Sunday, August 9, 2015

Georgia: Bug Paradise!

Muddling through...
Mud builds up behind the sprocket cover too...
While the Russian visas were being processed we continued into this strange land called Georgia. The next phase of our trip around the world had now started. We could have stayed in Tbilisi for 10 days I suppose, if our funds would have stretched that far, but we rather went to the mountains and camped our way around Georgia's finest landscapes. As there are no campgrounds to be found, we free camped everywhere. There was no rush, of course, as Georgia isn't that big, which meant we had plenty of time to see and experience it!

We've been asked why we hadn't sorted out the visas earlier, when we stayed at the grandparents place for instance. We would have loved to but it simply isn't possible. The Russian and Chinese embassies adopt some unrealistic rules, rules which might work if you arrive there by plane but not when riding to the border. Simply put we could only apply 3 months in advance while we wanted more time to ride to the border so that we could properly see the places we wanted to see in between. There were two options to solve it: get a visa agency, pay a fortune and hope it's a good one, get a second passport and pay for the courier fees back and forth on top as well. Or apply for visas along the way and be prepared to wait a little. We had it planned well in advance and shouldn't have had to wait at all, but the unfriendly Russian embassies in Europe caused plenty of delays. We're not the only ones having problems with the Russian embassies, in fact we've had it easy compared to friends of ours who had to fly back to Australia to get them...!

Back to Georgia: The sun woke us up...! Wow! We actually had to get out of the tent early as it was simply getting too hot inside. What a welcome change from just a few hours ago! A bit further on was a big Oak tree, which provided us with shade to enjoy breakfast. Well, enjoy... semi stale bread covered with something that should have been cheese spread. Hardly a quality breakfast but there simply was nothing else. While munching away the bread we heard rocks falling below us... quite a few rocks... the tree was at the edge of a cliff. We knew that, but had no idea the cliff's edge was slowly moving towards the tree! I wonder how much longer the tree will be there? Just 30 km on our way, Mike's low fuel level warning light came on... 50 km earlier than normal. As the warning light on the Bonnie hasn't worked for over 100,000 km now, and it's fuel consumption is slightly higher than the XT, it was time to look for fuel.

There's something weird about petrol stations in Georgia, there is never one to be found anywhere when the tank is almost empty! We had no choice but to make a 45 km detour just to get to the nearest one. Quite frankly it's amazing it was listed on the GPS at all as it had literally nothing more than 1 pump, serving only low octane regular fuel and diesel. The Yamaha doesn't like low octane fuel but there was no option. A cross eyed man, the owner of the pump I suppose, was confused about what we wanted... We had parked the bikes in front of the pump, removed the tank bags and loosened the cap... seemed obvious enough what we wanted? Eventually he filled the tanks, which weren't that empty after all... Mike's warning light had obviously been slightly pessimistic.

We tried a dirt road, which could have been a short cut avoiding a notoriously bad patch of road. After several kilometres it became clear they must have had some serious rain here as the road turned into a rocky mud track. Fine if you're on a motocross bike but sliding a 300+kg motorcycle isn't my idea of having fun... a bit further on Mike found the limits of his XT too and we simply had to turn around. We backtracked a little and stopped in a small town for lunch. The bikes generated quite some interest of both young and old. An older man started a conversation with us, in Georgian... As far as we could work out he was originally from Armenia and had travelled through Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal... but to be honest it was more guesswork than anything else. We spoke different languages, he couldn't understand a word I said and vice versa but somehow it didn't matter.

With the sun, the bugs came out to play too. I can't remember the last time I saw this many of them. The helmets looked like a bug graveyard after an hour. Wherever we stopped the little critters tried to drive us crazy. Hornets, flies, mosquitos and grasshoppers all seemed to come out of nowhere. The ground seemed alive with the many ants, spiders and other bright coloured creepy-crawlers. Even when we reached the highlands, which is a pretty desolate area, the bugs were there too. 

We camped along one of the highland lakes. It had seemed a bad idea to ride onto the gravel road to the lake as it deteriorated quickly and became just a rocky path. A farmer, mowing a big field with nothing but a whipper-snipper(!), directed us a bit further for a good spot to put the tent up. So we ploughed on. I had the weeds at handlebar height but he was right, it was a beautiful spot. We were just about to pitch the tents when the wind died out... and we heard something buzzing... it was a cloud of mosquitos.... coming towards us like an angry mob! We talked about riding all the way back and moving on but decided not to as we both wanted to stop for the day. In Norway I had learned, years ago, to pitch my tent on top of a hill. More wind means less mosquitos. We did the same thing here, the wind decided to pick up as well and we thus had no more mosquito problem. Still, this place was bug paradise too. Grasshoppers in all sizes and colours, thousands of spiders, ranging from very small and bright red to quite big and green(!), big buzzing weird looking flies, March flies (also known as Horse flies as their sting is painful enough to make a horse bolt) and all sorts of weird looking beetles. The tents turned into a bug highway, they were absolutely everywhere.

We enjoyed the tranquility of the lake in front of us, cooked another pot of spicy noodles and veggies and talked about the day, what we would do tomorrow and our future plans in general. At the other side of the lake people were herding cattle and sheep the traditional way. Meanwhile the sun set slowly over the mountains behind the lake giving the perfect ending to a perfect day.

The next morning started bitter cold. Yesterday had been boiling hot but now an icy cold wind battered the landscape. We had only just left when we noticed 4 boys alongside the road. They waved at us cheerfully, like we have seen many times before... but then I noticed they each had a bucket... Mike was in front and received a 'wash'... most of it missed him. The other 3 buckets were directed at me and... a full hit! Of course it was all meant as a bit of fun and I gave them thumbs up, it was after all timed perfectly :-)

The half-moons popped out
because the nylon retainer
under it broke... this Bonnie
has a hard life.
A while later I came around a blind bend at 70 odd km/hr and slammed straight into a massive pothole. No avoiding possible, I just managed to 'lift' most of the front wheel over it but the rear took the full hit. It was a seriously deep pothole and immediately I noticed something wasn't right. The half-moons holding the springs in place had come off. The shock absorbers were now in fact being held in place by the pannier rack! A nylon retainer had broken and given the half-moons their freedom. I strapped the nylon retainers back in place with zip ties, managed to get the half-moons back in place and cautiously continued. It seemed to hold for now, but isn't a permanent repair. Tomorrow we have to pick up our Russian visa, then we had 1,000 km through Russia, followed by Kazakhstan... on shocks held together by zip ties... lovely!