გისურვებთ და ოპტიმიზმი
Luck and Optimism. Maybe it is just my optimism that makes me see the good things even in a bad situation but I guess I had a lot of luck so far on this journey. Generally, I have a lot of luck when travelling and that’s probably the reason I am still here, able to tour the world.
Hiking through Australian National Parks and running out of water 20km away from the next village. Almost getting swept away from the incoming flood at “Wreck Beach”. Once I even had the idea to hike up the Teide in Tenerife in winter - Spain’s highest mountain with over 3,700m. In three days I hiked up from sea to summit, not knowing how ‘high altitude sickness’ could affect my body. In the snowfields near the top I lost orientation as well as all my physical powers and until today I don't know how I reached the funicular station. At last, I’ll never forget that one time when I had mistaken butter for cheese and ended up eating 200g of pure butter. After one day of horrible stomach pain everything went back to normal. My point is, I make a lot of stupid decisions but somehow I managed to survive.
When I had my bicycle accident in Greece I was not wearing my helmet. It hurt a lot but my head didn’t get any damage. I was lucky. When my rim broke a few days later I was cycling with a broken rim for 700km to Istanbul. The whole wheel could have been broken when I was going downhill with more than 60km/h. It didn’t. I was lucky. All the injuries I had so far are healed, even my knees don’t hurt anymore. And when two days ago in Trabzon one of my spokes was broken, I met Andreas from Germany who happened to be a bicycle mechanic. I could’ve repaired a broken spoke myself but it was him who figured out that my spare spokes had the wrong size. So I got new spokes in a bicycle shop and the repairing went smooth and easy.
In Trabzon I spent two nights in a hostel. It was there that I met Andreas and Stephanie, a German couple also cycling along the Silk Road. My room I shared with Alex from France. He as well is pedaling east – just a bit more unsystematically than we Germans. They were all applying for their Iran visa here at the Black Sea - and they all faced great troubles. Their LOI’s were not arriving and when they arrived the consulate told them to wait a few more days for their approval.
Actually I also had the plan to apply for Iran in Trabzon but spontaneously changed it into Ankara. I was lucky because now I already have my Iran and my Uzbek visa. It even looks like I’ll be receiving a Turkmen transit visa which is a big exception in these days. Andreas and Stephanie are already making a Plan B in the event of getting rejected at the Turkmen embassy: Either they have to cycle back from Iran to Azerbaijan to take a ferry into Kazakhstan or fly from Tehran directly to Uzbekistan and I don’t know what’s worse.
So maybe it was my good organization that made me get the visa relatively hassle-free, maybe it was my luck. Maybe both. But the two Germans were organized as well, that’s why I guess that again I was very lucky.
After collecting my visa in Ankara I took the bus back to Sivas. I couldn`t wait to start cycling again given that I was just sitting around for a whole week. So I took on the upcoming mountains with great pleasure. Three times the altimeter on my bike showed more than 2,000m. The highest point I reached at 2,190m. For the first time in Turkey I left the big national road and the scenery became even more astonishing. Narrow valleys and views of snow-capped mountain tops took turns.
With the last mountain pass the environment changed from red dusty rocks to lush green forests. I had finally arrived at the Black Sea. Two days I spent in Trabzon with the other cyclists. Relaxing, repairing my bicycle as well as changing the oil from my Rohloff gear and take part in the 'Iftar' - the breaking of the fast during Ramadan - without even having fasted. Therefor we went to the Agia Sophia of Trabzon to join the locals at their community dinner in a big square. The food was good and gratis and everybody seemed happy to have some foreigners at their table. These 'Iftars' make the Muslim fasting month Ramadan into a truly social event.
While the others still had to wait for their visa I continued along the Black Sea coast towards Georgia. The road curled between the sea to the left and the steep green mountains to the right and every now and then a tunnel made sure that you don't have to climb too many meters. This first day leaving Trabzon showed me what will become the biggest problem during the upcoming weeks: The heat. 32 degrees in the shadow as well as 38 degrees in the sun made the sweat run down in rivers. In the morning of the second day I took a refreshing swim in the Black Sea.
Close to the border with Georgia it was cooling down a bit, giving me the chance to breath once again. But soon there were some big clouds coming up and it started to rain. And it didn't stop raining. Clearly this is what makes the coast so beautifully green. Lots and lots of water from the sky. After pedaling through a whole day of rain I finally arrived in Georgia and later in Batumi. Georgia greeted me with a fist-fight between a security guy and a drunken person at the border. Alcohol - one more possible danger for me on the road.
Drenched as I was I entered a cheap hostel in the coastal town. Now I can say I was lucky to have escaped the rain that is still pouring down outside the window. Or I can say that I was feeling very miserable being totally wet for two days. My optimism let's me tend to the first option. Luck or optimism - I will need a lot of both these things to complete this journey!
Green mountains. As I leave the Black Sea behind me and cycle upriver into a stunning valley, I remember again why I decided to take the longer route through the Lower Caucasus instead of crossing directly from Turkey into Iran. A beautiful scenery of green mountains is unfolding in front of me. To my left, a massive waterfall is thundering and probably for the first time on this journey I can listen to the birds singing because there are hardly any cars on this minor road.
The reason for the abscence of vehicles are the terrible road conditions. The last 35km of the path winding up from sea level to over 2,000m consisted of deep gravel, potholes and dirt. For seven hours I was fighting the ascent until I reached the windy mountain pass in the afternoon sun. On my body, a mix of dust, sunscreen and sweat had created a smelly crust - which didn't hold back the villagers from greeting and talking to me.
Indeed, already after the first day cycling I got invited to stay for one night with some petrol station attendants. The room was very shabby and the mattress way harder than the floor of my tent but still I appreciated the hospitality of the three men. That was when I first started missing Turkey because our conversations in Russian/English were hardly moving forward: 'You Deutschland Sozialist or Deutschland Kapitalist?' - 'What? Ah, okay. I'm from Western Germany...'
Gerogians are not as open as Turkish people but after you talk to them for a while you realize that they're very friendly and generous. And just because they don't welcome you with open arms at first doesn't mean they're not interested in your story. Actually they have a lot of questions. Unfortunatley I can't understand those questions. But what I can do is play a match of football with some village kids. And that's exactly what I did.
Even though the roads were hilly and hard to cycle on, I very much enjoyed pedaling through the outstanding green landscapes. I was surrounded by nature and could feel how my body and mind was calming down. I took my time. For example I spent a lot of time observing the cows that enjoy total freedom here in Georgia. Without a herder to look after them during the day they are taking care of themselves by communicating a lot. And they are doing just fine.
After a few days, shortly before reaching the second mountain pass, I was suddenly starting to feel sick. The harsh headwind was not the only thing sucking the energy out of my body as I slowly approached the 2,170m mark. I was breathing very hard and had to stop every few minutes to lay down on the ground before blackness could come all over my eyes. Since I figured it could have something to do with the altitude, my aim was to cross the mountain in order to feel better. Maybe it was not the best decision to roll down the hill at a top speed of 83km/h in that condition.
It's the worst thing to feel completely powerless when you're travelling alone. Luckily, on that day, I met a lot of lovely people: Around midday an Australian couple in a big truck was passing me. They offered me company, water, a sandwich and even a ride to Tbilisi. I refused their offer because at that moment I thought that after a good nights sleep I will feel better. I should be proven wrong.
In the evening four other German cyclists were catching up with me and we decided to camp together at a wonderful mountain lake. They were buying fresh fish from the village and were preparing a delicious meal on open fire while I was just able to lay on the ground with a lot of pain in my stomach. Even though I wasn't very hungry, I really wanted to try the fish. It was delicate but my body couldn't keep it in for too long: During the night I suddenly woke up, had just enough time to open the tent and vomited probably all the food of the last two days just next to my shoes. At that time I knew that it wasn't the altitude that made me feel sick.
The next day I was too weak to get out of my tent. It took some time to assure the other cyclists to go on without me - I would make it somehow to Tbilisi. After they had left, I packed my bags in slow-motion and carefully ate an apple for breakfast. Then I had to vomit again. And again. And again until I was pretty sure that my stomach was now completely empty. I decided to not eat anything else this day. I also decided to hitchhike the 100km to Tbilisi and to check into a hostel. All my willpower to reach Thailand only using the bicycle left my body the same way my breakfast did.
Even though I was hitchhiking this day became by far the worst of the whole journey. The bicycle and I were in the back of a van when the driver decided to take a shortcut. This meant that for 50km we were bumping over rocks while the bicycle and I were shaking like crazy in the trunk. Fortunately my stomach was already empty but still this ride was a complete horror and because I didn't have the power anymore to watch over my bike, my beautiful Brooks leather saddle got a crack.
For the last 40 kilometer I was taking an overpriced taxi with the most annyoing driver you can imagine. After one minute he stopped at a petrol station to brag about how he totally ripped me off. I didn't have the energy to argue, I just wanted to sleep. During the whole ride he tried to convince me to pay for some prostitutes. I didn't have the energy to argue, I just shook my head. When we finally reached the district of the hostel (of course he didn't bring me directly to the place) he asked me for 5 Lari more. I didn't have the energy to argue, but still said 'No, fuck off!" (More or less). So he fucked off.
Today is my fourth day at that hostel and still I am feeling weak. At least I managed to apply for my Chinese visa yesterday morning and it looks like I will receive it on Wednesday. Tbilisi is a wonderful city and when I hopefully get better soon I will take some time to discover its small streets and old houses. Yesterday I already joined some people from the hostel for a night walk. What other capital on earth has a big waterfall and a canyon running through its center?
Timeout. For one week now I was staying in a hostel in Tbilisi. The constant temperatures around 35 degrees kept me on the balcony of the hostel for most of the time. It took me maybe five days to fully recover from my food poisening. During these days I couldn't move all too much and had to watch while mosquitos and bed bugs were trying to eat me alive. Since then I made the decision to be super careful with the food and to avoid meat as much as possible (I witnessed a man pulling out pieces of meat from a cardboard box in his trunk to sell them to the butcher).
The accomodation is very interesting because the owner doesn't speak a single word of English and apparently has no organizational talent whatsoever. This more than once resulted in hilarious situations and you have basically no idea whats going on in this hostel for most of the time. The only reason I stayed at this place (besides being too lazy to move) were the other guests that, for one week, were like a family to me.
This way, I developed my own daily routine in Tbilisi. Having breakfast with Mesut, the Turkish guy, going for a walk with Manana from Poland or just waiting in the hostel for the heat to pass while having some French-German conversations with Francois. Other guests from all over the world would come and go, and together we would make fun of the grumpy Georgian hostel owner and in the evening visit a Jazz Bar. I very much enjoyed this timeout but now I have to hit the road again. Armenia is waiting.