A train to Yerevan, Armenia soon turned into a hitch-hike to Yerevan, Armenia. Yet, with a little moment of spontaneity we decided to take a gamble and hire a car to get there. This turned out to be a 3 day adventure that neither of us had prepared for, but both of us greatly enjoyed.
Since we decided late in the day to hire a car we had only one place to get one: the airport. This worked out well as we had not scouted a place to pitch our tent in the evening. We headed straight for the airport where we were able to sleep on the floor free-of-charge in anticipation for the numerous car-hire companies to open.
Our sleep was good beside the marble flooring and being kicked by a ‘helpful’ policeman who thought we had missed our flight to Minsk. ‘Do we look like we are going to Minsk tonight?’ was not our actual response.
Come the morning we were able to hire a Toyota Corolla for 3 days at a reasonable price (thanks to Fletch’s haggling). As it would cost extra to add drivers we decided that I would be the driver for the trip, which I made no secret of my excitement about. The excitement was momentarily quashed when we were told that we could not leave Georgia with the car. With a little shrug of the shoulders we realised that we could see much more of the magnificent Georgia this way.
We had a brief inspection of the car before hitting the road with our bags safely stowed in the boot. I drove around Europe at the beginning of the year, but this was the first time I had driven in a left hand drive car, and it took me a while to get used to it. Thankfully, bar a few near misses, I got to grips with the car.
As we left Batumi we began on our route East. We initially stopped at the small town of Keda where we habitually picked up a loaf of bread and a chunk of ham to make sandwiches with. You can take the man out of Britain but when the budget is tight he will make a sandwich. We sat and admired the view whilst we ate our food.
Following lunch we hit real Georgia. We had been warned that driving here was dangerous, but this was something else. I never imagine my parents cringing at anything I do as I believe that they trust I will take risks but ultimately keep myself out of harm. Yet, if mum or dad saw me driving on these roads I think they might have had a heart attack.
The roads here are not roads, they are tracks at best. They are littered with pot holes and nothing defining the edges except cliff faces. Not only this, but a one-way track featured two-way traffic. This made for a bumpy ride. We covered a very short distance in a very long time, bumping along the stones road.
This seems like an awful experience, but it wasn’t. The mountainous views were well worth it. The kind of views, and drive, that words or pictures cannot express. We were driving around the majestic lower Caucasus and taking every moment in. It was an amazing drive for me, perhaps the best. Every sharp turn on the bumpy ground revealed something more spectacular.
The worst of the road came when a waterfall fell onto the pot holed paths where we were driving and fell further down a 100m drop. We had to cross the fast moving water without being dragged down the cliff with it. We lived to tell the tale. I’m pretty sure the car was relieved too.
Eventually we reached the town of Vale (which was recommended by the French Lonely Planet). It turned out that there was nothing there besides an authentic village, which we very briefly took advantage of.
We decided to stop close to our 250km per day limit at the town of Borjomi. We had told Vincent that we could meet him there.
Once we had parked in a spot that we felt was secluded enough to stop and to sleep, since we would be sleeping in the car.
We then met Vincent on the beauty bridge before eating some cheap chicken at a local cafe. We then explored the lively local park with a cheap 2.5litre bottle of Georgian beer where we sat and people watched.
As conversation started to wain we were approached by a young lad named Raul. He was 18 years old and had recently moved to Ukraine from Georgia. He claimed to be a Rapper in Russian and gave us an impromptu performance. He humoured us with his free styling.
Raul had gained our trust and we accepted his invite into a neighbouring park to try the famous Borjomi water, sold everywhere around Georgia sells is. Still, when we tried it it tasted as though it had come straight from the sea. He assured us that it was healthy.
The 4 of us then sat in the park and chatted, mainly about Raul. He showed off with a double-jointed circus act that’s freaked us all out before asking a very strange and concerning question. He stood in front of the 3 of us and asked ‘do you like knives?’ As he flicked open a flick knife and waved it in front of us. Despite this being a potentially scary situation, his camp demeanour and youthfulness meant that we all just laughed. This confused him. He then danced with his knife.
We managed to lose Raul before he found out that we were sleeping in a car. This was a long and uncomfortable might, where a lot of forgetting happened on our bruised hips.
At 9am we met once more with Vincent. We had set aside the morning for a trek in the national park. I had nothing but my camera and walking boots, which made for an interesting trek. The terrain was much different to the hike in Turkey as Georgia is more abundant in greenery and trees.
We climbed steep slopes for about 2 hours, taking in the forest around us. At one point I became too confident and decided to climb the steepest of inclines. This meant that I was clinging onto tree stumps and twigs to stop myself from falling. I had to resort to my fingers in the soil at some points as was the stupidity of my climb. Both Fletch and Vincent took the longer, more sensible route.
We came across a cemetery deep in the forest. It seemed a nice place but would have given am eerie feel late at night.
With one eye one the time and a slight tingle of thirst we retraced our steps beyond the national park and back to the car.
From the car the three of us drove to the town of Kutaisi, birthplace of Katie Melua. Before entering the town we managed to clean ourselves in the river, which was much needed, and the car was telling us.
We took our time to find a good spot to park in the centre before finding a bar to watch the start of the premier league season. It was a good job that the Arsenal game was not being televised.
We later found a semi-legitimate Georgian bookmakers to sit and watch the evening kick offs with a stupid bet on Swansea to win. We were able to drink our own beer there.
As the night drew on we decided to withdraw to our beds. For tonight we had decided to utilise the space which mean Fletch slept in the car and I went to the park to assemble a tent in front of the Saturday night drinkers. They weren’t too bothered by my presence, and nor was the lightening, which made for a nice sleep.
I was up and the tent was packed by 9am when I knocked on the car window to wake Fletch, who had had a less comfortable night. We quickly got n the road due to the terrestrial rain and headed for the town or Zugdidi about 100km north. Here we ate the traditional Georgian food (I think you spell it Hagipodi) in the company of some very soviet looking men.
We went from there into a region we had been advised not to go to because the Government were not in control there. We wanted to go for that reason but spent only a little time there as we nearly crashed.
In fact, as well as the roads, the drivers are mental here. I thought the Chinese drove insanely. However, it seemed as though the driving here is contagious. It was not long before I was beeping my horn at every error or over taking on the wrong side of the road. In fact, driving in Georgia is like a giant game of dodgems, except with expensive cars and life ending consequences. We saw our fair few accidents on the way.
When we stopped in theory town of Poti I decided to drive a little too fast down an unmade road. Tis resulted in me soaking a young boy from a puddle and turning on a warning light within the car. When we told our company that we were concerned they told us to get the car to Batumi and they would refund what we had left of the car. This meant that by driving on these crazy roads we had actually earned ourselves a partial refund. All I had to do was get back to Batumi airport.
It had been raining all day but it soon became torrential, making driving harder. However, I was now very confident in my ability to weave and turn in the road. I could beep with the best of them. Thankfully we both survived and I can now reflect on my over-confidence.
We made it back to Batumi in the downpour without any injuries and were able to claim enough refund to get us into a hostel and have some spare. It turned out that the car was just out of anti-freeze.