Friday, 29 July 2011

Georgia: on my mind and a public display of affection

I usually avoid public displays of affection (PDA) as they make me feel slightly uncomfortable; never really knowing which way to look and whether to smile sweetly trying to hide the 'oh I do wish I was that much in love but really should you be performing an Esophagogastroduodenoscopy in public' face or look down and find a bit of fluff on my lap the most interesting inanimate object I've ever seen. As for me performing the art of PDA? Bah! not in a million years.. until the other day..

I really don't know what came over me, maybe just the sheer challenge of being alone for so long, that gnawing frustration of when will it happen and for those last two days before 'it' happened all I had dreamt of was that moment when we would finally meet again. And it happened quickly and I wasn't expecting it. I clasped my brake levers tightly at our surprise encounter, wincing at the sound of metal on metal and, vowing to replace the brake pads, I flung my bicycle on the verge. I stood there for a while quivering, savouring the moment as there was my dream lying before me. I hoisted my shorts awkwardly and knelt down, my fingers hovering for a few seconds over the object of my desire until I could resist no longer and traced them gently over the smooth, damp surface. My hot breath was visible against this cool skin as I drew my face closer and before I knew it my lips met..


I kissed a road.

You would have done too, believe me this was not just any road, this was a road.

Road [rohd] –noun
a long, narrow stretch with a smoothed or paved surface, made for traveling by motor vehicle, carriage, etc., between two or more points; street or highway

The main road I had been on for the last 2 days while ascending a pass of 2025m (twice the height of Snowdon and a bit more) - was not a road. It may have been once, before someone obviously had a load of spare dynamite, a lot of time on their hands and thought it would be nicer if they could perhaps use a boat to travel along their road on a rainy day should they feel like it.

here is a wee sample

Step 1: take some sludge

Step 2. add a few rocks. (for a more challenging recipe add piles of rocks)

Step 3. and to improve the consistency just add more water

Final Step: take your sludge, rocks and water to 2025m and chill it for 4 hours, preferably in a hail storm. you my find this hard to swallow and it won't get any easier on the way down

My entry into Georgia had been as smooth as the road I came to dream of, a friendly smile, a stamp, surrounded by passport officials (I counted 7) coming up to say hello and ask about my trip. I veered off to the right before the seaside town of Batumi and headed east passing a few kilometres of people displaying beachball displays of watermelons on the roadside. As I left the buildings behind I soon realised my route was to be following a river (I had no proper map apart from a matchbox sized one of the country and Georgia is not mapped on Google) and it was glorious.

After 5 flat and windy days in Turkey and a never changing view my eyes feasted on new hills, valleys, red-roofed churches and ancient bridges with each bend of the road I took.

On the second day I watched as 3 men whirled like dervishes and body-popping matadors to the joyful sounds of Georgian folk music. The bride, Teo, looked on with a glint in her eye, her face framed with kiss curls of fake hair and glanced at her new husband who shifted uncomfortably and pulled at the collar too big around his neck. I sat in awe watching these dancers and looked across at Teo whose hair was scraped into a ponytail, a real kiss curl fell across her eyes and she brushed it aside as she looked up at me while leaning over the low table that we had, only a few hours ago, shared coffee and cakes on and now was covered in a thick cloth on which she ironed colourful bed linen. I gestured approval and as the wedding video part 2 finished, the young man seated next to me opened a new file so I could watch wedding video part 3.

After wedding video part 5 my jaw ached from smiling yet I continued with the "ooh this is amazing, all these people now dancing to byran adams" gestures of approval. More people arrived in the painted wood room. oh the shy groom was here, and someone else that looked like his brother. I stood up and shook hands and was then beckoned to sit down in front of the computer again. Surely not.. Part 5 was definitely the last file in the folder, I had checked.. it was then I learnt that a Georgian Muslim wedding lasts for 2 days.. Day 2- should you ever wish to know- involves more drinking, more toasting, more dancing...

Despite the jaw ache my time spent with this family was the ribbon on the parcel that Georgia became for me. Capitan, the father, in his flowery festival hat had found me that evening drenched outside a tiny shop, scoffing a whole chocolate swiss roll as I worked my way up the treacherous road to the top of the pass not realising the distance I still had to cover. He spoke no English but had called someone who could who informed me he wanted me to stay with him. I insisted I could camp he said no and bike and me were piled into the back of a van and we began the steepest ascent up a dirt track vertical to the route I was taking.

I was greeted by Teo and Capitan's wife, wet clothing removed, slippers produced, taken by the arm and led thru the rooms of a wooden building on stilts and into a warm shower. A wood burner in the living room was stoked, my panniers emptied and clothes were soon spinning in a washing machine. Taken by the arm again I was led to the kitchen where a spread was laid out for me and I dined on beetroot with coriander, chunks of rustic bread with sour cream, chicken, hot potato washed down with glasses of thick yoghurt with Teo and her friend Patty

 I was showed to the toilet, the floor had a triangle cut out and all waste splattered some 10 foot below on to the compost pile. I leant over the balcony which housed rows of brightly coloured sheets and dresses while Teo and the mother pointed out their land and the produce they grew: the corn, the potatoes, the cherries, the herb garden.

We watched at sunset the cloud trying to claw its way out of the valley then lingering beneath us having found a resting place on the top of the fir trees. I rested in the living room with the mother while Teo swept the floor with a bundle of tightly bound twigs. She disappeared then bounded back her hands full of newly born chicks which she placed on the mother. I was led to the barn where a hen protested as it was lifted up and a bundle of chicks tried to bury themselves in the straw. I was handed a warm egg with the chick slowly tapping its way out and Teo held it to my ear so I could hear it chirping from within

We retreated for coffee and wedding albums then the videos. then all the men returned and we drank thick black coffee and made conversation yet I can't recall how as we shared no common tongue. The president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, appeared on television and they looked on with pride at this enigmatic man.

My hosts.. and my laundry

At midnight I climbed up a wooden ladder to the top floor and led to a beautiful room, a wardrobe was opened, a cornflower blue nightgown produced and I woke to bright sunshine, 2 breakfasts, sad farewells and hugs and I was driven back to where Capitan had found me the day before and I continued with my ascent to the top of the Goderozi pass.

After a few hours of slow progress I reached the 2025m marker and I joined some old men in thick woollen hats sheltering from the rain that had just began.
 A drop in temperature accompanied the ferocious hail storm pictured earlier and I was ushered into a hut by Becka, a young man who is going to become a seafarer and wearing sunglasses after an accident with a piece of wire embedded itself into his eye

 His friends struggled with sheets of corrugated iron trying to cover the paneless windows as the storm swept through the wooden building. Becka's mother kissed me on the cheek , brought me coffee and I was invited to sit down and join her son and his friends for a warming meal of melted cheese in thick salty gravy, a vegetable broth and steaming plates of rice.

I was asked my religion and he explained how he was a Christian as he produced the cross on a string around his neck. His 2 friends muslim but makes no difference and so it shouldn't he added.

Despite offers of a bed for the night I was aware that my progress up this pass had been slow and donning my down jacket under a layer of waterproofs I bade them goodbye and began the slow ascent. 1 day later after a night tucked into a forest next to the fast flowing river I met the road I'd been dreaming of and 3 days later, through scenery scattered with stone fortresses and churches perched impossibly on pinnacles of rock I reached the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi.

Georgia had not just been on my mind, it had captured my soul.


  1. This is such a great post, and brings back a lot of happy nostalgia for the Caucasus... happy to hear you're having such memorable experiences there.


  3. Great post, I really enjoyed reading it.

  4. I'm thoroughly enjoying reading all your tales, and some fantastic photos too. Im planning some cycling in Georgia this summer which is how I came to find your blog today. You write so well - Thankyou and keep it up!

  5. Love the photograph of the view out the window - what a hospitable country! Great post.