We leave Sandra’s little piece of heaven behind, albeit a bit reluctantly. They predict rain for today, the first since we left Armenia about 3 weeks ago. There are indeed clouds but it looks like they are holding up for now. On the way to the border we stop for a light lunch and meet Claudio who’s cycling all the way to India. That’s a very brave undertaking.
Armenian police have a bad reputation for being corrupt, but so far we’ve not had any problems with them. That changes only 15 kilometres from the border though. While entering a village we spot a police car waiting at a roundabout, so we take extra care to stick to the speed limits. That doesn’t seem to help, because they immediately follow us when we pass them. Just outside the village at the other side we are pulled over. By this time we already know what’s coming, we just don’t know yet which excuse they’ll use to ask for some money.
We know the drill so we take our time and don’t rush things. We haven’t even taken off our helmets yet when one of the cops points at Sofie and says she’ll get “Schtraff” for doing something wrong. I’m ok though, I seem to have been a good boy. When she takes off her helmet and he notices she’s a women he hesitates for a second, but recovers quickly. She hasn’t used her indicator when leaving the roundabout, he says. Then he shows us a piece of printed paper with amounts and some text in Armenian. He points at a figure and says that’s what it normally costs for this offence, but immediately adds that since we are tourists we get a special 50% discount.
Of course, we can’t read Armenian and he knows it, so he could be showing us anything. All this just means he has nothing on us and simply wants to make an extra buck. We won’t play that game this time. Sofie decides to try a strategy we haven’t used on cops before: the waterworks. She starts crying and moaning that it’s not fair and that we had such a good time in Armenia and met so many friendly people and now so close to the border these 2 cops are going to ruin that for us. It is a pretty convincing piece of theatre and the cop clearly doesn’t know what to do anymore. His colleague that stayed in the car seems to be even more touched and convinces the other to let us go. Result!
On to the border, where more drama awaits. The rain clouds are catching up with us and it looks like there’s a thunderstorm moving in when we arrive so we hurry to get into the customs building. This is the most important border crossing between Armenia and Georgia as all the road transport from Tbilisi passes here, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the facilities. There’s one large table with 3 brokers and 1 official behind and a small window for the bank in the corner.
We hand our paperwork to the first broker that is free and he tears off the small papers that were stapled together when we entered from Iran and just keeps the import paper. Then he takes a scrap of paper and in the corner writes down 2 amounts: 5600 Dram for the customs and 15000 Dram for the broker. Then he just points to the window and says “bank!”. Not very friendly at all. On top of that the amount for the brokering is just ridiculously high. We start discussing and say we want an official paper for the bank or we don’t pay. He holds his ground. When we notice he won’t budge we tell him in that case we’ll go to a different border and we want our paperwork back.
He ends up giving us back the import papers, but for us that is not enough, we want the paperwork he tore off as well. Unfortunately for him he threw those in the garbage and in the mean time the cleaning lady has passed by. He tells us to go look for it in the trash. We keep insisting that we want it back and that he threw it out, so he should go look for it. This is turning into quite a scene in the customs office and the official has had enough. He tells the broker to go and find our paperwork.
After about 5 minutes the guy returns, but with only 1 set of papers. We don’t relent and send him back for the others. One of his colleague brokers has taken an interest and asks us what the problem is. We tell him that we refuse to pay that ridiculous amount of money for brokering services. He asks for our papers and says we should pay 5600 Dram for customs and 2000 Dram for brokering. Now, that’s more like it. By the time the original guy returns with the second set of papers the work is already mostly done. He is very pissed though, but the official tells him off and we do not see him again. He is replaced by someone else. We knew we did not need the other paperwork, but he more than deserved it after how he treated us. Another small victory against corruption!
It has started pouring down and when we reach the Georgian side thunder and lightning are added in. The Georgian guys are very friendly and process us extremely quickly. In 5 minutes we are in the country again, on our way to Tbilisi.
The apartment we rented (for a really good price I should add) does not have secure parking, but it is right next door to Georgian military intelligence HQ. We are told we can park the bikes in front of the main entrance, there shouldn’t be a safer place in the whole of Georgia. The next morning we immediately see why.
At the shop in Tehran they had advised to do an oil change after about 2000km so Jo had arranged to do an oil change with Niko. On top of that, Jo’s engine had a lot of difficulties getting started in the morning and we suspected it was because they did not put the correct oil in. So it needed to be changed anyway. And while we’re at it, my bike gets an oil change as well.
The oil drained from Jo’s bike still has metal particles in it. Not a good sign and definitely not what we had hoped for since this means there still might be something wrong with the engine. It also means it’t the end of the trip the way we had planned it.
We decide to head back to Motocamp Bulgaria. The second hand bottom end that Jo had ordered off ebay while we were in Iran is still on it’s way to Belgium, but it can then easily be shipped further once it arrives.
Song it from the US to Iran was as no go. Armenia gas expensive customs, Georgia is not that week equipped and although Turkey is, customs paperwork is complicated and import expensive. Bulgaria is the closest EU country where we have plenty of contacts to get things sorted. Although we went on this trip looking for adventure and new experiences, when you are in trouble it is always nicer to fall back to a safe and familiar place.
The appartment is booked until Monday so we have a weekend off in Tbilisi. Last time around I saw some interesting spots on the Free Walking Tour with Ana and I want to show these to Jo. But that was before we met Vladimir… On our way out of the metro, he starts talking to us and he wants to know where we’re from and what we want to do. When we say that we want to visit the cathedral and castle, he each gives us a bunch of candles and gestures that we must follow him.
He first takes us to the big Sioni church next to the Bridge of Peace. It’s Saturday and a popular spot to get married. Couples are just queuing outside, waiting their turn.
Next, Vladimir takes us to the Metekhi Curch of Asumption overlooking the river. The candles from the metro were all spent in the Sioni church, so out comes a next batch. Not sure where he gets them, but I hope this will be the turn of our luck. All these prayers and candles surely must have an effect! And if that is not enough we get overloaded with small pictures of icons.
After our visit to the churches, Vladimir wants to know what we want to see next and he offers to take us to castle. We kindly refuse his offer though. Before we say goodbye, he gives Jo some prayer beads and a bracelet.
We take the cable cart up to the castle and then walk down to the waterfalls. It’s nice and cool down there and again a popular spot for newlyweds.
We spend the rest of the evening strolling through Tbilisi and enjoying a nice meal in the trendy lounge area.
Sunday starts off grey and we don’t feel like doing much. We have agreed to pick up the bikes from Niko’s workshop late afternoon and after packing everything, we meet up with Niko for one last dinner together.
Monday morning we’re off for a long stretch through Georgia and Turkey.
The first part through Georgia goes fairly quickly and we reach the border just before lunch time. We decide to have a quick picnic on the Georgian side as it is still Ramadan in Turkey.
The border crossing is pretty uneventful and with the hour difference between Georgia and Turkey, we gain the time lost at the border. That evening we stop in Erzurum, after a good 600km. I find a nice and cheap hotel and in the evening, the owner points us to a nice restaurant to have an Iftar dinner.
The next day we head further west along the bigger and faster roads. We make good progress until my bike starts playing up. My tail light had already been playing up since Iran but now the electrics warning light starts blinking as well, on and off. After a while the abs light joins in, then the rev indicator goes ballistic and the spedometer goes to zero. When also the red general warning light joins in, I become very worried and we stop to see what the problem might be.
The diagnostics tool only mentions ‘no canbus signal’ which can be anything. Before the trip, I was having problems with an earth wire on the tail light section so we link the 2 problems together and start looking at the general ground wire again. When Jo unstraps the tape, we find out why the tail lights aren’t working. One of the ground wires just came out of the big bunch of wires. We assume that it wasn’t inserted properly to begin with since that wire seems shorter than the rest.
We put the wire back where it belongs and hope this solves it. And indeed, my tail light section is working again! At first, I don’t get any errors and we continue for about half an hour. But then the lights start blinking again. We stop again but we cannot find anything wrong this time. The issue is intermittent and seems temperature related though. After the bike has cooled down a bit, we continue.
By 6PM we arrive in Amasya. It looked nice on the map and we start looking for a hotel. It’s hot, so shower, food (pide this time) and bed.
The next morning we’re off on an early start to try to get some distance done before the worst of the heat hits. Today we aim for Istanbul, or at least near Istanbul. But that means highway. In Turkey most big roads are dual carriage ways but they are still different and less tiring than the real highways.
My bike’s electrical problem seems to hold off for most of the day, but when we reach heavy traffic near Istanbul it starts again. It’s not as bad as yesterday, so we continue onwards. We were looking for a place to camp but that turns out quite the ordeal. Plenty of picnic places but nowhere allowed to camp. Apparently, the owner needs special permission for that and they all seem very scared of being caught. So on we go, looking for a hotel or b&b. Even that is not so easy… Everyone points us to Polonezköy and indeed, it looks a bit like the Lake District in England. Every second house is a b&b. However, they all are fully booked, or very expensive and very shabby.
I get turned down numerous times with the message that they are fully booked. Strange though, in an empty town in the middle of Ramadan on a Wednesday night…While I was looking around on foot, Jo meets a guy from the village who speaks German. Apparently he has lived in Germany for 30 years and has just recently returned. And he has a room for us!
For dinner we can just go across the road. The owner of the restaurant watched our ordeal earlier and offered us some water at the time. We gratefully accepted the water, but politely declined an offer for food. After all, it is still Ramadan and the sun has not set yet. Plus, we aren’t really hungry yet. But later that night we go and check it out. We have to wait until 8.35PM but then an abundance of food comes out. And Gökan joins us as well. We don’t speak any Turkish and he speaks nothing but, still we have a wonderful conversation and we understand each other perfectly! Or how an awful beginning still can have a beautiful heartwarming end.
The next day we aim for the Sakar Hills campsite in Bulgary. We pass Istanbul without any problems. Compared to our last visit, the traffic now seems so civilised!
Just before the border, my electrical problem starts again in full swing with red lights flashing as we pull up for the first passport control.
We make it to Sakar Hills but with all the issues on the bikes, spirits are very low. We are not far from giving in and returning home.
The only thing that keeps us going now is the prospect of the peace and quiet at Motocamp Bulgaria. Almost 4 weeks of constant stress and worries about the bikes have worn us out completely.