……….after the advice of the border being officially closed a meeting was called by Mick (Tour Leader) to discuss options and advise that we would be staying a further two nights in Tbilisi in order to plan a new itinerary, there weren’t many complaining about that . Unfortunately we would have to move hotel as the Marriot were not able to accommodate the group for a further two nights so a quick pack and ride saw us take off to a new hotel about 10 k’s from the city where we had a great pool, outdoor area, spa etc. to enjoy the extra days. By that evening we could tell from Mick’s stress levels that things were not going to plan…….we were soon to find out!
Another meeting was called and everything put on the table…….here are the options, the effects and the end result.
• We travel via Abkhazia, an area disputed by Georgia and occupied by Russia since the 2008 war. A visa was required but easily obtainable…….until we found out that you must enter and exit Abkhazia via the same border crossing……pointless exercise really.
• Travel via Azerbaijan however the only options here were to enter via Dagestan, one of the most dangerous areas in Russia, practically lawless, even the Russians don’t go there…….aaah no thanks! Or travel to the Caspian Sea where the ferry services are notoriously unreliable and we would miss a lot of eastern Russia, Moscow, Volgograd etc.
• Ride to Batumi or Poti in Georgia and travel via ferry to Ilyichevsk in the Ukraine, the benefits or not of an Australian passport, Aussies need visas and this would take too long. All ferry services from Georgia or Turkey to Russia have been suspended since the Sochi games…who knows why?
• Check your maps out………the only option left was to go back through Europe, my worst nightmare had become a reality…..bugger, bugger, bugger! Tbilisi & Batumi Georgia, Giresun, Samsun, Istanbul Turkey, Sofia Bulgaria, Belgrade Serbia, Budapest Hungary, Slovakia, Krakow & Warsaw Poland, Vilnius Lithuania, Latvia and then into Russia and onto Moscow….why Latvia…because Aussie’s need visas everywhere else. 5100km’s extra and a rearranged itinerary that would not see us getting back on schedule until Mongolia!!
I was devastated. I could not think of anything worse than spending 12 days riding that itinerary with no time to experience and enjoy any of those countries, freeway riding the entire way!.......but there was no other option? This hit me for a six; I was really quite devastated by this and frustrated that I was not in control of my own destiny in this situation. Add to this Roomie still didn’t have a bike but all was in place to fly his F800 into Tbilisi but the group would have been gone. I made the executive decision that I would not leave him behind and decided to apply for an Express Ukraine visa in Tbilisi. Now with this revised itinerary we would meet the group in Volgograd. But wait……the freight forwarder offloaded his bike and delayed it by another 5 days!! So the next move was to join the group and have the bike sent to Belgrade, Berlin, Luxemburg or London.
Let me digress….now all this freight arrangement was being made by his wife and when Roomie rang to advise the new changes she contacted the freight forwarder who advised that there was no more they could do and the bike was going to Tbilisi……a complete a**ehole! His wife rang and was emotionally wrecked from the experience. So I suggested we look after it. We rang the forwarder in America and once advised that what he was doing was not kosher I got Rommie to draft a new SLI(Shippers Letter of Instruction)….they backed down and became very helpful………where do you want the bike to go sir?? It was really a very stressful situation and when it was all done I bundled Roomie into a cab and took him out to dinner. He also needed some headspace so I gave him the key to my bike and said tomorrow you can ride my bike!
Back to the story…….so with a heavy heart we joined the group for the start of the journey back through Europe. Day one, Tbilisi to Batumi, the Goldie of Georgia, great spot beautifully situated on the Black Sea. Great dinner that evening and met two locals, one Georgian and one Turkish who both live in Batumi, excellent conversation and loads of fun…..gotta make the most of it I guess! Next day was a stinker, hot and humid and the day we started on roads we had already ridden. We arrived mid-afternoon in Giresun, Turkey a fairly non-descript town on the Black Sea coast. A swim was in order and with the hotel right on the coast we welcomed the cooling off after the hot day’s riding.
Once back at the hotel Mick made the announcement that he had been advised that the Russian Georgian border crossing had just reopened. Yes that was music to my ears however I was stunned to learn that most others were happy enough to keep going. It was Mick’s decision but he was welcoming anyone’s opinion so I caught up with him and advised that in my opinion we should go back to the border for a number of reasons; less fuel cost, less tyre wear, back on schedule a lot sooner if we cut Moscow. He then advised I was the only one who thought they should go back to which I replied that if that is the case I would consider leaving the group, do it by myself and meet them in Volgograd at a later date. Mick and the rest of the crew met to discuss all the options and we were to be advised that night. It was a tense time as we all waited for the answer……….against all my expectations he walked in and advised we are going back to Georgia then Russia but missing Moscow to get back on schedule. I was elated and anyway not all that fussed about Moscow!! The negative in all this was that was the final straw for Roomie he had run out of options and faced the reality of either going home of finishing the trip in the support vehicle.
Back to Georgia, Batumi & Tbilisi…..and the opportunity to keep on with sampling the Georgian menu…..Abhazura (spicy meatballs), Chikhirtma(chicken soup thickened with egg), Kharcho(beef soup with herbs & rice), Badrijani(fried slices of eggplant topped with a rich walnut paste), Lobiani(pastry filled with bean paste), Khachapuri(cheers pie in various versions, Georgia’s most popular snack food) & Churchkhela(“Georgian snickers” a string of nuts covered with dry grape juice, buy it everywhere). Yes you could say I was happy to get another crack at Georgia
Off to Russia tomorrow!