Wednesday, 5 February 2014

chilling out

Sometimes you just can't plan everything.  After waiting another day for the rain to pass we wake early to head off only for Gayle to discover that her right eye has closed up because of an infection.  When I ask Teona, our hostess, about pharmacies she immediately suggests we go to see a doctor and offers to go with us.  What a star.  An hour later we're in a fairly modern hospital while she tries to buttonhole a doctor in A&E.  Soon Gayle's eye is looked at and the infection that has caused the swelling is poked and prodded.  We get a prescription for antibiotics and, oh what fun, six syringes and needles.  The antibiotics are to be injected into muscle.  Gayle's poor backside.  She can be admitted to the hospital or we can do it ourselves at the guesthouse.  Teona once again steps up with more of the famed Georgian Hospitality - she has done this before so she will show me how to do it.  Little does she know I go queasy at the sight of hypodermics and blood...... In the evening, as I'm mixing drug and solution and checking the syringe for air bubbles, Gayle remarks that I look like someone out of M*A*S*H. Who? Radar??
on the waterfront - with Jasek and Rebecca

So we sit out the next few days taking prescribed rest (me too - I'm big on empathy) and meeting new guests Jasek and Rebecca, a very friendly young couple who are on a motorbike and prepare a mean lentil soup.  There's also Birgit from Finland, an odd woman whose conversation seems a bit bizarre and always leaves me clueless as to the subject, while she nods her head muttering "Da, da".  None of us are in a hurry to go anywhere, which is a good job, as the weather is still rainy and cold, off and on.  One morning I get up early and head into the city for a look around.  Casinos on every road.  Mmmm.  Funds are getting lower.  How about a punt?  Before I think twice I'm at the ATM and withdrawing our savings.  Shoving the notes into my pockets I duck inside one of the casinos where, at the roulette, I put it all on red.  It comes out black.  Broken, dispirited, I return to the guesthouse where I break the news to Gayle. She gets mad and starts hitting me about the head. "Wake up, wake up will you? And make us a cup of tea?" 

Georgia's most famous son, Putin and Ivanishvili, Georgia's richest
When we finally say farewell to Teona and Jack and his dad at the hostel the sun is promising to break out.  The road is busy with traffic and a little tight in places until we pass through a town and leave it all behind on a brand new tarmacced highway that's not on our map.  It's chilly and there are still clouds in the sky making the light flat and dull.  It does nothing for the scenery.  We stop to eat lunch at a petrol station where we are pointed towards tables outside a cafe.  The woman inside insists we come in to the warmth, and gives us hot tea and plates for our picnic, refusing money.  Late afternoon we stop outside a town that seems strung along the highway, and find a chapel and walled cemetery at the end of a lane.  A woman appears and we mime sleeping next to the chapel.  She is collecting her cow from the cemetery and she seems fine about us camping.  

In the night the wind gets up and it remains strong throughout the day.  The ground is frozen and so are our hands and toes.  To make things worse I put my back out.  Gayle packs everything up.  Fortunately, sitting on the bike is the perfect posture for my back.  Unfortunately the easterly wind is brutal.  It's strong, relentless and makes us colder.  After over an hour of cycling my fingers finally thaw out with a painful burning sensation.  We plod on, frustrated in the knowledge that the ride to Kutaisi would be easy if not for this headwind.  The road turns northwards and we are blown into the road.  At a Turkish truck stop we stop for tea.  A man screws a finger into the side of his head at me.  Yes, he's right, crazy.  Madness.  We make slow-going and after a pie for lunch we think about stopping for the day.  We're on the edge of a town and we wonder about getting a ride or finding a hotel.  A red van pulls up and we hopefully go to speak to the driver. He looks like a good guy - he has stopped to use his phone.  Kutaisi? we ask. Yes. We point at ourselves and bikes. Kutaisi. He gets out and opens up his van. How much? He shakes his head and helps us load everything in. Less than an hour later he drops us in Kutaisi.  A kind man.  

The cold wind continues to blow for a couple of days in Kutaisi.  We stay wrapped up when we venture out to explore the city's old town.  It has a nice air to it.  Plenty of grand old buildings, some renovated, many not, tell of more prosperous times.  Up on a hill overlooking the centre is the rebuilt cathedral, and out of town a beautiful monastery complex which has survived the Persians, the Ottomans and the Communists.  The mountains to the south and north are snow-covered and stunning in the sunshine.   Ahh, if only it wasn't winter.  

We catch up with Rebecca and Jasek who have come by train.  They have found bargain winter coats in the second-hand shops.  I find a proper cycling jacket to replace my Lidl one for a bargain price.  We keep checking the weather for temperature and wind speed and decide to try taking a marshrutka to Tbilisi.  There's a high pass en route and we're keen to catch up on lost time.  Luckily the marshrutka mafia at the bus station seem to be quite easy-going and we find a van with space for the bikes going at midday.  Sure enough it goes at midday.  The journey is fast and furious and looking out on snow covered gorges and muddy flat fields we are happy not to be cycling. Tbilisi and the Iranian embassy beckons.


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