Who needs roads?

Posted by on 24, Jun 2010 in 2010 - The Caucasus, Caucasus, Europe, Georgia

Who needs roads?

The weather we’ve had in Tbilisi has been nice. Sunny mornings and cloud later on meaning we never boiled. It has been around 30C and even when we wake up it is usually mid 20’s, but come the late afternoon it always looks as though we are about to have a tremendous storm but we never do. Leaving Tblisi in the morning was no different and we swept past Tbilisi on the ‘M25’ bypass along with the occasional truck and car gazing down on the sprawling city below as if we were in an aircraft. Here we passed our Bonus Sea on the eleven seas tour “The Tblisi Sea” this is in fact a resovoir but the maps here refer to it as a sea! We decided not to chane the tour name to reflect this!

The road hugs the top of the hills and in places had simply collapsed into the valley below. Where this had happened it looked like a giant had taken a bite out of the road. The rest of the asphalt was cracked and warped towards the gap and looked as though at any time it might slide on down the hill to reunite itself with the missing section. These bites don’t look as though they happened yesterday and have concrete crash barriers round them to prevent you sailing into oblivion. We’d got used to these in Georgia but then we had a new challenge, the asphalt stopped and we were on a dusty track with large ruts and holes in it and we were down to first gear. It wasn’t the best start to the day as we had 150km to go to the border! Fortunately after a few miles the tarmac gradually resumed and we continued in bright sunshine through some lovely scenery.

Our plan to get into Azerbaijan was to try the remote northenmost border at Lagodekhi around 10 miles south of Dagestan, another FCO no go area. The main border further south was reportedly full of traffic being the most direct route between Baku and Tblisi. The road north was good and we stopped at a lovely castle for lunch. The area is the main wine growing region and we stopped at a winery too, but decided to give the local plonk a miss when we realised it came in reused plastic bottles! We’re far too refined for that sort of thing!!

The road skirts a finger of the Caucuses before dropping down into a huge flood plain at the foot of the mountain range that stretches from the Black to Caspian Seas. Most of the towns are actually in the hills and the road weaves its way along the side of these hills giving a spectacular view of the plains below and the main mountains opposite. It is a very small road and was a “three’r” in our road grading scheme meaning we could never get out of third. We have 6 gears and this is like 2nd for a car- slow going.

The houses that lined the road would have been lovely when new but most were in serious need of attention. They are all small two storey houses with the obligatory tin roof. They are set in mature gardens and almost hide under the canopy of trees. They usually have a balcony upstairs with ornate railings of wood or iron, usually with peeling paint. It looked like many no longer had running water as people were filling bottles at the springs and the network of Soviet pipes that runs above ground beside the street seemed to not be reliable. These pipes are evident everywhere the Soviet union controlled. They run parallel to the street and loop over each drive forming mini bridges. Like much Soviet design, they would serve a purpose cheaply and quickly whilst at the same time being seriously ugly. Most places we have visited with these pipes they are broken, missing sections or just ending in mid air. But here they are normally in tact and they look like they are still functional.

The road was lined with groups of men, young and old, near the springs, under trees, at cafés and just outside houses. Some were playing cards or Yat – a form of backgammon – or just talking. It was the middle of a work day so we assume unemployment here is high.

We dropped down onto the plain and it felt like we were a mouse making a dash across the dining room floor from one hole to another as we headed directly towards the huge mountains on the opposite side of the plain.

We spent the night at a small farm about half way across and had a stressful night with the mother of all thunderstorms going on on both sides of the valley. We were the only 9 tonne lump of metal for 30 kms and there was one scrawny tree near by which may have been a few centimetres taller. The storm lasted around 8 hours and was like a silent artillery battle between the two sides of the plain- Georgia and Russia. Volleys were exchanged every half second or so non stop for 8 hours but to utter silence. The storm crept either side of us and we didn’t even have a drop of rain. Inside Taffy, with the blackout blinds down it was like a fleet of police cars were parked outside with their lights flashing. It was the most spectacular of storms and we later learned that it kept local residents in Saki awake all night.

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