We're unsure exactly what caused the violent sickness and diarrhoea, though it struck four of the boys within an hour or two of each other to begin with and our cheerful riverside camp, soon became a war zone. I mentioned in Part One that there are fresh water springs everywhere in the Adjara region and we had no reason to believe it wasn't the purest water you'll drink. There would often be locals queuing up with their water containers and cars stopping by to wash and rehydrate. I had also been drinking from all these water sources up until the first man went down. The only source that I did not personally consume, was from a beautiful waterfall that cascaded down the mountainside and flooded across our road creating a small ford. The boys took the opportunity to wash off after our wild camp the night before and a few of them filled their water bottles too. We had already descended a few hundred metres from the very top and had passed a number of cattle farms. It was a few days later, in the town of Tsalka, that we met an Agroecologist from Germany, working on agricultural strategies in the village of Ninotsminda.
Anya told us that it was most likely a parasite called Giardia particularly prevalent in the dry summer seasons in the Adjara region. It is unlikely to have been contracted from the taps but could easily have been contracted when washing in the open water sources, or even from unpeeled fruits and vegetables. If you do contract this parasite, it can take up to 2 days for symptoms to arise (See the Wikipedia link for more info).
After you descend from the Adjara mountain pass, if you are heading to Tbilisi, there are two possible roads to take you to the capital. One of them heads north to join the main highway into the city and the other takes you on another escapade to the south of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region. This requires another ascent to 2300 M altitude.
Unfortunately, Marks new Chinese wheel didn't quite cut the distance, so whilst he had to organise alternative transport to take himself and bike to the Capital, the rest of us opted for the southern road.
The big draw card to take a big 'V' south towards Ninotsminda and back up towards Tslaka, had been to see three lakes which lay on a huge volcanic plateau at an elevation of over 2000 meters. We were told that this area was of outstanding beauty. We cut through valleys and gorges and it was a great ride, but a little tainted by the sickness that knocked the boys for six and made it less than fun for them. After just 36km's on the day of recovery, we found a magical camp spot for the boys to crash out and the rest of us to chat over a few beers..
Keep your eye out also along this road for an old train carriage that has been converted into a bridge. Unfortunately it has not been maintained and the floor has severely rusted out, but it is a fantastic feature and creative way to recycle..
The afternoon sun is cranking up, David's in desperation of a toilet or an open field, he's still suffering and the others are keen to find some wifi and catch up with Mark, who should have made it to Tbilisi by now. A small park offers us a reasonable place to stop for a few hours and the police station opposite can offer David some drop toilets that may cause him nightmares for ever more. I meanwhile get talking to a young lad who is thrilled to be able to practice his English with a 'real' foreigner and enraptured by our bicycles. The lad is also joined by his mother, of whom he translates between her questions and my answers and then a group of children who have just come out of some sort of summer school. The kids are great and listening to the boy translating intently and of course they all want to try and ride my bike! I allow one of them, he is the oldest of the boys and the only one that I thought may be able to handle it. He wiggles around trying to control the damn thing as the other kids watch on in laughter!
We had reached the plateau now and although we had aimed to make it to the lakes to camp, with the storm still threatening to let rip again, we ducked into an open field next to a crop of wheat. The scenery up on the plateau we didn't think was that impressive, but the storm, however, was really spectacular!
During the night we all awoke to an uncomfortable noise, as poor Thomas was the fifth man to contract the sickness. Feeling dreadful the next morning, he and Jose decided to rethink their plans. Both of them had managed to acquire Iranian visas (Lithuanian & Spanish) and seen as we had only just passed the exit toward the Armenian border crossing, they decided it would be more suitable to head directly to Armenia and onto Iran. They had been planning to see the lakes and come to the capital with us, but I think a day off in some comfortable accommodation was exactly what Thomas needed. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to them both and cycle in opposite directions.
Around the lakes the landscape was quite barren and you could be forgiven for comparing it to areas of the Lake District or Scotland in the UK. I had been expecting a bit of tourism surrounding the lakes, but they were very much untouched. The villages were slightly eery and not particularly welcoming. We went into a couple of different stores to hunt for basics, but never received a friendly reception. This surprised me, as we had been told of the Georgian's wonderful humour. There has been a lot of turmoil and changes in these areas during both their distant and more recent past and as I believe, these towns were once heavily occupied by the Soviets, of whom quickly returned to Russia taking as much as they could with them following the break up of the union. There are also many Armenian's residing in this area and although relations between the two countries seems to be stable, I wonder if this has any affect on the development and ambiance of the area, I'm not sure.
This route south had taken us a lot longer overall than we had accounted for, mainly because of illness, but the wind and terrain were not helping either. With the weekend fast approaching, I was eager to get to the city and return to Batumi to collect our visas ASAP. It was 16.00 hours and still another day away from Tblisi, so David and I decided we would collect all the passports, hitch a ride this afternoon and get me on a bus to Batumi. And here I am!!
The bus ride home..
Luckily, I have been travelling with Mark today, which has been necessary moral support!
I have never experienced such chaos as at the Georgian bus stations (with the exception of the Georgian border crossing maybe). The driver eventually beeped his way into a non-fixed parking space and we had 30 minutes to leg it across the city, through the stinking hot and muddy streets and into the office of the Azerbaijan Embassy. Arriving with 10 minutes before closure, we stood amongst the piles of paperwork in the consulars office and mopped up the sweat leaking out of us with a roll of toilet paper. I handed over the pile of passports. When we had been standing here one week earlier, handing over the equivalent of £72 each for the privilege of obtaining a ticket into Azerbaijan, we had confirmed at least three times that it would be OK for one person to return and collect the visas on behalf of everyone else. Today, however, was a different story; "It's a problem" the consular explains. Luckily, something soon knocked some sense into the guy and he tells us that he wants to help but 'next time' everyone must come back with their own passports in hand. Me; "Next time?.. OK, no problem!!"
Knowing the catastrophe that would be waiting for us at the border crossing to go back to Turkey, we took a room at the hostel again and left at 06.00am the next morning for Turkey.
Going back to Turkey..
I walked into the PTT office, confident I would be able to collect my parcel immediately (a Turkish friend had been calling the office everyday this week to make sure it would be there by the time I arrived to collect it). The assistant looks at me blankly and shakes his head, he knows nothing of my parcel. I show him the tracking number which I have been inputting into the PTT website and he asks "what is this?". I show him my unimpressed face and stand my ground, before he tells me my parcel is in Trabzon. Trabzon is nearly 200km's from this office and there is no reason for it to be there. 30 seconds later and the man tells me that he can get the package to me within 20 minutes but I must pay 140TL, incredible that this guy can suddenly transport my package 200km's in just 20 minutes!!
I agree to the deal but not until the parcel is on the table. It arrives in less than 20 minutes. After a lengthy battle over the payment, of which I am told is a customs charge, I loose and pay up. It is a lot of money, but worth it for the four bars of Cadbury's chocolate that are amongst my goodies sent from mum and in the Pamir Mountains too, I will thank myself for giving into these fools and handing over the money.
We hitch another ride back to the border to re-enter Georgia and have a very lucky score. The man who picks us up can not speak any English but communicates to us that he has business in both Turkey and Georgia and flashes us some sort of ID card that will allow us to skip the stand-still that has piled up on the Turkish side and as long as we sit quietly in the back seat, we will be through in no time at all, no questions asked. Sure enough, the guy flashes his card around and hands over some cash to the right people and we are through, saving us at least two hours of standing in the heat. Fantastic!
We are dropped just on the outside of the city and walk a few kilometres to take another adrenaline fuelled ride in a bus back to Tblisi, every seat is taken this time and all but the back corner of the bus has been reserved. As most of you know, I am only 5 foot tall, but even my knees were jammed into the back of the guy sitting in front of me. With no window this time and cornered into the back crevice of the bus, it was a journey where good meditation techniques may have been useful. We pulled up when a kid at the front started puking and then packed ourselves back into our inferno for the rest of the journey. At 23.00 hours, we made it back, parcel in hand, a new rear wheel for Mark and visas to Azerbaijan for everyone!
By the time I returned to Tbilisi, the guys had itchy feet and were reading to take off. I managed to squeeze a few hours of sightseeing in with David, but to be honest, I would have loved a few days to explore this incredibly unique city.
Around the city and particularly in the old town, you will see many quirky historic buildings which may seem a little haphazard, some more abstract then others. This is the Theatre Gabriadze in the heart of the old town and although only limited in size and capacity, it has gained recognition worldwide for its character and ingenuity.
Another famous attraction which can be found in the old town is the Abanotubani Sulphur Baths with their characteristic red brick, domed roofs. Inside they are adorned with colourful mosaics and you can look inside without having to use the facilities. Continue following the path around the back of the baths and alongside the river and you will arrive in a small gorge with a waterfall at the end, quite unusual in the centre of a city!
Jan Shardeni Street, again in the old town, is a narrow street with trendy bars, restaurants and cafes and a
We are often asked on this trip what the most interesting place is that we have visited and it is not an easy question! Based on the definition of 'interesting' two places on this trip so far that we would most certainly like to go back and explore more, would be all of Romania and Tbilisi..