Into Georgia (Trabzon to Batumi)

Turkey's border with Georgia is only about 200km from Trabzon. Two more days of flat, easy riding along the D010 highway. Our last two days in Turkey marked the first two days of Ramadan. Although we were sad to be leaving the country, our timing was right because cycling during Ramadan isn't that easy. Although many of the restaurants remained open, we rarely saw anyone eating. The tea shops were full of their regular customers, but no one had any tea. We ate our self-catered meals on the side of the highway, trying to stay out of sight.  We miss our daily pides

Shortly past Trabzon, we entered the country's tea-growing area. Tea plants fill the countryside and the hills along the highway. We passed dozens of Çaykur (the state-run tea company) processing plants near where the air would fill with a smell of tea. The highway was littered with tea leaves, fallen from one of the many fully-loaded trucks carrying the plants to be processed.  Çaykur tea processing plant

Crossing the border at Sarp was extremely easy. On the Turkish side we were treated as vehicles, so we lined up with the cars and trucks and rode ourselves to the booth where we were quickly stamped out. In Georgia we weren't vehicles anymore, but we were allowed to wheel our bikes along through the lines and were stamped in equally quickly.

On the Georgian side, the six-lane divided highway with wide, paved shoulder became a two-lane undivided highway with no shoulder. And the driving seemed to be very bad. Not wanting to prejudge the country's drivers we thought that maybe the 20 kilometres of highway to Batumi simply didn't have the capacity to handle the volume of traffic coming from the border. Although the “double overtake”, “triple overtake” if you count us (a car passing a car while it is passing a car while it is passing two cyclists) was really disconcerting. Especially scary is the “double overtake” coming in the opposite direction, towards us. We were forced onto the grass, or gravel shoulder a few times.

Yann's father pulled out this great (and seemingly accurate) description of Georgian driving from the U.S. State Department's travel advisories:

“You should exercise extreme caution when driving in Georgia, as many local drivers do not operate their vehicles in accordance with established traffic laws. Traffic signals and rules of the road are often completely ignored. Motorists drive erratically, often recklessly, at excessive speeds, and many times under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Motorists frequently encounter oncoming high-speed traffic attempting to pass other vehicles at blind turns or over hilltops.” 

 A rare moment of calm on the road to Batumi
We were happy to get of the roads and into the safety of the nice centrally-located D'Vine Hostel, recommended by three other cyclists for the garden (great for storing and/or working on bicycles) and the laid-back atmosphere. 

Batumi is a strange city. A resort town with multiple casinos and luxury hotels (and many more being built, including a Trump Tower) and a long pebbly beach front. It is apparently a top destination for domestic tourists, but also many Russians and Turks. We walked around the city centre but as it was rainy, we spent most of our time in the city planning our route to Tbilisi.
 Batumi's pebble beach
Batumi's "Alphabet Tower"
Upon the advice of the hostel owners, we were counselled to scrap our original idea of following the main highway across the country. Alternatively, we could take a mountain road to the south, through the Autonomous Region of Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti. The advantage of this alternative route, other than the scenery and mountain weather, was the lack of high-speed traffic. The disadvantage was that it involved about twice as much climbing, on an unpaved and poorly-maintained road. After much hesitation we opted for the climbing (only after finding a blog with cyclists who described the climb as “gradual” and after receiving a report from Amy and Brian who confirming that the road was “very very bad” but that we could do it). We figured that it had to be more pleasant than sharing the highway with Georgian drivers. 

Stats for Trabzon to Batumi:

Days of cycling: 2
Days of rest: 3
Kilometres cycled: 211
Metres climbed: 841
Cycle-tourists crossed on the road: 3

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop  Expedition Support

1 comment:

paradiso(angry) said...

fwrna 78
What are those ugly little high altitude spikes? Not fun ,I'll bet.