A constant dilemma is the balance between progressing on our trip and taking the time to stop and look around. Having ‘fast forwarded’ in Turkey we have the luxury of some extra days in Georgia before our Azerbaijan visa kicks in.
To see the countryside, Gid is really keen to get off the trunk roads as the traffic is heavy but the alternative main roads, shown on maps, have varied dramatically in quality. One has been 2 lane, hard surface all the way and we’ve made speedy progress while another has been fairly smooth compressed gravel, slower but not bad. The worst was a continual series of ruts, rocks, sand, lumps, bumps, gravel & groves which reduced our speed to 5 km / hr. Very demoralizing to put in all that effort and get nowhere. The advantage of seeing the countryside is lost as your eyes are firmly fixed on the road.
Having finished cycling at Haragauli, early, because we wouldn’t make the next town on rough roads, I was sent to see what attractions the National Parks office had to offer. I came back with an excursion sorted. Two days hiking up to a mountain shelter and back: 11 rivers to cross, a wooded trail to follow. A rucksack thrown into the equation and we were off.
We cycled up to the warden’s shack, which was to be our starting point. Sorted the kit, locked the bikes, handed in our permit and started on the trail.
It was to be four hours of winding our way up a track along side a mountain stream as it wound its way down – tumbling, crashing and swirling through its tree strewn path, gouged out of the rock.
We were crossing the river at regular intervals; sometimes on makeshift tree trunk bridges -we’d practised one of these on our way in with the bikes – at other times bum shuffling or wading. Some of the promised bridges lay in ruins, possibly taken out when the river was in spate, which meant that some crossings were deeper than expected.
The mountain shack itself was perfectly pleasant; but because the ground around it was rather rough and stoney we plumped for a couple of bunks inside, sharing the hut with a German and an Estonia who were spending the summer as interns at the National Park Office, even though we’d carried the tent all the way up. This was a mixed blessing when , at 01:00 am. a group of new arrivals appeared, the lead figure clutching a large bottle of vodka. He generously offered Gid a swig when he came over to try and converse. The new arrivals did settle eventually & were gone early in the morning. Like most of the other folk we met on the trail, they were in a 4×4, in their case a little green military looking jeep. We were pretty impressed by the terrain they crossed. The hike back was equally delightful and challenging in smaller doses as we knew what to expect.
Because the cycling itself can be fairly demanding we rarely take detours from our route. It has to be very special before the extra X km makes is feel worth while; there is plenty to see and we can’t visit every castle, church or historic monument.
However, on this occasion, as we sped along the motorway unable to face another bone shaking day across the lumps and bumps of a dubious main road, we did succumb to the brown sign. It was a delightful little detour taking us through a small village to an ancient church. I donned the skirt and headdress, Gid preferring to change into his long trousers, to meet the dress code before entering. The interior was delightful; very simplistic in its decoration as all the Georgian Orthodox churches have been. Equally delightful were the people, especially the little three year old lad who followed Gid, coping his hands on hip type actions and the ancient nun who exchanged a few sentences in English.
Another excursion considered well worth the effort was to Uplistsikhe (on the pending list for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage site) , the cave city near Gori. Having visited 3 or 4 of these in Turkey we’re obviously now ‘experts’ and this one, dating from the iron age to the middle ages, was quite spectacular. The site is a bit of a national treasure because it is evidence of some of the earliest habitation in Georgia. Previously, in Batumi, we had seen evidence of human habitation in that area dating back to 1,800,000 years ago. Two human skulls on show were quite small and very flat.