Heart to Beat #16 Borjomi (Georgia 1)
Published at October 19, 2018 at 12:00 PM
The border crossing at Posof, Turkey brings us to Georgia. Actually, you do not even see that you arrive in another country. That is explainable because we come from a Turkish region where quite a lot of ethnic Georgians live. But there are differences. Little litter in the verges. No broken (beer) glass on and along the road: beer is sold here in (large) plastic bottles. And unfortunately – we have waited a week for this observation – compared to the Turks the people are a bit stiffer and less hospitable.
When we cross the border we stop at a gas station. They sell everything there … in the range of alcohol that is. Especially a lot of beer, as said in large plastic bottles from 1 to 2.5 liter. More than half is foreign beer.
We had planned to cycle to a campsite in Abastimani on the way to the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park but the road from the border through the hills would be very bad according to the friendly customs officer. We also don’t know for sure if the campsite exists. It is on Maps.me but we have experienced several times that this offers no guarantee whatsoever. We decide to cycle to the town of Akhaltsike to buy contact lenses and an internet bundle. After three months Harry really has to get new lenses and an internet bundle because our Vodafone bundle can no longer be used in Georgia.
In Akhaltsike we plop down on a terrace of a fancy hotel to use the wifi and to drink a beer in public. The staff tell us that no contact lenses are sold in this town. What a soap. The internet bundle of provider Beeline then appears to be blocked by our mobile hotspot. What does succeed is a set of hex keys to perform any repairs as long as we do not have a multitool.
We check in at a very nice little hotel ‘Old Town’ with a matching extremely lovely hostess and host. On their advice we have diner at the neighbor’s restaurant and we get acquainted with Georgian cuisine. We order a pot of beans, kebab and chatsjapuri, a bread with an egg on top from a brick oven. The next morning we get a Georgian breakfast at our hotel: a thick cooked sausage and salty cheese. The Georgian cuisine appears to be less refined than the Turkish. Especially the delicious Turkish ekmek (bread) we miss at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Then we set of to the campsite. We climb steadily to the village of Abastimani. The weather is changing as is forecasted. Rain is coming in from the south. Tomorrow it will probably rain all day with thunderstorm in the afternoon. Instead of the campsite we might find a place to sleep in the village. When we reach the village it is still early in the afternoon. This elongated village at the foot of the ascent to the pass does not look very inviting. We decide to go up to the pass, a 1.000 meter higher. We have seen that the weather forecast on the north side of the ridge should be just fine. In a tiny-mini neighborhood store we buy a few necessary things to go somewhere after the summit to go wild camping. A kilometer out of the village we pass the place where according to maps.me the campsite would be. It does not surprise us anymore that there is no camp site to be seen. Instead there is a closed gate. Oh no, has the pass been closed already? The gruff looking man at the gate gestures us by going along the fence and we enter the national park of Borjomi.
We climb up a dirt road through the forest and take a hairpin bend after hairpin bend. We do not make a lot of progress in distance, but we do in altitude. The climb is tough and the road winds both from left to right as in gradient. When we reach the tree line, we can finally enjoy the view. All of a sudden, farmers’ cottages (only inhabited in summer) are clustered together. We see that it has started to rain behind us and also occasionally feel a drop. The last kilometer is the toughest of the entire climb. We are a bit disappointed that we loose grip on a steep part with loose gravel and have to push the bikes for about 25 meters. We almost managed to cycling the entire climb.
As is often the view of the top is grandiose. Unfortunately there is no sign with height, as was always the case in Turkey. Later we see on the internet that the top is at 2,300 meters. We put a sticker on a pole at the highest point. We descend for a moment and then climb again to a new magnificent viewpoint. It would have been nice to set up the tent here but it is cold and windy and we choose to descend further. The descent goes down quite steeply and is simply incredibly beautiful and challenging. Our eyes keep a competition between enjoying the surroundings, looking out for potholes and stones on the road and discovering a place for our tent. After 20 kilometers we suddenly cycle on asphalt again and there are some stone houses. A sign of a hotel hangs on a pole. A Gregorian grumpy lady is sweeping with a in Georgia commonly used too short broomstick. Is that why elderly women here are crooked? She brings us to a house where we can take a shower, cook and sleep for 30 Lari (converted € 10). The house is all ours. When we ask if she sells beer, she points us to the supermarket a little further down the street. We walk about 100 meters and end up in a completely different world of a resort filled with brand-new hotels, restaurants and parks. Very different from our barrel of a cottage a bit higher on the mountain and very different than the resort village of Albastimani on the other side of the pass. The village is called Sairme and appears to be a luxurious spa. We go back to our simple little cottage higher up and put the pans on the stove to cook ourselves a nutritious pasta meal.
The next day we descend to the city of Kutaisi. The first part leads us through the beautiful gorge where we ended in just before Sairme. At the end of the descent we enter the town of Baghdati. In the middle of the roundabout we eat some cookies and drink an iced tea and marvel at Georgian public life. It takes some getting used to that we are not offered tea, or are invited to sit at a terrace with locals. There is also no group of interested men gathering around our bikes. And no one who asks any question like “where are you from?”. This ain’t Turkey. We need to get used to less interest.
We cycle to a bicycle shop in Kutaisi to buy a multitool. The bicycle mechanic speaks good English and admires our bikes. We chat with the guy while he is busy repairing various old bikes. He has been in the Netherlands for an internship and would like to work as a bicycle mechanic in our “cycling country”. However, he was told he had to learn the Dutch language first. In the meantime, we are repairing the alternator plugs, which must supply power to our smartphones, and continuously falters. After a while, he checks our bikes. Harry’s drive belt is too loose and there is some play in the steering head of his steering wheel. The brake pads behind are totally worn. Fortunately, we ourselves have a set of brake pads with us, because this “luxury stuff” is not used here and therefore not sold. Everything is well remedied by the man. All the work is done on the street in front of the store. We enjoy the vibe that’s around this small shop.
After an hour or two, we cycle towards the old center of Kutaisi, we find a cute and cheap hotel on the banks of the river and the day ends perfect when we also find an optician who sells lenses without “hassle”. After Kutaisi we will cycle towards the high mountains of the North Caucasus. We are very excited about it. It promises to be a great adventure!
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