not a fucking single vehicle stops in front of the stop sign. Although I know the police officer is right, I feel a strong craving to strangle him for that. Obviously I know how to handle a “stop” sign – but I also know, that in his country, where half of the cars don’t have a bumper bar anymore, I probably would have got killed a hundred times already by properly following the traffic regulations. Although I’m seething inside, I manage to stay friendly and show appreciation. It’s not like we would have another choice. So finally we continue riding towards Vani, while me being in a bad mood for a while. At least, the ticket has to be paid at any bank in the country within 7 days and we didn’t have to pay the police officers in cash. So everything seems to be legal.
When we arrive in Vani, we are sent around the area by various locals in search of the hot spring. Everyone seems to know roughly where the hot spring is situated, but nobody knows the exact spot. As we are just following a muddy tiny road, a man starts shouting at us. We stop, not knowing what we have done wrong and a happy grinning man suddenly appears in the garden next to us. He asks where we are from and what we are looking for. We should come to his garden and have some wine. I need plenty of persuasion to explain to him, that we still have to ride our motorcycles. Never mind – he excitedly runs into his house and returns with a 1.5 litre bottle of white wine. “This is a gift for tonight – welcome to Georgia”.
A few kilometers further we still don’t know, where the stupid hot spring is supposed to be. A police car stops, since we seem to look a little bit lost. Luckily we are very close and after well over an hour, they can finally direct us to the right place. Nothing is signposted and the path leads half through a private property. It is basically impossible for foreigners to find it without any local help. The next hour we sit in a magical hot spring in the middle of a cow pasture – a rather unusual place. Afterwards we roll the remaining kilometers to Kutaisi.
In the evening, while we are actually looking for something to eat, we pass a nice pub. Delicious draft beer – that’s hard to resist and the first glass is emptied pretty quickly. Shortly afterwards the waitress comes with two more glasses. The gentlemen at the neighboring table invite us. As soon as the next glasses are emptied, we receive new ones and the neighbours ask us to join them. The two gentlemen, like most other Georgians, can only speak georgian and russian. So we mainly talk by using the translators on the phones. After a while, they start ordering tons of food and coffee, even though they have eaten yet. “That is all for you and you should take the rest for tomorrow’s breakfast”. They have already had lots of wine and one of them starts getting completely pissed.
He has been chatting in georgian all the time and finally ends up only doing pantomime, since he can actually no longer speak anymore. We toast to dozens of things that I unfortunately cannot understand and to Miriam’s delight I am hugged and kissed countless times. We are quite glad to leave in the end. Otherwise we probably would have ended the same way this night.
The next day it only makes sense for us, to visit the nearby stalactite cave (Prometheus Cave), because it rains continuously. The cave is nice, but very crowded as it is weekend again. So we are passed through with about 20 people and although you should be quiet according to the entrance sign, it is at least as loud as on a russian fair. In the evening we decide to go back to the same pub, because they also offered good food. We haven’t even taken a seat yet, as we already should join a group of Georgians.
Still a bit battered from the previous night, we rather sit down at the next table. A georgian cheese pizza and two beers later there is no choice anymore and we have to join the Georgians. This time they offer wine instead of beer and lots of food again. It has to be mentioned, that we usually never drink wine and we even don’t really like it that much. This fact is of little interest to the hospitable Georgians though. Georgian wine has a tradition going back thousands of years, so there is a good reason to be proud of it. In addition to that they always find an infinite number of things to toast and so it comes as it should – I have to toast on brotherhood, friendship and no idea what else, with every single person. My drinks are served in oriental wooden vessels, clay bowls, wooden ladles and of course normal glasses. It is also important to always empty the glass in one go. Miriam doesn’t really have to participate as a woman. She just animates the crazy pack with her camera, to give me even more wine in weird drinking vessels – thanks so much! Anyone can probably imagine my condition the next morning.
Completely destroyed I have to continue to the capital Tbilisi the next day. In the afternoon we stroll through the old town and pass some famous spas. After sunset I am finally able to eat something again. The weather is not really good here either. Therefore we mainly relax a bit, Miri goes to a spa and we visit the fortress above the old town.
After Tbilisi one of the highlights of our Georgia trip is waiting for us. The infamous mountain pass road to Omalo in Tusheti. The pass leads to almost 3000m and is said to be one of the most dangerous passes in the world. We are really looking forward to ride it, until we see a sign 10 km before the pass road. The route was closed due to massive snowfall. The second attempt to go to the Caucasus on this trip has also failed. A bit disappointed we decide to ride eastwards all the way to Lagodekhi and find a great place to stay with a very lovely couple. The man was a former director of the nearby National Park and has great tips for us. His wife prepares a fantastic traditional georgian meal for us every day. The best food we have eaten anywhere in Georgia.
Upon the recommendation of our hosts, we hike to the Black Grouse waterfall the next day. The long hike to the high-lying Black Rock Lake is not possible due to snow either. At the entrance to the park we meet a tail-wagging black dog who was probably waiting for someone to go for a walk. He actually accompanied us the entire 10km (6,2mi), although the path was anything but easy for a dog. To reach the base of the waterfall, we have to cross the river one more time. However this time there is no way for a dog to come along. So Miriam stays behind.
Some Georgians are having a snack next to the waterfall. I don’t want to disturb them, so I keep my distance, but it doesn’t take very long until they ask me to join them.
I’m also not wondering anymore to receive a glass of alcohol instantly – this time it is schnapps, served with cheese and bread – resistance is futile, of course. A few glasses and toasts later, the small bottle of schnapps is empty and they want to invite us for dinner. It finally turns out, that they are all National Park employees and we should come to the administration building at 4 pm.
When we arrive, the table is already set with countless treats, wine and schnapps. It is not hard to recognise, how this is going to end. With tons of wine we raise our glasses to pretty much everything you can imagine. A nice korean guy joins our group after a while. He only wanted to inform about horse riding, but had no choice either. Great – even more reasons to toast and the last thing I can remember – I stagger home arm in arm with my new korean friend…
As expected, the next morning is a complete disaster. I try to stabilise my stomach for breakfast with some coffee and coke. It doesn’t really help though and I have to take another rest for a while. Around noon we drive to the other entrance of the National Park to walk to another waterfall. On the way we see a tortoise and group of crazy geese want to get us off the motorcycle to rend us – I’m pretty sure they even had fangs. Once in the park, the signs to the waterfall are extremely poor. There are no bridges at the river crossings and the water level is quite high. So we decide to leave it at that – I wasn’t feeling very well anyway.
We have almost reached our motorcycle, when we get paralysed. “Oh my god, quickly hide, more insane Georgians having a barbecue – we have to try to sneak past them!” But too late, they have already spotted us. After a short resistance we sit in a huge pile of food and get the first wine glasses handed over. I’m a little bit desperate and try to use Google translate to explain to the radiant smiling Georgians, that I definitely cannot drink any alcohol this day. On the one hand I still have to ride a motorcycle and on the other hand – due to yesterday’s evening, my stomach contents would only be spread over the entire National Park, as soon as I touch any alcohol. The laughter is great. “What if you just drink a tiny bit at least?” – “Please. seriously not.” Finally I am lucky and they accept my situation – but there is no excuse for Miriam, of course. She just considers telling them, that she is pregnant, when I clarify, that I would instantly blow the whistle on her. Sweet revenge for the previous evenings where she had fun at my cost!
I don’t have to drink, but I can’t get around eating something. They offer me dozens of things and I try to weigh against each other, what might be the best for my stomach. Finally they give me a real georgian giant tomato, since I probably look a bit indecisive. “You have to eat it now, it is naturally grown, damn healthy and contradictions are not accepted.” Well, it hasn’t hit me too badly and while I laboriously chew on it, I try to look cheerful and sprinkle the giant tomato with some salt for the electrolyte household. I am off the hook for the time being, they should deal with Miriam now. Miriam alternates between wine, lots of stuff to eat and countless cigarettes. She found out, that you have to drink less, as soon as you simply pretend to smoke – quite smart, isn’t it? After another giant tomato, the first one had made me so happy, we all packed up to say goodbye at the parking lot. That went off well again…
We want to spend some time in the Caucasus area and the last chance is Stepantsminda. It is located just before the border of Russia at ~1700m a.s.l. directly below the 5047m high Mt. Kazbegi. The old georgian military road passes the largest and highest georgian ski area in Gudauri, the almost 2400m high Dschari Pass and leads all the way to Stepantsminda. At least for tourists, this road is the only way to get from Georgia to Russia. Countless trucks block the way continuously and due to the fact that this road is the most important connection of the two countries, the condition for vehicles is really miserable. Narrow switchbacks, massive rocks on the road and sometimes huge potholes, makes motorcycle riding at this place much more exciting than on an ordinary european pass road.
Stepantsminda is known for the Gergeti Trinity Church. It is located at almost 2200m a.s.l. on a small hill in front of the impressive Mt. Kazbegi – if we only could have seen it. The weather changed to continuous rain at 10 °C and Miriam unfortunately has slight problems with the altitude. The valleys here are already breathtaking with the current deep cloud cover. This region must be really breathtaking, when you can see the surrounding peaks in sunshine?
It has been raining for three days and we finally decide to set off to Russia. The weather forecast isn’t promising in the whole area, so we just leave ahead of schedule. We would have loved to go to Mt. Elbros on the russian Caucasus side, but it still seems to be too early in the season.
We will definitely come back at one point, but probably in august, when the chances are higher to be able to visit all regions of the Caucasus.