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Old 10-10-2010, 09:34 AM   #9
Asianrider OP
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Joined: Apr 2010
Oddometer: 116
Caucasus

I'm late with my stories, I'm almost out of Iran, but before that was Georgia and Iran. What a change from Turkey during Ramadan: the first night I stayed in a small village and I've been treated with vodka and "wine". At least that's what they call "vino", but that was easily the most awful wine I've ever had. Many Georgians brew their own wine, but very few know how to do it properly. But the welcome is very nice, and the bottles eventually were emptied after many long toasts.



That's pretty much a mandatory experience in Georgia, where people are very keen to know you and drink with you.

The border crossing between Turkey and Georgia (Vale - Posof) is very easy, there's not a lot of traffic, and the only problem was to find the guy who knew how to process the bike in the Turkish customs computer. On the Georgian side, it took just 2 minutes and I got a free 3-months visa. Nice. On the down side, I was immediately reminded of the terrible state of the roads. Just like most ex-soviet republics.



The country has tons of churches and monasteries to visit, but really, my plan was to get directly to the mountains for some serious riding. That was a good idea because I had about 1 week of great sunshine before the weather deteriorated and pretty much threw me out of the high roads. That was early September, and as I learned later, they've had 2 months of solid sunshine previously. Too bad.



The first trip was the loop to Svaneti, a high valley in north-west Georgia. I decided to do the loop counter-clockwise, so starting at Lentekhi with the really hard pass that most people don't get to, descending then on the usual road. Finding the head of this road wasn't that easy, and a policeman was kind enough to lead me around the roadworks, and in fact I had zero problem with the police in Georgia, they mostly stay out of the way.



Quickly after this last town, the tarmac disappears, as the road goes up a long valley across small villages.



The gravel isn't that good, it's difficult to pick up speed as there are often deep potholes that are best negotiated in 1st gear - or risk to break something. But the scenery is beautiful.



No risk to get lost, as there's really only one road. But it's nice anyway (and it's in English).



Eventually the roads gets steeper, and the scenery even more impressive, with 5000m peaks in the background.



The farmers were picking up hay in the high meadows. They had finished and were preparing the picnic, so of course I was invited to eat a khatchapuri (cheese pancake) and drink some chacha (the home-brewed alcohol, ranging anywhere from 20 degrees to 80 degrees).



That was really difficult to refuse, but I quickly departed before I had too much. The road got worse here, with pretty tricky spots.



The chacha hit me back a few klicks further on as I had my first fall off, on a pretty steep stretch with big round and wet rocks. Very tricky even when 100% sober.



No biggie, but quite painful to pick up the loaded bike my myself. I had to be more careful. The road was getting higher, closing the 3000m mark. I relaxed on a flatter stretch with innocent-looking puddles when..



This time I could have avoided it, there was a narrow stretch of grass that was passable. But who could have expected the big hole inside the hole ?



With wet feet I attacked the last steep and tricky stretch, without incident this time, and reached the (flat) pass.



Ushguli was right below, and that's also the last village reached by people who don't drive a 4x4, so there are a couple nice (if not cheap) guest houses.

The next morning I went down the (much better) gravel road to Mestia, and had my first real accident in one of the villages: a dog ran after me (as they all do), but because the road was so bad there, I couldn't outrun it and it took a good bite at my leg. I didn't fall and got away without much bloodshed, but those white shepherd dogs are huge and really nasty. I had a few more encounters, but never that close. Watch out, they love the bikers!

Yes, it wouldn't have been so bad with motocross boots, but for this trip I'm riding with hiking boots, and I still don't regret it.



No big deal, I quickly reached Mestia, the region's main town, which is pretty awful: they're building a lot of new tourist infrastructure, and it's a mess.



From there on the road was being rebuilt in concrete, which is too bad for us riders, but unavoidable if you want to get the tourists up there. Hundreds of cement trucks were going up the road. Fortunately, a few kilometers down I found a wonderful flat valley with a natural mineral water spring where I could pitch my tent.



The next day I was back to Kutaisi, closing the loop. A fantastic road for offroading, not to be missed if you get there.

Next on my list was Kazbegi. The road to get there is asphalted, so not so interesting. But the highlight was the ride to the monastery at the foot of the Kazbeg mountain. Fantastic sight.



Unfortunately, that's when the weather turned to crap, and that was the last of my mountain roads. I got a rain check for the Tusheti (north-east Georgia), so I have an excuse to come back.

That was probably a bit late in the season, so I headed south to Armenia.

PS: is it possible to embed a video ? here they are in case:
Svaneti and Kazbegi.
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