Roaring camels

May 27th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Beyneu, Kazakhstan

roaring camel

There is the sound of a roaring camel in my ears. Her growls and moans are more ancient and strange than any I have heard before – and Dan likens them to the noise of dinosaurs. I wonder if she’s shouting to welcome the rain that has finally arrived in this dry and dusty desert village, or, like the scuttling people running for cover, she’s lamenting the howling wind and the storm that’s soaking her.

I think back to the last bout of rain that hit us in Kazakhstan, just two days and two hundred kilometres ago. The camels were roaring persistently then too, whilst Dan and I were forced to take refuge in a chaykhana (teahouse) because the pitted track we were taking had turned into thick clay that completely clagged our wheels and stopped us moving.

muddy wheel

At first we were upset that we wouldn’t be able to cover the 85 kilometres we’d planned to do that day. But in the end, after a pot of sweet, milky tea drunk from bowls, a plate of plov, some eggs and a bowl of cabbage soup, we were thankful for the rest – knackered from battling the headwinds and gruesome track.


Then, the next day, when the rain stopped, and the fierce wind and sun had dried our track so we could cycle again, the camels were quiet once more, seemingly content to munch on the newly watered, fresh smelling desert bushes – suddenly resplendent with desert flowers of delicate purples, pinks and whites, and bright yellows – turning their heads to stare intently at us as we laboured slowly along.

the next day...

The Turkish truckies aboard the cargo ship from Azerbaijan had warned us that this road from Aktau to Beyneu would be difficult. In the ship’s mess, while we anchored for a day waiting for the Swine flu quarantine to be lifted, we mused over maps, trying to glean as much as we could from the drivers the conditions of our proposed route. Bulent even offered us a lift all the way to Beyneu, the last village before the Uzbekistan border. But we shook our heads and instead enlisted him to help us learn some Russian words that we thought would be useful for the way ahead …

But nothing could’ve prepared us for this road… Day by day we toiled, never able to reach more than 10km/hr, eating five meals a day to make up for the amount of energy we were expending pushing against the fiercest headwinds we’ve known, the dust and sand storms, the rough track and the lack of habitation.

difficult 500kms

We sought refuge in chaykhanas, which lay sporadically along the deserted wasteland, and when those couldn’t be found, we hid from the dust and wind in drains to eat nuts and sultanas and swig on fast-emptying bottles of water.

hiding in drains

And I noticed that it was only when we stopped hoping the headwinds would turn into tailwinds and accepted our pace that the desert’s vastness, its harshness and its unending horizon became beautiful in our eyes.

And then we sang to the rocky outcrops, the windswept canyons, the giant boulders sculpted into spheres by the wind, the ancient burial grounds perched on hilltops, the huddling herds of horses and, of course, to those ancient wandering camels that roared in the rain.

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The slow boat to Kazakhstan

May 20th, 2009

Posted by Dan
Aktau, Kazakhstan

finally boarding the ship to Kazakhstan

The smoke, thick and black from the ship’s diesel engine blows away from us to the south-east and we are finally sailing north-west. Relaxing, reading, we hear the sound of a helicopter leaving an oil rig and fly above us. We jump to the window of our cabin, which is wide open, only a gentle breeze flutters the curtain now. Yesterday afternoon, the wind was apparently too strong to sail, or there was a storm out at sea which the captain wanted to hide from. So he dropped anchor, having turned around and motored back to the coast of Baku, after only 3 hours of leaving port. The boat sat and bobbed there all night, whilst we made friends with the Turkish truckies on board and swapped maps and notes with the other overlanders travelling this way.

This morning, when the wind had dropped and the anchor pulled in, we snoozed as crew pumped out excess ballast or leak water. In a soft daze, I hadn’t realised we were actually moving again, the sound of the water pumping out had merged with the splash of the still water under the speeding hull. It was only when I saw the reflection in the Perspex cover of the cabin light above my head of the sea moving away from us, I realised we were on our way again.

rest at last!

Relief allows us rest, and the strain of the 15 day wait for the boat is being slept off. Probably too by the 8 European friends we have made in the last 2 days. Despite having waited the longest and joined the French, German, Spanish, Ukrainian and English travellers camped outside the Kassa (ticket booth) all day, 2 days ago now, we ended up being the last ones to be sold a ticket. When we’d arrived at 7am, the day of departure, we’d been singled out and pressurised, told that the last ticket had been sold to our German friends and that there was no space for us. This deceit and the ugly, arrogant behaviour by the staff of the Kassa had us running back and forth between the Kassa and customs, where our friends all waited with their tickets in hand.

waiting at the kassa

We had already sensed the staff at the Kassa were dishonest people, but thought it incredulous that after 15 days of telling us, “Tomorrow, tomorrow” they would now refuse to sell two cyclists a ticket. A huge ship, with more cabins than passengers, was being described to us as full. With aggressive fists, the Kassa staff crossed their arms to make an X, to mean closed.

Close to tears, with dates of our visas running through our heads, and maps of alternative routes confusing and flashing through our minds, our journey, for a moment, seemed in the hands of these despicable people. It was hard to hide our anger, we raised our voices, losing our grip of calm and reason. Ireyna, the Ukranian woman, ran with us back to the Kassa, to ask again, speaking fluently in their common language of the ex-Soviet states, Russian.

She was calm, she was bright, she smiled, she was friendly, she didn’t show surprise and she was patient. Then she spotted the chief outside the Kassa, whom we’d not seen before, and spoke briefly and precisely to him. When the chief entered the Kassa, me and Krista understood clearly this part of the conversation. He spoke in stern Azeri, “What’s the problem? It is nothing. There is no problem. Sell them a ticket.” Ireyna, she is a star.

With ticket in hand, we three ran back to the boat to have our passports stamped, in fear that the boat would now leave without us. The customs guards were pleased for us and were all smiles, though the day before and the hour previously, they had been quiet and unreactionary. Our new friends punched the air as we joined the gang readying to board, although after the challenge of patience, nobody showed too much excitement, all agreeing that we’re not there until we’re there… When wheels roll away from customs to the open road, we’ll know we’ve made it: away from Azerbaijan and into Kazakhstan.

Our desperation to take this boat was so great, since we’d waited for such a long time, told every day that we should come back tomorrow. It had only taken 8 days to cycle the whole length of the country, yet we’d been in Baku for over 2 weeks. We’d been expecting to take a boat in a matter of 4 or 5 days, but because we’d waited so long, any other option for an alternative way out of Azerbaijan should we not board this boat was now nearly impossible.

One of the aims of our journey is not to fly. Our ongoing visas to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are paid for and planned out with set dates of entry and exit. To apply for replacements would be a costly option and a race against time, since we only had 6 days left on our Azeri visa. Our visa to remain in the country could expire before being granted one for a neighbouring country. We didn’t have time to exit the country by cycling. And we had chosen this route to avoid Iran, since, interesting as it may be, Krista didn’t want to return there as she’d been put in prison there 12 years ago. Even so, this would still leave us with the problem of a Turkmenistan transit visa, and crossing 800kms of desert in just 5 days in searing heat. AARGH!

The three men and one woman of the Kassa were simply scaring us into offering them a bribe, knowing how long they had kept us waiting, being aware that we must take a boat any day now.

We drew these conclusions when we got on board and saw that indeed this huge boat had more cabins than passengers. And when we heard from the captain that there had been other boats that had come and gone that we could’ve travelled on, our suspicions were confirmed.

For the first time on this journey, we had both forgotten that time is the only thing that can change a situation. It is only a moment of drama, and if you wait it out, it will be a different outcome. Patience will put an end to a tight spot, if you stay calm! So we toasted a drink on the bow of the ship with our new group of friends in celebration of our departure and progress towards Kazakhstan.

toasting with vodka

Smiles and laughter and friendship grew aboard and we made plans to look out for each other along the road, although our overlander friends would move much faster than us, travelling with motorbikes and cars.

The important words to remember come to mind on the voice of our friend Gizem: “Now the adventure really begins”.

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New system, old thinking

May 17th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Baku, Azerbaijan

nodding donkey on the outskirts of Baku

When we asked a well-educated Baku man, Emin, today about the changes to Azerbaijan since the collapse of the Soviet Union, he commented (somewhat stoically), “New system, old thinking”, meaning that not much has changed – democracy has not yet reached Azerbaijan, and doesn’t look like it will in the near future.

It was no surprise to hear that when national leader Heydar Aliyev died in 2003, he was shamelessly succeeded by his son Ilham in a dynastic handover. And just a few days ago, polls were fixed so he’s now in power for life – apparently with 97% majority!

People seem to accept that this is how it is, and get on with their lives. Traffic police continue to blatantly bribe drivers (so they can buy themselves a promotion) and if you want a job, be prepared to pay around $15,000 US for the privilege.

We’ve finally bought a new camera (and sent mine back to the States to get fixed) – so you can now finally see a few photos of Azerbaijan if you click here.

10 days and counting…

May 15th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Baku, Azerbaijan

I’m nervous today. We’ve been waiting for a cargo ferry to transport us from Azerbaijan across the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan for 10 days now – surely it must be leaving soon? But there’s no schedule – it just leaves when it’s full, and I’m worried that it will set sail quietly in the middle of the night, unbeknownst to us…

Although we’ve still got some time left on our Azeri and Kazakh visas, with every passing day I am feeling the tick of the clock. The next stage of the expedition will take us through over 1000 kilometres of harsh and sparsely populated desert – the globe is turning and summer’s fast approaching – we have to leave soon. So we patiently and earnestly trudge to the port every day, to check with the unfriendly man at the ‘Kassa’ on the ship’s status.

But, once again, he shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head, giving us no update other than a terse, “Yoq” – no. Oh well… maybe tomorrow…

The man with the golden smile

May 9th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Baku, Azerbaijan

***A tall man wearing the typical black flatcap, sporting a full set of dazzling gold front teeth, runs over and accosts us. He’s so energetic and eager that, after having crossed the border from Georgia and cycled 50 kilometres through heat and dust, we just don’t have it in us to match his conversation pace, and are apprehensive to stop and chat with him. Politely though, reservedness eeking out of pores and body language, we answer the where-froms, where-tos, whys and wherefores without too much animation, whilst preparing to get going again. But this man, Natik, is not put-off by our lack of warmth. In fact he is so excited that he hasn’t even noticed all our energies are pointing towards getting back on our bikes so we can reach our planned destination of Zaqatala before the sun sets.

“Come and drink çay!”, he exclaims, beckoning us over to a small, dimly-lit café, full of cigarette-smoking men. “Come, come!”. I look at Dan, who raises his eyebrows in a look of, “Do you really want to?”, whilst Natik’s beckoning becomes more voluptuous by the minute.

I am reminded of the words, “…to let go, or to hold on…”. We believe so strongly that we are in control of our own destiny, we makes plans and organise our pathways, and are not open to a change in direction, however big or small. We think we know what is best for us and try to manipulate the world to fit into our grand and rigid plans – which are really just arbitrary ideas that we’ve concocted.

“…to let go, or to hold on…” These words loop in my mind and, in this moment, I know I have to surrender to something deeper than myself. I look at Dan and nod – letting go – and with a golden smile Natik opens the café door.

Once inside, seated around a table with Natik and three of his friends, Dan and I begin to relax. Natik plies us with çay, served from a teapot into tulip glasses, sipped through a sweet or a rough sugar lump held between the teeth. He thinks we must be hungry and orders us kalem dolma (spicy meatballs wrapped in cabbage leaf) and salad, whilst introduces us proudly to his Azeri culture. Dan and I relax some more.

He tells us intimate tales of how he ran away from his parents house in the night so that he could fight the war in Karabakh against Armenia in the early ’90s, and compares nowadays with 18 years ago when Azerbaijan was part of the 15-country-strong Soviet Union. He invites us to stay at his home, explaining that in Azerbaijan, a Muslim country, everyone has a spare room for guests because they are revered as god. He can’t disguise his disappointment after we answer his questions about whether the same tradition exists in England.

When we finally depart, it’s with happy, full hearts and bellies – and it suddenly doesn’t matter if we don’t reach Zaqatala before the sun sets. ***

I thought that nothing particularly extraordinary had happened in this encounter, apart from some great hospitality and a gentle meeting of souls. But when we reached Baku, 10 days later, I realised that, indeed, magic had taken place. Natik – the first person we’d met in Azerbaijan – had given us so much warmth and generosity upon our arrival in his country that the spirit of his friendship accompanied us throughout. Without even knowing it, he had softened us, allowing us to open and trust more in this unfolding journey, and reminded us that the ideas we’ve created for ourselves can and may change at any given moment… and that’s not such a bad thing…

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Silk road

May 7th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Baku, Azerbaijan

A lump in my throat and tears in my eyes – as I stood on the dusty mound on the edge of the moonlike mountain landscape and saw the shimmer of the Caspian Sea in the distance below. The words, “Coast to coast to coast” entered my mind, and like flickering timelapse photography, I saw moving snapshots of two steady and determined bicycle riders traversing the lands that lie between the English Channel, the Black Sea and the Caspian.

Here we are in the strange land that is Azerbaijan. Back to sea level with 5500 kilometres on our odometer. In a new kind of place where gleaming golden-tooth strangers have greeted us, and where we learn slowly that not everything is as it may at first seem…

When we crossed the border we straightaway felt like minor celebrities. The Georgians had been fairly quiet, shy and even slightly insular. A controlled and restrained “Gamarjaobat” (hello) would be mustered, but usually only if we were the first to wave, smile, greet. But now, having crossed the Alazani river that separates the two countries, suddenly, every second Azeri car is honking, bodies and faces leaning from windows in amazement and bemusement, grabbing videos or photos of us on their mobile phones as we whizz by.

The question on everybody’s lips is, “Is the President of your country paying you to ride your bike?” If only… They obviously don’t get us when we shake our heads and try desperately to communicate the environmental reasons for our cycle ride across the world. We’re foreigners anyway, so we must be rich, and all prices are promptly doubled. It’s interesting that we’re still spending the same on groceries as we did when we lived in London.

Now that the days are getting longer and warmer, it’s becoming easier and easier to camp. Shepherds and goat herders point us to good spots near freshwater springs, and reassure us, in our shared common language of Turkish, that we need not be scared in the night. They’re fascinated with our set-up and point to tent, bikes, Trangia, rubbing fingers against thumb in the universal gesture of “how much, how much?”. It’s hard to convey that these two loaded bikes are pretty much all the possessions we have in the world… It’s even harder to answer their shock that, as a couple in our 30’s, we have no children – and they raise open hands to the sky in a plead to Allah to bless us.

We’ve joined the Silk Road and our path will now weave across its ancient strands all the way through Central Asia and into China. These trading routes brought amber and honey the the east, silk and jade to the west. One of its threads took us to Sheki, a famous silk weaving town, where we stayed in an 18th century caravansaray. In its heyday, Sheki had five working caravansarays to shelter and feed traders and pack animals resting at the junction where the caravan route between Baku and Tbilisi met the cross-mountain branch to Derbent in Dagestan.

The Greater Caucasus mountains have been so elusive – catching cloud and snaring mist – that we got up before dawn every day to see their impressive peaks in morning’s first light. And when fertile earth below our feet turned to desert dust, we craned our necks some more to see circling eagles spiral and soar above our heads.

We’re in Baku now, with the rural life and Caucasus mountains far behind. In this oil-rich capital, chok-a-blok with Ladas, Nivas, pick-ups, Mercedes, and the most enormous luxury 4WD’s I’ve ever seen, we’re tracking down a boat to ferry us across the largest lake in the world – that is, the Caspian Sea – all the way to Kazakhstan.

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New Georgia pix

May 7th, 2009

Sunday service

Click here to see our photos of Georgia… Unfortunately our camera broke just after Tbilisi, so we have no Azerbaijan pix to share… We’re in the process of trying to track down a digi repair dude in Baku, but that’s not as easy as it might sound!

Welcome to Georgia!

April 10th, 2009

Posted by Dan
Tbilisi, Georgia

A toothless old man wheeling 10-inch Soviet flick-knives, complete with a hammer head and a camo-sheath, was the first Georgian to welcome me inside the border at Sarpi. His dialect was completely incomprehensible – he seemed to talk in grunts. I was unsure if it was the lack of teeth, or a genuine example of just how difficult it was going to be to understand the Georgian language. Their language is called Kartuli, and has no linguistic connection to any other known language, apart from three mountain dialects within the Caucasian region. In two weeks, we’ve learned a respectable amount and can politely make ourselves understood for the basics, although, when counting to five, I still have to miss out number four!

Our first stop was Batumi, where we took the time to plan possible routes, wait out some bad weather in the nearby mountains, give time for Krista’s strained hand to recover, rest, and stock up on supplies. The item we needed most was ‘Spiriti’ (no, I don’t mean vodka, but methylated spirits for our stove). A wild goose chase ensued and when we finally found someone who spoke Turkish, and could understand our quest, help was all-too easily enlisted.

Traipsing the markets and hardware shops of the bazaar district with our new friend Raoul was fun. He spoke to every man, woman and child selling anything, just in the hope that they had information about where Spiriti could be found. A two-hour search proffered no leads, although it had been interesting to watch Raoul connect with people, to experience how warmly Georgians communicate with each other, and to see first-hand how generous they are. Each person begging or plying some small trade received a coin or two from Raoul – a blind man with weighing scales got business from our 75-kilo friend, and an old woman selling sunflower seeds in cones made from old pages of a book, was more than happy to sell two, Raoul handing one full cone to each of us.


Ironically enough, we lazily found the Spiriti later that evening in the cleaning product section of the supermarket near our cold and dimly-lit hotel room.

Just before we left Turkey, we missed the chance to meet our friend Manu, who is also cycling across the world. However, he was planning on being in Tbilisi on the 6th and 7th of April. We looked at the map and saw that, in order to meet him, we had 500 kilometres to cover in one week. We were determined to get there in time.

Georgia is a country of great geographical beauty. Soaring mountain peaks, green valleys and an abundance of waterfalls and wildlife, with many of the species endemic to the unusual region. We’d worked out four or five possible routes, but we most favoured the mountain road that would eventually descend down to the nature reserve of Borjomi,

Leaving Batumi on the 30th March, the bad weather was ebbing away to leave a clear sky, so we headed out of town for the mountain route, dotted with historic bridges and fortresses. However, on checking we’d found the right road, the man we asked desperately tried to explain to us that it was not possible to take this road. From what we could understand, the pass at 2022 metres would be blocked by snow. We doubted him, but sure the road would be badly surfaced, and with Krista’s left hand limiting her, we took his advice, and doubled back through Batumi, up the coast to Grigoleti.

Along the way, I saw, for the first time ever, huge bamboo growing wild, and its use as fences, ladders, cups and fishing rods. I also saw men ploughing fields using oxen to drag the iron through the rich, brown earth.

Our first camp in Georgia was just outside Grigoleti, on very low land, almost swamp-like. As the air temperature cooled down, mist quickly formed and the cold air and moisture cloaked our tent, while the bullfrogs in the water channels loudly croaked through the night. Mating season on the marshes!

the Georgian terrain

The first village roads were newly tarmacked and we sped along, surprised at the pace that we were setting. It soon changed – the following day we experienced 47kms of potholes and pebbles, at the end of which, in Baghdati, I was introduced to the scary toasting tradition of Georgians. We had simply been invited inside a hardware shop to eat our lunch, instead of sitting on the curb. As our hosts, Larissa and Fridon, learned of our story, they became more and more animated, until a three-litre pop bottle, full of dubious red liquid, was brought to the table. They exclaimed, “Gvino, gvino”. This was the point of no return! ‘Gvino’ is the tradition wine that is brewed in every town and village in Georgia. My relief for having learnt the word for no (‘ara’), was a short-lived sense of safety. For the next three hours, I was as good as bullied into toasting every man and woman that entered the shop. The boisterous toasts extended to their family, dogs, goats and chickens. Drinking the potent homebrew with linked arms, even a local policeman and priest came to toast.

the crazy toasting

That night, we stayed at Larissa and Fridon’s home, in the nearby village of Dimi, and over a feast cooked by the women on a small woodstove, 20 people, half of them visiting guests, crammed the room. This time, I managed to keep my glass covered, toasting with only a sip each time. Most frightening was when Fridon produced various different drinking vessels for special toasts and special guests, including a gold-enamelled champagne flute and a large hand-carved wooden bowl. He filled the bowl and each man was expected to make a toast and down the entire contents. After a day’s cycling, it’s really not the best thing for the body, although, out of respect, it was hard not to join many of the toasts that were touching wishes for the future, for health, remembrance and loss.

Georgia has a turbulent history, and our path showed clearly its recent troubles. A couple of days later, two 13 year old boys we met in the village of Ubisi tried to explain their current feeling towards their troubled homeland. Powerfully patriotic, their hatred of Russia and unease was demonstrated by the slideshow set to emotive traditional music that Giorgi had on his mobile phone. It showed bombed buildings and dismembered dead bodies in a nearby town that had been caught up in the fighting of 2007. We camped in the boys’ village that night, near the river, after a look inside the 9th century monastery, which had a tower that had been designed to hide and protect people in ancient times of war.

In the night, we had an unexpected visitor to our camp. We were woken at 2am by heavy, stomping footsteps that to a dead sleep felt like they shook the ground. Something quite big was looking for food. Its breathing was loud and slow. We held our breath, scared and excited. Was it a bear…..??? It moved around outside, tripped on a guy rope and growled. I searched for footprints the next day, honoured that it might have been a very wild animal, like a bear or a wolf. Krista suspected a wild boar, and our biologist friend and nature expert, Manu, was inclined to agree with her. But I know what I’d like it to have been.

Interestingly, we did happen upon a bear as we entered the small village of Vani. It was being abused as a petrol station’s guard, and was chained by its neck to a metal cage, on which it was climbing and hanging from. It had a demented, teased look in its eyes. I was also saddened by roadside stalls all along the way which had wolf, bear and badger skins hanging for sale.

bear in jail

We didn’t manage to leave Ubisi early. Our early start was delayed when Turkish truck drivers invited us to çay. Their kitchen set-up was quite impressive, neatly stored in a custom-made box under the trailer. It opened out as a table, with a gas hob and an array of Turkish breakfast treats, such as cheeses, olives and bread. We were excited by the familiarity of the Turkish language, culture and food and Big Baba, the most animated truckie, said he’d seen us pedalling out of Rize, on the Black Sea coast of Turkey.

Turkish truckies and their warm welcome

As we rolled slowly downhill into a heavy headwind, we knew that the caffeine hit would be a welcome assist to the morning. For the rest of the day, we pushed on hard into the strongest headwind we’ve had to fight on this journey. Our 30km uphill to the 1000 metre pass was made relentless, as all day we were pinned back by the wind. The odometer barely registered the turning of the wheel as we laboured slowly upwards. At 5.30, and with the quickly sinking sun, we finally reached the summit, where snow still lay, and we camped with a stunning view of towering, white mountain peaks in the Lesser Caucasus.

Descending, we were forced to join the main road as many of the secondary roads had been blocked by winter landslides and eroded river banks. It was traffic-heavy and very fumy. Like Whacky Races, vehicles of various deterioration, belched past us, sometimes three-abreast. From time to time, we had police escorts riding behind us to shield us from the reckless drivers. Fortunately the wind was with us this day, and we flew along effortlessly, the road flanked by 3000 metre mountain ranges to the north and south. Beautiful.

Nearing Tbilisi, we passed Gori, which lies 30kms directly below South Ossetia, the province that was bombed in 2007. The traffic backed up as it queued to pass over a river on a narrow steel bridge. We supposed this to be a temporary bridge as the one shattered and collapsed in the river just 10 metres away, looked as if it had been bombed. A heavy military presence, signage for the new military base for Georgia and hundreds of possible refugee homes encouraged our assumptions.

Today, huge demonstrations have passed us in Tbilisi. People from all over the country have travelled here to march on a peaceful protest at Freedom Square, outside Parliament, to insist on removal of the current corrupt Prime Minister Saakashvili. They have chosen this day, the 9th April, in memory of the 20 hunger strikers who were massacred by Soviet troops on that date in 1989, for demanding independence. This finally came two years later on 9th April 1991.

Tblisi freedom march

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Effortless freewheel

April 10th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Tbilisi, Georgia

effortless freewheel

Cycling, the turn of the wheel, is my analogy for life. Within this ever-changing terrain without and within, I gather strength. And as I watch my mind, heart and breath throughout the uphill, the downhill, the rough and the smooth, I imagine myself a little closer towards that effortless freewheel.

Just to let you know that we’ve updated our home page!
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Border shenanigans

March 28th, 2009

Posted by Krista
Sarpi – border of Turkey and Georgia

We exited Turkey in a rush, with our second three-month visa just about to expire. The pace that we set along the last section of the Black Sea coast was one that we had not done before – and it was exhilarating. And although days were long, they were not so difficult, with a flat, wide and smooth road. And although this coastline is reputedly rainy most of the year round, our days were crowned with cold winds, blue skies, sunshine and wide, open views of the snow-peaked Kaçkar mountains.

But would I be let through the border at Sarpi? As the Georgian official studied my passport, he shook his head and threw my document down with a firm shake of his head. “Problem?” I asked innocently, making use (not for the first time) of that invaluable and universal word. “Problem”, he confirmed, tapping the keys on his mobile to summon the big boss.

After that, our common language was Turkish, and both parties “çatpat” (speaking like the sound of a stuttering gun). After some pidgin Turkish, a few gestures and dictionary searches, we discovered the reason for their consternation. My Turkish visa, inked with entry and exit stamps, was in my old passport, which had expired whilst I was in Istanbul. My new passport didn’t contain any Turkish visa, and because of this, I was not allowed into Georgia.

Danny looked dismayed, but I was confident of the affable nature of the Turkish people. Grabbing back both new and expired passports, I scrambled back over the border to Turkey – past the long line of smoke-spewing Turkish TIR trucks, past the moustachioed, cigarette-smoking men leaning lazily out of their windows, past the hordes of Georgian women dressed all in black, who were dragging huge plastic sacks of Turkish textiles and tacky household goods over the border to sell back home, and past three sets of border police, answering their questions as to why I had returned.

And then I waited patiently in the long, bustling line to see the Turkish border guard who had given me the exit stamp. Would he please put an exit stamp in my new passport too?

He scratched his head, looked confused, turned to his colleague, muttering, “I don’t understand what our sister here is saying.” But after another mobile conversation, a visit from the big boss and a thorough look at both passports, the big boss gave the go-ahead and my new passport was duly inked with my date of exit!

Georgia here we come!