Creswick to London » Georgia and Turkey: Guest blog with Ewan Wymer

Georgia and Turkey: Guest blog with Ewan Wymer

Written by Jess Dan. Posted in Georgia, Turkey

GAMARJOBAAAAA!!! HONK SQUEEK HONK SQUEEK HONK SQUEEK HONK SQUEEK HONK

This is the sound of Jess, Dan and I passing you by while we were in Georgia. No doubt if you substitute the local word for hello, it’s the sound of Dan and Jess passing you anywhere. You can tell them from a mile off, there’s the matching maroon Bendigo Bank t-shirts (a donation from Creswick Bendigo Bank) which I made them wear only a couple of times, the panniers with mismatchy, sun faded but still bright covers and smiles almost as wide as the road. If you get the above treatment, i.e. a hello and some squeezes from the air horns, there is a 99% chance you will smile and wave at us. This is what makes cycle touring the most fun.

In early July this year I packed my bike into a big cardboard box, covered all the parts of the box that weren’t stapled together in duct tape (turns out actually you should just cover the whole thing in duct tape) and flew to Tbilisi, Georgia to meet the intrepid stars of this blog and cycle with them for roughly three weeks. They’ve asked me to do a guest blog, so I’ve put together a couple of memories from our time in Georgia and Turkey.

Firstly, if you’ve ever worried about how Dan and Jess are doing, you can relax. They are damn good cycle tourers. They might think there are people who are more experienced than them as some people have been cycling the globe for years… just on my short stint with them we met one guy who was on his way home to Japan after three years in the saddle. But while they might not have years and years under their belts, they’re still damn good at it. Case in point, whenever I got a flat, and I got four in the first three days, Dan would have the wheel of my bike off almost before it had come to a complete stop. I know how to change a tyre, but I have to be slow and methodical about it… I think about where my tyre levers are, get them out, unscrew the quick release… you can hear tuba’s playing in the background while I change a tyre. When Dan changes it, it sounds like this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqg3l3r_DRI). And the day to day of life on the road, the cooking and water and camping and knowing what you need and when, they’re really good at managing it all and having fun. It was really cool to see.

Secondly, I thought that Dan and Jess were going to see the world on this trip. They definitely are, but in other ways the sights are a bit incidental on a trip like theirs, because you’ve always got somewhere to be, up ahead, and you’ve got to cycle there. It’s hard to justify taking big detours to see the sights when you pay for it in your legs, and it all costs time and money. Rather than SEE the world, I think Dan and Jess have actually MET the world. Literally almost everyone we met wanted to know what we were doing (in a very friendly manner of course). The gas attendants at the service stations, people on the street, just… everyone. And they all offered to help. Dan and Jess have definitely had some negative experiences but luckily for me while I was travelling with them it seemed almost universally positive. The kind of thing that restores your faith in humanity and makes you want to give more to other people and be more like the people we were meeting. Culturally, I don’t think it’s really in the Australian mindset to feed strangers or really do anything other than ignore them. But in Turkey and Georgia, it was incredibly welcoming. And it was the nicest thing ever. There is an amazing bond about sharing food, and it’s definitely something I will try to take away and be the giver rather than the receiver.

While I’m still kind of on generalities, I will write about The Map. The Map is Dan and Jess’s laminated world map that they were given in Singapore. They have drawn their route on the map, showing where they have cycled and where they have flown. I would have to say it is their single most valuable communicative tool, and everyone loves it. They LOVE the map. Here is a generic example of meeting some people and the map being used.

“Gamajorba” (hello in Georgian)

“Gamajorba”

“Where are you from?” (They may even know how to say this in English but will rarely know any more than this)

“Australia… Oz-tra-lee” (I had no idea they say Australia is such different ways around the world, but apparently they do).

“”

“No Oz-tra-lee… Sydney… Kangaroo…”

“Ah Sydney! Avu-aust-ralee!!” (This is how we learn to say Australia in another language.) Velosped?” (One of the first words Dan and Jess will learn in their new language is the word for bike/cycling. In Georgia it is velosped, in Turkey, bisiklet).

(Accompany this part with hand gestures to show you cycled around the world). “Velosped ”.

“Ahhhhh…” At this point if we’re going to be there for a while, Dan might get the map out of his front handlebar basket. Everyone understands the map, because it’s obviously such a well known graphic. Here’s my interpretation of what is going on in someone’s head as they look at the map for the first time, as judged by the expressions I can see on their face:

*Alrighty, who are these weird people in tight shorts on their velospeds? They are bringing me something… a map! It’s a map… cool, it’s a map of the world, that’s nice. Where are we? Here’s Georgia… there’s a black line coming into Georgia, that must be where they are up to now, that’s good. I’ll just follow that backwards, here we go. The line goes through Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan, and Kazakstan… then through China… down into South East Asia… wow it’s a really long line, oh my god have you ridden all the way from Australia?!?!*

At this point it might be prudent to say “Velosped!” a number of times and do a pedalling motion and act tired… that will generally convey that you have ridden the whole way. About this time they’ll give you some respect and basically try and convey that you’re crazy. Don’t worry, I think Dan and Jess know! You might try and talk about where you have been and where you’re going, but it’s often hard to get past this level unless you put in some time or someone has a bit of English. Soon after this, if we’re just stopping for morning tea or an icecream, it might be time to go, and they’ll be waves and horn honking all round and we’re on the highway again.

Try not to read too much into this little exchange, I’m not trying to pigeon hole people from around the world, but it was the basic format of most of the exchanges we had while I was there, and I think Dan and Jess have done it in many other countries too. Every interaction was different, and sometimes they were very different, and often these were the most rewarding ones (“Ukraine?”). Dan and Jess are exceptionally good at navigating this introductory turf, and it was a pleasure to watch. Always their big smiles would say ‘hello!’ to people as we arrived, it was awesome. Dan mentioned to me at one stage that he thought arriving on bicycle was a real leveller for the traveller. The bicycle is the lowest form of transport everywhere which immediately puts you on the same level as the common person. You have used your legs to get there, paying in sweat and muscle and I think that engenders respect and opens doors which might not be possible if you arrived by other means of transport.

Now onto the actual riding! Rather than try and give you a run down of all the awesome things that happened (tempting!) I’ll try and pick out a few days to highlight what the cycle touring experience can be like.

Day one – Rolling out of Tbilisi, I stupidly hadn’t bought my helmet with me as it couldn’t fit in my bike box and I figured I could get a crappy one in Tbilisi (“Why didn’t you just bring it in your carry on Ewan? That’s a very good question Dan”). The hostel manager where we stayed said basically he didn’t think it was likely I would be able to get a proper helmet anywhere he knew, damn! There were watermelons being sold everywhere though… watermelon helmet? Great idea! The locals loved it as well and we were getting plenty of honks and thumbs up on our way out of Tbilisi, thankfully I spotted a sports store after a while and they had a real helmet. Yes! Double win of peripheral vision back again and less likely to be covered by ants in my sleep. Tbilisi was lovely but there’s a real dissonance of decay and renewal, a function of their history with Russia I think. As we hit the countryside we started rolling through some lovely valleys before climbing a bit and emerging onto a gently rolling, sun kissed, grassy plain. Day one win! Stopping at a roadside stall half way up a biggish climb by my standards, we were offered numerous Georgian treats and local fruits (about three times more than we paid for) and the magical red bottle and green bottle, condiments which made everything they touched doubly delicious. It probably cost us $2 all up. What they were? No idea. They were the red bottle, and the green bottle. As it was starting to get late we begin to look for water and a campsite. Dan goes into what looks like a really old petrol station to ask for water… didn’t get much water but did get two glasses of homemade wine each! Thanks pal! Finally Jess spots a water fountain and we pull over in a village to fill up the water bag. Some of the locals are having a beer inside and they want to know what we’re doing so they buy us a couple of beers, get shown the map and try to teach us a few words of the local language. Legends! We learnt later that what we thought was hello was actually goodbye. Whoops! A few more k’s down the road we found a rocky stream which had some good places to camp. A delicious pasta with green magic sauce and day one was in the bank… cycle trip win.

A couple of days later it’s Dan’s birthday and we were trying to make up some lost time by smashing out a big day to compensate for the accidental mountain biking trip the day previous. An adventure to be sure, and it did have new born kittens and a lunch time waterfall spot, but not great for the bikes or our patience. So we put in 100 k’s and began looking for a spot to camp. Unfortunately, we’re coming up to a town (marked on the map) and we’re finding the highway has consecutive villages on it all the way into the big town (not marked on the map). There will be no where to camp near the highway tonight. So Dan and Jess turn off onto a random side road and find a spot maybe a kilometre from the highway, near a railway. They always ask if they can camp if there is someone to ask, so they find someone and do international sign language for “is it ok if we camp here?” This fellow, whose name is Korgat, gives the “follow me” signal and brings us to a house, opens the door and signs, “you can stay here”. Beds! A drop toilet! What an upgrade! The house also had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of fresh fruit trees, grapes, apples, plums, nectarines and more. After a big dinner and some beers from the nearby shop to celebrate Dan’s birthday, we are chilling out, finding out how much nutella you can put on a piece of bread, chatting and listening to music (the speakers were a birthday present from Jess) when we see Korgat and his family heading our way. He has brought his wife Irina, two kids, Nona, extended family, next door neighbour and lots of food! Georgian dumplings called Khinkali, delicious bread, cheese and beautiful salad. Plus two 3 litre bottles of homemade red wine! And it was delicious wine too, easily twenty dollars a bottle at home. Korgat has also brought a neighbour who spoke English named Reema, and she helped facilitate a night full of laughs and sharing. Turns out we were at a traditional Georgian ‘supra’, a celebratory feast where everyone takes a turn to toast something they wish to share. Korgat gave Dan a special Georgian bowl which you give to someone to drink out of to show you’re good friends. It was a really nice gesture and I thought it seems really helpful to have engrained in your culture a formal time when people are thankful and mindful, something I can’t think of Australians doing in the same way. We did however do the Macarena a number of times, heard some Georgian drumming on an upturned bucket, saw and tried to have a go at Georgian dancing (did not do it correctly) and sang probably the world’s worst version of ‘Slice of Heaven’. An awesome, awesome night of fun and laughs. The next morning Irina and Korgat even bought us coffee and Khatchapuri (the best toasted cheese sandwich you could ever have), and Reema gave us some hazelnuts and honey to take on the road… their generosity knows no bounds. A million thanks!

Which brings me to our time in Turkey. It was Ramazan time in Turkey while we were there (a.k.a. Ramadan) which was a great experience but also sometimes could give you a bit of a case of the hurumpies (hungry/grumpy), imagine seeing a thousand signs for kebabs/kofta/pide but not being able to have any. That’s Turkey in Ramazan. A quick recap, Ramazan is a muslim holy month where you can’t eat or drink (it is the middle of summer) from sunrise to sunset so everyone will know what it feels like to go without. Personally I think it’s a great concept, and even though I wish I was able to try more of the delightful food, it seems like it does a really good job of bringing people together. I’ve never seen someone eat a bowl of soup so fast! The people in Turkey were incredibly generous, whenever there were people around they would always be giving us food. One night we were camping on the beach and a man looked out our camp food and asked us if it was our dinner. We replied ‘yes’, he was unsatisfied with that so he brought from his house to our camp spot two plates filled with delicious stew, bread, rice and veggies, and left us to eat them. When he came back he brought his kids to meet us along with plenty of chai and hazelnuts to share. Amazing. In another instance we were introduced to an English teacher named Mustafa at a cafe who offered to have us at his house to share an Iftar (fast breaking) meal. Mustafa and his family were so incredibly generous, giving us delicious food and even offering to let us have a bath. Interestingly while we were at the dinner table Mustafa would offer us pieces of watermelon from his own fork. This seems like an incredibly intimate and generous offering to me, designed to make someone feel safe and welcome. Although it was slightly complicated by the huge chunks of watermelon! He also asked if we would read some passages from the Qur’an aloud with the family. This was a very, very interesting experience and certainly gave us lots to talk about when we got back to the bikes. asked if we would read some passages from the Qur’an aloud with the family. This was a very, very interesting experience and certainly gave us lots to talk about when we got back to the bikes. While I feel like I could bore people for days with stories about cycle trip, if you’d like that treatment feel free to call me and I’ll arrange a booking. Just some final thoughts about the experience though. Firstly, this was by far and away the cheapest trip I’ve ever been on. Cycle touring is incredibly cheap and hugely rewarding… I would encourage anyone who is interested to beg and borrow some stuff so you can do a weekend in your local area. Let me know and I’ll come too! Big thanks to everyone who gave me stuff to take over to Dan and Jess, they appreciated every last bit of it. A huge, huge, huge incredible thank you to Dan and Jess for letting me come on their adventure for a bit. I hope I haven’t put you off inviting other people! And lastly, donate to Ultimate Peace! Whooooo!!! While I feel like I could bore people for days with stories about cycle trip, if you’d like that treatment feel free to call me and I’ll arrange a booking. Just some final thoughts about the experience though. Firstly, this was by far and away the cheapest trip I’ve ever been on. Cycle touring is incredibly cheap and hugely rewarding… I would encourage anyone who is interested to beg and borrow some stuff so you can do a weekend in your local area. Let me know and I’ll come too! Big thanks to everyone who gave me stuff to take over to Dan and Jess, they appreciated every last bit of it. A huge, huge, huge incredible thank you to Dan and Jess for letting me come on their adventure for a bit. I hope I haven’t put you off inviting other people! And lastly, donate to Ultimate Peace! Whooooo!!!

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