Week 6

June 11 to June 18

During the next two days I was driving around in the city, looking for embassies and banks to acquire the visa.

On the 12th of June, Daniel and I went to Borjomi national park in a back-breaking 3 hour ride in a rattling marshrutka.

We arrived in the late afternoon and I thought that this would be a quiet day. However, we met a cool Ukrainian couple, Bogdan and Yulia, and went for a walk. We passed an entertainment park with mosaics and the typical charms that are unique to soviet holiday destinations. Up in the park we were invited to home made wine by a group of Georgians with scruffy looks and tattoos on their fingers. We joined them for a couple of glasses. After the third shot of wine, my stomach almost turned, and I was glad when we decided to leave.

We walked a bit further into the park, over muddy roads, ignoring the many signs that said that the warm sulfur baths, used as a panacea by soviet functionaries until the late eighties, were closed.

And indeed: the baths were being renovated, but a few crafty workers had tapped the hot spring and lead the water in leaky pipes held together by duct tape into one of the new pools. The workers were bathing there with their wives.

With the agility of an 80 year-old crystal meth addict with severe arthritis I climbed over the fence and we started talking to the workers. It turned out that they had brought a vast amount of Chacha, a strong local brandy. They invited us to join them in bathing and drinking, which we did with utmost pleasure.

Enjoying a healing bath in the “closed” sulfur baths of Borjomi national park.

On the 13th of June, we took the Borjomi-Bakuriani train. Built in 1908 by the Russian Empire, the narrow railway tracks climb an impressive 1000 m over a length of 27 km. It takes the locomotives, which were built in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s, a good two and a half hours, mainly due to frequent stops and animal herds grazing on the tracks. Bakuriani is a winter resort and was a contender to host the witer olympics in 2014, which were held in Sochi. It is not difficult to imagine what would have happened to all the buildings in the area if Bakuriani had won that bid.

We were completely exhausted by the excitement of riding on that ancient train, so we drank beer and vodka and ate too many Khinkali before saying goodbye. Bogdan and Yulia went back to Borjomi, Daniel and I went to Tbilisi.

Daniel flew back to Istanbul the next morning, and I spent the Sunday roaming the streets of Tbilisi with cool Polish veterinary couple from the hostel. A week ago, a severe flood had devastated part of the inner city, including the zoo, from where numerous animals, including a hippo, tigers, lions and wolves, had escaped, and we were constantly joking about hunting down the animals while moving from café to café.

The next day I had been planning to ride to the mountains with the gifted Georgian motorcycle mechanic Nick. Unfortunate circumstances, including my Georgian SIM card not working and a tremendous traffic chaos due to damage to the streets during the flood, made it impossible to meet up. I felt bad about not being able to keep my promise to meet up with Nick. He said it’s OK, but it definitely didn’t feel right.

After more than two hours, I finally managed to escape the juggernaut city of Tbilisi, heading north towards Stepantsminda to meet Lisa and Sarah.

The road gets more beautiful the further I head up into the Caucasus. A sweet soviet viewing point along the way, mesmerizing in its ugliness, attracts many visitors.

Soviet style viewing point with nauseatingly beautiful mosaics of working class heroes defending mother Russia.

I quickly explored the village of Tsdo, which, as Sarah explained to me later, even had had its own library in soviet times, but is now a completely ruined settlement of a couple of stone houses inhabited by only a handful of people. The road to the Russian border is also definitely worth a short drive.

Georgian Caucasus in Tsdo, near the Chechen border.

In the late afternoon I met with Sarah, we had some tea and later dined at Lisa’s homestay, called “Nino’s guesthouse”, where Lisa had very kindly organized a room for me.

The next morning, we went up early to get up to the church towering over Stepantsminda. After a short hike, avoiding the dusty street, we reached the top and enjoyed a splendid view of the Caucasus, including the cloudy top of Mt. Kazbeg, the highest mountain in Georgia with over 5000 m.

Around noon, we said goodbye, after Lisa took a quick and skillful ride on my KLR. I raced back to Tbilisi and arrived at the Kazakh embassy shortly before it closed. Of course, the visa wasn’t ready yet, and I was being sent away.

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