Time to say good bye to our beloved Turkey and hello to Georgia. Little we knew about this small country stuck in the Caucasus, other than the continued disputes in its northern border. Our plan was to spend just a few uneventful hours in the South of Georgia, enough to cross into Armenia. Once again our plans changed, and our stay in Georgia, despite being short, has been far from boring.
Bye bye Turkey
After spending the night parked by a house that was under construction, we headed to Sumela Monastery. Tucked away in the mountains, it is a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The site was abandoned in 1923, following forced population exchanges between Greece and Turkey, and now serves as a tourist attraction.
Back in Trabzon, it was time to make a decision. The prospect of taking Lola to yet another mountain pass with uncertain road conditions and the possibility to stick with Team YeYo-148 for another day was enough to convince us to change our border crossing of choice and continue along the coast towards Batumi. Reports from other teams suggested a few hours wait at the border at least before being allowed into Georgia, but the spirits were high and the stomach full after our last meal in Turkey. Even Lola had a turkish tea to regain some strength.
Not a good first impression
Despite our worst fears, the border crossing only took 45 minutes. Once on the other side, it was time to obtain some Georgian Laris and get ready to find a good spot to spend the night.
Things on the Georgian side of the border were a little bit different. Loads of money exchange offices, half of them closed. Police cars constantly patrolling the roads. And above all, the driving. Here, overtaking is taken to a whole new level. Many cars were missing the front bumper, for a reason. The vintage Renault from Turkey gave way to big Mercedes, new and old. Special mention goes to police cars: Ford Sedans that look like american police cars, Minis, pick-ups, they have one for every taste.
After trying and failing to get car insurance for a couple of hours, the night fell in and all of the sudden if was pitch dark. For whatever reason (the people, the car, the police) the big city of Batumi did not feel like a safe place to stay and we headed north. What was suppose to be a main road ended up being a trap full of pot holes, crap tarmac and crazy people driving like maniacs. We kept on driving until Jeroen spotted a yard that separated a police station and a very old building. A quick word with the official and against all the odds we were allowed in. A quick glance through the windows of the old building revealed what looked like an abandoned hospital. Creepy (again).
Never trust your first impressions
After a glorious night sleep and a quick breakfast it was time to explore the hospital. The overall state was in disrepair and some of the rooms felt like if they had been abandoned in a rush.
Well, they had not. The next morning a couple of cars parked next to us and a few people got into the hospital, a little surprised of seeing an ambulance and a fire truck parked on their door.
Back on the road again, the stupid overtakes from last night was just the introduction to some really tame driving. To add to the fun, the motorway came in with cows and their corresponding cow poo.
Georgia wanted to finish on a high
After lunch, Team YeYo-148 headed towards Azerbaijan and so, we were driving alone again, this time towards Armenia. The road leading south to the border was a total mystery to us and being only a secondary road we were expecting the worse. Luckily for us, it was perfect tarmac instead and soon after we left the big city it lead us into the mountains.
We had already learnt previously that mountain roads offer better views. But this exceeded all our expectations. Turn after turn the landscape change for the better. First, mountains on both sides full of pine trees. The temperature was dropping at the same speed as our impression of Georgia was improving. Then, the mountains gave way to rounded hills and the pines were replaced by vegetation that was growing everywhere.
As we got close to the Armenian border, the hills became smaller and the valley much wider. The view was breathtaking and dangerous at the same time. Suddenly the perfect tarmac was infested with pot holes, loads of them. And cows.
The pot holes were too many and the scenery too good that we were forced to call it a day and stop a few kilometres before the border on another glorious sunset. It was so perfect that we had to open a nice bottle of “Cuna de Reyes” from Rioja (translates to “Kings’ birthplace” more or less) – what a perfect name for the occasion.
Georgia waited until the very end to show us his beauty. Infinite landscapes, raw nature, mountains, wide valleys and a breathtaking sky. Well, and pot holes, loads of them.
We head south into Armenia in search for old monasteries and finally Iran.