Tbilisi to Baku

Well hello, after my holiday from our holiday, i have returned and am well over due a blog update so Jack kindly keeps informing me, so here goes!

By the way please note in this episode, the abundance of helmet usage………..shows how dodgy it is, thats the 1st time since england!

AT the islands,Istanbul

AT the islands,Istanbul

My galavant to Istanbul was an expensive but worthwhile journey, as it was great to see Faye again. I whipped her round the sights and sounds of the Bull then we had a few days chilling and relaxing, drinking chai, and getting drunk. Unfortunately the weather wasnt great when I was there this time, as you may have seen on the news, worst floods for 80 years apparently! However eventually it cleared up and we had a lovely day of the islands again, where we went with Emma, Karlene and Rhi, three girls from bristol we met at the hostel. Somewhere along the line we both managed to get a little bug, which was lovely!, but we both recovered soon enough. So a good timehad basically, although slightly marred by the 2 x 34 hour journeys i had to take to get to and from. Definately makes me feel that cycling is the best method of transport, sitting on your arse and not being able to do anything is horriblissimo. (as opposed to stiing on your arse and spinning your legs….ha).

So on arrival in Tbilisi at 2 in the morning, i was semi forced into taking a room at a luxurious (as in too expensive) ex-soviet hotel, where i slept in the biggest, most comfortable bed ive been in for ages, then stole all the complimentary bits i could find in the morning. In the morning i found my way to the hostel where jack and the others were staying, and the gang was whole once again.

We spent about a week and a half in the city, obviously pushing it hard to get to china before the winter settles in! But on a more serious note, we did have a lot of georgian wine to sample for some korean import/exporters who had come all they way to georga to get our expert pallates on the case. End result, that georgian wine definately gets you drunk, and doesnt make you want to cycle the next morning. But it is bleddy good stuff, the sweet varieties are like drinking slightly alchoholic fruit juice. So we passed a few nights making sure they didnt feel like it was a wasted trip.

By the time we set off, Keith and Rob, another Cyclist we had met in the hostel had already been on theroad for 4 days, so we had a bit of catching up to do, and with Rob being an Ironman (apparently) we had a hard task before us. But you do have to take into account the oldie, Keith, as his developed age means that he has to take care of his failing body very carefully…..haha!(read it and weep keith…..)

So we set off with Chris and Sara early afternoon of a grey, cornish style sky day, and managed to get out of the city quickly enough, and were soon on one of only (seemingly) three 2 lane roads in Georgia. As we progressed the skies opened and in true cornish style we got drenched without even realising it was raining that hard (the grey drizzle), and we spent that night, all 14 hours of it, laid in our tents waiting for the rain to stop. Come morning, the rain ceased for 20 minutes which allowed us to pack up, and decide that we were going to get a room in the next town, after a 2 day record low cycle distance of 35 miles. However, on arriving in the town, and finding a hotel, we found that there was no electricity, no hot water, and ho showers at all….so we had to try and dry our stuff in the other rooms of the hotel, spreading our gear everwhere we could, and putting the smaller stuff under our duvets so that we would dry them when we slept. Meanwhile we spent the day reading and sitting in the only coffee shop in town so that Jack, Chris and Sara could get their Coffee fixes.

Chris doing his pose, in his new smoking jacket

Chris doing his pose, in his new smoking jacket

The next day dawned with a bright sun and clear sky, and boded well for our journey into Azerbaijan. We said our farewell for now to Chris and Sara, as we wanted to push on a bit and get to Baku in order to get our Visas sorted as soon as possible, and we shot off down the road, which was slightly downhill and with a slight tailwind, straight towards the east! After around 50 k we rounded a shoulder of the range we had been riding along, and an absolutely fantastic sight greeted us, and absolutely filled us both with awe and a sense of achievement and gratitude.

1st nice day out of Tbilisi, rolling towards the Caucasus

1st nice day out of Tbilisi, rolling towards the Caucasus

The Caucasus

The Caucasus

This was our first sight of the Caucasus Mountain range, where it is now thought the Human Race might have begun, and it was incredible. The next town we came to was like being back in Europe, as it had all been done up to accomodate all the tourists, but it was very pretty, and in a great situation, right at the top of the valley walls, looking over a massive valley floor and over to the Caucasus, and from here you could see to where the Azeri border was.

starting the descent to the Foothills

starting the descent to the Foothills

Valley shot looking at the Caucasus

Valley shot looking at the Caucasus

Beautiful town.......great situation

Beautiful town.......great situation

Same town, different perspective

Same town, different perspective

After a brief lunch of the usual cheese and bread (we`d over indulged on the local cheese on toast equivalent, Katchapuri, in Tbilisi, so went for the old favourite,ha), we headed down the valley wall and across the bottom in a head on collision with the mountains, which was harder than it sounds, as it was soooo long and straight, that you couldnt see where the end was. God knows what Oz is like, im sure Jack will be able to enlighten us sometime in the future! We ended up doing 73 miles that day and camping at the foot of a mountain, about 1 km from the border, and it was a beautiful spot.

Camping near the border...

Camping near the border...

The clouds drew in as evening set in.......beautiful though

The clouds drew in as evening set in.......beautiful though

Think they know something we dont?

Think they know something we dont?

Sneak shot of the border post, as i was unsure about permissions

Sneak shot of the border post, as i was unsure about permissions

The next day was country number 15!, and we were among the first at the border,waiting for it to open at 9ish, and getting our first taste of azeri people, gold teeth and all! This is something we came to see was normal, however unsightly it is to have your rotten teeth replaced or capped with your life savings. So after being husteled through the border, and greeted (and chased) by a troop of semi rabid dogs, we felt we had a feel for the country! On arrival in the next town we managed to find a cash point, where the men queued on one side and the women on the other, see photo.

Wheres the Wally? At the bank machine

Wheres the Wally? At the bank machine

This was a strange experience, and i was there literally 5 minutes before the older guys shouted at everyoneand pushed and shoved me to the front, where i was given priority use, all the while, half the population of the town crowded at my shoulder watching the westerner taking out his allowance.

This town also had a pair of women manning their stalls who proceeded to feed us ( not literally)with some of the local delicacies we hadnt sampled yet, which was lovely, they were a real pair of sweet old ladies.

Is it really?

Is it really?

THere were alot of these beautiful valleys with some big rocks being moved in them

THere were alot of these beautiful valleys with some big rocks being moved in them

After a while we reached a town called Zaquatala, where we were going to take a smaller road that continued along the foothills, and was generally thought by the other cyclinsts wed met to be much nicer and quieter, despite the poor surface, which every Azeri we asked told us about. Foolishly we thought that as usual theyd be exaggerating for us, but as it turned out, it was quite a cruddy road to try and maintain any semblance of a steady cadence on! But it was well worth it, as the views and the lack of traffic all made up for it, by far. As we passed through some smaller villages we had the usual waving, and the by now usual flash of gold teth, along with one woman who wanted us to give her a lift…..funnily enough we said no! As we reached the end of the day, we came to what we had been warned about, a section of road that had been washed away by the river in several places, and was only passable by the hardiest of vehicles,i.e, ladas and trucks.

The quiet road...a good stretch

The quiet road...a good stretch

Good work environment for mechanics here...

Good work environment for mechanics here...

Road to nowhere/Russia (if you can scale the mountains)

Road to nowhere/Russia (if you can scale the mountains)

As i pushed my bike across the first small section without even getting the bottom of my shoes wet, I turned around to see a rather faster and larger torrent (bit excessive but sounds good) in the same place i had been 10 seconds earlier! It seems that we ahd arrived just as the levels started to rise, which meant i got to watch jack have to take his shoes off, and wheel his bike across the stream,haha.

10 seconds before this was a trickle

10 seconds before this was a trickle

But 100 metres up the road my laughter came back to bite me on the arse, as we found a much larger section of river, which we both had to get wet for, taking first our front panniers across, then as a pair pushing the bikes across one at a time, racing against the clock, as the water level was rising by the minute. Just as we got to the far ide with my bike, one of my shoes, perched on my handlebars perhaps a little precariously, slipped off and into the water and resulted in me making a frantic grab/grope in the water to rescue it before it was swept quickly out of sight. As Jack was only to happy to point out, if i had lost that shoe i would be, as the proverb goes, In The Shit! as i cannot cycle with normal shoes on my pedals.

Wringing out my socks after almost losing the shoe

Wringing out my socks after almost losing the shoe

The sun caught the mountains amazingly well here....

The sun caught the mountains amazingly well here....

So anyway we thought we`d done well to get across the river before camping, meaning we didnt have to do it in the morning, and we found a kind of field in amongst the dense undergrowth, being sure to make planty of noise to at least and try and scare off any bears in the vicinity. By the time we set up camp and cooked it was well past sundown, and the moon was glinting off the mountains to the north, and we could hear some of the sounds of the wilderness we hadnt yet had the privelege of experiencing.

The second stage of the crossings.........when we crossed

The second stage of the crossings.........when we crossed

The 2nd stage of the crossing, in the morning,note the distinct lack of water!

The 2nd stage of the crossing, in the morning,note the distinct lack of water!

In the morning however, we awoke and set off with enthusiasm for the next town which we knew to be about 10 km away. The distance was correct, but we were wrong in assuming that we had conquered the rivers sections…….by quite a way. we had only done around a fifth of the obstacles, and so spent the next few hours strugling to drag us and our bikes across cold fast and strong torrents, where the current was continually smashing pebbles, stones and small boulders into our bare feet. Suffice to say by the end they were sore and we relished standing in some soft clay/silt for 5 minutes after every crossing to repay our feet for the hard work theyd done.

one of the more difficult sections, it was really fast and carried alot of debris

one of the more difficult sections, it was really fast and carried alot of debris

Jack struggling....me watching

Jack struggling....me watching

Jack modeling our new range of feet friendly socks.......

Jack modeling our new range of feet friendly socks.......

Eventually we reached the last section to cross, and as luck would have it, a truck was going the same way, sowe chucked our bikes in the back, and took a ride in an ancient old soviet truck, which was seemingly capable of going over anything. As we crossed the river, the driver showed us the direction of the town, which unfortunatley was at the top of the biggest hill we had ridden over for a while (me at least anyway). Anyway we headed up and luckily some locals stopped us for tea, Azeri style (lemon and ALOT of sugar), where we had the usual international explanations and comedies, along with a peculiar habit native to the Azeris, which is to ask how much everything cost, the bike, and getting from england to here. This was slightly unnerving at first, as we were unsure as to their motives, but it soon became clear this is a common query over here, and just a normal topic of conversation. We still lied just in case, although our massive understatements of 100 dollars for the bikes and 1000 to get here were still met with a sharp intake of breath.

After 3 hours of slogging it through rivers and up hills, we reached Sheki and stopped for a pide each as a reward. As we were sat there, the wind started to pick up………..luckily going our way, and so when we set off we were able to get back on track with milage by the end of the day, although we were knackered and sore. We ended up having to push on through a couple of towns as there wasnt any viable campspots, and when we eventually found a flat spot away from the road, we grabbed he opportunity to stop.

The next day we came across a couple who had set off from Beijing Earlier in the Year and were heading to Istanbul, who informed us they had met keith and rob 2 days earlier 40 clicks out of Baku, and we exchanged stories, and advice, they were especially keen to hear about the rivers section, and whether it was passable.

As the day progressed we came to the biggish couple of climbs up onto the main road again, and into the Turkish climate area of Azerbaijan. Apparently Azerbaijan has 3/4 of all the climatic zones known in the world, surprising in such a small country. It is also however, the 3 highest exporter of oil according to Jack, and thats definately easy to see, with new buildings going up, and alot of fancy constructions projects in places that seem ill placed among the run down farms and villages. The former President, whos Son is now in charge, is also plastered all over the place, with quotes and smiles bearing down on the population. Seems like hes trying to do a Mustafa “Ataturk” Kemal, and get himself immortalised for being a progressonist involved with the major rejuvenation of the country.

How this happened i dont know......What a mug

How this happened i dont know......What a mug

We Camped about 30 km after the last major hill, as the wind was still with us, seems that Baku (translation;the windy city) was going to live up to its name. The spot we chose was at the bottom of a valley, near some roadworks, and as we pushed through the mud, w found that it was the horrible clingy, sticky mud that clogged up everything, meaing we had to clear all our wheels and mud guards or the wheels simply wouldnt move. It was a lovely spot though, and in the morning we witnessed a jackal pelting it across the valley floor, pursued by a gang of sheep herding dogs, who luckily ignored us.

The next hour was spent climbing up a hill, and then looking at my Doreen (my Bikes new name) trying to figure what was wrong with the wheel. On reaching the top i had noticed a strange rubbingsounds, and stopped to find that the brake block had almost worn through the tyre wall. after a little oil, and massaging, she decided to let me off and fixed herself, so we set off for our last full days cycling before Kazakhstan! The road was beautiful, and the scenery brilliant most of the time, but the wind was the best thing, as it was blowing us along at a steady 20 mph. As we neared the crest of a lrgae hill, i called a challenge to Jack….”First one to see the Caspian gets a Surprise”…….. which was accepted with a smile, and then reulted in us having a great race, each taking the lead for a minute, then losing energy, and the other one shooting past. Unsurprisingly Jack won in the end, and as we crested the hill, there it was……..the Caspian! With a shout and raised arms Jack signified his triumph, as we raced down the hill towards baku, still 40 km away. It was down this hill, withthe wind at my back, and in the slipstream of a passing transit that i reached my new top speed, and equal of jacks, of 47 mph! And damn did it feel good!

me and doreen trying to sort it out

me and doreen trying to sort it out

Nearly the last hill!

Nearly the last hill!

racing the ladas to baku

racing the ladas to baku

We had planned to camp outside the city and enter it the next morning but i was in such a state of jubilation, that against jacks better judgement, we pushed on into the City…….Which as it turned out was a great move.

The road was pretty much straight into the old town, right at the heart of the city, and we stopped off at a travel agency and got the lovely woman there to print off directions and the address of the hostel we were all to meet at. This was unneeded as it turned out, but it did make us arrive in the old town at the exact moment that Ben and Phyliss, a Couple from Britian were heading across the same street towards their apartment. We got talking, and they helpfully showed us where the hostel was, but not before offering their place to us for the week, as they were heading to Turkey for a week! So after finding that Keith and Rob werent at the hostel, we accepted their offer and followed them to their place, where they made us feel welcome immediately. So that brings us to this point, where we are currently sorting out visas, and absolutely loving the generousity and hospitality of this wonderful couple, who have left us in their home, with a bed, telly, kitchen, and even some dvds to watch! Plus i forgot to mention it has a patio overlooking the Caspian! So we really landed on our feet this time, and are extremely grateful to Ben and Phyliss, as Baku is generally quite expensive, almpost London prices for food, drink and paces to stay.

That wraps it up, so until (probably) Samarkand in Uzbekistan, Ciao for now, and thanks again for all the messages, and to everyone whos helped us progress, you know who you are.

I personally would like to say a massive thank you to my Parents and Grandparents, who have found it in their hearts to give me a bit more money to keep going on this amazing trip, so THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Take Care all, and wish us luck for the Visas, Matt x

another lovely view

another lovely view

and another

and another

Jack struggling....me watching

Jack struggling....me watching

Jack prepping for the crossing,haha

Jack prepping for the crossing,haha

The river that forms the border

The river that forms the border

the valley floor.........head on to the mountains!

the valley floor.........head on to the mountains!

Mordor anyone?

Mordor anyone?

had to get a posed one in...

had to get a posed one in...

so did jack

so did jack

More Caucasus, and pretty clouds

More Caucasus, and pretty clouds

Another Mountain shot

Another Mountain shot

9 Comments »

  1. Peter Green said,

    Once again the shots and the blog are great reading! No wonder you want to keep travelling. The snow in the background is a little worrying, will the roads be clear enough to get through? Please continue to take lots of care and let us know how you are doing. Lots of love to you and your friends.
    Love Dad Mum & Hayley xxx

  2. mum and marg said,

    This just seems to get better and better for you both
    I am amazed at the generosity of people and how trustworthy they are
    not too sure that if I came across you both having been cycling for days that I would let you stay in my apartment!!
    just want to say HAPPY 24TH BIRTHDAY on october 17th Jack in case you move off before we have a chance to speak again – we shall be thinking of you and hope you find some way to celebrate
    lots of love
    mum and marg
    xxxx

  3. polly said,

    again – sounds amazing!! someone has let you live in their apartment for a week (were they mad, seriously! ?)
    loving the name doreen! jack what is your bike called?
    happy birthday bro for 8 days time, hope its good and jesus are you really 24! most people have jobs by that age, dont they!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOL!
    anyway hope everything keeps going so well
    love polly xx

  4. han said,

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY XxX
    I like pols comment about a job, i think it may be some time before that happens!
    Another set of great pictures and a very interesting blog, the river bit looked a bit wet, good job no shoes were lost! I am not sure i would of wanted all that clay on my feet, there could of been anything hidden it in.
    Cant believe people are that trusting that they let you guys stay in their apartment, lets just hope it really is theirs and they dont want anything in return!!!!!
    glad you are both ok and having such a good time, we miss you loads, lots of love Hannah, Jamie and Charlie XxX

  5. Jean & Stewart Lenton said,

    Wow the photos are amazing – what an experience of a lifetime this DEFINITELY is !!!
    If you were my sons I’d be worried sick!!
    Good on yer both tho – keep those legs pedlin’

  6. hannah reynolds said,

    wowee this blogs awesome. man im jelous! do you reckon you could bike all the way to nz???? loved to see you! love you lots xxxooo

  7. Anja Borsje said,

    Hi Matt & Jack

    A message from the Dutchies you met in the STrandja mountains in Bulgaria!

    Just found out that http://www.shelterbox.nl think you are homepage news! We wrote a blogpiece about cycling through Strandja and your charity ride in particular, and they have picked this up and placed the piece under the news section on the homepage 🙂

    http://www.strandjablog.com/lang/nl/2009/07/cycling-strandja-bulgaria/

    All is well here, we have been working hard on our website, but it never seems to get finished… thats what you get with two perfectionists 😦

    All the best from here, the pictures are amazing

    Dave & Anja

  8. Hi there,
    Am thinking about doing this trip later this month, well, from Tbilisi to Baku. How long does this section take?
    Thanks!
    Celia

    • eurasianadventure said,

      hi celia,
      its about 600km so and i think we did it in about 7 or 8 days… i seem to remember have lots of rain on the Georgian side. its a really great ride, i really loved that section.
      when you get into azerbijan there is a road that runs parraell to the main road, its in pretty bad condition and there are lots of river crossings so it meant youll get wet feet but thats where the adventure is. i cant remember exactly where it is but i will ask my friend and see if he can.

      when are you planning on going?


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