With our new plan to enter Abkhazia cemented we submitted our electronic Abkhazian entry permit applications. They would take three days to be issued and we were all excited to be taking the detour through this unknown territory…that is until we received word that we CANNOT depart Abkhazia using a different border than the one we entered. So departing Georgia and entering Russia was suddenly not possible! Spirits were dashed and plans were in tatters as we scrambled yet again to find an alternative route.
After two days locked in the Marriot hotel in Tbilisi, furiously planning, it was decided to go back to Europe via Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania & Latvia before crossing into Russia, nine days behind schedule. We rewrote the entire itinerary and were still able to see everything as per our planned itinerary, but any more delays would mean we would have to skip Kyrgyzstan to catch up.
We explored every option including getting an Azerbaijani visa, five days, crossing into Ukraine from the Georgian port of Batumi, another visa delay for Australians, crossing the Caspian Sea via the notoriously unreliable Baku to Aktau ferry or getting a transit visa for Azerbaijan then entering Russia and riding through Dagestan. All the dire governmental travel warnings and local advice turned us off that idea, so Europe was the only option and a bad one at that.
We rode out of Tbilisi the following day bound for Turkey. While crossing the border into Turkey it was the Georgian border guard that first alerted us to the fact the Larsi border between Russian and Georgia was opened again the very day we were leaving Georgia. Reports were sporadic at best and accurate information was impossible to obtain so we continued on to the Black Sea resort town of Giresun. Making numerous calls and sending many emails confirmed that indeed a temporary road had been built and the border was opened again. Once again a new plan was hatched and it was decided to again enter Georgia and give the border a try. This decision meant that Brian won’t see his bike again for the remainder of this expedition, apparently it’s too much for his US shipping agents to crate his other bike, stick it on a plane and get it to him! Seriously how hard can it be?
We once again departed Tbilisi but this time we turned north and rode the utterly spectacular Georgian Military Highway, a road of legends, a road taken by Gorky, Pushkin and Tolstoy not to mention invading Russian armies! Stunning monasteries clung to mountainsides while others occupied incredibly scenic locations. The riding was truly wonderful as we ascended through a fertile green landscape to barren, rocky, sheer mountains that towered all around. Hairpin after hairpin greeted us as we rode on to Russia.
We reached the site of the devastating landslide that claimed eight lives. The slide had changed the course of the river and a pile of utterly unrecognizable twisted metal that once were semi trailers bore terrifying testament to the ferocity of the landslide.
We had an amazing ride through the Caucuses, however our jubilant mood was soon soured by an amazing eight-hour border crossing and a miserable, but ultimately unsuccessful, scam at the Russian border where one police officer invited us to jump the lengthy queue only to be busted by another officer wanting to charge us $300 USD for crossing double lines while getting to the front, as instructed to do so by his counterpart! Welcome to Russia!!
We met our “fixer” Stas on the Georgian side and after finally getting through we met Irina, the president of the local Vladikavkaz Rotary Club, who had waited an amazing 12 hours at the border to greet us. We were escorted the 40 kilometers to our hotel in Vladikavkaz, arriving at 11.30 p.m. tired but elated to “at last” make it to Russia. The kitchen staff had all stayed back to prepare us a midnight meal.
The following morning we found ourselves being interviewed by the local TV station before Irina and Stas wanted to take us to Beslan; the town with a tragic history from 10 years ago when 365 people, 200 of them children, were killed by terrorists with no apparent reason as to why. To this day it remains a mystery WHY? It was a very moving experience.
The ride continued on as we rode out of the mountains and into an amazing landscape of endless wheat fields and a vast distant horizon. This was an empty landscape, a huge contrast to what we’ve experienced thus far on this ride. We reached Elista and stayed at the only hotel in town before reaching Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, the renowned site of one of the bloodiest battles during WWII.
A city guide was organized and we spent a half day learning about the incredible, yet bloody history of the town. The 56-meter tall Mother of Russia statue and the eternal flame were particularly poignant. The changing of the guard was a bit weird, but classically Russian.
It was back to the miserable hovel masquerading as a hotel, (all we could get at such short notice thanks to the landslide), for some bike servicing as it has been 9600 km since we left London a month ago.
Tomorrow we ride onto Samara, the home of the MIG jet fighter and formerly a closed city, on the banks of the mighty Volga River. At last we are back on track and have caught up on the itinerary. It has been an amazing adventure thus far and the Road of Bones Expedition is only a month in!!!