Since beginning all this, Georgia and the Caucasus were one of the places I looked forward to the most. I’d heard nothing but good things and its an area I’d never been to, unlike many of the other countries. It had a sort of mythical quality about it in my mind. Unfortunately, I lost a couple of months because of my crash and ended up getting to the region much later than I expected. October brings cooler temperatures and the end of harvests. We came in at the end of the month when the final reds, oranges, yellows, and bright autumn colors were being blown off the trees by brisk winds. You could feel winter fast approaching in the nighttime bitterness, but the daytime could still bring warm sunlight. Georgia has a rich history and was one of the first Christian countries in the world. Riding through the rural country-side, you come upon ancient churches on hilltops. Down the sleepy roads old farmers finish up the harvest. At times it feels like you’ve been transported hundreds of years into the past. I’m sure everything would look and feel the same besides the few pieces of modernity thrown in, like guard-rails and sealed roads.
I was lucky enough to get a couple beautiful days, in-between all the rain, to explore. Old country roads lead to peaceful spots to get away from it all. Georgia’s the perfect place to wild camp.
You never know what you’ll stumble upon riding through the tiny villages. In one, I ended up getting in the middle of a horse race down the main road. It was to celebrate the life of a young guy who’d died a year before. The champion got a big pole full of flags.
In Kakheti, the eastern wine region, the final grapes were being plucked off the vines by groups of old women and youngsters while the old men mill about and lazily stomp the grapes. There’s an excitement in the air and you can feel the change in seasons. If you like cheap wine then Georgia is the place for you, and if you like sweet wines, it’s heaven on earth. Basically, if you like alcohol, and appreciate getting drunk for a handful of coins, you will love Georgia. Tbilisi has a good nightlife with cheap pubs full of good company.
Tucked into the thick colorful forests are churches many hundreds of years old. Christianity became the national religion in the 4th century. The thick stone walls have withstood the test of time. I’m not big on churches usually, but many of these little ones have a special feeling about them. Anymore, when you see old places like them they’ve been renovated or just completely rebuilt, which takes away any of the intrigue for me. Many in Georgia look just the way they did five hundred years ago, just aged. You can stand inside and imagine what was going on in them all that time ago.
To the south of Georgia is Armenia. I made the short cruise down to the border, exited Georgia, got stamped into Armenia, and then tried to ride in. I was stopped and sent to the customs building. I only wanted to go in for a few days, but they wanted to charge me almost fifty-bucks for declaration fees and insurance. It felt like I was getting the shake-down and was rubbing me the wrong way.
While debating going back to Tbilisi, my Armenia adventure began. At this point it was about two in the afternoon. A guy who spoke good english grabbed me before heading back towards Georgia and wanted to help me. The corruption upset him and he didn’t want to see me miss his country. He was driving a van full of goods back from Poland and was dealing with customs himself. He gave me the idea of just leaving my bike at the border and catching a ride with him into Armenia to wherever I wanted to go. I really was only looking at going a short way into the north so it sounded perfect. I could hitchhike back to the border in a few days, and that settled that. He told me it would take another half hour to finish up customs and then we would leave. The half-hour turned to hours, and I ended up waiting for four hours. A couple of times each hour he would come over and tell me “I’m so sorry, only ten more minutes”. By the time he finished it was dark. His van was completely full, but there were two other guys driving a separate SUV. I’m not sure how they were involved with him, but he hatched a plan. The front seat of his van was filled with tires, so I would ride with the other guys until we got through the checkpoint, and then we would stop and transfer the tires to their car so I could ride with him. The other two didn’t speak a word of english. At this point I was so sleepy in the toasty warm that I fell asleep. I woke up to us pulling over. After what looked like a scene out of the three stooges, they realized the tires wouldn’t fit in the SUV.
He thought it would be a better idea if I just came to the capital, Yerevan, since it was late and dark. He said some things about getting a nice dinner, getting girls and having a great night and formed a new plan of meeting up just outside of the city and trying to move the tires around again. It didn’t make any sense seeing that it didn’t work the first time. At this point I really didn’t care and realized I had no control on what was happening. I got back in with the other dudes thinking I’d be meeting back up with him that night to stay at his house, which didn’t materialize. The drive that he told me would take three hours took four and a half. The guys were nice and when we stopped they bought me an amazing steak sandwich, but I was in a land of confusion since we couldn’t communicate. It was after midnight when he began driving down muddy farm roads, and I completely gave up on thinking I had a clue to what was happening. In the back of my head I was hoping I wasn’t about to be robbed. At least they fed me first.
We dropped off the passenger and then went to the drivers house. It appeared that I would be staying with him. He had obviously called home so his wife could prepare. I was taken into the kitchen for a late night feast, which was followed by an incredible hot shower, and shown to my comfy bedroom. All I could do looking back on the day was laugh myself to sleep.
The rest of my time in Armenia was spent with the driver who adopted me into his family and took me around to do his daily activities. I talked to the first guy I’d met at the border a few more times and each time he would tell me we were going to meet up in a couple of hours when work was finished. It didn’t come as a surprise when that never happened. From what I gathered, my host was a driver, and possibly for the mafia. He basically drove around the city all day giving random people rides, getting constant phone calls, stopping at businesses, and dropping off and picking up envelopes.
Despite not being able to communicate a single word with each-other, it wasn’t all that bad. He never stopped smiling and had a great energy. Everyone he came into contact with was really excited to meet me. He took me to his friend’s house/farm where they had a bread operation going. I left with a massive bag of them.
In between his work, he took me to some of the famous monasteries and churches around the city. Armenia is one of the oldest countries in the world and some say the first state to adopt Christianity as a state religion (some think Ethiopia). They all date back hundreds of years and have gravestones just as old around them.
He took me to the Echimiazin Armenian Apostolic Church, which I could tell was very important, but had no idea. It was obvious that it made him proud to take me, and he explained things in Armenian even though I was clueless to what he was saying.
He bought me a ticket to go into a room that appeared to be especially special. It was a sort of museum with insanely old things from the church and other religious artifacts behind glass. The picture below is apparently an actual wooden piece of Noah’s ark. I figured out later that it was the first cathedral ever built in Armenia and the oldest in the entire world.
After being his sidekick around the city, we would return home for feasts. The Armenians definitely know how to eat. The idea is to fill almost the entire table with all kinds of home-made foods and share with everyone. It all has a nice close family feel to it. The girl on the far right is a cousin and spoke some english so she was the translator. One night, more of the family came over and we all shared a meal and lots of laughs.
They gave me a roof over my head, filled my belly, and showed me the real Armenia. The kids played music for me and we watched a movie that reminded them of me. A comedy called “Lost and Found” with Jamie Kennedy. Basically he’s an American guy stuck in Armenia. The entire movie was in Armenian except for his lines and the cute local girl he falls in love with. Pretty much like watching a lame Jamie Kennedy movie and not being able to understand anyone else but him.
While I wasn’t assisting with mafia jobs, I ended up spending all my time in Armenia staying in their small village of Jrarat along the Turkish border. Eventually I had to get back to my motorcycle at the Georgian border. The same guy who from the beginning, who had told me a zillion other things that never happened, said he could give me a ride. All I had to do was wait an hour, but I knew better than that and caught one of the vans heading to Tbilisi. Going over the mountains, winter gave its first glimpse and snow piled up quickly. The snow stopped by the time we got down to the border, but it turned to miserable cold rain, which isn’t very fun to ride in. It was a frozen ride back to Tbilisi.
On my way through Georgia I happened to bump into Joseph Stalin’s birthplace. His fancy personal train car is there along with the house he grew up in. It’s a strange sight. They’ve built a big modern thing around the tiny old rickety house. The small village of Gori gave us the man who went on to be the brutal Dictator of the USSR from 1929-1953. He transformed the Soviet Union from a peasant society to a military and industrial superpower. After Lenin died in 1924, he maneuvered his way into power. A lot of the countries I’ve been in recently (Central Asia) have a history intertwined with him so it was interesting to see.
My short time in Georgia was great, but there’s so much more I’ll have to go back for. I was unable to get up into the Caucus Mountains, which was kind of sad.
Riding west through the country you’ll find your way to the Black Sea and to the southwest is the Turkish border. It’s a gorgeous area and one of the most beautiful border crossings I’ve ever been to. The gates, immigration, and customs is literally beach front set into a mountainous backdrop. Europe was beginning to feel a lot closer as I entered the land where east meets west. Hello Turkey