Having been evicted
from the big brother house the previous night we camped amongst the remains of nectarines and the sound of many (probably semi-feral) dogs. We left early that morning to cycle up to the mountains in tusheti having been promised glorious landscapes in the most beautiful region in georgia.
After a hot mornings cycle to tulavi and onwards to a small market about 10km from the ascent upto the abano pass, we came accross a 4×4, complete with simon (russian) & 3 polish medic students who were also on their way up there. We were assured by a confident simon that the road ahead was definitely fine for our bikes, however he nevertheless offered to strap them (via bungees) to the roof and then pile us all in and just give us a lift to the top. We gratefully accepted, imagining the delightful descent that would follow on a smooth Alpine-esque road.
As we made our worryingly aggressive way up the mountain it became clear that the road was in fact a gravelly/pebbly/rocky nightmare for bikes with the occasional ford included for good measure. Amongst shared looks of terror at his driving and the thought of our descent, we apprehensively continued climbing up to the heights of 2900m.
Upon reaching the pass we dismounted our bikes and had a customary shot of vodka and some khatchapuri with some georgians up there on their way to some epic party before deciding to camp there for the night (realising we would not make it down before nightfall). Saying farewell to simon and co. and being accused of cheating by some envious austrian cyclists we set up our tent and collected wood for a fire.
During the cold night that followed we met a brilliant range of people including a french couple with whom much was said that I didn’t understand. The painters and party-goers that followed provided us with bread, nectarines, beer, and increasingly undrinkable vodka in plastic bottles before going to sleep beneath a cold starry night.
People on the mountain:
Normally the Adabno Pass, which lies at almost 3000 metres, is shrouded in cloud, but today you could see for miles – to the South the plains of Kakheti, and to the North the Great Caucasus, Chechnya and Dagostan. Today then, the summit was a social hub, as Georgians braving the road up took a breather (and a strong dose of vodka) before tackling the precipitous descent into Tusheti. First were a group of locals, en route to a village festival, two days of toasts and beating people on the bottom with sticks (we were invited, but sadly had to decline). Next a French couple in their Toyota Landcrusier (‘just like the ones you see in the Sahara, but they have submachine guns’) hauled over the ridge, followed by a group of fresco painters in a little Lada. The painters were headed for Tusheti, where they were renovating a church. The head honcho, a man clad in a rasputinlike beard, showed us pictures of their work, saints depicted in vivid colours and strong lines. As the day wore on, and the cloud started to come down, the people coming over the ridge got progressively wilder, and by nightfall we were sharing vodka and peaches with a man with a knife and a rifle (ahem, yes, Georgia, very beautiful country, yes…) and a couple of party goers off to Telavi, who stopped for a quick shot of the pungent chacha, before launching off into the fog with with a nonchalant ‘ciao bambino’.
Over the last 5 or 6 weeks of our trip we have religiously checked the fig trees we passed in anticipation of the treacle filled delights that would await upon ripening. And for those 5/6 weeks we have been consistently disappointed. At long last, however, the day cometh and there are ripe figs aplenty. It is currently a cornerstone of our diet.
Having endured a cold and stormy night perched atop the pass we put away our wet tent in the midst of a miserable freezing cloud and hurriedly began our way down.
Pace was slow as we stopped for hand-warming and photo-taking and endured the rocky descent. The plus was that, leaving early meant there were far fewer 4x4s yet on their way to shove us off our preferred ‘smooth’ lines.
Several hours later we arrived at the bottom to be greeted by a tyre malfunction for nick that was fixed by the saviour that is duct tape.
Some k’s down the road we stopped off for a quick fig rustling only to be informed by the owner of the fig tree that we were stealing all the wrong figs, and that, while we were at it, those plums just there are ripe for the thieving. As we plundered yet more figs she appeared with a bag laden with apples and our beloved findik!
An early start to ensure we could get Nick to tbilisi asap to try and aquire passports, began our 45km morning to lagodekhi.
After a cheeky tow from a tractor I came upon nick by the side of the road beside the most delicious fig treats yet on offer. After at least half a dozen or so we decided that was probably enough and we should continue onwards (and with the agreement that any real stop must be by a good fig tree).
Thus, fig-powered we made our way to lagodekhi. Upon arrival Nick promptly took the first marshrutka to tbilisi leaving alex and me to deal with his bike and stuff. Since 3 bikes are pretty awkward we locked them up where they stood and went exploring. Over the next few hours we wandered up and down the road to the natural park at the foot of the mountains looking for places to camp, fresh bread to eat and finding with no need to look, an abundance of figs. Watching our ridiculous passage through their town some locals beckoned us over for watermelon and the notorious ‘cha-cha’. We escaped our fear of finishing the entire bottle by well-timed rain and fear for the state of our bikes.
Between drenchings in the intermittent downpours we were gifted some very freshly baked hot bread by the bakers themselves and sat around contemplating what to do in the ridiculous weather. Eventually we ended up in an abandoned lore museum for the night – an ideal campsite!