Day 54 & 55 – Chiatura to Tbilisi and Stepantsminda

Day 54 began very ickily. Partly because of the hangover and partly because I woke to find my helmet had been invaded by ants. That’s what you get for leaving it on the floor. We had breakfast groggily and sat around for a couple of hours trying to recover some strength while I took my helmet apart and killed ants one by one as they emerged from the shell, I counted at least 20. I fully expected to find them on my face while I was riding along but I must have got them all, or they got blown out, because I didn’t see another.

We didn’t get on the road till quite late, since we all had an impromptu nap after breakfast to recover. We’re hardcore travellers as you can tell. The roads were really fun back out of the mountains though, just small villages, easy hills and not much traffic. Just what we needed with thick heads. We rolled passed a few truck stops that had smoking grills going outside, and decided to stop at one, we got some very odd looks but the food was great. Fresh BBQ pork with bread and cheese. Bread and Cheese became a running joke since it seems to be with every meal in Georgia, usually melted into and onto things.

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The hangover, represented physically

We decided to ditch our planned small roads and just get on the highway to Tbilisi, we’d already ridden slower, and left later, than planned so we wanted to make the time back. I’m glad we did, we overtook a Russian bike with panniers and a spare tyre on the back and we all waved as we passed. A few miles down the road we stopped for a quick break and he pulled up next to us and we got chatting to him. He was on a little solo trip through Georgia and was heading to Tbilisi for the night, so we invited him to join us. Suddenly we were a motorcycle gang rolling into the city!

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The building on the right is the hostel, all of it

We fought through the awful traffic and managed to find our way to the hostel we planned. It was absolutely huge, I don’t think I’ve stayed in a bigger hotel, and there was between 8 and 12 people per room in this place. The whole downstairs of this old factory was a vast seating area with restaurant and bar, it was weird. It looked nice enough though and had secure parking for all 4 bikes. We got changed and headed out for a walk around Tbilisi, aiming for the old town. Gleb (the Russian guy) didn’t speak much English but we got on great and chatted however we could, a mix of Google translate and universal bike talk. We took some more ChaCha from a stranger too, a taxi driver was waiting just beside our table and realised we were foreign and wanted to chat. Next thing we knew we all had a shot of his homemade ChaCha from the back of his car. Everyone is ChaCha ready in Georgia, it’s great.

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We split up on Day 55, Oki and Matt wanted to ride ahead on our planned route and take it slow, while me and Gleb wanted to see some of Tbilisi. So we went for a wander up toward the towering hill over the town and sought out the cable car type thing that ferries people up it. It was an amazing view from the top, looking over the whole city. I can definitely recommend Tbilisi, it’s feels a lot like a European town but with it’s own Georgian spin, there’s shops and chain restaurants for the comfort but plenty of local areas for exploring, and it’s covered in history. It’d make a great long weekend break since everything is so cheap, I’ll definitely be going back. Georgia itself is amazing, but between the cities is definitely traveller territory, English speakers are hard to come by and infrastructure can be basic.

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Me and Gleb set off from Tbilisi and headed for the Georgian Military Road that runs up the Russian border. It was a lot easier than expected, I though it would be a little rougher, or slower given the amount of times I’ve seen it mentioned by other travellers, but it was just a really nice mountain road. Stunning scenery all around, passing through small towns and rising up from the valleys, but nothing out of the ordinary for a good mountain road. Maybe we missed something.

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We found Matt and Oki waiting at the last town before the border where we’d planned to stop. They hadn’t even been there for 20 minutes though, turned out they’d only left Tbilisi about 30 minutes before us. They’d spent a load of time walking around buying a me a bloody guitar! I think they bought it half as an amazing goodbye present, since we were splitting up for good the next day, and half to laugh at me trying to fit it on my already heavily loaded bike. I was pretty gobsmacked, I’d mentioned a couple of times that I played guitar and missed it. We’d joked about buying one and laughed at how ridiculous it would be to carry a guitar on a motorcycle trip. Now I am.

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The hostel owner forced ChaCha on us. From a horn. It was deadly and awesome

I tried for the rest of the evening to tune it to something playable but to no avail. I thought I was just misunderstanding the tuning of a half size guitar, having never owned one but it turns out the neck was broken and bent way too far, the intonation was completely drunk. Just owning it over the next few days was making me want to play again so bad though, so I promised myself to keep it until I could fix it or replace it, I really wanted to be travelling with a guitar now. Thanks Oki and Matt.

We ended up having dinner in a local place with barely anyone else in there, except for a Polish backpacker couple who were staying in the same hostel. They’d just ordered their food when we walked in so we invited them to join us, making us a group of 6. It was awesome, all of barely knew each other but we had a great night chatting away and drinking yet more ChaCha, toasting in about 6 languages each time. We could never remember the Georgian for “Cheers” since it was always followed by way too much ChaCha, which makes you forget. After chatting to the Polish couple we decided that we’d take a ride up to the monastery on a mountain overlooking the town. We looked at the map and talked to a couple of locals it seemed like there was a “road” going up to it that taxi’s regularly took, so it should be fine, and we offered the polish couple a ride on the back, to save them the 90 minute hike. It turned out to be about as far as you can get from a road, while still calling it one.

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