The Caucasus

Posted on

This blog post was copied from – the blog I maintained between 2015 and 2018 with Lena, my now ex-wife who I was travelling with at the time. I have no intention of going through the old posts to update them – the past is what it is and doesn’t change.  Apologies if some of the context seems a little strange as a result!

Planing and Transport

We picked the Caucasus as our main destination for 2017 shortly after the Balkan trip last year but somehow never really found the time to do any proper research or comprehensive planning.  Part of this was intentional; I’d booked three full weeks off so didn’t need to worry about getting to high-speed internet connections for work.  I could remain flexible for a change.  Part of it was just the chaos of what my German friends beautifully call “Alltag” – every day life.

The original plan was to get a trailer; haul the bikes to MotoCamp Bulgaria and ride on from there.  We departed with some printed Google maps with notes scribbled on the back; a wrecked Reise KnowHow map of the Caucasus and a few way-points and tracks loaded on the GPS.  We paid visits to Budapest and Sofia on the way; quick one-day city visits making use of what the hipsters of the world might call a “travel hack” – the ever present Free City Tours.  Very handy; bing, bang, boom – city seen, back on the trails.  Once we’d arrived in Bulgaria we decided that Turkey looked kinda generously proportioned, so we decided to haul the bikes all the way to the east of Turkey and ditch the car there.  Mistake number one was made and the chaos was about to begin.

The almost-complete route, I failed to log the section from Jerevan to Tatev.

Noitargim Ssam (That’s ‘Mass Migration’ backwards, kids)

Part of the reason we have this blog is to share experiences and advice with other people.  My advice – do not attempt to drive in to (or out of) Turkey at the Edirne border crossing during the European school summer holidays.  Under any circumstances.  Ever.  Our total time spent at border crossings on this trip was 44 hours, of which the top two were the crossing from Hungary to Serbia (6hrs) and the hellish 18 hour crossing back out of Turkey to Bulgaria.  That’s 8% of the entire trip spent at border crossings, maths fans.  This gridlock is caused almost entirely by Turkish expat families living in Europe going home to see family for the summer; I guess many of them do it every year – they must have the patience of saints.

The second piece of advice is to give serious thought to what you’re doing if you travel outside of the EU while trailering your bikes.  Stupidly we thought we would leave the car and trailer in the east of Turkey; forgetting that the very reason they see your paperwork at the border is so that they can tie you and the vehicle together – making sure you leave together.  In Turkey there is a legal mechanism whereby you can leave your vehicles in-country and leave the country yourself but it’s an all-or-nothing arrangement.  The car, trailer and xCountry are all in Lena’s name – when we tried to leave Turkey with just her bike she wasn’t allowed through.  We ended up taking the car to Georgia and Armenia; leaving it in a secure location to make loops on the bikes – it wasn’t a terrible thing to have to do, we avoided hundreds of kilometres of highway and all of Turkey’s motorways but some quick re-planning was needed.

Georgia – Samegrelo and Svaneti

After dropping the car at the car-park for the Martvili Canyon we were finally back on two wheels and ready to start the trip “properly”.  Day one saw us invited into three people’s homes; the first pulled up behind us while Lena was taking a photograph and started talking with us; despite no common language.  Russian would have been useful; most of the older generation have an understanding of it – the younger generation are more familiar with English.  We were led back to their lovely river-side cottage and fed bread, cake, cheese and even a whole pigs head!  Oink!  We rode on a little – next stop; next invitation.  A girl in the village shop heard us speaking English and got talking; which let to her Mum getting talking.  Which led to us being invited to her Mum’s sister’s house – more cake, coffee and conversation followed!

That night we were looking for a campsite by Enguri lake and I ventured down a track to do a little reconnaissance; by the time I got back Lena had been invited to a farmer’s home.  He was an elderly gentleman who lives alone in one quarter of his barn; with a guest room in another part.  We set up the camp beds and sleeping bags; they were an upgrade from the ancient bed frames in the room.  He got on quietly milking his cows and doing his nightly routine while we set up for the night.  We were shown the way he turns milk to cheese, enjoyed the produce of his bees and had another conversation without words before getting some sleep.  First night in Georgia, spooky old barn, isolated old man – it was already enough to stimulate the nerves a little but after midnight the fear factor jumped up a little.

A car arrived outside; with the door open I could see what was going on – five young men came out; almost in formation, like a military unit.  Turns out they were just fanning out to pee with some privacy.  The car drove on; leaving two of them behind chatting away at the bench outside.  Even I was beginning to find that a touch alarming – are these two keeping an eye, is this the Georgian mafia planning to steal two nice motorcycles?  So we tackled the situation with a smile and went out to say hello; the two lads were simply waiting for the next taxi to pick them up and take them on the next leg of their journey.  We drank honey water together, took selfies and said goodnight when their taxi arrived.  Unfounded fears indeed.

From there we headed north on the tourist road to Mestia.  The road is good; despite a fair portion of the traffic being colourful 4x4s for the booming “adventure tourism” industry in the area.  Mestia itself is well set up to cope with visitors; it’s in a beautiful location and packed with hikers, mountain bikers and the facilities to service them – no other motorcyclists though.  After Mestia the quality of the road drops to gravel and occasional dirt; although work is well underway to tarmac it.  A word to the wise; Georgian roads workers will not get themselves or their machines out of your way – you need to dodge those steam-rollers and trucks yourself, soldier!  I would not be surprised if this time next year the road from Mestia to Ushguli is complete; when that’s done Ushguli will start to see a lot more traffic and day visitors rather than the dedicated hikers it sees now.  It’s still a special little village; with tumbledown streets, pigs and cows wandering and traditional guard-tower houses dotted around – as well as amazing views of the mountains.

After a night in a guest house – and a second round of questionable fuel from random drinks bottles – we were on our way to the trails proper.  Riders with smaller tanks be warned; there is no fuel after the town of Jvari.  The shops in the villages often have a few fuel bottles and guest houses can usually find you some in a pinch; but the price is higher and the quality questionable – bring your own extras or bring a big tank.

Most of the tourists visiting Ushguli will go up the main road and back down again; the trail to the east and back south via Lentekhi gets rough; it’s double-track the whole way but barely.  On our lightweight bikes it wasn’t easy going; if you’re thinking of tackling it on an R1200 or similar you’ll need some skill and confidence.  There is no tourist traffic and virtually no local traffic; we saw one farmer, some soldiers and an old local couple in a 4wd bus.  It’s a shame people don’t venture on because it’s a wonderful trail; the first half from Ushguli is steep and rocky with switchbacks, small rivers and amazing views of the mountains.  The second half, once you’re out of the high-hills, follows a large river and is pure off-road fun.  We were both jumping our bikes from the top of whoop after whoop after whoop; splashing though muddy puddles on tree-lined lanes and bottoming out Lena’s suspension so hard we damaged her side-stand.  Pure off-road joy.  The final third is, sadly, being properly surfaced now – it’ll be done this year.  But the really good stuff further up still has a few years before the diggers sweep in.

Georgia – Uplistsikhe Cave City, Tiblisi, David Gareji Monstary and Signaghni

Lena has written in more detail about Tibilisi; I won’t say too much myself – the cities don’t excite me as much as the wilderness.  I will say that it’s a very cool little city.  You can see all the important things in a day; easily – especially with the free walking tour.  It feels very safe and unlike some countries in the region it doesn’t feel like every penny the country has has been poured into the city; it’s an authentic and balanced place.  On our way to the city we paid a visit to Uplistsikhe; an Iron Age cave city – it only takes a couple of hours to walk around, the audio guide is informative but doesn’t waffle on and the views are quite remarkable.

Before heading back up into the hills we headed south to David Gareji monastery; it’s right on the border with Azerbijan a country we had planned to visit, but decided to drop from the itinerary when we realised we didn’t have the time to make the best of it.  I’ve no regrets about skipping it; especially as I got the opportunity to visit anyway – just duck under the border marker!  I’m an Alien.  I’m an illegal alien.  I’m a Scotsman in Azerbijan?

The monastery is beautiful; the walk around the top is a little tricky to find but the views of the desert to the south and the multi-coloured rock formations to the north are well worth it.  We met an Italian couple on an R1150 GS; they were most concerned about the 7km of gravel they had to cover to get there.  I was very glad to no longer have a beast of a bike and a passenger on the back; we’d made our way there the hard way – 40km of gravel, through a desert-like military training area.

Final stop was Signaghni; Georgia’s answer to an alpine hill-town.  It’s a walled town; plenty of tourists but well worth a visit for it’s quaint streets and the view from the walls.  It’s quite unlike most of the little towns; no sign of that soviet era concrete – it’s like stepping into the past.  Sadly we couldn’t stay at Nato’s guest house, which had been recommended to us by our friends Jo and Sofie but Nato did find us a place around the corner and we came back for drinks and a very pleasant night of conversation.

Georgia – Adversity on Abano

We’ve already had some of the adventure tropes; local hospitality, criminal paranoia, border crossings… let’s add a few more.  Sickness, hospitals and near-death experiences.  But we’ll get to that.

Having seen a video of the Abano Pass to Tusheti NP on Horizons Unlimited it became an essential part of the trip; the pass runs 75km from Pshaveli to Omalo – it’s easy to find; it’s the only road which goes up into the Tusheti national park.  Although I use the term “road” very loosely.  It starts off tamely; following the valley up – under a few waterfalls onto the road and along decent rocky gravel surface.  It soon starts to snake it’s way up and over one mountain then back up another to Omalo.  The surface isn’t terrible at any point; it’s wide and sees a constant flow of traffic; although 4×4 only.  But it’s steep and twisty with loose gravel and vertical drops to one side most of the way – it’s one of those “one bad mistake” types of roads.  Make one and you’re dead.  But we’ll get to that.

At the top of the “official” pass is Omalo; although it’s worth the extra run up to “Upper Omalo” right under the towers on the hill; it’s a cute little village surrounded by horses and high mountains.  I can’t overstate just how isolated, calm and scenic this place is – it’s really something special, no matter if you’re a motorcyclist or not.  There is a proper trail to Upper Omalo, so if you’re on a big bike or happen to be Lena I’d suggest taking it – the smaller dirt tracks are pretty steep.  I didn’t know there was a main track and decided to take the direct route to the top; Lena picked a track which she felt looked easier but led to disaster – she had to ride over some seriously rough terrain and a big metal pipe; my advice over the intercom was followed to the letter “Keep the throttle on and power over it!”.  Unfortunately she kept powering on.  And on.  She launched the front into the air over the pipe, powered right over the track, sideways along the hill and proceeded to fall of spectacularly; rolling part-way down the hill to get out of the way of the bike.  Queue pained laughter over the intercom, the village kids running to help and me riding up to take photos, provide first aid and pick up the bike.  In that order.  All was well with rider and machine despite the dramatic intervention of gravity.  The icing on the cake was Lena bending down to pick up her helmet but launching it down the hill instead.  Smooth.

We followed Lena’s appetite and stayed at a hostel called Arbuzi; ran by some lovely Polish hippies who make fabulous vegetarian food.  Unfortunately Lena had been feeling ill for a couple of days and this hit a peak in Omalo; so we stayed an extra – unplanned – night.  Which for me meant an extra day’s riding the fantastically varied trails in Tusheti; including a fast run back from the end of the trail past Dartlo – who knew 701s could fly?

Speaking of flying – Lena nearly tried it the next morning.  She felt well enough to continue and we made our way slowly back down the pass.  Very slowly.  Painfully slowly.  After about 10km she had a dizzy spell and trundled into the side of the trail.  Thankfully side B on the following highly technical diagram, rather than side A.

Being an occasionally responsible human being I banned her from riding any further, bundled her onto a 4×4 bus with some hung-over Czech hikers and they took her to hospital.  I set about recovering both bikes; which involved finding a hotel, arranging a 4×4 to take me back up (Thanks Zaza!) and taking the xCo back down.  In the rain.  On K60s.  It was tough going, at points – the track can get pretty slippy on some of the steep parts.  Then it was off to hospital to pick up a mostly healthy young woman.  Exhaustion isn’t quite the word; I was a complete wreck and slept like a crashed xCountry.

Georgia – Rain in Roshka

The next port of call was Roshka, which is to the west of Omalo but there is no accessible route between the two.  The horse-trails which exist are beyond our abilities on the motorcycle; some of the cyclists who’ve made the journey told us it was tricky enough with pedals.  From the bottom of the Abano pass you head towards the Military Road but turn north just before you hit it, at Zhinvali.  From here on up it’s easy gravel; with some stunning views over the lakes and good fast progress.  The side roads from the main track are all fairly tricky and steep, including the ride to Rohska – the deep rain gullies make it hard going and it’s very rocky.  At the top we got talking to a Spanish chap on a hiking holiday, but with an R1200 back at home; lovely guy but the stereotype of the GS rider.  Full of questions; what tyre pressure do you run with, do you need crash bars, what if you drop or damage the bike?  Mr GS – if you happen to read this – your GS can do it, you can do it, take the plunge!  Every scratch is a badge of honour, brother.

The plan in Roshka was to visit the Abudelauri Lakes; a collection of three lakes about 8km from Roshka – each of which is vividly different in colour.  We’d planned to find a way to ride there but failed; there is a large road being built on the other side of Roshka which will link it with the main road network and we made our way along it some distance – tough going in the mud but we didn’t find anything.  Local advice was that the main hiking trail was impassible on the bikes; so we stayed the night at a guesthouse and hiked to the lakes the next morning.

It was a grim old morning, rain looked probable, but Lena loaded up the cooking kit while I replaced her rear brake pads.  Planning to have lunch by the third lake I heaved my backpack onto my back, loaded with all the cooking kit and we headed on.  A little light rain, no worries.  By the time we made it to the first lake it was raining hard.  Second lake, we were in the clouds.  We tried to make it to the third but it was a long way up and a long way onwards; with no visibility, no thermal kit to speak of and a leaky waterproof jacket.  We were freezing – at altitude, in the clouds and wet through.  We couldn’t stop to eat or we’d freeze and there was no point going on.  Once we got back down Lena realised she was very lucky indeed; she’d packed cooking kit, pasta and…… nothing else.  No sauce.  No tuna.  If I had got to the top and started to cook up, only to find all I had was plan pasta she’d have found herself intimately familiar with a very sharp MSR camping knife.

From here we headed back to Tblisi, hitting a little bit of the Old Military Road – which seems to be on most riders “hit list” for Georgia.  Don’t bother unless you really like boring tarmac, no scenery, trucks and dangerous overtaking.  From there, onwards to Armenia!

Armenia – Border Formalities

The Armenian border process was a little different to any of the others; by which I mean a little more stupid than any of the others.  Sorry Armenia.  The system is just dumb.  As we were entering with multiple vehicles on Lena’s passport we were obliged to exit by the same border post we entered from; I don’t know if there is some flexibility in this if you push the point – it didn’t make much difference to our plans but it could be a problem if you plan to exit into Iran, for example.  Also of note is that they’ll make your passenger leave the vehicle and go through on foot.  Even if you explain that the passenger owns most of the vehicles.  Once you get to the vehicle documents check part of the border crossing they’ll then send a guard to go fetch your partner from the foot passenger queue; because they need them present to sign the vehicles in.  Efficient.

Money wise we needed to pay 20,000 Armenian Drams to the bank at the border post to enter with the vehicles – seemingly for some kind of tax.  Your price may vary.  There are ATMs at the border post, get some extra for the next step.  Insurance; once you cross the border you’ll need to buy some.  It’s very easy; just ignore the runners who’ll try to take you to their insurance provider of choice and go to someone who doesn’t use them.  Also – don’t forget Armenia doesn’t have the best relationships with it’s neghbours; the genocide left things with the Turks frosty and the Nagorno-Karabach war means the border with Azerbijan is just as closed as the Turkish one.  In and out via Georgia is the only way.

Armenia – Monasteries, Miles and Flats

Once you’re in Armenia you’ll find that they actually have a heck of a lot of road.  A lot of it’s been patched up over and over again; so isn’t a pleasure to drive on with a trailer in tow but on the bikes or in an unladen car you can get around pretty quickly.  There are trails leading off to the very minor places but, on the whole, you can get around on tarmac.  This is a country that would be perfectly accessible on any touring bike; unlike Georgia the trails are an optional extra.  The flip side is that they’re obsessed with speeding; every town has a camera and we even managed to get pulled by the police.  Totally Lena’s fault.

The other thing Armenia has a lot of is monasteries.  Almost as many as they do speed cameras; they’re everywhere.  Every one was a beautiful building in a beautiful location; beside a canyon, at the end of a valley, at the top of a mountain or with a view of Ararat but my stamina for old churches did begin to run low by the end of it.

With the car parked up in Dilijan we planned to make our way to the capital, Jerevan, because we needed to do some laundry and replenish supplies.  I’d been wearing the same clothes for about a week; I was half man, half merino wool.  Once the bikes were off the trailer Lena noticed my rear tyre was flat.  I pumped it up but it wasn’t keeping air.  Before the trip I had fitted “clever” new GoldenTyre GT723 “FTS” rubber; with an integrated inner tube –  repaired quickly with a plug in case of a puncture.  The first rear was defective; the second arrived a day before we left on the trip.  Dead easy to fix a puncture – maybe – but impossible to fix the valve stem.  There was a tyre yard down the road so I popped in to see if they had any ideas but there was nothing they could do so we chopped out the valve stem on the FTS system, cut the inner tube away sand packed in a 17″ tube from Lena’s spares and got underway.

On the way to Jerevan we camped overnight in a secluded spot by a lake.  Armenia may be hot during the day – damned hot – but temperatures can go low at night; especially by the water with the moisture in the air.  We had loads of layers on; moto gear on top of the sleeping bags and were still shivering – everything was soaked when we got up and even hot chocolate and fried bread didn’t get us warmed up.  My rear tyre however did get me hot and bothered – it was flat again.  Investigation suggested valve stem again, the air was coming out of the stem hole but slowly enough it could hold air for hours at a time.  We proceeded with caution and made it to Jerevan.

This is where I should have gone to the motorcycle shop to pick up a new tyre and tube but – being a total muppet – I didn’t.  The city itself is an interesting one; the centre is very “shiny” – packed with trendy shops and western brands; somewhat at the expense of it’s own culture.  It’s also one of these money-sink capital cities; most of the provincial towns are ramshackle but Jerevan is so polished it has a nightly three-hour musical fountain-show in Republic Square.  Worth a visit; but I didn’t find the city as engaging as Tblisi.  What is worth a visit is the Genocide Museum; it doesn’t take too long to take it all in but it clarified a lot about Armenia’s gruesome history.

Laundry done in the hotel room shower, as the hotel wanted to charge us nearly 200 euros, we headed back off on the monastery trail with the ultimate goal of Tatev in sight.  Riding along the border with Turkey taking in the view of Mt Ararat was interesting; it’s the national symbol of Armenia but not a square meter of it is within their current borders.  No explanation of the national character to be found here then!

We made our way all the way south to Tatev but for us it felt like a long way to go on tarmac roads to see another old building.  There is a lot to do in the Tatev National Park; from the worlds longest cable car to countless trails, walks and MTB tracks – it’s probably a nice place to spend a few days but we didn’t have time.  Bizarrely the road is paved all the way to Tatev; except for the set of hairpins which snakes up the mountain at the very last 4km of the road.  This seems to be a thing in the Caucasus; pave the easy bits and leave the tricky bits as gravel!  It was a pleasure to meet a group if Iranian bikers on 230cc Chinese beasts; really lovely people and they almost made the visit to Tatev worthwhile by themselves.  The tyre was still holding air at this point, but I’d banned myself from the trails – I didn’t want to get stuck anywhere too remote.  Damn shame – there were plenty of little jaunts off the beaten path available for us.

On the way north towards Lake Sevan, in utterly baking heat, it was time my leaky tyre to fail completely.  I tried to get some air into it and the pump blew up from the temperature.  With not a hint of shade the heat was intense; so we very slowly headed to the cluster of trees in the distance.  The cluster of trees was a tyre yard!  I got the bike up on one wheel and whipped the rear off; planning to do my own work but the owner insisted on helping out.  We patched the 17″ tube and lined the wheel with a cut up tube from a truck tyre; it was the rough edges of the integrated ‘tube’ which had rubbed a hole in the normal tube.  A confidence-inspiring repair complete we headed on to the Vardenya Pass and the eastern edge of lake Sevan.

The western side of the lake is fairly developed; there was not much there and not a hint of tourist traffic.  A few soviet era resorts which had fallen into complete disrepair at the northern end was about it.  Feeling confident in the newly lined rear tyre we found a few km of gravel shortcut which kept us by the lake and riding through beautiful scenery; until the back end of the 701 started to feel spongy again – I had no pressure at all.  With no shade; no rocks and nothing at all nearby the bike was put on it’s side and the wheel whipped off; expecting to find the tube worn through again; I didn’t even check for an alternate cause.  Lena did.  She spotted a large nail suck in the side of the tyre.  I was furious.  If my damned tubeless tyres had worked I’d have been able to fix that with a plug kit in no time at all.  I had no spare tube of an appropriate size so I tried (and failed) to patch it; it still leaked air.

All I had left was a 21″ front tube, so I stuffed that in and proceeded to try and set the bead.  Forgetting I had blown the pump up earlier in the trip.  I had an 18″ rear tubeless tyre with a chopped up truck tube and a 21″ front tube jammed into it; with 0.6 bar of pressure and the bead completely loose – and no choice but to carry on to the next town.  On rough gravel.  The junction into the next town had a helpful idiot who came out with an inflatable bed pump; he was extremely enthusiastic and insisted on pumping away for a solid 10 minutes but you just can’t get air into a motorcycle tyre with a rubber tube slipped loosely over the valve stem.  Lena made her way back after a reccie-run and she’d found a tyre yard; I slowly made my way there and got the tyre set and up to pressure – amazingly it hadn’t suffered any damage and held for the rest of the trip.

Kudos to Adventure Spec for offering to replace the FTS tyres with alternatives of my choice; at no cost.  They didn’t have to do that; I’d butchered the FTS tyre and there was no proof the problems were anything but my fault but these boys stand by their products.

We made it back to the car; loaded up for the last time and headed on home.  But that’s not the end of the story!

Georgian Guts

Back over the border our poor luck continued.  After a fairly speedy, if late, border crossing we were mighty hungry.  In Georgia you’ll find an abundance of places to get some food; bakeries making traditional bread are everywhere and restaurants are plentiful.  Unless you’re hungry.  In which case you’ll find nothing for hundreds of kilometres.

Driving along a gorgeous road through the Little Caucasus mountains we eventually spotted a little roadside place; nothing sophisticated – one elderly couple, a BBQ and some truck drivers.  My alarm bells were set off a little by the lack of basic food hygiene from the man at the BBQ, who shaped my skewered sausage (oh, matron) after wiping his hands with a dirty rag.  I watched it getting seriously overcooked on a very hot BBQ; I figured the meat was fine but the onion chopped with his raw-meaty hands was a bad idea.

A damned fine meal of sausage and khachapuri was enjoyed and we continued on our way, a smile on our faces, until we found ourselves a dirt-cheap hotel for the night.  Just before midnight my stomach started to rumble.  Then grumble.  Then cramp up and explode in glorious stereo.  I shouldn’t have had that meat, thought I.  You shouldn’t have had that meat, thought Lena.  Fast forward a few evacuations and a few hours later and I was on the road to recovery.  Lena was on the fast lane to the little girls room.  Killer khachapuri, it would seem – even though it’s only cheese filled bread.

We stayed in the hotel until I could drive and Lena could make it to the car; a few hours later our heroic attempt to continue was over and Lena was checked in to the hospital in Ninotsminda.  A hospital we thought was closed when we arrived; the road-facing side looks seriously run-down and closed.  The actual facilities are very modern and a few drips later Lena was back in action.  Slow-motion action.  I spent the time sleeping on the bed next door; my hearty constitution had me fighting-fit again.  At this point we decided there would be no more stops; we wanted to get home – we’d had our share of misfortune on this trip and it was time to get home and chill out.

Caucasus Trek IV – The Voyage Home

The border crossings on the way back were both better and worse than the way there.  Aside from the Turkish <> Bulgarian border at Edirne they were all pretty quick; two hours at the most and no paperwork hassles at all.  The crossing at Edirne however was utter chaos; we arrived at 0130 in the morning and didn’t get through the other side until 18 torturous hours had passed.  It seemed that everyone who’d been to Turkey for the summer was heading home.  It was chaos.

It was mostly good natured chaos but me being me I still managed to get into a scrap.  The crossing takes you through multiple booths; at some stages many are open and at some stages only one is open so the lanes are opening up and merging constantly.  Merging demands some assertive queuing if you want to get anywhere; especially when you’re hauling 400Kg of bikes and trailer.  I nosed in on one gentleman from Austria and he flipped his lid, battering the car and assaulting me – leading to a badly bruised neck for me.  I needed to take some photos for insurance which kicked things off again; leading to my new “friend” trying to run me over.  I ended up with bruised shins; he lost the Mercedes symbol on his bonnet.  It was only at this point; with Mr Mercedes trying and failing to land a punch on me that the police took any interest in.  To be fair they did offer to take a formal complaint and press charges but I’d been there 18hrs and I just knew that giving a statement would leave me stuck there for 18 more.

Even once we were through the border fate didn’t deign to smile on us; we swung into a lay-by for Lena to answer nature’s call.  At one end were some parked cars and a young man having some kind of seizure.  There were at lest 15 people in attendance; they must have things in-hand – we thought.  Not wanting to crowd the situation we parked at the far end of the lay by.  No such luck; two of them came running over – they didn’t know the emergency number, spoke no Bulgarian or English, had no first-aid skills and were, as my Colour Sargent would have said – a complete cluster-fuck.  Everyone there were family and friends of the casualty; all Turkish expats on their way back to the German speaking world.  Lena used her people-skills and natural German to calm the casualty and the family down; I used my native English to arrange an ambulance and bring some order to the chaos.  The ambulance took an age to arrive; they messed up the location – despite being given GPS co-ordinates.  The family eventually decided to take him back to Turkey; just as the ambulance and police arrived.  A cat-and-mouse game of the ambulance trying to find them ensued and we excused ourselves from the situation.

We met them at KFC later; they’d decided not to use the ambulance in the end – he was “asleep” and could wait until Austria.  Concerned that he was in fact in a coma and could be at risk of lasting brain damage we did the best we could to convince them to take him to the nearest hospital.  I hope he’s ok.

The rest of the journey home was long, driving in shifts, but largely uneventful.  We got home utterly exhausted and sadly conflicted about the trip.  Once the memories of the difficulties fade I hope whats left will be a grand adventure; but in the short term it felt like the fates were against us at every turn.  I’m sure the memories of these wonderful countries; of beautiful landscapes and friendly people will win out over the memories of hospitals, hassle and hardware failure.  In fact; in writing this blog post I feel that process may have already started.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.