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“What followed next... uff.” When we left Mestia, I felt that the great adventure was only then about to begin. The Mestia-Usghuli route was full of events and tense moments. Although I thought my stomach was all fixed, I was wrong. I felt worse; I had the shivers and dark thoughts that exhausted me. I was thinking that if we did not leave the group to try and find help, my condition would deteriorate even more, and I would become a burden for the whole group. At that moment, I remembered the instructions you always hear on airplanes: “You put your oxygen mask on first and then you put it on the child!”
I left with “R” and my entire being transformed, the adrenaline took over, literally, so that even when I fell on the edge of the precipice into a sludge where your feet got stuck I did not realize the danger we were carrying with us in our luggage... later, when I saw the movie, I panicked imagining another scenario with a totally different outcome... The Caucasus peaks were showing afar, covered in snow, high and abrupt, with their peaks among the clouds chased by the wind. Suzi ran like an athlete through the Georgian mud, not caring about the slush that ran on her shoes. The Svaneti region rose in front of us splendid and rough, breath-taking, and you could not figure out whether you were afraid or joyful before that image... The meeting with Giorgi N was like a sequence out of a silent movie, Suzi parked on the grass with a stone under the crank and me guarding her from the wild my boots in the mud to the shoelaces. This young man with big hands and thick fingers scared me with his cold gaze. I got into his car fearfully, feeling how my sweat flowed on my spine. At that moment, Giorgi was the only option!
All cats look black in the dark!!!
We entered the Nijaradze family house full of emotion and uncertainty. We then spent an entire hour trying to explain the danger our friends were in. The hardest thing was to accept that even the Ushguli family was afraid... It was already late, almost 9 p.m. when Adi left the house with Giorgi. I stayed on the porch of the house, glued to the multi-square window along with Maruska. Both of us worried, both talking on her tongue to their loved one, her on the phone, me with the walkie-talkie in my hand calling Adi and Mihai ... “-Adi, can you hear me, Mihai, can you hear me?” The signal of technology disappeared as quickly as the headlights of the car after entering the darkness of the forest. And, as the saying goes, “Everything seems worse at night,” so the scenario in my head was bleak... Woman toughened by the Caucasus life and climate, Maruska took control of the desperate situation we were in. She invited me into a room with a stove and a sofa, brought me some big rubber slippers so that I could get rid of the weight of my muddy boots, then came out of a small room with a teapot in her hand, asking: “-Tea?” “-Yes, yes, tea!!!” It was the first word that we both understood clearly, as if in just one second we had learned each other’s language. The word “tea” was magical, it broke all communication barriers, I had the impression that I understood Ushguli and that Maruska understood Romanian. We talked about children and Zauri, the head of the family, told me that during his military service he had visited Galati.
It was almost midnight when we heard the bikes rumbling. For me, it was the most beautiful sound a horse can make, the sound of success... Afterwards, we all had a night to remember, some wonderful days of exploring and getting to know the life of the Caucasus and in a way our own lives. The separation from our saviours and Usghuli was an emotional one. The road from Ushguli to Lentekhi was like a final exam, a “stumbling block”. The end of June in the Caucasus is not the same as the end of the month at Ranca: mud, puddles, snow, churning rivers, old grass and new grass, chasms going down as far as the eye can see.
For me and the rider, the start on this road was not a promising one, because after a few puddles I landed on the green grass, looking at the sky on my elbows. The difficult and dangerous road has raised enough obstacles in our way: the joy, the fear of the unpredictable, the physical testing of our bikes and of ourselves, all of which has rewritten the scenario of our journey. We discovered places we did not know about (Telavi) and we met beautiful people who helped us in need. And even though we were not able stick to the original plan, we learned that... Not all cats are black in the dark!!!
The morning in Kutaisi, with the sun shining after the rainy night, was perfectly in tune with how I felt. Do you know that feeling when you inhale deeply and then exhale softly through your mouth, letting all the hardships go... and you are left surprisingly peaceful? For us, a challenging, unique part of our journey, with many tests of all kinds, with “all spoken and not only” was ending, but that was a part that has carved somewhere inside us a shape forever vibrating to whatever looks or sounds, from afar or not, like the Caucasus, Ushguli, Nijaradze... Georgia.
Early in the morning, the guys went to a garage recommended by the Israeli guide, to try and repair the brake on Adi’s bike. The mechanics there tried to help, but it seemed that the problem could not be fixed so easily, so they decided we should straight to the capital, Tbilisi, convinced that we could find much better garages there. The road to Tbilisi was boring for the most part, spiced now and then with a police car that suddenly turned right in front of us – crossing a continuing line, very Georgian-like – so you never knew if you were in the wrong lane or something, cattle spread all over the road, not even thinking about moving out of the way, stuff like that... We did not escape the rain, and we finally entered the capital of Georgia, a country that is not nearly as developed as Romania, we were shocked. The crowd of the city, which was well worse than the 5 pm Bucharest traffic, the puzzles made by the cars moving on the seven lanes in each direction were the first cool sensations of this capital city. My husband and Adi each had a huge smile and their eyes had sparks in them. Chaotic traffic in which you have to slalom between cars, to get from the first lane to the seventh to turn left, definitely is one of their hidden pleasures :). And as that was the direction to our accommodation, that’s exactly what we had to do...
We checked-in quickly, got rid of our “astronaut suits” and stepped out to see the capital of Georgia. We walked the streets, admired the sites, found a biker bar and made a note in our minds to go there the next day, then we went to the old town centre to taste the famous Georgian wine and savour local dishes, we laughed, played, told jokes and we enjoyed the beauty of the city, this newly discovered place and our luck to have such an amazing experience so far!
In the morning, the guys went looking for a motorcycle garage, and their first stop was at the biker bar we had seen the night before. There, barely awake for sure, the bartender sent them to a garage near the river somewhere. With all the explanations received and the address on the gps, the guys could not find the recommended garage, and moreover, they came across another one, which looked like a scrapyard rather than a garage and where they were told the staff there could not help them. After searching for a few other places and not physically finding them on the gips map, the decision we made was to continue our trip with the bikes as they were, hoping that in the next town we would find a good mechanic and a matching garage.
Disappointed, they got back to the hotel where they, and us, had another surprise coming. Apparently, only the four of us would continue the trip, as the other couple had decided to stay for a few more days in Tbilisi and then go back to Romania. The discussions and the arguments brought regarding the whole situation eventually confirmed that the decision was final and from that point there were four of us left to, while the other two were going their own way.
I left heavyhearted, feeling a disappointment that followed me for a long time (long after this journey) and with the hope (silly me!) that at some point, somewhere along the road, we would see the third bike and we will go on together, the six of us. It never happened!
On the road from Tbilisi to Gudari we were accompanied by local traditions practiced by serene and lively people. Ever since Batumi, we had realized that Georgians’ have this joy and passion for singing, dancing and transmitting emotions, but when you stop at a fortress on the side of the road, and a group of young high school students gets down from a bus, and then one of the girls starts pouring her soul into a song with a beautiful voice, giving you goose bumps, and the others start singing with her and time seems to stop in place, you feel privileged and damn lucky... and you thank God that you are exactly where you should be at that moment!
After that, we felt more positive, filled with new emotions, with smiles on our faces and the desire to explore further the beauties of this gorgeous country. We were already beginning to go up the mountain, with the destination of Gudauri, a famous place, well-known by ski lovers. The landscapes were becoming more and more compelling in all their glory, the serpentines were becoming more frequent, the temperature dropped noticeably and the fog became denser. Snow was also visible on the ridges of the mountains in front of us.
The night we spent in Tbilisi we had booked on booking.com an apartment in Gudauri. We were very surprised to see, when we got there, that we were about the only ones there. The apartment we had booked was located in a new building – some sort of hotel, with parking in the underground and snow mobiles parked there, waiting for the winter season, while the apartment itself, “our Caucasian yurt” as Adi called it, was far exceeding our expectations.
We left our luggage and went out to the resort, trying to find a restaurant to have a bite. From the two open restaurants open, we chose the one that seemed more animated and where, again, we had Georgian emotions served to us on a tray by the locals. At a table surrounded by a lot of people there were a few families with children and at some point one of the mothers with (my guess) her daughter got up and started dancing in the middle of the restaurant without looking like they were trying to make a spectacle of themselves for the tourists... I think this was my big surprise. People are honest, they express their emotions through singing or music and they do it for their own pleasure! They rejoice and they do it for themselves! It is a state of being, quite “suspicious” for us, Romanians! After finishing the dance, the mother retired to the table, while the kid was joined by two other girls, and together they danced a wonderful Georgian traditional dance, which once again made us happy we were... where we were...
The next day took us to the Georgian Military Road, a road we had all read about and knew it was going to be a difficult one. To our surprise, it was not at all like that. We don’t know how this road used to be, but now it was quite easy. There were, indeed, a few segments of broken road, many serpentines and a few hairpin turns, segments covered in sand and gravel, but it was far from what we had seen on youtube and from the expectations we had set. It was raining and it was not very warm at that altitude, but nothing to be scared of.
We stopped for coffee and breakfast in Gergeti, where the Gergeti Trinity Church is located, thinking that after we would eat we could go visit the famous church on the top of the mountain, getting to which was a real challenge. We admired it from the terrace as we enjoyed our coffee and breakfast, and when we finished, we decided to go to the top to see it, but then were approached by various “service drivers” who told us there was no way for us to get there, as it had rained and there was too much mud and we would get stuck in it and they offered to take us there for a sum of money. We did not listen to them, as we took it into our heads to continue our journey straight to the Gergeti Church. However, the road that seemed to take us up to the church turned out to be blocked and it ended at the foot of the mountain, so the only way one could get up the mountain was to climb it on foot. Therefore, we changed our minds and decided to go see the church on our way back. We had also planned to get to the Russian border, which was a stone’s throw away and which we couldn’t miss. We reached the border following a road, the only road in that direction, with areas under construction, with sand and earth thrown on the road, and with the largest convoy of trucks we had ever seen. We took pictures, we stuck the V-Stromania sticker on the border pillar and turned back to try and make it to the Trinity Church.
This time we did not miss the way up the mountain, but the road was, indeed, all mud, so bad that the bikes could stand straight without us touching them. The guys tried to ride up a small portion of the road, only to find that was impossible under those conditions, so they turned back. We figured we should just accept that was not going to happen and be happy that we saw the church even from afar. When we went down, somewhere to the right of the road there was a van and a family of Georgians having lunch outside (with a bit of rain pouring as well). When they saw us, they invited us to taste a cap of Georgian wine. Why a cap? Because they did not have cups for us, so they cut out of plastic bottles turned upside down the coolest caps so that we could taste the family wine. I though, again, this was a gesture of the kind I wish I could find in every one of us. We left Stepantsminda with the intention to go as far as we can and stop somewhere on the road, with no precise destination in mind. On the way back, the guys saw to our left a road under construction which seemed to cross the mountain and about which nobody knew where it went, or if it went anywhere at all… so, of course, they thought it was a good idea to find out. We passed by lorries carrying gravel, a bulldozer that made “way” for us (there were some portions of the road that were blocked), sandy ascents covered in cobblestone and deep grooves, white sand and gravel… in short, an impracticable road. The interesting fact however, was that this road actually took us, sort of like a shortcut, to the other side of the mountain, and while in Stepantsminda there were about 9 degrees, on this side the temperature was much higher, exceeding 20 degrees.
We reached a conjunction of national roads, where we met a group of 5 guys on choppers. We talked to them over a cigarette and found out they were going in the same direction up to a certain point, so we decided to ride together by that point, after which we split up.
It was already evening and we realized the breakfast we had in the morning was too small to be counted as lunch, too, so we decided to stop at the first place we saw where we could have something to eat. We found a restaurant on the side of the road, we ate and we looked for accommodation on booking. Apparently, we were very close to a city, Telavi, where we managed to find the last two rooms at a bed and breakfast. We made up our minds very quickly, booked the rooms and as soon as we finished our dinner we went ahead to the city in question.
The big surprise was just now starting to appear. At first, we thought we were at the back of beyond (we even considered taking something to go from the restaurant were we ate, for the next day), but instead we discovered one of the largest, most beautiful cities in Georgia. Telavi is kind of like Sibiu, and on our way to the bed and breakfast where we were supposed to stay we passed though the centre of the city and saw a large group of riders, many bikes together, a lot of people and a lot of noise… The guys turned back right away. Suddenly, we didn’t feel tired anymore, we went to say hi to our fellow bikers, whom we got to meet, who received us with open arms and turned out to be members of the Georgian enduro club. In a few minutes, they were going to do a city tour on their bikes to advertise the next day event. We were again right on track. We were again where we were supposed to be! The national enduro championship organised in Telavi was scheduled for the next day, so most of those guys had come from Tbilisi for the event and, what was even better… they had their mechanics with them. All the planets aligned and before even getting to our bed and breakfast we decide to stay for another night and go see their championship. As there were going to be many motorbike mechanics there, we had real chances of getting our engines fixed.
So we stayed, we talked a bit to the people we met, we got to tell each other some things about ourselves (the Georgian riders dreamt about coming to the Red Bull Romaniacs), then we agreed to see each other the next day at the championship and we ended up taking the city tour with them that evening. During the tour, we were surprised to see the riders do all kind of tricks on their bikes, bicycles and ATVs. When it was over, we finally went to check in at the bed and breakfast.
When we got there, we were first quite worried. The GPS was saying that we were at the right address, where we had booked the rooms, but all we could see was a wall. Finally, we realized the wall was joining a building with a high, very large gate, which we figured had to be our accommodation for the night. We got down to open the gate and… guess what? As we opened it, we saw several enduro bikes parked in the courtyard and some guys who looked like enduro riders. As soon as they saw us, they welcomed us with big smiles and questions about our common passion. We had a couple of beers together, found out that one of them was the Georgian enduro champion and we were extremely happy about our choice to stay for another day. For us, who did not have a championship to be in the next day, it was a long night in front of a few bottles of wine in a magical place in this world, Telavi, Georgia, exactly where we were supposed to be!