Bumps, bruises, bees and borders

When I last left you, we had planned to head for Goreme (also know as Kapadokia) en route to the Black Sea after our detour to Pamukkale.

We were well on our way but conditions were exhausting. We were facing boiling hot strong winds head on, with few trucks in sight for a much needed tow. The hot air blasting in your face for mikes (far worse than any Dyson hairdryer) just drains your energy. I don't know if I dozed off, or dazed off, but next thing I knew I was sliding through the gravel on the side of the road. I'd come off, and was lying trapped beneath my bike.

Luckily, some local men rushed over to help me, as Peter did a quick u-turn and raced to my rescue. The men were waving their phones saying 'ambulance! ambulance!' while I tried my best to assure them that involving the authorities was completely unnecessary. Peter was there in a flash, and pulled my bike up. I asked him to take a picture so I could secure AU$100 for Cool Earth, which my boss Steve has pledged to donate each time I fall off 'provided I sustain an injury' (deep down, I know he loves me..).

Peter refused, first wanting to check I was in one piece. Once he was satisfied, evidence of my bloodied knees was captured for prosperity (and charity). Peter then did a more thorough examination putting our first aid course to good use, his verdict: two scraped knees and an arm. One severely bruised ego.

I stood up slowly and Peter washed the gravel out of the wounds with water. The local men were still waiting with concerned offers of water, phones and wet wipes, wanting to render assistance, and finally we took two wet-wipes (despite the entire packet being proffered) to show our appreciation for their help. They seemed satisfied with that and went back to their fields. Confirming the injuries were not life-threatening, and no damage had been sustained to my mighty steed, we hopped back on our bikes and maintained our course to Kapadokia. I swear, not five minutes later, a Kamikaze bee charged at me and got me right on the nose! Once again, our journey was interrupted by an unscheduled stop to inspect the sting (I am allergic to bee stings), confirm sting was removed, and now, along with my bloodied knees, I now also sported a nose resembling Rocky Balboa.

Finally, we made it to Kapadokia, but not before helping ourselves to delicious ripe apricots which were growing on the side of the road. I have never taste anything so good!

We had been chatting about having a quick look and breezing through Kapadokia to get a couple hundred more kilometers under our belts, as the next day was going to be a big one. But as soon as we rounded the corner, any suggestion of whizzing through was quickly abandoned. I was bloody, bruised and bee-stung and I needed a hot shower. But as soon as we caught sight of the first of the caves, all of that was forgotten. The caves are extraordinary. They were drenched in the most spectacular afternoon light, and we had to stop and take a few pictures.

The caves were formed by melting lava landing on volcanic ash which later washed away. They resemble mushrooms with thick stems…

We headed for town and that much needed shower. Alas, my calamities for the day were not over. As we pulled away, my phone fell from my pocked and the screen smashed. Two phones in as many days. At least mine is still functional if you 'read between the lines'.

We treated ourselves to a Cave hotel, which was absolutely stunning. We cleaned and dressed my wounds, then set off in search of dinner. The meal was sublime, the best we'd had so far. I ordered the traditional clay pot.

The pots are only used once each, and Peter had to remind me of our limited capacity for luggage when I suggested I ask if I could take my pot home with me.

On the way back to our hotel, we managed to tick another of my 'boxes' – we bought a Turkish carpet. It is being shipped back to Australia and now I can say of Turkey: been there, done that, got the carpet!

The next day our aim was to make Trabzon, on the Black Sea. It was going to be a long one- nearly 700kms. We woke to the view of hot air balloons dancing in front of our cave window, and the beauty of the fairytale scene set the mood for the day.

We set out early and for the most part it was an amazing ride. It is just so interesting to experience the lifestyles of the locals as you ride by- working their fields, driving like maniacs, going about their ordinary business.

When I say 'maniacs' I really mean it. Dividing lines on the roads seem to be entirely optional – it is nothing to see oncoming cars screaming towards you in your lane as they overtake the car in front of them. And don't think they move back into their lane when they see the approaching head-on collision- if you don't move over or slow down, you're toast! And let's not even begin to talk about the drivers overtaking you! Even on a dual carriage way, there is no polite move into the outside lane, pass and then return to the inside lane once a safe following distance has been achieved. Oh no! They move over just enough so as not to tail end you, sweep by (nearly sending us whooshing into the bushes) then swerve back in front of you as soon as humanly possible!
Even normal driving sees cars in both directions using whatever lane they wish!

We hit a lot of high mountain passes, some over 2,000m, and our little bikes struggled to hold on to 40km/h in second gear. We also traversed some interesting 'roads' along the way which were treacherous. By evening we were exhausted, but with Trabzon in our sights we decided to push on. Higher and higher we climbed, colder and colder it got. Eventually we entered a tunnel, with the hope of seeing Trabzon on the other side. Emerging from the other end was like stepping through Alice's looking glass. The tunnel wasn't very long, but the other side was pitch dark and mist so thick condensation was running off my visor. And it was freezing. We quickly stopped to put on our warm jackets and gloves, and I swapped my sunglasses for my night ones. They were no use. We descended from the mountain down a wet, dark, slippery 'road' shrouded in fog and a sheer drop (with no railings) on our right. I couldn't see a thing through my wet glasses, so eventually took them off. It was terrifying.

But in the end, we made it. An hour later Trabzon was ours! With the help of Google translate the security guard at a shopping center directed us to a hotel. By midnight we were showered, wounds were dressed, and we were snoring. The plan for the next day was Georgia!

The next day started with a dip in the Black Sea. For fear of infecting my wounds with the body fluids no doubt left in the ocean by the thousands of tourists, I only waded ankle deep, but still claim it as an ocean I've been in. The Black Sea is really beautiful.

We then decided to stop in Rize which is just before the border, to see if we could get our phones fixed. Peter left his for repair, but at $200 for a new screen, I decided I could wait for a better deal, or until we returned to Australia. While we waited for Peter's phone, we found a quiet spot so Peter could do an oil change and quick inspection of the bikes. Four local kids were fascinated, and stood around watching his every move, the 'leader' of the gang explaining to his mates what Peter was doing each step of the way. He spoke very little English but they were intrigued. When we were done, and their questions about the bikes and Australia answered, they asked if they could toot the horn before we drove off. It made their day.

Back to retrieve the phone, only to be told it was irreparable and the 'motherboard was damaged'. Bugger. Looks like Peter is stuck with my 'shitful' Apple until further notice.

The Georgian border crossing was eventful. It is getting harder as we head East to talk our way around not having the original papers for the bikes. Once again we were told we could not enter. Correction – they were clear that we were welcome, just not the bikes. Eventually, about half an hour, three guards later and a fourth on the phone, we were told that 'on this occasion' an exception would be made. We were in!

We made our way to Batumi which was our aim for the day. It was interesting how the landscape changed as we progressed. The streets were lined with Australian gum trees, and we felt right at home with Georgian drivers thinking they should also be driving on the left. The numerous Mosques (whose steeples Peter jokingly claims are really intercontinental ballistic missiles hidden in plain sight) were nowhere to be seen. This time it was Peter's turn for a bee sting, but he got a nibble from a friendly lady-bee while I tend to attract the man-eating masochists! I'm
Going to have to do some research into this alleged decline of the bee population… I have significant evidence to the contrary…

In Batumi we met up with a Canadian rally team who happened to be in Town. They knew a local Georgian who took us for a walk around the town and told us its history. Stalin was born in Georgia. So interesting to hear about the progress which has been made since the dissolution of the USSR, and how fragile but important the political climate between Georgia and the West is. The architecture is really interesting – very modern, all chrome and glass. McDonald's resembles a glass tower. It's almost as if Georgia is screaming to the world: we're in the 21st century, look at us. We had another delicious meal, mine was Cashushuli which was delicious and I will be looking for a recipe upon my return.

Most of all, I love the Georgian alphabet which resembles lovingly iced cupcakes – too beautiful to eat but you just want to devour them!
დატოვეთ კომენტარი, თუ გოდგუკმა გამოიყენა თუ რას ნიშნავს ეს
ლამაზი ანბანი

The next day, our aim was Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. We again met up with other teams, including one of the other four motorcyclists, Stephen from Ireland.

We also decided to try and make a plan with our documents, as it was just getting harder and harder to worm our way through border posts with our certified copies. So Peter logged on to his TMR account and asked for replacement registration papers to be emailed. The next morning we woke up, and the papers were there in beautiful PDF. We walked up the road to a Xerox shop, and using Google translate, asked them to print them in high quality on thick paper. We had our 'originals' – would they buy it? Next stop was the Armenian border, so we'd soon find out.

Buy it they did, but not without question. The problem appears to be that there is no colour, or Australian Government emblem (only Queensland's). They kept fingering the thick paper stock, asking if they were original. We kept saying yes, and finally we were admitted to Armenia.

Again, the contrast was astounding. It was like stepping back in time and Armenia is best described as a relic of soviet rule. It is a place where time has stood still. Abandoned, half-completed structures are everywhere. But the landscape is stunning.

We drove to Lake Sevan, one of the largest fresh water lakes in Europe which sits at 1,900m. The downside of the trip was getting attack by another kamikaze bee! This time it went for my left upper arm and wouldn't let go. I know have a left upper arm the size of Rocky's to match my nose!

Peter showed little sympathy claiming my calamities were directly related to my lack of appropriate riding gear. I thought my pretty expensive SPF50, 'bug free technology' clothes from Kathmandu were the business! But having now been stung by both wasps and bees through the bug-free fabric, I am considering a strongly worded letter of complaint, and a new wardrobe. Don't tell Peter – I hate it when he's right…

The streets of Armenia are full of pedestrians, cars stopped wherever is convenient, and cows grazing lazily by the side of the road. We did see some cows drinking from a 'human' water fountain, which was hilarious.

We drove right around the lake and found a cute little 'hotel' in Martuni. We were treated to a feast for dinner (US$16 including beer & wine). The local fish is call sic and was mouth watering.

Today we set sail for Agarak, which is on the southern border of Armenia. What was supposed to be a 311km/6 hour drive, turned into a 10 hour 326km drive. Somehow Google Maps decided we needed to see the scenic route, which included, as Peter put it, a mountain goat track which consisted of kilometers of gravel, hairpin bends and steep roads. It was terrible, we didn't know where we were or when we'd see civilization again. We drove on that mountain track for hours! But every cloud has a silver lining, and the gully we descended, then ascended on the other side, was just breathtaking. Image from google:

After some significant doubts, we finally made it to a lumpy tar road, which I was ready to kneel down and kiss. A couple of hours later, we were at our destination.

We are meeting our 'fixer' tomorrow morning when we cross over to Iran, who will hopefully be arranging our bikes' entry into Iran without a Carnet de Passage (which were about AU$1,000 each in Australia).

Stay tuned to see how that goes, and Peter will be uploading some of the spectacular shots he took today on our Instagram so be sure to check it out!

I'm not sure when we'll have decent wifi again, so don't panic (mom) if you don't hear from us for a few days…

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