Motorcycle Explorer Issue 17 - Page 52

Travel Story: lawrence bransby - georgia

Needing to discard our road tyres and fit the knobblies we have been carrying across Bulgaria and Turkey, we stop in the mid afternoon at a guest house. Hillda, the owner, is a small man sporting some gold teeth and a handful of English words which he practices on us. His wife, a homely-looking woman with white hair and a bulbous nose, fusses about preparing food. She wears sorts and slops and, like Hillda, has some gold teeth.

Hillda leads me into the dark interior of their house, a dilapidated, rambling, lived-in place that they share with a few paying guests. He shows me the bathroom, attempting to explain how to encourage the shower to work and the toilet to flush. On the wall, a Gorgon's head of wires sprout, eventually making their way into old-fashioned, porcelain contact breakers.

Once we have unpacked, the women tell us they have provided food. Their generosity is similar to that we have experienced from rural Russians on previous trips. Rough, dry porridge, bread, strong white cheese, bits of dry chicken meat and a bowl of tomato and cucumber are placed in front of us; we are encouraged to eat with gestures. Hilda provides glasses and offers an open bottle of his home-made wine. He smiles his gold-capped teeth at us and uses his handful of English words.

Rested and replete, we balance the bikes on rocks and spare fuel containers, remove the wheels and road tyres and fit the new knobblies. It will be a relief no longer to have to carry them. Later we shower in the antique bathroom, coaxing water from the pipes.

The next morning we say a reluctant farewell to our lovely German lasses who converse at the breakfast table in Russian to Hillda, German to Wolfgang and English to us. We leave behind our four road tyres; Hillda seems happy and doesn't regard them as left refuse.

Now the fun begins. The heavily wooded foothills of the Caucasus Mountains enclose the road, trees sometimes meeting overhead so we ride through a leafy tunnel of foliage. The road is tar and good; we are children again, playing. Gone are the days of enduring mindless roads through heat and rain, the clogged arteries of cities and coastal towns, the pain from stiff muscles... The Rioni River follows the road (or perhaps the other way round), translucent and pale with sediment but it has none of the threat of the turbulent, deadly rivers that mark the track of the Pamir Highway.

We reach Mestia by midday, a medieval town nudging its way into the 21st century. Bare-legged hikers relax in the sun drinking Cokes while old, bent women dressed all in black hobble their way past, living their austere lives seemingly oblivious of the changes happening around them. The town, too, exists in parallel universes: worn, lived-in, tumble-down houses made of stone and mud and hand-cut wooden beams rub shoulders with newly-constructed guest houses looking like Swiss chalets, and cafes soliciting the tourist dollar. It even boasts an air strip. And, dominating the town, ancient defensive towers stand like monoliths, hand-built standing stones, fifty foot high. This is a town so steeped in history that it asks to be explored; it needs time and patience for its secrets to reveal themselves.

But sadly we have neither. We relax briefly, pause for coffee. Then, eager to get on, we fill up with fuel, pump up the tyres and set off again, beyond the tourists, into the valley between the Caucasus and Svaneti mountains.