Saturday – stuck in the mud, crossing the border and arriving in Tbilisi

It was a cold, but dry night and the coldest morning so far. There was a lovely pink sunrise and the clouds lower down in the valley created a rather wonderful mystical scene as we peered over them. Some birds wheeled in a changing black pattern overhead in the early morning light. A magical moment.

We were pleased to find that nothing had got too damp overnight so we were able pack up the Ritz and our camping bag that holds our sleeping bags, sleeping mats and pillows. Several of the most recent wet camping nights have led to our having to dry the sleeping bags out in the truck before stuffing them away.

After breakfast set we set off for the half an hour ride to the border. However, the brief hop to Georgia was not to be. Within the first 50 yards Penelope slewed in the mud and came to an abrupt stop, back wheels dug six inches in the turf. A muddy hour and much churning later there had still been no progress. Zaza and Emma went off into the village for help while Simon, with us working as his labourers, continued to try to get the truck to make progress up the hill. About twenty minutes later, five men wandered down towards us. They looked more likely to be an additional audience to the drama than offering help but, as it proved, our first impression was incorrect and this was not the case. About five minutes later the roaring of a large engine heralded the arrival over the hill of one of the heavyweight Russian Gaz trucks that had appeared on the trip earlier to get us up to the high pastureland of Kyrgystan.

Initially, the Russian heavyweight equally had no joy, but once the decision had been made to run the truck down the field to another exit, Penelope was able to kick herself out of the mud. We were not allowed to ride the truck out, so made our way to the road on foot and met up with Simon and Penelope when they were safely out of the mud. Two hours later than anticipated, we were back on track.

We zig zagged down the hill as the road made its way to the bottom of the valley through the tree covered slopes of the valley sides. Fruit sellers occasionally appeared on the roadside. The day’s earlier sunshine had clouded over and by the time we reached the border it was quite a grey day. Happily, I think it was the easiest border crossing we have experienced so far and before long we were back in Georgia, our last country before Turkey.

We passed through almost tumble down towns, with crumbling concrete and with television satellite dishes vying for position with washing on apartment balconies. There were few people about.

In another couple of hours the enormous sprawl of Tbilisi was below us. A quarter of Georgia’s population live in Tbilisi the capital. From the road,
blocks and blocks of white apartment buildings shone in sunshine across the other side of the valley to our approach. On the edge of the city there were signs of additional building as pipes were being laid and land cleared. Eventually the river that divides the new and old city came into view and then the opposite bank rose to cliff like proportions. Hotels peered down from the cliff top in a rather haughty way like elderly matrons overseeing the day to day activity of the traffic below.

Our hotel was on the other side of the river. The first bridge we came to was closed. Driving on we found an alternative way across the river and turned towards the city. We followed several tree lined streets and turned into the Freedom Square and we ground to a halt for the second time in the day. Now what? A parade! Suddenly the paraders came into our view some in local costumes – many were quite young. Unfortunately the drivers behind us did not have the benefit of our high perch and lots of hooting broke out behind us.

Despite the pressure from behind, we waited and watched the young people go past. Eventually a policeman signalled us forward and we found our hotel in a narrow street just across from the old city. The cars parked by the side of the road and the wedding taking place in the church at the bottom of the road made it a very tight squeeze, but we were able to get out and into our rooms.

Keith and I decided not to take on Tbilisi at this stage but to rejoin our chums for the Georgian food and dancing in the evening. A wise decision.
When we got to the venue it was to find quite a gathering of people in rather festive mood, including the group from the Dragoman truck, Odyssey’s arch competitors. I think we last saw them in Baku. Their numbers are about 20 in about the same sized vehicle. Take it from me, that number would be horrendous. We are now at 10, having retrieved Sarah and Wendy and life is very comfortable.

The food and traditional dancing were great. To top the evening, ZaZa bought all the ladies a rose. These Georgians are such charmers…….

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