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  • Jamie Shannon

A new country at last! Enter Georgia. I finally got my potatoes

I’m now in Batumi and have been for four days now. I always seem to get stuck in cities you see. I’m going to leave today and it’s a rather short 400 km ride to the capital Tbilisi where I’m hoping (fingers crossed) to get my Chinese visa. Time will tell.

I spent a lovely five days cycling through the rest of Turkey with Will and Chloe and It’s been an honour to share the road and my time with them.

It was an easy ride to the border with Georgia as the road that followed the coast was mostly flat, smooth and with a nice wide hard shoulder to boot. The traffic was pretty light too.

We woke up early and rode throughout the day stopping quite frequently for food and tea before finding somewhere to camp again of an evening which was usually a beach. The strange thing is that we have been camping in the open really and I’m not entirely sure if I would do that if I was on my own. I would simply have to find somewhere more secluded but with two other people I felt much safer to simply pitch by the beach and in full view of the road.

I think I mentioned in my last post that my stove has broken which is pretty strange considering it’s the most robust stove on the market but broken it has. Inspecting it one day, I noticed the rubber seal in the pump handle had completely disintegrated thus I couldn’t pressurise the fuel bottle. Luckily for me though, Will and Chloe also have a stove which, to put it plainly, has saved my ass.

The first night camping was a strange affair. We were in a forest by the beach in a nice little seaside town and so asked a man sat in his wheelchair if It was okay to camp. Upon much gesticulating with various hand signals, he asked us if we wanted beer, and so having uttered ‘evet' several times, were delighted when a half hour later, another man rolled over the rocky ground in his electric wheelchair bringing with him beer and snacks. It was a strange experience and one I won’t forget in a hurry.

The next night was spent at a warm showers host whom Chloe had contacted that morning and upon it being revealed that there was enough space for me, found my grateful self in the presence of Merk, a Turkish language teacher whom provided us with ample food and beer for the evening. Nice guy. Luckily he didn’t live on the top floor of his apartment building but it was quite a sight watching a huge tandem bicycle being carried up a narrow and winding staircase.

Reaching Trabzon, the biggest city this far east was a real pleasure for me. After so many months looking at maps and reading about other people travels, Trabzon kind of marked for me the start of another journey – a journey further east that would perhaps be a little more difficult and mystical in a way.

We decided to get off the highway here and cycle through the city in order to see some of the sights. It was a bustling centre filled with markets, shops of every type and lots and lots of slow moving traffic all moving over lovely cobblestones. Having stopped for tea, we picked our way through the city streets and through the traffic (easier said than done) and found ourselves back on the main highway with only 150 km’s until we would reach the border.

On another morning, we were sat outside a cafe enjoying lunch when we saw two hitchhikers walk past whom Will and Chloe thought they had met way back in Macedonia but they weren’t entirely sure. I shouted hello to them but they just looked around bemused and carried on walking. Upon realising that we weren't yet more locals just wanting a long and drawn out

chat over cay, they stopped and we all started chatting.

They were indeed the very same Scottish couple whom Will and Chloe had met well over a month ago in Macedonia. The world is a small place. Either that or we all take the same route. Perhaps it's the latter.

The next day, we were determined to make it to Batumi and so we set off super early in order to realise this little goal. Thankfully, the flat road made progress easy but as we neared mid-afternoon, we found our rest stops becoming more frequent and much longer than intended.

It’s almost like a marathon when cycling with other people. Sometimes you will lead and set the pace whilst at other times, you’ll find yourself behind finding that your pace is now being dictated. I was really enjoying it.

We passed through several extremely long and foreboding tunnels which were not pleasant to deal with. As the tandem is equipped with a light, I would inevitably cycle up ahead in order to make it a little safer for myself but it was still pretty hairy at times.

The border itself was pretty painless. I really did expect to have my bags searched and to be asked to answer lots of annoying questions because of the political situation but we pretty much flew through. The guys on the Georgian side were a little bemused by my passport photo though as the picture was taken some years ago, and with myself sporting my new ‘clean’ look courtesy of the Turkish barber, the difference was clearly visible.

The difference between the two sides of the border was evident as soon as we had crossed over. It was easily the biggest change I had seen on the trip thus far. The ubiquitous tea houses that adorn the roadside in Turkey were immediately replaced by bars and small kiosks selling what seemed like only cigarettes and alcohol. There was a lot more skin on show too and the driving standards left something to be desired but I think I’m going to like this country.

After a month in Turkey, I wanted a new challenge, a fresh culture and a different kind of populace to meet. I had got to the point in my last days in Turkey where I would simply sit back and do my own thing if someone came over to chat, letting Will and Chloe deal with it. Yes, when you reach the point where even people being friendly and inviting starts to annoy you, then you know it’s time to move on.

We reached Batumi by early evening where at a large intersection, I thought it was prudent to stop just to get our bearings. This was lucky as the hostel I had booked was actually just at the end of that very street. Usually at this point, I would begin my one hour ride, thumbing through the streets in order to locate my hostel but alas a smart phone was on hand, and ten minutes later we were stood outside our hostel. Magic.

So yeah, this is where I now find myself. I did intend to leave two days ago and had in fact left the hostel with Chloe and Will beginning to make our way through the city and along the beachfront. The problem came when the cycle path ended and I took a wrong turn down towards the beach. The last I saw of Will and Chloe was of them picking up their bike and placing it on the road at the busy intersection but by the time I had cycled back, they were nowhere to be seen.

I decided to cycle on ahead to see if I could see them in front but it was absolute mayhem on the road and I couldn’t really see anything through the mass of traffic.

I pulled over and asked a policeman if he had seen two people on a tandem (something he would surely remember) but he hadn’t. He offered the use of his phone but as I didn’t have their number, this kind offer was of no use to me.

I thus cycled back to where I had last seen them, opting to wait there for ten minutes in the vain hope that I would find them but it was no use. They were gone. I was back on my own and I had no route or stove for the journey ahead.

I decided to head back into the city and book another night in a hostel as there were still things I needed to get done. There were lots of emails to be sent and forms to be filled in with regards to the many visa’s I’ll require for the countries ahead and so another day in Batumi would actually be quite beneficial. There was also the small matter of getting my stove fixed as I couldn’t rely on the home made beer can stove I had been carrying for a week now.

Beginning the process of acquiring my visas for the rest of the trip

All in all it’s been a productive couple of days. My visa for Azerbaijan is currently being processed whilst my visa support for Uzbekistan is being processed which (hopefully) should be ready by the time I get to Baku in a couple of weeks where I can pick up the actual visa. I know now what I also need to do in order to procure my Chinese and Tajik visa’s too thus I’m feeling quite relaxed now. Its been a stressful and expensive few days but I think I’m on track.

I managed to get in touch with Will and Chloe whom said they would wait for me the following morning if I still wanted to take their lengthy route to Tbilisi but I said I’d meet up with them once I get to the capital which I should still reach before they do. as they are taking the much longer northern route which adds a hefty 300 km's onto their journey.

Batumi is a strange city to spend a few days. The architecture looks like it was designed by someone on mushrooms and the city is a strange mixture of modern and immaculate looking streets which sit next to areas that are a complete eyesore. It seems like every other shop is either a kiosk selling beer, a pawnshop or an exchange office. It does remind me of being in Russia again I have to say.

One funny thing did happen yesterday. I went out to look for a simple restaurant to grab some food and settled on a kind of canteen that served what looked like delicious potatoes and meat. Very filling and since I have been wanting to eat potatoes for a while now, I was very excited. I didn't know which potato dish to plump for though and so I stood there, menu in hand, looking at the pictures whilst a lady pointed out what each tray contained. I asked her to recommend something and she picked some kind of kebab dish. I said that, as I had been in Turkey for one month, I wanted no more kebab meat. I told her that I would like something Georgian instead. To this, and with a slight smile on her face, she informed that I was but standing inside a Turkish restaurant. Opp's, Ill be off then. I did manage to get my potatoes in the end though.

Right, well that’s the end of this post. I need to get packed and back on the road. I’m just hoping that Georgia isn’t as mountainous as they say. We’ll see. Now let’s go pick up some visa’s.

And here is link to Will and Chloe's site.

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