Category Archives: Georgia

The Wizard of Az(erbaijan)

***So sorry for the lack of posts. Internet access kept evading me from Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan. I hope these next few posts will make up for it!

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Ok, there were no wizards, no yellow brick roads and no red shoes to bring me back to Kansas.

But in Azerbaijan, there was TEA! Ah, tea, how I have missed you since Turkey. If you dont already know, Chinese people love tea and always drink tea, so it was a delight to enter Azerbaijan and sit down at a proper chay evi (tea house).

From Tbilisi I cycled my way along the Caucasus mountains to Baku, Azerbaijan where I would finish the first phase of my journey, West of the Caspian Sea.

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Tbilisi -> Signagi

On a bright sunny Wednesday morning, I bade goodbye to my wonderful Persian friends in Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia) and began cycling towards the Caucasus mountains. I was headed for Lagodekhi and the northern border post with Azerbaijan. The road was good and surrounded by many vineyards and quaint churches along the way. In the evening I set up camp in the forest near Signagi — it was quite a nice campspot–away from any villages and a bit jungle-like. I fell asleep in my tent on the mossy ground and listening to all sorts of chirping insects.

P1010111not a bike tourist, but a Georgian with a lot of bottles!

P1010109vineyards and countryside

P1010100 P1010102fruit stands and “Georgian snickers’

—————–

Signagi -> Katex, Azerbaijan

The next morning I rode past some Georgian villages and a game reserve. It was interesting that some people greeted me with ‘Salam’, the standard greeting in Azerbaijan, but I was still in Georgia at that point. The Caucausus Mountains got closer and closer, until they loomed over me as the road followed the base of the mountains. Since it was my last day in Georgia, I bought some fresh khachapuri for lunch. Khachapuri is a Georgian specialty, a savory pastry filled with cheese or meat or both. Very yummy! Although, I bet this would be even tastier if you cycled here in the winter time when you really crave something hot, cheesy, and salty. With the blazing sun for the past few days, I was more in the mood for ice cream. Luckily, there are many local brands of ice cream in Georgia, so ice cream is cheap and you can find it in every village, even the remote ones. And  so, I started the wonderful habit of having ice cream once a day.  Surely, my favorite time of day!

P1010143one last cross before the border

P1010132khachapuri

P1010103fruit rollups, anyone?

I was a little worried about the border crossing into Azerbaijan, since I had visited Armenia. To my surprise, no questions were asked and before long I entered the Land of Azerbaijan.

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Without giving a long history lesson, Azerbaijan was once part of the Ottoman Empire before it was absorbed by the USSR. Their main language, Azerbaijani, is very similar to Turkish (the languages are discernible) and most of the population also speaks Russian.  So, I found myself speaking Turksian (Turkish – Russian).

P1010152typical town sign with Azeri flag

P1010151 Caucasus mountains!

P1010154 P1010153 interesting architecture

In the evening I rode through Balaken and entered the town called Katex. It was nice to speak Turkish again–I was able to communicate more than in Georgia or Armenia. As I was riding along, a car stopped for me and the guy Gugush invited me for chai then dinner at a nearby restaurant where he had many friends. I have been secretly missing Turkish hospitality so I was really excited to be invited for chai again. The rest of the evening was spent eating and drinking with his friends. Gugush kept ordering food until I really couldnt eat anymore. Ye! Ye! (Eat! Eat!) He kept saying. Eventually Gugush arranged for me to camp at the restaurant, and he left with his friends around midnight. That night there were some crazy lightning storms in the distance.

P1010161 P1010160Gugush invites me to dinner and drinks. camping at the restaurant with nice view and crazy lightning storms!

——————–

Katex -> Seki

P1010162P1010165many pretty statues

P1010166typical Azerbaijani traffic in Zaqatala: cluster****

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P1010175some nice ladies in Qax invite me for tea. Tea here is served with Iranian and Russian candy

P1010177P1010178met crazy Russian cycle tourist who looked like he just woke out of bed and went for a bike ride

P1010179Azerbaijan–land of manicured roundabouts

P1010180also land of quaint towns

P1010186and quaint villages

P1010196 P1010191 Seki town, another night of crazy lightning storms (in the distance)

Seki -> Bunut

P1010199P1010201P1010202P1010204hazelnut snickers!

P1010205P1010208World War II memorialP1010211P1010213Azeri decor

P1010214some very cute kids waling on a pipeline

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P1010216Parvis and his wife hosts me after I asked them if I can camp on their farm

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Bunut -> Muganli

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P1010224local cheese from the local butcher

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P1010227rewarded with nice views after some kick-butt climbs

Muganli -> 80 km before Baku

P1010230more fruitrollups for me from this friendly vendor

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P1010234village well

P1010236cool streetside carvings of famous anicent scholars

P1010239heydar aliyev, apparently man of current-day Azerbaijan

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P1010252P1010253village women beating and washing wool in river

P1010259solar in Azerbaijan!

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80 km before Baku -> Baku

P1010262Once leaving the mountains towards the sea, the landscape changes dramatically from lush green to pretty dry and boring landscape

P1010264This car of 1 man with 6 women invited me for tea on the roadside. And even gave me water to wash my feet!  They were taking a break from farmwork.The 6 women were really hearty and we shared many laughs together for a good hour in Azeri-Turkish. They didnt want their picture taken though.

P1010265This is what you call a CROSSWIND!

P1010272P1010273Entering Baku, the big city!

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Baku

I arrived a few days earlier in Baku than I expected. I guess I should be more confident about my biking abilities in the future. When I arrived in town, I met my couchsurfing host Gulmira, and she arranged for me to sleep at her friend Alex’s apartment. Alex lived in a nice place in the center of town, so it would be convenient for me to run errands. Also I would get a room with a full size bed all to myself, and even get to use a bathtub–practially like a 5-star hotel. I felt so incredibly lucky.

I had 7 days to get my Turkmenistan visa and find out about the ferry to Turkmenistan. Although 5 days seemed like a lot of time at first, but it turns out that people here dont get things done here like they do in the US or Europe or China. There is a saying in Azerbaijan, ‘Bugun git, sabah gel’ which means ‘Go today, come tomorrow’, which also means that things dont really get done.

First, the ferry from Baku to Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan does not have a timetable. It leaves whenever it fills up with cargo and there are often delays, which is to say, it leaves whenever it feels like it. When I asked the ticket lady how often the ferry leaves, she replied ’50/50′. AFter a few gestures, I interpreted that she meant the ferry leaves every other day. But really, who knows. The ticket office was also in a non-descript building off a dirt road with no sign or anything.

Second was the case with my Turkmenistan visa. Even though I had applied for the visa already in Ankara, and I just had to pick up the visa in Baku, it was not as easy a task as it would seem. I went to the embassy on the Wednesday morning. The officer at the embassy said the embassy was only open on Fridays and Mondays from 9.30am-12pm. ‘Come back Friday’, he says. When Gulmira tried to explain to him (in Azeri) that I was in a hurry to catch the ferry, the officer said ‘Is she a tourist? Why dont you go show her around?’ *sigh* Not believing the officer, I went back again on Thursday morning, and a different officer said the same thing. Finally on Friday I went again, but by 10am, there were already a lot of people in front of me in line. When it was my turn 2 hours later, the consul said ‘Come back Monday. I give you visa.’ I tried to complain, but was shortly hurried away. I was worried because my Turkmen visa dates were set for Wednesday, which means I would have to catch the ferry on Monday, and I would rather not have to deal with the embassy again on Monday. Such is life I guess, and these lessons teach you really how to manage things that are out of your control. Better to enjoy the moment instead of worrying about the things you cannot control!

So I spent the weekend entertaining my hosts and exploring Baku. Baku is a main hub for oil companies and therefore has a lot of expats working for companies like BP. Because of the oil industry, Baku has many fancy buildings (tyring to be like another Dubai), but because of the way things get done in Azerbaijan, Baku doesnt feel quite like other ‘modern’ cities. There is an uncertainty in the identity in Baku–a mix of old and new.

My hosts: Alex is from the UK and works as a contractor for an oil company in Baku. HIs career has brought him throughout North Africa, and he reminisced greatly about his life in Libya. I shared my own wonderful experiences when I biked through Sudan in 2009. I had several meals with his coworkers and got a taste of expat life in Baku, mainly expats working for BP. Gulmira is a local Azerbaijani, an English teacher trying to figure out life as the new generation in Azerbaijan. She actually lived in the US for 5 months several years ago on an internship.

Gulmira and Alex took me to a beautiful traditional Azeri carpet store in the old town and we saw the worlds tallest flagpole.

P1010304 P1010306 P1010300 P1010295 azeri carpets

P1010293 P1010291ancient things in the old city P1010287 P1010289McDonalds

P1010286fried food stand

P1010285 non-descript location of the ticket office for Caspian Sea ferry. uh yeah, its one of those doors.P1010283 fancy building, beatup truck

P1010278 helicopter and fighter jet flyovers for Army day!

P1010276 P1010275

Armenia and Georgia again, in Persian style

Yerevan -> Tbilisi, Georgia

Iran, oh Iran. It was part of my dream for this trip to visit Iran, but I was not able to because of visa issues. Hence, I came the way I came from Turkey to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to Central Asia. However, fate always has its own way of making things happen. After meeting Mehdi and Mahyar, I almost felt like I had a true experience of Iran.

I seem to be having writers block at the moment, so some highlights of the last few fantastic days riding with Mehdi and Mahyar.

Yerevan -> Sevan (and Lake Sevan)

– visiting the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan

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– charging cell phones at the Iranian mosque in Yerevan

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– Mahyar belting traditional Persian songs while riding

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– super uphill day to Sevan; after not sleeping and eating enough the day before, I was exhausted, but the guys were a constant encouragement, and Mahyar even pushed me up the hill several times!

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– fish dinner at Sevan: delightful reward after a hard days cycling

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– peaceful night of camping at Lake Sevan

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P1010017wow, free camping signs!

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Sevan -> Ijevan

– spooky tunnel, awesome downhill and fantastic scenery in to Dilijan, passing Armenia’s Silk Road

P1010021P1010022P1010026

– dancing at the cafe in Ijevan with 20 teenagers and aunties blasting music

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– buying raw fish from a local fisherman and barbecuing the fish at camp that night

P1010035 P1010036

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Ijevan -> Noyemberian

– 8am woke up and Mehdi and Mahyar’s BIKES WERE GONE!

– we were camped 5 km from the city of Ijevan. Hitchhiked to the police station, had tea and chocolate with a nice lady police officer. 2 police cars drove us back to the campsite.

– an Armenian guy and his Irish friend helped us tremendously by translating, the police searched the surrounding bush area, and eventually found the bikes stashed away in the bush!

– after this fiasco, we managed to leave camp by 12pm.

– riding past roads and villages previously belonging by Azerbaijan

P1010043 P1010044

– really nice Armenian shopkeeper lady who was also the librarian at the school. she was very eager to speak English which is a nice change from the norm.

P1010047P1010048

– camped on farm

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Noyemberian -> Tbilisi, Georgia

– back into Georgia because that is the only way to get from Armenia to Azerbaijan

– at the border, the officer looked at my passport and looking at the Iranian guys and me, said ‘Iran and America, friends!’ I replied that people are friends but government are not friends! The officer laughed and said he knows, he was just joking. ‘Like Georgia and Russia!’

– the road is full of cherry and mulberry trees…yum!

P1010052P1010055

– finding couchsurfing host  in Tbilisi. Bahman, another Persian. SO EXCITED FOR A SHOWER. he was also hosting another Persian, Mahdi.

– two rest days in Tbilisi with all the Persians, because rest days are great. Met a bunch of wonderful people at the hostel Mehdi and Mahyar stayed at.

P1010058 P1010062 P1010066P1010068 P1010071 P1010074 P1010081 P1010085 P1010093 P1010092 P1010089

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Leaving for Baku, Azerbaijan now! To the Caspian Sea!

 

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia.
The whole day through.
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind.
-Ray Charles, Georgia On My Mind

Batumi -> Akhalktishe

Batumi was the first time Ive stayed at a hostel on a bike trip. But the nice thing about it is you get to meet other travellers. Waking up at the hostel, I chatted with my roommate for a bit. Shes from France, also traveling alone in Central Asia for 6months–not on a bike though. Then I went outside to the common area and met a group of other travellers who were all speaking in Russian. Most of them were from Ukraine, but turns out, one of them was a Polish guy from New York! I asked them to teach me some Russian before heading off to the internet cafe.

Around 5pm, I finally hopped on my bicycle again and left the city. Pretty soon it was a small road and rural villages. Around 6.30, I passed a small village where several guys were waiting at a bus stop. One of them called out to me in English so I stopped. Another guy came over. The second guy asked if I spoke Georgian? Russian? German? French? I said I didnt speak any of those languages. Really tells you about the history of which languages were important to people living here. Apparently not English. The first guy spoke a little English, and translated that the second guy offered to host me as a guest in his house. Georgian hospitality, no problem! the first guy says. I accepted and the first guy left.

The rest of the evening was rather hopeless lost in translation with the second guy. All I understood was his name was Giorgi. Giorgi was very kind and hospitable though. He and his mother provided me dinner, tea, coffee, also a hot shower and a bed to sleep on. You cant ask for much more, really. Because we couldnt talk to each other, in the evening Giorgi and his mother watched TV while I studied Russian and Georgian from my books. Two very strange, foreign alphabets. I kept hearing in my head the stereotypical Asian mother voice, ‘You must study study!’

P1000869

The next morning I left Giorgis house. Turns out their dog ate my prize bag of bread, cherries, and chocolate that I had strapped to the outside of my bike. Oh well. The riding was nice, through a beautiful lush green valley. In the afternoon, I met my very first cyclists! They were heading the opposite way, but I was so excited to meet them. They were a Swiss couple and have been traveling for more than a year around the world, but not all by bicycle. We shared many stories and they told me the road turns to dirt in the next town, and that there is a huge mountain pass in the middle of the dirt road. I was going to have an exciting day tomorrow!

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Soon after meeting the dirt road, I found a perfect camp spot–away from the road and flat. The next morning I woke up early and started the huge climb on the dirt road. Errgggghhh…it was really tough riding.

P1000883 P1000885

Some days you have good days, some days you have bad days, and some days you have downright miserable days. This day was just that. At least, it started off like it. When I started in the morning I mustered all my strength on the uphill dirt road–very hard when youre alone and you dont speak the language at all. By noon, I was exhausted. I stopped to take a nap. Before long, I woke up and there were two boys next to me. Eager for some local interaction, I tried talking to them. Since they took particular interest to my bike, I let them ride it just for a few meters. While one of them was riding my bike, my pannier fell off the bike and ripped. The boys said sorry. There was nothing else I could do but sit down and repair the pannier, so I did. I took out everything out of the pannier–tools and souvenirs–and started putting in cable ties to hold together the pannier. The boys looked through my things curiously and got me water. They left as I was finishing up, and just as I was packing up my things, I realized I was missing some tools and cigarettes–the kids stole it!

Long story short, eventually I got my things back–everything–after some evil eye staredowns and kung fu moves aka going to their houses and confronting them in front of their families. Before long I was back on my bike, but very shaken up from the experience. Then not too long after, some other kids threw away my stick. It was really not my day.

The kids dad made me a new stick. But in the end it was all too much for me. I sat on the ground, crying and crying, wondering why I left home, how I was not brave enough for this, missing my family and friends, wanting to be out of this country. I was ready to give up, go home.

Just then, a cyclist! A cyclist in my direction! Actually, two cyclists. Like angels from heaven, two cyclists appeared on the road–a Czech couple. My dreams of meeting cycling companions came true. Just at that moment!

Boy, was I glad to meet them. I told them about the very bad day I was having. The Czech guy then says ‘Lets get up this mountain pass and have a beer!’ Wow. From there the road got worse and worse, more steep, more rough. But I didnt care. I was so filled with new hope that despite thunderstorms and the cold wet rain and rough riding, I could keep cycling. I watched Lucy and Zvinda go up, so I did too, and before long we made it up the pass. At the top, we celebrated with nice hot tea. Ive never felt in such paradise.

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Soon after we found a nice camp spot and enjoyed a meal together. The next morning we cycled to the next city Akhaltiskhe. And here I am now!

Hoping to make it to Armenia in several days and update again there. See you soon!

P1000892  P1000874

Seasons of Love, Part 2

I have realized through my last posts that I am a very very slow writer, and these posts have taken much time to compose. I wish I could write in more detail but due to limited time at internet cafes I cannot. I am trying my best and I hope to share so many more wonderful stories with you in person!

Bayburt –> Rize –> Batumi, Georgia

At Bayburt, I got in touch with Volkan, an English teacher at Bayburt Science High School, who I made couchsurfing arrangements with. He picked me up from the city center and brought me to the high school. I was to stay in the girls dormitory and visit English classes the next day. Volkan had started the couchsurfing project at Bayburt High School in an attempt to get students more exposure to English speakers. He hopes that by introducing his English classes to travelers, the students will gain more confidence in actually speaking and using English to communicate and break the language barrier. Volkan was a really fantastic person to meet and so passionate about teaching.

I chatted with the teacher, had some dinner with the students, then chatted with my roommates before hitting the bunkbed they gave me. I was so happy to have a window into these girls lives.

Dinner at the girls dormitory at Bayburt Science High School

Dinner at the girls dormitory at Bayburt Science High School

Dinner with my roommates at the girls dorm

Dinner with my roommates at the girls dorm

The next day I decided to take a rest day in Bayburt, since my legs were extremely tired from Sebinkarahisar. I visited many English classes throughout the day, before heading to the city to run errands.

Visiting English classes at Bayburt Science High School

Visiting English classes at Bayburt Science High School

At the principals office...Im in trouble...

At the principals office…Im in trouble…

Volkan, the English teacher who hosted me at the high school

Volkan, the English teacher who hosted me at the high school

Students! Favorite question: Do you have boyfriend? Oh high school...

Students! Favorite question: Do you have boyfriend? Oh high school…

Lunch

Lunch

 

Bayburt Citadel - ancient city on Silk Road

Bayburt Citadel – ancient city on Silk Road

the local park had cool figurines of folklore characters...Aladdin in the background to the right

the local park had cool figurines of folklore characters…Aladdin in the background to the right

After coming back from the city, several girls ate dinner with me. I told them I liked to dance so after dinner we headed to the dorm where they taught me some traditional Turkish dance and sang me some traditional Turkish songs.

Girls teaching me Turkish folk dances in the dorm

Girls teaching me Turkish folk dances in the dorm

Bayburt Science High School

Bayburt Science High School

Next morning I bid farewell to Bayburt High School and headed towards Ispir. The road is fantastic with mountain views though with a price to pay with steep climbs. I made it 100 km and set up camp next to the river near the turnoff to Rize. I knew the next day was going to be a whole lot of climbing through the snowy mountains.

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intimate roads weaving through villages

intimate roads weaving through villages

Dear Uphill, Could you BE any more steep? Yes, but awesome view!

Dear Uphill, Could you BE any more steep? Yes, but awesome view!

Rain and sun = rainbow!!

Rain and sun = rainbow!!

many many bee farms on the road to Ispir

many many bee farms on the road to Ispir

Next morning I left camp and started the huge climb. Throughout the day it was on and off rain, and the rain was so heavy and so cold that it was generally hard to motivate myself to keep going up. There was also some rough road due to road construction. I stopped to take a rest at the top of a hill just to take in the amazing view. After about 10 minutes, as I was mustering up motivation to keep going again, a guy from the house next door came out and beckoned me over to the house. He and his family were from the city Rize, but had a second home here. As we got talking, his wife and kids came home and Erenalp, one of the kids was really excited to speak to me and practice English. So we talked and talked, and I was so glad to have company. Eventually it got dark and Tashkin (the father) cooked up a barbecue, so I stayed the night with them.

Get ready to climb over the mountains to Rize!

Get ready to climb over the mountains to Rize!

Delicious pumpkin spice ball covered with walnuts...and other chewy walnut stick

Delicious pumpkin spice ball covered with walnuts…and other chewy walnut stick

Construction on road to Rize

Construction on road to Rize

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Barbeque with the Cakiroglu family!

Barbeque with the Cakiroglu family!

more homemade cheese

more homemade cheese

amazing view from the house

amazing view from the house

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Beautiful house!

Beautiful house!

partsof it still under construction. if only I could stay here and help them build the house...

partsof it still under construction. if only I could stay here and help them build the house…

even a nice swimming pool with the awesome view

even a nice swimming pool with the awesome view

I got a late start from the Cayiroglus house since they prepared breakfast and Erenalp showed me around the house. Up and up and up, but since I was filled with so much delicious barbecue, the climbing didnt feel that bad today. At around noon, I reached the pass, and there was a lone car and a hefty guy with binoculars. He was a baker from Istanbul. I asked him why he came here. ‘OXYGEN!’ He says. Oxygen Oxygen! He kept saying. He said he was so happy to see me since hes been driving alone from Istanbul for so many hours. It was getting cloudy and the air was getting colder around us. Lets run! He says. Where? I ask. Yakin, close. He says. I nodded. So we ran down the road. Oxygen oxygen! He says with a big breath in and a big laugh. There is no view now, I say. No view but oxygen! He is still laughing. After running, we enjoyed a simple meal of bread, olives, and beans together and parted ways. Such a simple encouter of being at the same place at the same time. Such happiness.

mountain sheep crossing!

mountain sheep crossing!

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up and up into the mountains

up and up into the mountains

sharing a meal at the top of the pass with Hamza the baker from Istanbul

sharing a meal at the top of the pass with Hamza the baker from Istanbul

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Gecidi!! Mountain Pass! My favorite signs because it means downhill! Elevation: 2640 meters Time: 1.30pm

Gecidi!! Mountain Pass! My favorite signs because it means downhill! Elevation: 2640 meters Time: 1.30pm

As I headed down the pass, there was simply no visibility so I could not enjoy a fast downhill. Instead, I rode the breaks the whole time. I think Turkey really doesnt want me to leave.

Visibility--zero. Why are you in the way cows?

Visibility–zero. Why are you in the way cows?

Down down down, out of the clouds and AMAZING scenery. so lush and green!

Down down down, out of the clouds and AMAZING scenery. so lush and green!

chay chay chay chay. tea frams everywhere.

chay chay chay chay. tea frams everywhere.

did someone say CHAY?

did someone say CHAY?

beautiful small road to Rize

beautiful small road to Rize

smells like...CHAY! Tea factory

smells like…CHAY! Tea factory

Over the mountains, and to the Black Sea!!!

Over the mountains, and to the Black Sea!!!

Elevation:10m. Time:7pm. Oh yeah, it was a downhill kinda day.

Elevation:10m. Time:7pm. Oh yeah, it was a downhill kinda day.

Finally I made it to the Black Sea and to Rize. Wow a 2630m descent. Dont know how many feet that is, but a helluvalot. How stunning it was to see the Black Sea!! It was late now and I set up camp on the rocks away from the road.

The next morning I met Ezra, a family friend of the Cayiroglus, at her work and we had breakfast together. Then I ran some errands in the city before heading off for my final day in Turkey. It was flat road along the Black Sea all the way to Batumi, Georgia. Hurray for flat road! It was much welcomed after the crazy mountains of the past few days.

But of course, there are tradeoffs. Although the road is flat, the Black Sea road has a lot of tunnels. Not a big deal for a car, but a BIG deal for a bicycle. Its dark and theres no shoulder, and the trucks are going at highway speed. At first I tried bypassing the tunnels via pedestrian paths, but that became too difficult, so I decided to just hold my breath and bike very fast through them. Im still alive. Woohoo!

Camping on the Black Sea!

Camping on the Black Sea!

the Black Sea doesnt look so black...

the Black Sea doesnt look so black…

Highways and byways...along the Black Sea

Highways and byways…along the Black Sea

ok now the sea looks blacker

ok now the sea looks blacker

To the border! Headed to Batumi,Georgia!

To the border! Headed to Batumi,Georgia!

trash....

trash….

Tunnels....very terrifying on a bicycle

Tunnels….very terrifying on a bicycle

Grrr tunnels

Grrr tunnels

Finally Georgia! I was in a hurry to get to Batumi, the first city in Georgia, since I had to get my visa for Azerbaijan. But again, Turkey didnt want me to leave (in a good way). At one of the passport checks, the officer saw that I was American, and started chatting with me. His English was very good and turns out, he was a physicist. Since I hadnt had an intelluctual conversation for a while, it was really nice talking to him. It was quite funny that we kept talking even as he continued to check passports. ‘Please keep talking’ he said ‘I like to speak English. And checking passports, I am used to it.’ Through the corner of my eye, I saw that most travelers were from Georgia or Turkey, but there were also people traveling from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan.

The nicest border ever--theres even a park! Hello Georgia, I see you!

The nicest border ever–theres even a park! Hello Georgia, I see you!

See you again Turkey!

See you again Turkey!

Apparently the path through Georgia is enlightening!

Apparently the path through Georgia is enlightening!

After arriving in Batumi, I weaved my way through the streets for a bit, not really knowing where the embassy was, but the internet said it was ‘right off a main square, and youll see the flag, its easy to spot.’ So I managed to find the Azerbaijan embassy quickly, and things went smoothly. To my surprise, I was issued a visa on the spot! (Amazing, since it usually takes 4 days).

Panda says: Hello Batumi and crazy Georgian alphabet!

Panda says: Hello Batumi and crazy Georgian alphabet!

Woah castles!

Woah castles!

wow, bike paths in Batumi

wow, bike paths in Batumi

Georgian flag. Welcome to a Christian country

Georgian flag. Welcome to a Christian country

Neptunes statue

Neptunes statue

Are we in California? No this is Georgia, the country

Are we in California? No this is Georgia, the country

I took a rest day in Batumi and explored the city a bit. I had no idea what to expect of Georgia, and was surprised to find the city very modern, and it reminded me of California a bit. From the very helpful tourist information center, I learned that Georgia is full of beautiful historical and natural landmarks–fortresses, castles, cave towns. Oh how I wish I had more time here!

While I was writing in my journal at the beach, a couple walked up to me and asked about my bike. The guys English was really good. After chatting a bit, I found out they were from Baghdad, Iraq. I asked them why they came to Georgia. They said ‘Because we are from Iraq, we dont need visa for Georgia. And Georgia is a really really beautiful country.’ The amazing thing about traveling to other countries that you dont normally think of, is you get to meet people from other random countries. The couple from Iraq was so beautiful and so much like you and me that it erased all the images in my head of Baghdad as bombs and violence as you see on the news. I hope it helps you, my readers, understand how full of many beautiful people there are in the world, and how Western media distorts much of that.

I was not able to secure a couchsurfing place so after sunset, I found a hostel to stay the night. HOT SHOWER!! Amazing. The owner of the hostel was a very nice Georgian lady and despite me not knowing Georgian or Russian (the two languages they speak here), she gave me dinner. And if you dont already know, food brings me so much happiness every time.

beautiful couple from Baghdad, Iraq who I chatted with at the beach

beautiful couple from Baghdad, Iraq who I chatted with at the beach

Dinner of stuffed peppers and bread at the hostel

Dinner of stuffed peppers and bread at the hostel

Tower of Georgian alphabets.

Tower of Georgian alphabets.