(David) Today was fine until 11.28 and then potential disaster struck and I just managed to avoid getting arrested for assaulting someone. By 5pm the crisis was largely resolved thanks to the integrity and ingenuity of the Georgian people and, exhausted by the whole process, we collapsed in a bed in a new city and new country. We then had a lovely meal out and a form of equilibrium was restored.
We started the day on our tiny campsite, just off the road half way up the hill towards Hopa. We camped at about 350m and stormed up the last 350m – or a “Clee” as a climb of 350m is known (the height of the club up Clee Hill near Bewdley) as if we were cycling on the flat. The morning air was cool, the mountain views were fantastic and we were in the groove.
The top was 700m and gave us a lovely view to the sea – which we have not seen since leaving Istanbul. This was the Black Sea which I have never seen before (but it strangely looked like any other sea from this vantage point). The 15km of descent, good surfaces and lots of corners to swing around at between 50 and 60kph. It was a great descent – even though the road was occasionally a bit crap making it like a roller coaster without a safety certificate
Hopa is an industrial port where any manner of metal bashing is available – a sort of Turkish Tipton with a beach. There was not a great deal to commend it and it’s not no1 on my my places to return for a seaside holiday. We had proper Turkish coffee in Turkey for the last time and started thinking about the border.
It was 15km to the border – main road, lots of traffic and lots of tunnels. Not great cycling but just had to be done. With a bit of luck, we thought, we would be in Batumi for lunchtime and then have a half day off
But luck was not with us. First, there was a problem with leaving Turkey. Our Turkish visas were electronic and there was only the stamps on our passports. The border guard needed the electronic visas to sign us out of the country. We were looking on the iPad for the visas at the kiosk when a pickup truck which was next in the queue attempted to queue jump (as of course we had just done under instructions from the security guards). A middle aged man got his angles wrong and ran his truck over my trailer wheel, crushing it out of shape.
Pandemonium broke out at this point and, of course, the entire queue stopped. No one spoke English and so it was all done with gestures. However the assembled men all agreed that it was this man’s fault and, as a matter of honour to visitors to their country, he needed to sort it out. To be fair to him he accepted responsibility and it then became a matter of how it should be sorte
The hub of the 20” trailer wheel is very special as it fits into the trailer hub. I knew that the wheel was irreparable but that we needed to get a new wheel, and then get the hub worked into the wheel with spokes – a job for wheel builder at a specialist bike shop. I think our new “friend” (who I shall called “Fred” as it that seems to describe him) just thought someone with a hammer could knock it back into shape!! The consensus was that we should go back to Hopa and get the wheel fixed. I tried to say that this was impossible but failed. So we ended up putting our bikes and luggage in the back of Fred’s truck to take back to Hopa. Next problem – that meant undoing the exit visas we had now just sorted as we were going back into Turkey.
This was done on the computer and then striking through the marks on our passports. But Fred could not turn around as there was no way out behind him, so he progressed forward, with a view to turning around when he could. That meant going into Georgian space and – of course – the next problem happened in that he got pulled over by Georgian customs. Roughly translated, the conversation between Fred and the Customs staff was as follows:
– “Stop here… What have you got in that truck”
– “A couple of mad English cyclists – I have just driven over their trailer wheel – but don’t worry I don’t want to go into Georgia because I am on my way back to Turkey. How can I turn around?”
– “You cannot. You are in Georgia now mate and we are going to look into your truck!”
– “This is the wheel”
– “Boy you are made a mess of that” … Much laughter. “You had better get it sorted properly”
– “I’ll do that but in Hopa”
– “You’ll never get that fixed in a one horse town like Hopa, take my advice and go to a proper bike shop in Batumi – that’s your only chance of getting that fixed”
– “No Hopa will be fine, they’ll just bash it back”
– “No way, Batumi or we pick your truck to pieces – this is my uncle who runs a bike shop and here is his address”
– “OK I’ll go to Batumi and try get it fixed”
– “Good man – off you go
So we proceeded to Georgian customs and, of course, faced the next problem that our passports did not sign us out of Turkey. That took another half an hour of difficult conversations. We were still in Fred’s truck and no one spoke English, so we could not explain. Meanwhile we held up the queue again and some of the vehicles behind us got quite irate. We just shrugged our shoulders and apologised – pointing out it was Fred’s fault for driving over our trailer wheel in the first place.
The substantial female border guard, who and acted looked suspiciously like Miss Trunchpole in Matilda, was very suspicious of our passports. Eventually she brought a colleague who spoke some English, the wheel was produced and the story told (again) and she gave authority to stamp our passports and let us into Georgia despite the fact we had never left Turkey
So there we were – in the back of a truck with Fred who spoke no English in a foreign country with a duff wheel. Fred stopped at various money changing spots and had long conversations about what to do next. He was a “car” man, not a bike man, and so stopped at various auto repair workshops. Lots of shrugging of shoulders as his plan to hammer the wheel back into shape was repeatedly discounted. Each time I tried to explain that only a bike shop could do this and eventually he got directions and we arrived at bike shop road in Batumi, the next large town after the border and our destination for the day. This road had multiple small bike shops. He parked up and Bernie stayed in the truck with our stuff.
Next we had a prolonged series of debates about how to fix the wheel. A discusion in the international language of “bike repair” between me and an elderly bike mechanic sort of reached a consensus about a new wheel, new spokes and the existing hub. Then they tried to make me pay $200 for a new wheel and we had a stand off as I told them in no uncertain terms that Fred was paying. He kept suggesting that a decent hammer would sort it but was persuaded – after much debate – that this was not going to be a way of making good on his faults.
This took hours of course because time is not a precious commodity. Eventually – walking between multiple shops – we found a rim that would be just about OK (not the right number of spoke holes but just about OK) and a man with the spokes and ability. Money – about £20 in total I think – changed hands for the wheel and it was then taken to the wheel builder, who set to work.
Then we unloaded all our stuff from Fred’s truck and off he went, leaving us in the hands of the wheel builder. It was then a good hour before the wheel was ready. We tipped the wheel builder and thanked him profusely. I just hope this will get us to Tblisi. We will have to be careful but at least we are back on the road
In England, Fred would have given us his insurance details and left us to sort the problems. Here he caused the problems and so he took responsibility for sorting it – even though it took several hours of his time. That was expected and required, even though he knew he would never see us again.
The bike shop negotiated hard to get a good deal, then used a good deal of skill and ingenuity to solve a problem when they did not quite have the right materials. They were more flexible than many in England. So we got back on the road when, perhaps, in England this would have not been possible.
We had booked an apartment and found it without difficulty. No water or wifi to begin with but both these problems were solved and we collapsed. All manner of options had gone through our minds during the day but we had more or less got back to normality.
Batumi exists to serve the needs that are not permitted in Turkey and Iran – gambling casinos abound and other temptations for instant gratification are well catered for. Few women wear headscarfs and this feels like a slightly shabby Mediterranean resort. Money has been spent in the city and there are some impressive buildings, but there are also lots of underdeveloped areas. It’s all lots of fun as long as one does not look too much below the surface.
We went out for a lively meal in a lovely city. This place is very, very different to Turkey. I will leave descriptions for another day as this blog is already too long, but a couple of beers and back to bed.