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Silk Road Adventure 2011

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Chapter 02 Dispatch from Len Adams

It's amazing what you can see in a week.  Week two started off with a ride to see the ancient ruins of the capital city of the Hittites, Hattusas.  Most of the group was together and we walked around the ruins, took pictures and ended with a great buffet lunch. Shortly after we arrived a couple busses came in, one with several Canadian Girls who enjoyed the postcards and took pictures with the bikes.  


Day 9 was action packed.  A long riding day with wet conditions for part of the day making the roads slick.  The morning we rode through small villages with animals grazing at the side of the road, and several horse and wagons.  We continued around Lake Almus over very scenic twisty roads through mountain passes, typical killer Turkey scenery.  In the afternoon we were following the green line to Xian and we happened upon several construction sites.  One site the road was completely blocked with a large backhoe operating in a sea of mud.  The workers waved us through.  So big swallow, lower the landing gear for stability and we made it through the 100 meters of mud with a sigh of relief.  The previous evening we were looking at the route and were told that the 60k off-road section was not on this years tour and not recommended as it can be slick on rainy days.  As we continued along we found that in fact it was on this years tour as we found ourselves on a dirt road with some slick mud sections here and there.  I was really pleased to see how well Helge's tips on mud riding helped.  We completed the 60k without incident, but it took quite a while.  However the fun was not yet over.  It was getting late and we worked our way to the top of a mountain on the way to Trabzon when we were caught in a hail storm and huge downpour.  But that was not all, we made it into town around 7pm and tried to find our way to the hotel located in the older part of town with many streets on upper and lower levels with many one way.  As some of the streets had changed direction we had to find a new path to the hotel.  After many u-turns, the odd illegal manoeuvre, riding through foot deep water due to flooding we fond "Dan the Man" outside the hotel and he helped us find the hidden parking area.  All in all an awesome day, that was fun for the first 10 hours and a challenge for the last 3.


Day 10 were off on a sunny but cool morning heading for a short ride to the Georgia border.  In Turkey the radar traps have signs a couple hundred meters ahead on the side of the road.  I was joking with Jeff that it would be a real challenge to catch anyone speeding when they posted the sign ahead of time.  Apparently not as we saw Nicolas waving to us chatting with the nice officers.  However unlike the other four convicted speeders in the group, Nicolas was able to use his charm and whit to talk himself out of the situation.  At the border everything was really well organized.  We were met by the MIR representatives  sailed through customs and escorted to our luxury hotel.  No mystery tours today.


Day 11 we were off across Georgia in the rain.  Even wet it was a nice ride, and a mixture on many new buildings and some dating back to the Soviet days.  We stopped in Gori to visit the Stalin museum including Stalin's private railway car, and off to Tbilisi for a couple days of sights and recharging.  Georgia is a beautiful country with very friendly people who are experts at hospitality.  That evening we enjoyed a feast at a "Supra" held in a wine cellar.  At the Supra there is a "Tamada" or toastmaster who introduces each toast that was followed by traditional songs sung by our Tamada and his three friends.  They are actually members of the Ensemble Tbilisi a famous group that has entertained for over 30 years all over the world including heads of state.


The next morning started the best day so far of the tour.  We started with a short bus ride to the top of the city to see historic churches, fort and the famous sulphur baths.  after we re-boarded the bus we found out that Anne and Inga our guides from MIR had been able to arrange a special request.  Jeff when he told a couple gentlemen where he works that were were going to do the tour they offered him money to donate to charity as a little can go a long way overseas.  Unknown to us Helge contacted MIR and Anne and Inga arranged a visit to an Orphanage in Tbilisi.  The bus took us to a shopping center and several of the riders purchased gifts for the children.  Many of us did not know what to expect when we arrived but took Helge's advice that it is good to stretch our boundaries from time to time.  


At the Orphanage we were greeted by the Director Tornike, the children and teachers.  We met in the courtyard and had a few introductions.  Then we went inside and were treated to entertainment put on by the children.  They performed several well choreographed numbers and it is obvious they have a great teacher and spend a lot of time studying the arts.   After the performance Mari Pirveli who is 11 sat down at an old piano and played like she was a member of an orchestra.  Many of us herd the playing and rushed back to hear.  We were all captivated.  You can listen to her performance by clicking here.   This was followed by Mari playing for her close friend Tika Chachua 14 while she sang for us.   Jeff offered a donation on behalf of the riders.  The director could not accept money, so we found that there were a few things that could make a difference for the children.  So it was off shopping and we were able to get uniforms for the boys soccer team, a new cd player for their concerts and a couple pair of roller blades for the girls who love to skate.  Everyone helped rushing from store to store with the director to guide us in sizes and choices.  After shopping we returned to drop off the gifts and the children were thrilled.  We all left thrilled with our day and a special thank you to Anne and Inga for all their help making the visit possible and helping translate during our shopping adventure.


Day 12 was an off day to wash bikes do laundry and recharge with some exploring on our own.  


Day 14 we said good-by to Anne and the incredibly friendly people of Georgia for Azerbaijan.  It was a perfect day for the ride and Anne and Inga with help from their team escorted us through the formalities without issue.  After across we found out the Nick had gone to the other border crossing and encountered complications that required him to return to Tbilisi to obtain another visa.  Hopefully that has occurred as I write this and he will join us a day late in Baku.  The one thing you notice as you travel through Azerbaijan is how everyone waves as you go by.  You have to keep you eye on the road however as there are many animals grazing at the side of the road.  Several times you can come around a corner to find one or many animals working their way from one side to the other.  We are looking forward to exploring Baku tomorrow and get ready for the ferry across the Caspian sea.






Chapter 02 Dispatch from John Oates

The trip is going well. The guides and the food have been great. We have a curious bunch of riders with a special knack for asking the perfect question- like will there be beer at the ritual dance we are going to see tonight? (No there wasn’t) What time’s dinner? (everyday at 7pm) etc.

With this kind of travel and the varied cuisines, inevitably potty time is a popular discussion. A few of the guys have had the expected GI issues but I have witnessed something I never have seen before in my travels. It is a sad sight to be sure and often un-discussed in travelers’ circles. More a mental state than a physical one. No support groups exist so one must face this devastating disorder alone. Yes you may have guessed I am speaking about those that have lost their courage to fart. Often times the GI issue has resolved but the individual’s trust in their body has been violated and takes considerable time to rebuild. You can see it in the eyes of those affected, a pained, worrisome, stressed look, shallow breathing, brow sweat and self questioning- do I roll the dice, can I hold it, will I shart or do I brave the dreaded squat toilet?

We headed out of Cappadocia on Tuesday the 10th on our way to Amasya. Pawel and I quickly got our first ticket of the trip oblivious to all the kind warnings the Turkish police provide. Apparently the R-A-D-A-R sign was English- who woulda thunk it? The police were very nice and let us take a few commemorative pics of the event. Check Pawel’s post for the photos.

Wednesday was a long (572km/355 miles) wet ride to Trabzon. The slippery ride around Lake Almus was beautiful despite the chasing dogs and pouring rain. Our goal was to make it to the Sumela Monastery just before town, but only one of us made it due to the conditions.

Thursday we said goodbye to Kaz our guide in Turkey and entered Georgia riding along the Black Sea stopping in Batumi, led by our guides Inga and Anna.

Friday we left for Tbilisi with a stop in Gori the birthplace of Stalin. Nice ride along the Caucasus. Tbilisi is a really great town, very walkable and the people are terrific. We had a traditional Georgian feast complete with singing and story telling with the local musicians. Great evening.

Jeff, wanted to visit an orphanage and the guides made the arrangements. This was a highlight of the trip so far. There are about 40 children at this orphanage and we had the opportunity to spend time with many of them. The children were a really upbeat group, very engaging. They attend the local schools and the orphanage provides musical, art and sports training. The kids put on a dance show, played the piano and sung for us- super talented group. We brought some treats and took a little shopping excursion to get some sporting goods, and a new sound system for the kids. Fun day!

On Monday the 16th we headed to Azerbaijan, staying in Sheki. The town was in full swing when we arrived as they were celebrating their Eurovision win. The people are really friendly, with in seconds of stopping a small crowd appears around you checking out your bike. Definitely a hands on group, poking and touching everything on the bike, revving the throttle etc. All want to know how much, how fast and where are you from. I really enjoy the interactions, although it can get a little overwhelming at times. Went out that night with our guides, Iden, Inga and Christina, learning the traditional toasts quickly given all the practice we had. Fun night, but a rough morning.

Off to Baku, a beautiful city and the heart of the oil industry. On the way Pawel and I stopped at a lake and met some local kids fishing. It was good fun taking pictures letting them sit on the bikes etc. Riding was entertaining with farm animals all along and on the road, very much like a video game on bikes. Azerbaijan means land of fire, as such we had to visit the legendary fire mountain where methane gas burns on the mountain side. Let’s just say it wasn’t quite what I was thinking but technically an accurate description. Went to a night club with kart racing out back with Len, Jeff, Iden, Inga, Kristina, Ruslan and Kanon, it was fun despite the ass kicking I suffered on the track by Jeff. I really enjoyed Azerbaijan.

Next on to the ferry to Turkmenistan. . .






Chapter 02 Dispatch from Randy McClanahan

May 9

Argos in Cappadocia.  Opulent, luxurious splendor.  We are on the eastern slope of Uchisar, the most charming town in Cappadocia.  (As featured in Travel + Leisure.). This place is amazing.  About 30 million years ago, some volcanos erupted and erosion then did its thing.  People have been living here for at least 12,000 years.  They dug caves into the soft volcanic rock, and today it is the number one spot for ballooning in the world.  At sunrise this morning, we and 1000 other brave souls watched the sun come up over what must have been Eden.  One photo would capture about 30 balloons!


Then we went underground.  It seems that a few thousand years ago the locals dug underground cities from which they could hide from the bad guys for indefinite periods -- like months.  In the one we visited (they are supposedly interconnected through a secret tunnel system) we journeyed nine stories underground, seeing stables for livestock, bedrooms, kitchens, chapels, and a 30 meter deep ventilation system, all perfectly hidden from the surface.


Then we toured a former monastery. Again, everything is hand carved from the soft volcanic rock.  The ordinary people back then could not read, so the chapels are painted with frescos showing the traditional Christian stories, from which the holy men would teach their Bible stories.  This is the part of the world in which civilization began (Garden of Eden), and which was the venue of the travels of the Apostle Paul.  Mount Ararat is nearby, which contains the remains of Noah's Ark.   The frescos were beautiful.  Of course, when the Islamic conquerers came, they scratched out the faces.  It all seems to make the place more real, however.


Then it was "fix the bike time."  Two days ago, my battery died, so Helge has been jump starting me five or six times a day.  We have ordered a new BMW battery from Istanbul, which should meet us in two days.  In the meantime, we "jury rigged" a substitute orange thing from a local scooter shop.  Helge has it secured with wooden sticks and Rok straps.  It should serve it's purpose, however, until we get the real thing.  I'm really glad the problem manifested here in Turkey rather than later in the tour, where the next BMW dealership is Beijing, OK, that's it for now.  The minaret is sounding the call for evening prayers.  I need to finish my Glenfiddich (scotch) and duck salad as I watch the sun set over a snow covered volcano, listening to romantic Jazz standards.  Not bad for an "adventure trip."

May 10

Last night we saw "whirling Dervishes!"  No, these are not scantly clad dancing girls.  It is a male Islamic sect in which the whirling is a trance-like, meditative experience.  You either love it or you are bored.  I loved it!

Great ride today, but a little cold.  Like the Smokey Mountains.  Highlight was a visit to the former Hittite capital.  I remember "Uriah the Hittite," who was Bathsheba's husband before King David.  As I remember the Bible story, after David saw Bathsheba bathing, he decided that he wanted her, and had her husband (Uriah) sent to the front lines during a battle.  Uriah was killed, and David married Bathsheba.  Their son was King Soloman.  David never really got over the murder.  This place really made the story come alive!


May 11

We have now reached the coast of the Black Sea.  Very long riding day to Trabzon, Turkey.  We had hoped to visit a Monastery on the way, but mud caused a route deviation that brought us to our destination at dusk.


May 12

We cross into Georgia.  This ride was entirely along the Black Sea coast.  Georgia is a pleasant surprise.  With only 4 and 1/2 million people, all of Georgia is the population of Houston.  The land is very beautiful, however, and the people are wonderful.  Our two female guides are fabulous.  They are smart, witty and speak twelve languages between them.  Everyone is a friend.  Dinners are long, with many toasts.  Some say that wine was invented here, although our resident French rider, Nicholas, is appalled at such a heretical idea.


Our first Georgian night is spent in Batumi, a seaside resort town with casinos and nightclubs.  One was under my window, so it was earplugs to bed!  We then journeyed to the Capital and center of Georgian life, Tbilisi.  On the way we detoured to Gori, the birthplace of Josef Stalin and home of his museum.  Interestingly, it contained a well-organized history of the high points of his life, without any reference to the 40 million of his countrymen who died at his hand.


We are spending three nights (two days) inTbilisi.  I feel that I have a good feel for the place, and I like it very much.  Tomorrow we cross into Azerbaijan and re-enter the land of Islam.  It promises to be much different from Georgia, which is predominantly Christian.   It appears that Istanbul is not really the bridge into Asia. Turkey and Georgia feel very European.  I expect Azerbaijan to be the same.  I think the REAL crossing into Asia will be the Caspian Sea.


Today, three of our group took an extra-curricular jaunt into Armenia, primarily to quickly "bag" another country.  As for me, I preferred to take it easy.  I had my bike washed, enjoyed a nice workout in the hotel's health club, and dined in a pleasant sidewalk cafe on trout and beans.  With my new BMW battery installed, my bike sparkling, my tummy filled and my body rested, I am looking forward to continuing our journey along the path of Marco Polo tomorrow!








Chapter 02 Dispatch from Jeff Garant

This has been the first opportunity to add something to the journal, it has been pretty busy and I have to use Len's computer. Even though it is available all the time I have been having too much fun just taking in the culture and socializing with the other riders and tour guides.

Well this week started with departing the lovely stone town and hotel in Cappadocia which overlooked the abandoned stone caves and headed towards Amasya, en-route we visited a Fort dating back to 1800 BC, after the visit and several pictures we all met up for lunch at a local diner. While having lunch a bus of students from British Columbia stopped and took some pictures of our bikes.


Our time in Turkey is now coming to an end and I have to say the country has excellent food and the people are very friendly and helpful, it took some time to get use to how they drive, initially it seemed pretty crazy but now I can see that there is actually some kind of organized rhythm.


We then road along the coast of the Black Sea to the Georgia, Turkey Boarder where we said goodbye to our Turkish guide Kaz and met our new guides Inga and Ana, who were waiting for us and had everything arranged making the crossing very quick and efficient.

Then we road in a convoy to the city of Batumi right on the Black Sea and had a wonderful dinner at a local restaurant and given an overview of the Georgian Country and it's customs.


The following day we road in some rain towards the city of Tbilisi and witnessed the wonderful scenery of the Georgia country side, and made a stop at the Stalin Museum on Gori, the birth place of Stalin.


While in Tbilisi we enjoyed the local culture and night life, and at the request of a friend from work who wanted to make a donation to a local children's group, we visited an Orphanage in Tbilisi along with several other of the riders. At the orphanage we were met by about 14 of the kids ranging in age from 8-18 years who were very happy to have guests and treated us to some musical performances. All the children seemed in good spirits and healthy, several of the riders donated food and presents and also contributed money. At the request of the director we used the funds to purchased 7 soccer uniforms, shoes, balls and other items required for a soccer along with some roller skates and a new music machine, all of which were in great demand. It was a visit that was only to last less than 1/2 an hour and turned into 5 or 6 hours after we decided to cancel the afternoon site seeing, in order to purchase the much needed items.


After some much needed rest we left Tbilisi and rode towards the Azerbaijan boarder, the morning was clear and cool which highlighted the beautiful green country side of Georgia and said goodbye to our wonderful guide Ana.


At the Georgian, Azerbaijan boarder Inga continued on and we met Christina and Idan our new guides for Azerbaijan, the crossing was a little slow and one of our riders went to the wrong boarder causing some concern by Helge and the guides. After an hour or so we left the boarder and rode towards the city of Sheki following the Caucasus Mountain range and noticed an immediate much welcomed temperature increase.


Along the road to Sheki we were greeted with smiling faces and waves everywhere we saw people, and wave back in between dodging livestock which roamed freely on all the roads. In the town of Sheki there was a celebration in the main town square to celebrate a musical competition won by Azerbaijan held in Europe. That evening we had a great meal and met a few other people who would be assisting us with our stay in Azerbaijan. Then after the meal a few of us went with Inga and Christina to share a couple of drinks and to get better acquainted with other members of the Azerbaijan tour guides.






Chapter 02 Dispatch from Pawel Chrobok

If you would like to follow along with Pawel's journey please visit his personal weblog by clicking here.



Chapter 02 Dispatch from Mac McCaulley

Well we made our first border crossing into Georgia.  The first fort on the outskirts of Batumi, Georgia was from the second century!  A summer resort on the Black Sea for many Armenians.   Much new construction going on with some very new hotels being built.  We understand a very busy place in the summer.
On our way to Tbilisi, the capitol city of Georgia, we see the Caucasus Mountains for the first time. We follow these on into Azerbaijan.  Parts of them are snow covered year round and are a natural border with Russia.
Georgia is considered to be more of a  European country rather than an Asian country.  Even though it has been under the control of Russia from the 1800's until the 1990's it has a  lot of country pride and is trying hard to establish itself as an up and coming tourist destination....A muslem country in name only.  Hardly any mosques with no loud prayer announcements 5 times a day!!  Even some Orthodox Christians.
Today rode along the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains again following a part of the Silk Road on our way to Baku.  The name Azerbaijan means land of fire.  There have been many nautural gas fields and oil found in the Baku area.  Starting to see some wealth again. Again several new large hotels underconstruction.


Soon the adventure continues to the Caspian Sea.





Chapter 02 Dispatch from Nick Gudewill

Wed, 11th- riding a motorcycle on awesome roads is like being on drugs, the more you do it the more you want to do it. Despite a 572 km day this was no exception.

Today I got to ride with our Turkish guide Kaz, Dan and my squash pal Mac who is an awesome guy. A little about Dan because it is pretty interesting at least for me.

If looks could deceive and first impressions were accurate Dan would be the antithesis of this. He is quiet, stature about like mine, a bit portly and has 3 grandchildren. At 67 he is the senior citizen of the group. I have to admit as I sized him up after the first few days in Istanbul I was wondering about let's say, stuff.

When Dan insisted on having a spare set of tires in the chase van for his KTM 990 it still didn't click. I said 'Dan, tires should last 12-15000 miles in normal wear and we are only travelling 8000, what's the deal?' And he says, 'well, I am a bit hard on tires' and we left it at that because what the hell do I know anyway.

On the first day on the first turn off the Yalova ferry Dan goes screaming by everybody with Kaz in hot pursuit. Since then I have realized that this guy is by far our top rider. He just motors that guy and you would never pick him out of a lineup.

Today was a great riding day with ALL the elements. If you were in a car you would be wondering where the hell you were if you weren't car sick first. The roads went everywhere from 100 mph to 10 mph, from great blacktop to mud, dirt, potholes, you name it.
One of the ingredients marking a great rider is how often you use your brakes. On one particularly difficult section of over an hour of hard riding I was behind Dan and he used his brakes exactly once. I could hardly believe it. Essentially you use the transmission to gear down and slow down on sharp turns.

At a gas stop I remarked on this and he just shrugged and said you're pretty good at minimizing your brakes too (felt pretty good about that coming from him!), but that Mac, he lights up his brakes like a Christmas tree!

The day could be like any other but it wasn't and they are all different. There was a lot of herded cattle on and off the roads such that we had to slow down to carefully manoever around them. One of the gnarly critters with horns probably thought we were the opposite sex because he kind of charged one of the bikes! The dogs the herders use are aweome. Huge great things and quite ferocious- wouldn't want to have a breakdown cause they look and act like they could take down a wolf.

Later in the day we got to this gps intersection Helge had given us an option on- dirt and gravel or tarmac. The decision was the dirt and gravel so off we went. It quickly got tricky, then easy, then tricky and back an forth. I had never operated a big bike like mine in such conditions and there was a lot of standing on the pedals to lower the center of gravity. We climbed through a lot of switch backs to 2000 feet, stopped for photos and blasted (Dan) or crawled (me!) down the other side. I felt pretty good about not dropping the bike and at least partially keeping up. It is always about driving within your limits.

Coming into Trabzon which is on the Black Sea was another effing story. I was literally on fumes as I had neglected to fuel up with the others because my machine is literally like a fuel truck on 2 wheels with a 33 litre tank and I was a bit cocky. It had been raining on and off all day. Now it started to pour real hard. Then the hail came down big as snow peas and my crotch got full of the stuff and melted! We got through that and managed to find some gas (I am getting 51 mpg) thanks to Len and Jeff who kindly stopped for me knowing my problem- the gods must have been smiling because no sooner were we under cover at the station than the rain came down in sheets and sheets for the 10 minutes we were there and stopped just as we left!

Heading into Trabzon I kept thinking Helge or Kaz should have known better. Its a nice hotel but it is smack dab in the middle of this bustling town full of aggressive drivers and it is completely impossible to read a road sign. On top of that it was dark and there are a lot of one way streets and the gps is only a guide. Being there only one night made me think we should have been somewhere easier to find especially as it was only a place to dine, sleep and dash. We have since been advised to hire a taxi in future and get him to guide us to our destination. This is a good idea but it was too late for tonights escapade I am afraid.

Thur, 12th- today we moved into Georgia. I will miss Turkey for its wonderful varied countryside, its pleasant, helpful people and its amazing, amazing history and evidence of same. I will not miss the call to prayer (more of that coming I am sure!), its cold french fries, the almost complete lack of english facility (TV, newspaper, bilingualism, signage you name it). It is surprising really that the young people are not more fluent (by the way the language is almost impossible to learn too).

Some closing thoughts:

-not much pride of ownership anywhere

- wasted heat- all the hotels have it cranked way too high

-long, long traffic lights even on busy highways

T-Efes pilsner the only beer- superb

-few restaurants and no pubs o/s of Istanbul

-aggressive drivers

-sehir merkesi means city center

-bread, bread everywhere- they eat it for coffee/tea break with nothing else and very few fat people too

-squatting toilets and mostly no toilet paper anywhere, sure hope I never have to use one.


Georgia is a country of 4.5 million and has a gdp per cap of $5000 so it is about a third of Turkey's (77 mln and $13000) and quite poor- incidentially, T's gdp per cap is about a third of ours too and definitely looks it.

We went through our first border check with a high degree of excitment and anticipation. Looked like pandemonium everywhere! Helge says this was a piece of cake so will look forward to the greater unknowns ahead.

It was an easy 200 km riding day along the Black Sea coast to Batumi where we overnighted at a nice place and met our new tour guides Inga and Anna.

Riding a motorbike could be compared to playing golf. The more you play and practise the better and more consistent you get and the more comfortable you get with things like your putter and driver etc. The same idea with daily use of a motorcycle. You and your bike become like a unit and confidence and capability builds. I think that people that jump on once in awhile are rusty and more at risk. You do this intensively day in and day out, you get pretty good. Towards the end of one of Jody's trips on my Suzuki 650 I would put myself at about a 15 cap. Leaving the customs port in Istanbul the other day in busy traffic on a new bike I hadn't been on in 10 weeks I was batting about a 30. Now I am at my old 15 and hope to get to a 10. A lot of the guys on this trip are into single digits comparatively speaking.

We had a lazy afternoon and I had a short walk to the water (it is almost fresh with a hint of saltiness- the Volga and Danube empty here) an awesome Turkish steam and rub down before dinner and bed.

Fri, 13th- the frenchman reminded me first thing in the morning! This day was interesting for the reason that it was not at least from a riding perspective. We travelled 380 km over boring Georgian countryside often in heavy rain. At one point Mac and I stopped to put on wet gear and have a pee at this run down gas station manned by 4 swarthy men. I watched the bikes and handed out Canadian lapel pins as a friendship gesture and had to show them how they went on. Mac came back and I headed for the 'toilet facilities'. I got there and there was a pile of dung in the squat toilet a donkey would have been proud of. Disgusting! It must have been several or more and I guess they dispose of it when it gets too high- again no toilet paper. Sorry for this but am just recording as I see it.

All along the road there were an awfull lot of men standing around in groups of 5-10 with obviously nothing to do, often in the rain. We saw our first pig (none in Turkey of course) heavily pregnant beside the road- you get very used to all sorts of animals of every shape, size and description wandering around the roadside oblivious of traffic.

They are working on road improvement and they sure need to. Tons of potholes and pothole repairs that aren't and way too much heavy, single lane traffic and everyone trying to pass at the same time. We learned the process quickly and fit right in because our bikes are so damn fast. You can be in second gear at 30 klics and at 120 in 4th (of 6 gears) in seconds.

One last observation- the decaying, sad, often abandoned Soviet era buildings all over the place. The ride was often bleak and dreary and it was easy to see that the people in the countryside have very little. At least there were no mosques and calls to prayer every few hours!

A special pleasure for me was to have the opportunity to visit the town of Gori the place of Stalin's birth in 1879. His father was a shoemaker Vissarion Dzhugashvili and his mother a dressmaker. They built a ten thousand square foot special purpose building on each of two floors right beside the original tiny rented house which we also went inside of! The only problem which I hope they will rectify is that it is all in Russian and Georgian not English otherwise I would still be there. It covers his life in great detail right from the beginning and even has his original office in the Kremlin set up exactly like it was. I got a bottle of Georgian red wine with a neat Stalin label to hopefully bring home as a souvenir.

Last night was a huge surprise dinner and I sure wish I had my camera. We left our excellent hotel smack dab in city center of Tiblisi (pop. 1.4 mln) and walked to this private restaurant. There we were entertained Georgian style and were we entertained! One of their most famous singers joined us for dinner and song and brought along 3 of his cronies. Lovely baritone voices singing all manner of local folk songs as they sat with us at dinner. The dinner! What a meal! There must have been 10-12 or more different servings (mostly cold and most I had never seen) all on the table at the same time to choose from. Wow, just had to be there to see it and of course my damn camera which I always take with me was in the hotel.

That's about all from this end and hope the finger banging keyboard didn't sprout out too many errors!


Sat, 14th
This was a well deserved day off of riding. We were ably escorted by our two very knowledgeable tour guides Anna and Inge on a 'walkabout' interspersed with a van ride to get us to the next location. Tblisi is a like an old European town without the posh and circumstance. Many of the beautiful old 18th century buildings are in a state of real facade decay. There is a concerted refurbishment effort to clean it up and when it is done I am sure that it will lure lots of tourists who will come for the hot springs experience as well as the interesting walking opportunities and local scenery.

We were treated to lots of Georgian history which I won't bore you with suffice to say that this little country is at a strategic location between east and west (a bit like but very different from Afganistan; they are European in culture and religion but geographically in Asia, a real dilemma) and has been subjected to constant bombardment by the Arabs, the Turks and more latterly the Russians. The Russians came in 1801 and by 1860 there was a serious effort put in place to preserve the Georgian language and culture which was in danger of dissappearing. Their influence was replaced by the Soviet Union in 1918 and remained in place until their independence in 1991 and their constitution signed in 1995.

According to Anna who is a walking historical encycopaedia all hell broke loose after the Russians left in '91- gdp gropped by 50% in 5 years and they basically stagnated for a long time at subsistence levels. From 1998-2002 there was armed resistance and revolt. From 2003-05 45% lived below the poverty line however that was measured. During this time Edward Sheverdnaze who was the foreign minister in Gorbachev's cabinet was in charge. It wasn't all his fault and he is credited with attracting international investment and bringing a gas pipeline to feed Europe. He has a checkered report card though and lives quietly in Tblisi and is in his mid 80's. The current president (Milkheil Saakashvili- they all have great long names!) is well regarded and has fired all of the corrupt police and replaced them with a new and much better system that outlaws bribe taking and crime is way, way down. Consequently due to his efforts at reformation gdp has risen from $4 billion on '05 to $17 billion today (about $5000 per cap).

After traipsing around the city of 1.4 million we were escorted to a local orphanage which had been arranged by two of our Ontario riders, Jeff and Len. We stopped by a department store and loaded up on toys, candies and junk and headed over. There were about 40 kids in residence between 8 and 18 in good health and spirits. I gave them all Canadian lapel pins and toys, we took pictures and then were entertained with dance and song. We were smitten and before leaving presented them with our collected $600 donation. They wanted to spend it right there and then so that it did not get dispersed into the general fund for all orphanages so off we went to buy soccer uniforms and boots, a new sound system and roller skates for the girls. All in all a great thing to do and thanks to Jeff and Len for organizing it.

The evening dinner took us to another fine restaurant with a mostly private room and another feast- a fellow called Saba was invited to chat to us about Georgia in general from a local perspective. He is 50 and a successful businessman with many interests including mountain climbing ( the Matterhorn) and big game hunting. We really appreciated his input.

One of the sad facts of life here are the beggars in the streets. While some do it on an organized team basis and there are lots of gypsies around it is clear that many are destitute especially the elderly. There is very little safety net. These are not druggies or alcoholics that have fallen on hard times often due to their own mis-fortune. These are genuinely desperate people with nothing and it is sad to see.

Lastly, I have observed that there are literally no two wheeled bicycles in either Turkey or Georgia and I really wonder why. The many towns with cobblestone streets could be a partial reason but there are lots and lots of places where they could ride around. It seems like a real opportunity to me for someone to get this going because it would be a great transportation vehicle for these relatively poor people. Second, nearly all shoes are some kind of leather yet there are NO shoe shine people to be found anywhere(Turkey too)- surely this is an employment opportunity for enterprising sorts.


Sun, 15th
I was very torn about the ride into Armenia today. Most guys elected to take the day off. I wanted to go but didn't want to go and the dreary wet morning made up my mind- it was an in and out elective thing anyway but I kind of wanted to add it to my list of country's visited (42 plus 5 to go). In the end Helge went to scout the place out and along went Dan (no surprise!) and the frenchman (I love calling him that- Nicolas, quite a character!) and the rest stayed to veg, excercise, get massages, wash filthy bikes, read, relax, take a further walk around town and prepare for the next day's adventure.


That's about it except that we are all now well rested and raring to go to tackle whatever is coming!


Mon 16th
Here I am sitting all by my lonesome at the Courtyard Marriot in Tblishi while my pals are in Sheki, Azerbaijan about 300 km away. Today I travelled 440 km all for nothing! I am a complete meathead and here is why. Everyone took off in a hail of bullets and I was loitering around and watching Helge and Dan change a tire. After a bit I decided what the hell, I'll head out myself and catch up to them. Mistake!


I called up GSR135BRD (for border waypoint) and headed out into the wild blue yonder. There was only a magenta (basically purple) line on my screen which seemed just fine. I had this weird feeling that all was not quite right in Nick's little world but I pressed on anyway and lo and behold there was a sign on the highway that said Baku 500 some km away which was our eventual destination after the overnight at Sheki.


On I pressed until along came the so-called border only it was border #2 not the required border! The gps had designated the shortest distance between two points and I should have been on the green line program instead


Now there are a lot of lines on this damn thing. Green, magenta, a browny one and even a blue one sometimes when you are doubling back. I must admit that I have been focusing on the driving more than anything up to now and trying to learn how the gps works but not too hard because I got other guys to do that kind of brainy work.

So I get down to border #2, the wrong one, and run into a gauntlet of people and paperwork and no savy the lingo. The final guy is stamping my passport with all sorts of stampers. And then he tells me that I need to leave a deposit of $7200 for the bike. Say what?? I finally establish through a cell phone interpreter that this is not Azerbaijan money. It is U.S. greenbacks.


We are at an impass, no one is around, what to do? By this time the light switch has finally gone on and I realize that I am at the wrong place. I text Helge and he says to get my ass to the 'other' border crossing which is now 60km back to Tblisi and a further 160km east into no mans land. Here is poor little Nick traipsing around the countryside of Georgia kind of pissed off at you know who (me).


I finally get to border #1 three hours later only find that my single entry visa is now null and void because it has been stamped so many times at border #2 by the turkey who wanted the seven grand. Damn! Helge is there with Inge and our new guide and I am wondering whether we can buy anyone off but they don't do that anymore.


There is NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE but to double back the 160 klics all by my lonesome, book back into the hotel in Tblisi and hope that our friends at the MIR Corporation and their local contacts can get me a hurry up visa so that I can get back on my way.

The sticky wicket is that the ferry from Baku over the Caspian Sea to Turkmentistan only goes once in awhile and I simply must make that damn ferry on the thur 19th departure day, time to be determined- and would rather not be travelling at night, thanks.

I actually have no one else to blame but myself for the following reasons:


-Anna was going to be at the border crossing to say goodbye and collect whatever tips were being passed her way (and she was terrific). Guess what? No Anna anywhere.


-I should not have been on the border gps waypoint in the first place but on the blessed 'green' line thingy.


-none of the guys were anywhere to be seen. Hello?


-if I had pushed out the gps unit to a much larger map I would have seen that I was way off track and doubled back before getting to that border location in the first place.


-there are probably a few more; like putting in a call to Helge or Inge for clarification but dummy here is just not that smart!


So I am holed up here for now and hoping that the MIR guys can work their magic. Really, that jerk at the border wanting that deposit really threw me for a loop because I coudn't understand what that was all about and didn't have that kind of coin on me anyhow. Wish me luck tomorrow and the rest of my journey!


Tue, 17th- Met Maya the Caucasus tour agent for MIR Corp (in Seattle) at 9:30am at the hotel to go through the laborious visa process. She is 28, has two young daughters, and a masters in public admin. I was at first concerned that she might be too soft spoken.

We get to the Azuri embassy somewhere in backwater Tblisi and begin our wait with all the other hoi paloi for the 10 am opening. At 10:15 some official shows up with forms to fill out- a crowd of about 30. The sign ominously says they only process visas Mon, Wed and Fri and as luck would have it this is Tuesday. Finally another guy shows up but Maya has already intercepted him first to get in a few words. Jabber, jabber, jabber in a crowd of sweating, smelly bodies. Maya acts as a helpful interpreter. The guy basically says nothing will happen today and visas can be picked up on friday (way too late). He takes all the forms, ours about last. Maya gets a few more words in at this time and I play my best pidgeon english routine and show him and leave him with a copy of our map and itinerary.

Encouragingly he gives Maya his cell number and we are to come back with some filled out voucher later. Despondency prevails as we come back to the hotel and she leaves. In addition it is fully booked so I have to go to a flea bagger elsewhere tonight if required.
Sitting here in lobby reading 'Young Stalin' and contemplating going for a workout. Phone rings! Halleluija! From the depths of despair to eurphoria! Amazing! So the next stage of the jouney will begin at 4pm when that treasured visa finally shows up!

Am at the OkeeDokee border at 7:30pm to wait for my escort to arrive at 9 to head to Baku to catch up with my mates. I leave with a mixture of jubilation and sadness. Sadness because the Georgian people are so pleasant and friendly and helpful. All the travel warnings from the State Department and Foreign Office were way over dramatic. There are bad people everywhere but some of the nicest people here.

The ride was something else, a real treat. I went slow, slow through farm country because there was time to spare. Everyone in the various communities were out enjoying the warm, late afternoon sun after a good work day. There were a zillion photo ops and I got a few. Too bad you couldn't snap the smells and odours- simply wonderful. Animals all over the roads and old men in their carts and donkeys going to and fro. It was for sure my most enjoyable ride yet.

Closing thoughts:

-still need clarification on why a designated way point would not take you there if it is selected and not somewhere in a 90 degree opposite tangent.

-after traipsing around for several days on my own I am at least a lot more self reliant now in unknown surroundings.

-guess I now have the dubious distinction of being the first GlobeRider ever to actually go through the wrong border checkpoint!

3:30am local time finally show up in Baku which is on the west side of the Caspian Sea. Sightseeing tomorrow at 9am. $800 later, over and out for now.







Chapter 02 Dispatch from Helge Pedersen

Post 5


Sitting here in Baku, Azerbaijan, waiting for the ferry to take us across the Caspian Sea. There are no regular ferries so we have been told to be prepared to pack up and get ready for the call to ride to the ferry some time tonight; perhaps.


But let’s look back where we left of after week one. We had some more incredible riding in Turkey with high mountain passes and challenging weather and roads. Despite the weather and road conditions the scenery was breathtaking with rolling green hills and a late spring in full bloom. Farmers were plowing the fields and getting ready for a new season. We felt as if we were riding through scenes from a movie filmed 50 years ago. Romantic to photograph and to look at, but hard reality for those that have to live this lifestyle.


The last day ride in to Trabzon, our last night in Turkey, was especially challenging for some in the group. Lot’s of unexpected roadwork and slick roads due to rain made the day extra long.

It was quite a change to pass the border from Turkey to Georgia. People were just as friendly, drive just as crazy, but the standard of living is not the same as Turkey. Border crossing was a breeze and for the first time on this journey we met two other motorcycle travelers, two Italians going for a spin around the Black Sea.

Some of the comments I have heard from the group today is the observation of the numbers of police cars and men in uniforms seen along the way from Batumi to Tbilisi. We had no problems with the man in uniform; they were all friendly and might have forgiven some for speeding since none of us got stopped.

On the way to the capital Tbilisi we stopped in Gori to visit Stalin’s berth place and had a tour of the local museum dedicated to the evil man. Gori was also the hardest hit city during the short Russian stunt of an invasion of Georgia on 8-8-08. Unbelievable to fathom that Russia rolled their tanks in to Georgia only 3 years ago and one year after our last Silk Road Adventure 2007 visit to this beautiful country.

Since the temporary invasion, Georgia now looks more prosperous than ever. I asked some people and they all say that the “incident” made them stronger and even more proud of their independence. Lots of money is poring into the region, something that is visible through construction everywhere.

A tree nights rest in Tbilisi was very welcome for so many reasons, laundry and journal writing to mention a couple. On our first full day in Tbilisi we made a visit to an orphanage. Some people in the group had mixed feelings about the event, but I can tell you that we all had such a great experience. The kids were incredible. They showed off their dancing skills, music and song and most of them knew enough English to carry a conversation. Our group went shopping for soccer shoes, shirts and soccer balls, roller-skates and a stereo for their dance lectures. What a wonderful giving experience this ended up being, very moving.

We also had plans to do a one-day trip to Armenia while being so close. The day came and only 3 of us ventured out into the rain to explore yet another country. First I had thought to stay back and catch up on writing, but then I thought to myself that this would be the chance to finally get a first hand look at a country that I have heard so much about.

Dan, Nicolas and myself had a great time and did not return to Tbilisi before late that day after a full day in the saddle. The highlight was when we met a biker club at a rest stop along the road. To see their old fleet of bikes tricked out was just unbelievable, what a collection of bikes they had. If you were looking for the definition of enthusiast these guys would be the answer.

Armenia was visually run down and even more so then Georgia, but people were extremely friendly and everywhere we went they greeted us as family members.


Had it not been for Nick taking the wrong border to Azerbaijan I would told you a boring story about the great day when we left Georgia riding east looking at the most spectacular Caucasus Mountains dressed in white. But I am not going to bore you with either, as I understand Nick has written a lengthy story about his choice of border crossing.

What can I say, never a boring day on a GlobeRiders Adventure.


Until next week.


Helge Pedersen


Helge's Photo Gallery


Silk Road Home  |  Bike's & Bio's  |  Chapter 01  |  Chapter 02  | Chapter 03  |  Chapter 04

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