Out of the window at the Goldstar Hotel in Tbilisi I have a great view of a Christian church. This country, Georgia, is completely different from the country we have been in for 3 weeks. Since the last blog, we have experienced enormous extremes; From 45 degrees in the afternoon in Turkey to 0 degrees at night in Georgia, from singing minarets to crosses on churches, from a welcome cup of tea at each petrol station to a welcome with schnaps and home-cooked white wine, from turtles on the road to a complete farm on the lane consisting of dogs, cats, goats and especially many cows, from women who are mostly covered to women who could sometimes have been more covered, from brand new highways to roads of stones, mud and a completely gone road. Either way, in both countries we are immensely welcomed by the locals and that feels fantastic! Currently we have 8,500 kilometres of which the last 2000 km are full of adventure.
Monday 26th June 2017 – Friday 30th June 2017 Antalya / Amsterdam
Bertha flew this week to the Netherlands to arrange the Chinese visa. This visa can only be applied for in your home country and is valid for up to 3 months. This week, for the first time, it is possible for us to request it and, in addition, the flight is relatively cheap. We have already heard stories from fellow travellers who request double passports to arrange this visa. Either way, this mandatory return trip was finally the best option to us. After three visits to the Chinese Visa Application Centre in The Hague and more and more paperwork, we finally have the visa! Yes! So happy! We also receive a confirmation email from the Turkmen Embassy in Frankfurt this week that we will receive a Transit visa at the border. When Bertha called the embassy this week, she received the following answer: “Are you sure that you haven’t been in Berlin to obtain the visa?” and “What was your name again? Maria, right?”. After a long phone call, the right papers were finally taken out of the pile, but then it appeared that the employee had no email address. Bertha had written it for sure 3 times on each form. Once again, the embassy was mailed and we received the welcome message 10 minutes later: you get access to Turkmenistan! Yes! These two visas were the last to be settled for our route to India. The other Asian countries and Australia can be obtained online or at the border, and are relatively easier to obtain.
Erik stayed in Antalya this week and visited the town of Olympus, looking for a waterfall west of Antalya (Göynük Canyon) and had to care for Kwispel, the neighbor’s dog 🙂 . For a number of days it was really hot to do much during the day, and all alone in the big Antalya was not the adventure Erik had suggested 🙁 .
Just before Bertha is dropped off by her parents at Schiphol, she arranged two motorbike chains including gearwheels. This is thanks to the help of Hans of PJS Motorbandenservice and Rob of MotorBandenZaak. Thank you very much for your excellent and prompt service!!! Because of the Ramadan, it was impossible in Antalya to order spare parts in the short term. Hopefully it is possible for Bertha to check-in all the extra luggage… Fortunately, this could end up without too much trouble. Along with an airplane of enthusiastic Dutch tourists who are looking forward to spend their summer holiday in Antalya, Bertha is flying back on Friday afternoon. With a crazy feeling, is the adventure really starting now? If you want adventure, you can get adventure!
As I walk through the plane trunk, a heat wave meets me. Erik tells me that today it has been 45 degrees Celsius. On arrival at 20:00 it is still 37 degrees. I’ll be picked up by Erik with the motorbike. How could it be different? We ask ourselves the question: is it better to ride with the visor open or close? When riding with open visor, the heat burns in your eyes and you have the idea that your skin is really burning. Erik even suffered from a small blood nose while I’m wondering what to expect when temperatures are even more extreme.
Eventually it appears to be cooler to close the visor. Arriving at our apartment, we have a small dinner at Role Street and after that we sleep immediately. Tomorrow we finally hit the road together again, together looking for adventure!!
Saturday 1st July 2017 Antalya – Konya
After breakfast, we say goodbye to the other Dutch couple in the apartment. They live on a sailboat but are currently staying for a longer period of time on the continent due to the recovery of a cardiac surgery. Fun people! From the Netherlands, I brought some Dutch puzzle books to them which made them happy.
On our way at a petrol station, Erik took a picture from me and two Turkish girls with their mobile phone. They were pretty clear that only I had to be on the picture, and not Erik! I really do not know why they want to take pictures with me, but agree. I think because I have already quite blond hair.
We leave the coast and drive inland along the Beysehir Lake to Konya. Arriving in Konya we cannot find the campsite and we suddenly drive across the million city dressed with big mosques. In the Mevlana Museum in the city, the alleged beard of Mohammed is preserved. For this reason, the city is considered a sacred place and it is a pilgrimage place.
We re-enter the address in the GPS and arrive at a huge paid picnic spot where many cars drive into. The campsite next door, Motorhome Caravan Parki, seems closed. But then we are welcomed at the entrance. Erik has to come inside with the security guard to handle the administration. After many hands and feet and jokes from the guards that Erik did not fully understand, the proud guard brings us to the fence, opens this and ultimately agrees that we do not need to put the tent on the bricks but on the grass. A free place with private toilet at our disposal! The fact that the highway runs past our tent is not such a problem for us. Due to the smoke clouds in the picnic area, we almost cannot see our own gas burner, but the pasta-pesto salad with tuna and a mix of different vegetables in one can (onion, beans, peas, tomato) is certainly tasting good. Goodnight!
Sunday 2nd July 2017 Konya – Göreme / Cappadocia
We do not have breakfast with us and decide to first drive an hour to hit some kilometres. Bertha achieved double digits during this ride!
The road from Konya to Nevsekir is, quite right and very boring. There are almost no buildings and it is already two hours later before we encounter a restaurant. The breakfast we know is not on the menu, but a Corba (soup with bread) is always good.
Upon arrival at Kaya Camping in Göreme, we have a fantastic view: Cappadocia. This landscape is known for its pointed rocks that have arisen through a volcano eruption, modeled by wind and rain. For thousands of years, people have lived in these rocks. There are cave houses, cave churches, and sometimes you even see complete villages underground. The advantage of the cave over a normal house is that it is cool in the summer and relatively warm in winter. It’s a beautiful landscape that we can admire from our campsite, but we first take a swim in the pool!
In the evening we meet Luna Feline Dzek Dukadje. This couple has been cycling from Germany to Istanbul. The heat combined with a few injuries they’ve got was too much for them and they decided to continue to India on foot, with use of lifting and public transport. We hope they will finish their trip well with their current blisters and strange foot inhabitants …
In the evening, it does not cool below 29 degrees, which is really hot when you’re in your tent!
Monday 3rd July 2017 Göreme / Cappadocia
At 3.15 am the alarm clock goes off. Dressing up, coffee and at 4 o’clock we will be picked up by a van. Jippee!! Today we do some ballooning, for both the first time!! The ballooning industry in Cappadocia is a million business. Every morning at least 100 other balloons enter the air. There are baskets for 4, 10 or even 28 people. We are in a basket with 18 other people. During the price negotiations, 18 people sounded like a lot and busy, but when we finally got into the basket it seems to be no big deal. We have a beautiful standing place at the edge with only one other person in our compartment. In addition, this girl does not seem to like it all. When we practise the landing procedure together with the pilot, she remains standing stoic and asks why she has to do it now.
After an hour, our balloon is ready to fly. When we get into it, he first makes a small jump. Oh, well, exciting! The basket comes of the ground very smooth and we leave for our flight. Such a flight is so extremely smooth. On a motorbike you feel every bump and in the airplane you are suffering from turbulence, but with such a balloon it’s literally like floating.
We see the sun appear from behind the hills. Together with the all coloured balloons this creates a beautiful view. The ballooning has exceeded our expectations. It was a really cool experience!
In the afternoon in Göreme town we eat Gözleme. The wraps baked with spinach and cheese are very tasty. Back from the town to the campsite we could happily hitchhike with a balloon pilot, unfortunately by car.
In the afternoon Erik is tinkering on Bertha’s motorbike. Her throttle continues to hang, creating a kind of cruise control. Well, this is very useful on the highway, but it can also be dangerous. By turning the screw around the handle slightly loosely, the problem has already been solved.
Tuesday 4th July 2017 Göreme / Cappadocia – Niksar
Today we leave northwards, but not before driving through the Cappadocia. And we have known that! We hit a road next to the campsite and soon this road is getting smaller, we just can pass the road with our motorbikes and panniers. Officially, this road was a walking path… The views are fantastic and we even see a balloon close by. But suddenly Bertha does not dare further, the road with loose sand, up to a meter wide, goes extremely steep down. Fortunately, Erik is the lifesaver! He drives both motorbikes safely, though soaked by the (fear) sweat, down. In the meanwhile, our GPS still does not show roads, but the road we are driving over is better manageable than before and soon we arrive at a small town.
At a tank stop, the owner appears to have lived in the Netherlands for 3 years and he speaks still a little Dutch. Similarly, we are invited to tea, which is more of a rule than exception at a gas station in Turkey, and we are treated to tasty snacks: olives, bread, cheese, tomato and cucumber. The other staff members also join the tea party. The words Dutch he still knows are funny. To Bertha he continues to say “I love you” in Dutch (He meant “I love the Netherlands”), and “Little girl. Little girl”.
At a short stop at a river Bertha has her first time shitting in the wild. Diarrhoea day 2, but with a phenomenal view!
We have lunch in Tokat at Melek Bahçesi (beautiful place!), but the host think that we are Germans and start to speak German continuously. We do not really like it and as a statement we speak English in return. However the host continuous to speak German. Irritating! Luckily, the food makes almost everything, Tokat Kebabi. A dish with potato, roasted eggplant, tomato sauce, meat and garlic.
After we have paid the still annoying German-speaking waiter we are invited to the kitchen and are enthusiastically greeted by all the cooks. Here no German but hands and feet. Much nicer! They show how to prepare Tokat Kebabi and they all want to take a picture with us. Within 1 minute, more than 30 photos have been taken.
Before we leave the kitchen, a cook introduces us to Ayran (Turkish buttermilk) and gladly donates two glasses. Maybe we should learn to not always drink (and eat) everything what we get offered. An empty glass means: Do you want more? I give you more!
Tired but satisfied we arrive at Niksar campsite. We expected a caravan or parking place, but it seems to be a nice campsite with barbecues, for only 2.50 euros! Definitely we are going to try barbecue tonight! Even before we have taken the bags of the motorbikes we are approached by a girl who offers us cay (tea). She does her best to speak English. “My name is … ..” and “I am from …….”. We then had to fill in the sentences. Her brothers will come along for a while, but they cannot speak any English and only like to laugh. While setting up the tent, we are looked at by the whole family but do not feel uncomfortable at all.
It is a lot colder than in southern Turkey, just over 20 degrees during the day and at the campfire it is starting to rain a bit. What a difference with 400km back!
Wednesday 5th July 2017 Niksar – Macka
Today we drive a dull route with a lot of rain. First to the coast towards Unye and then on to Trabzon. The weather reminds us of Norway, where we had rain for almost every travel day. Bad weather also means less tea invitations. When we want to pull our rain suits on at an almost empty gas station we are even sent away.
We arrive late at Camping Verizani Restaurant, which does not honour her name. The dish we order in the evening seems to be warmed up in the microwave and consists of only meat with only one slice of tomato. The sanitary of the campsite is quite bad and even with the great view, the campsite does not earn one star.
We cheer ourselves up with a new game Beaver Gang (Beverbende in Dutch). We brought several games from the Netherlands, but did not have much time for it during our journey. Beaver Gang is new to us, but it seems to be really fun! This is a game for the real fanatics!
Thursday 6th July 2017 Macka – Yusufeli
Through a very wooded trail with deep soils we arrive at Sumela Monastery. Unfortunately, the monastery appears to be closed due to restoration work. From the viewpoint we see nothing more than fog and some other smiling visitors.
Because it’s so foggy we’re pulling our rain packs on. We drive back to Trabzon and along the coast to Of.
After Of we drive a beautiful mountain route to Ispir, where we reach the highest point so far, 2640 meters! No trees, but snow and mountain goats.
After a toast lunch in Ispir we continue to Yusufeli Greenpiece Camping. Both of us agree that this is the most beautiful route so far. High rocks, deep valleys and many river crossings. Beautiful. There are also many 1-lane roads where passing is quite difficult.
In Yusufeli, the sun shines happily. We put our tent in the backyard of a ‘hotel’ where the lawn mower has been broken for a few years. When we finish setting up the tent two other motorbikes arrive. A few days ago, we have seen these two French motorists before, with a guitar attached to the rear of the motorbikes is not something you see every day. The French boys Arséne and Jéróme will also try to reach Australia by motorbike, even though their route is completely different.
In the evening we enjoy watching in a wedding. The dancing continues throughout the evening. Unfortunately, the weather is completely changing at night. The thunder and lightning strikes are accompanied by heavy rainfall. When we pack our tent in the morning, it still rains …
Friday 7th July 2017 Yusufeli – Goderdzi Pass at Batumi – Akhaltsikhe
From Yusufeli to the coast we drive over a highway with almost only tunnels. After 3 weeks we will leave Turkey today. At Sarpi we cross the border to Georgia. It is not very crowded at the border, but we are pushing for and fast we enter the first gate. After four gates we enter Georgia, which seems to be a very fast border crossing. For Georgia as a Dutchman we do not need a visa.
We exchange Turkish Lira’s for Georgian Lari and continue our trip on Georgian territory. The people here look somewhat shaggy compared to Turkish people. Here, many women walk without a headscarf and some are almost naked despite the colder weather. A little more covered would sometimes be better….
We leave the highway and continue on a dirt road. We expected this only for a while, but the road surface gets worse and worse. Mud, stones and loose sand. Everything but no asphalt. We drive up to 20 km per hour, but we keep on driving the motorcycle acrobatically.
After the rain thick fog appears and just before we reach Hotel Goderdzi Pass we are freezing. On top of the mountain, which appears to be a ski resort in winter, there is a supermarket with only Chinese junk but we do not see a hotel. When Erik stumbles in and tries to speak out the word hotel, the woman points to the left. There!
It looks like ‘The hell of ’63’ (horrible cold ice skating event in 1963), but now on motorbikes instead of on the ice skates. We take the wrong exit and are now at the back of the ski hotel. Because the communication system has had an empty battery a few hours ago, communicating now is very difficult. Erik shouts as far as he can to Bertha that she should not take that turn, but she does not hear it! Before we mention, Bertha falls with her motorbike in a pool of mud!
With all the strength we have left we lift the motorbike back up and we know to find our way to the front of the hotel through the thick fog. Both of us hope so much that the hotel is not only open during the winter months! Erik grabs the doorbell and this turns out to be locked. Bummer!! Then suddenly someone appears and opens the door. All rooms are still free and we can choose a room. What a relief!! We pay a very good price but later we think we had accepted any absurd price under these circumstances.
While it’s almost dark outside, we find out that it’s already an hour later than imagined, because of time differences. But fortunately, at 9 pm, we can take potluck and this is almost divine. The Georgian language of the men in the restaurant is not understandable, and so we try to have a conversation by using a translation app. The owner also serves us alcoholic shots to get warm, accompanied by beers and home-cooked wine, which tastes more like Raki. What a warm welcome! While we are still slightly freezing, the men continuously cheer with their white wine jars.
Saturday 8th July 2017 Goderdzi Pass at Batumi Akhaltsikhe – Vardzia
We wake up with the spring rings of the mattress in our backs. Yet we slept like a god in France. Erik looks at his watch and it appears that we are at 2000 meters high. Hence it’s so cold. We did not notice yesterday that we climbed that much.
Our hostess prepares baked eggs, so we can hit the road again. We are going to finish the off-road route today. If you want adventure, you can get adventure! Fortunately, we soon descend to an area where the fog has disappeared. The road does not get better, but because of the higher temperature and the better views we really like it again. We even drive through waterfalls a few times! Two hours and 30 kilometres further we can finally kiss the asphalt. Let’s go to Vardzia.
Vardzia is a 12th century cave complex. Before two-thirds of the complex was destroyed by an earthquake in 1283, it consisted of more than 6,000 apartments in 13 floors. Currently part of the complex is still occupied by nuns, the other part is open to tourists. With access of only 2 euros per person (5 Lari) we can climb the mountain that gives us access to the tunnel system. Unfortunately, the church in the complex is subject to restoration. The restoration activities do not accompany us during this trip.
The bizarre of the complex is that currently there are fences near the stairs and but formerly there were no fences at all, while it is steep down on the outside of the caves.
After an ice cream at the exit we meet a Transalper from Poland. Together with a friend driving a BMW, they started their journey. Unfortunately, the BMW broke down and the Transalper had to continue his trip alone.
We drive back to where we came from, back to the north. Erik had seen a perfect wild camp spot on the way. Upon arrival, this place has already been noted by others and we drive further. Ten minutes later we find another beautiful spot, not far from sight, but far from the road, in the grass at the river and room for a campfire! Our first own wild campsite! Camping in the wild is legal in Georgia, and so much is done. After we have set up the tent it is time for a shower. We take our swimsuit and walk to the river. This appears to be wild in closer inspection and, moreover, extremely slippery along the banks. As real adventurers, we wash with a watercloth and soap on the water side.
After dinner, prepared with the gas burner, it’s time for wine at the campfire. Along the shore we find a tree trunk that we throw in. Adventure with a capital letter A.
Sunday 9th July 2017 Vardzia – Tbilisi
Secretly we had hoped to be awakened by the grazing cows running everywhere. But unfortunately, when we get out of our tent there is no cattle to see. We grab our trunk and drive to the capital city Tbilisi. We have both high expectations of the city, but these are grounded when we enter the city. It is very dirty everywhere, far away glory. The houses look beautiful at the first glance, but it seems like after the building they have never been renovated again; Broken windows, walls with holes, entrances with debris and a huge smell everywhere. After our trips we have been used to a lot, but after seeing two hostels, we prefer a somewhat more luxurious hotel. Unfortunately, there is not really a middle class in terms of accommodation, so we decide to take a three-star hotel after good bargaining, where we can safely park our motorbikes out of sight and lock them behind a fence.
Monday 10th July 2017 Tbilisi
While Bertha writes a blog, Erik designs a city tour for today or tomorrow. We hope that in the coming days, Tbilisi can still refute our current perception of the city …