We crossed the border into Georgia early in the morning and realised we hadn't changed any money so our breakfast consisted of old instant noodles we ate within a wrap and instant mash potato we still had from Sweden. Don't knock it, when you're that hungry it becomes the best thing you've eaten.
As soon as we moved into Georgia young boys wave with no intent other than to say hello, people stare at you until they start to wave at you with a huge grin on their faces, and the cars honk their horn rarely. We were shattered so only planned to get to their nearest big town where we could get some cash out and find somewhere to sleep.
Cycling to Akhalkalaki was a pleasure with rolling hills and quiet roads, our time in Turkey was almost forgotten. In town whilst looking for an ATM we were followed by boys on bicycles but, again, the intent felt totally different. I didn't ever feel uncomfortable, they were just curious but friendly. The best way of illustrating this change is in the English the children know. As previously discussed, Turkish boys know words such as "money money" or "fuck me" whilst all the Georgian children we met would always say "hello, how are you?". I think that defines Georgia perfectly.
A young boy showed us an ATM for us to take out some money and we swiftly checked in to the nearest hotel for food and a nap. Settling down with a beer and a pizza, we started to feel incredibly sleepy but pushed on to gorge ourselves on as much food as possible to make up some of the thousands of calories we've lost but not eaten in Turkey.
The beds were the most comfortable we've ever slept on and all of a sudden it was three hours later. The rest of the evening was totally chilled watching International News (for some reason that's always a highlight of international hotels for me) and some TV shows from our hard drive. By the morning we were feeling a little refreshed and started to load up our bikes to continue our journey towards Tbilisi. We had a set deadline of the 16th July for our flight to Beijing so there was little point in pushing on with big days to just get to Tbilisi early and have to spend more money on accommodation, money is already getting a little lower than we'd like. So we planned to do a small day to Poka, a very small town on the edge of a large lake. While we were fixing another puncture on Mike's bike, we were approached by a couple of ladies who told us they were journalists doing a piece of tourism in the area. Would we mind being interviewed? Absolutely not!
Their office was one floor above our room in the hotel and we were given Armenian coffee and ice cream while we all chatted about our trip and how we ended up in this lesser travelled part of Georgia. We learnt that the area is very heavily populated with Armenians since they settled there after escaping Turkey and we were honoured with being given a book about their history as a gift.
Unfortunately we had to push on with our day because even though it was due to be short (50KM), it was still due to be hilly. Before we left we were told of a monastery on the shore of the lake we were going to be heading towards and they might let us camp there if we asked. So with our destination in mind and our bodies buzzing with caffeine we headed off on our bikes.
We pootled along and passed through a couple of villages, which in the past may have made us nervous. One village had a steep incline up the main street and four young boys ran out of their gardens to watch us pass. Were they going to ask us for money? Were they going to try to steal stuff off our bikes? Hell no! They wanted high fives as we trundled past! They literally queued up to give us high fives - that's a memory I'll never forget.
The area around the monastery was sparsely populated so it was easy to see from the road. Before we left Turkey (before we lost a data connection) we had translated on our phone "Please can we camp here tonight?" so we got our point across to the monks easily. We pointed at our tent and said "camp" which seems to translate. They nodded and we were over the moon! They ushered us over to the main door and a priest came out to speak a little English and offer us a room for the night, which we were even happier to take. We told a white lie and said we were married so we could share the same room and soon we had been fed and watered and falling asleep. We didn't expect breakfast but they gladly laid it on for us (salted buckwheat and watermelon) and feeling so much more in love with the trip again we cycled off into the hills.
We were still fairly high a this point and for the next day or so we remained up between 1500-2000m. Our route into Tbilisi was a little unknown since it's difficult to tell the state of the roads until you reach them, but we started a descent into a valley late on our penultimate day. Up until this point we had felt very lucky with our lack of aggressive dog encounters but our luck ran out on the descent. We were going at a good rate and began to pass through small shanty villages where wild dogs roamed but were disinterested in us, as always seems to be the case. Suddenly, as Mike flew past one makeshift home a hyper aggressive dog came sprinting down the hillside, teeth bared ready for some biting. This dog really was out of a movie - it had a collar around its neck with three inch spikes all the way around, I guess so you couldn't grab it by the neck? I slammed my brakes on, slowing from 35KPH to 0 in a matter of metres and got off the bike to put the bike between me and the sharp teeth. The owner and occupier of the home this dog sprinted from shouted and it backed off instantly. At least this vicious dog was a well trained one and we escaped with all of our skin and limbs intact.
Eventually we made our way into the city and got horrendously confused with finding our guesthouse, but after an hour and a half we made it and collapsed on the bed with glee. We had four nights in a bed until our long journey to Beijing began and we spent the next few days packing up the bikes and our belongings into two boxes to make sure we weren't going to incur extra charges. Unfortunately, because we are very aware of money right now, we didn't get to see much of Tbilisi itself. Our guesthouse was quite a way out of the city centre so we saved money by eating minimally and taking as much time to relax as possible.
VPN sorted for China, hostel booked in Beijing, and a bit of research done, we're now waiting at the airport to begin our two day journey to the other side of the world…
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