Week thirteen - Cold rivers rush
I am in my twelfth country since leaving London.
Two days ago I crossed the border in Georgia. The border guard told me I had been forty two days in Turkey. Was it that long? Turkey, and one fifth of my journey, has flashed by in an instant, a turn of the pedals. A momentary lapse in concentration and I am in Central Asia.
I panic. This is too soon, too quick. My long sought after adventure of a lifetime is whipping past me, bent over the handlebars, delirious in the thrill of a mountain descent.
I should turn back, cycle Turkeys south coast, or fly to London and start again. I’ll pay attention this time.
All these thoughts fly through my head in an instant, but I know that life is simply like this. It is always in hindsight that you wish you had appreciated something more. If it went quickly, you were probably enjoying it.
Turkey has treated me so well. This country has been the starkest departure from normality I have ever experienced. The food, the landscape, the people. It is a wonderful country, and I look forwards and backwards simultaneously.
I last updated this blog sitting in the grounds of a Turkish mosque. I'll explain how I arrived at a Georgian coffee house.
In my last days in Turkey the landscape morphed from dusty arid moonscapes to verdant humid valleys. Perhaps an early indication that I am pedalling into the climate home to the Caucasus mountain range.
- I spent one night this week in the company of a bee keeper, Mustafa. He took huge offence at my request to sleep in his field, and ushered me instead into the front room of his house. In the morning we shared a traditional Turkish breakfast, olives, bread, butter and cheese, arrayed on a circular table on the floor.
From Erzurum I cycled five consecutive days through high mountains. On the fifth day I slowed, legs flooding with lactic acid at the slightest provocation as I struggled to push 6 kilometres per hour up gentle gradients. I needed a break.
In the town of Ardahan, close to the border, I spent two nights in a hostel. A young man from Azerbaijan called Tom worked in the adjacent market. He took personal responsibility, or rather irresponsibility, for me.
On my “rest” day Tom took me into a nearby forest to drink Raki, a Turkish equivalent of Greek ouzo. It is usually taken with, or alongside water. We spent the rest of the day in his cafe drinking çay and chatting.
As always I wished there was a meaningful way I could return something to Tom. Tom has dreams of living and working in London. I gave him what advice I could and my contact details, in the hope that one day I might be of help.
Onwards. The Georgian border sat astride a vast lake, collared by green mountains.
Georgia felt immediately different. Markets with alcohol replace the çay houses. Churches replace the mosques. The roads are in terrible condition. Even on major highways there are no dividing lines. You are left to play cat and mouse with the oncoming cars which weave left and right across the road through the maze of potholes.
I haven't met many Georgians yet. Most of the people I have met have been Azerbaijani or Armenian. One Georgian I did meet was working in a grocery, I went in to buy an apple and left with ten apples and a melon, none of which he would accept money for.
My first night in Georgia was unremarkable, save for a striking sunset.
With a bag of bulgar wheat and a can of sardines in hand I went off in search of the famed canyon.
It didn't disappoint. Pitching my tent on the precipice, My dinner was accompanied by a flashes of lightning and thunder rumbles in the distance. I nervously shifted my tent a few meters father from the edge, my imagination running riot with images of being swept over the edge in a deluge.
The storm hit early in the morning but no such catastrophe befell me. Instead, after a morning of coffee and ‘The Iliad’ I climbed down to the bottom of the canyon and jumped butt naked into the pool below the waterfall. It was freezing, I could barely breathe but I whooped with delight at the shock. It was the perfect start to the day and a pretty damned good introduction to a new adventure.
Bring on the good times Georgia!