Mud, wind, sun, rain, the black sea, Russian Army with helicopters, lack of food, lack of water, my back hernias, my painful knee, lack of money, drunken Georgians driving like there is no tomorrow, holes in the street, toxic substances, any kind of animal in the middle of the street, Georgian excessive hospitality, mountains, hunters shooting even at night, the fact that I a have a city bike, and even farmers with axes pointed at me: none of these stopped me from getting from Kiev to Tbilisi.
Wanna know what happened on the way?
Simply read below.
CYCLING VS MOTORIZED VEHICLES
You can call a cyclist irrational, or even masochist, you may think it’s meaningless to cycle when you can take the car or an airplane, and be much faster.
Nevertheless, a cyclist believes in what he does. He believes that using the legs instead of polluting vehicles, makes you feel proud of yourself, proud of your body and of your respect to nature.
Hence, why do painters still exist when you can take a picture and get everything much faster?
This was the sentence my father used to pronounce when someone would argue that his paintings are not exactly as reality.
The same difference between a painting and a picture we can transpose to bicycles and cars.
That’s the reason why a while ago I jumped on an abandoned bicycle and decided to go to the other side of the world with it.
INSPIRATION TO CYCLE
The books that inspired me the most:
– The tour of the world in 80 days
– Future Boy Conan
– Don Chuck Monogatari
– Hokuto no Ken
I Share my Bicyle Diary with you
KIEV – ODESSA
Kiev – Bila Tserkva, First 50 km’s
I can’t easily find vegetarian food, the most people eat meat and milk products.
On the right side of the road, there is a small fence with a crowd of cows constricted inside. They have extremely little space, being forced to squeeze and can barely move.
The people I meet along the way are not too interested in interacting, some of them don’t even look in my direction. I guess this is not due to anything negative in their character, they are probably introverted and reserved. That’s actually a polite way of behaving; I appreciate much more who gives me my personal space and privacy, instead of those who go behind my boundaries. Nevertheless, while bicycle touring, one is more open and can get benefit from getting to know locals.
The 80% of the houses in the rural areas, have the roof made of this toxic material. Asbestos is everywhere. Fences, walls, water pipes, and aqueducts are in asbestos too.
I initially felt preoccupied and sad about the people’s health here, but after seeing how old peoples get, I feel released: even though they grow up around toxic’s substances and not far from Chernobyl, many manage to get quite old and still in reasonable shape.
My curiosity made me wish to know the real age of those old men and woman, still, I didn’t dare to ask.
The worst thing a cyclist can encounter are definitely dogs, that’s a constant in all countries. Northern countries are much more safe in this aspect, dogs are friendly there, they don’t bother you.
The more you go south, the more dogs become aggressive, without being racist, we can make an analogy about people.
From the moment it’s proven that dogs behave in a parallel way to humans around them, these in Ukraine start to become a problem, luckily, they get scared of me once I look at them in the eyes and they run away.
Installing the tent on the side of the road, behind few trees, where the level of the ground is about two meters below the street; I have little space cause the road is right on my left, on my right I have a grain field.
The ground is not smooth, the noise of vehicles, many of which are tractors, is annoying my sleep. Furthermore, dogs from a nearby farm, bark all night and I get really cold.
Bila Tserkva 50km – Rokytne 110km
A BABUSHKA KICKS ME OFF
In the deep countryside, I see some nut trees along the road, so I decide to harvest this healthy dry fruit. While I pick some nuts, a babushka, from a house at the other side of the street, shouts at me and points her right hand to the street, showing me the way to go away from her surroundings.
Everything is made of asbestos here, people do not seem to care.
The night passes with a continuous barking of dogs, they seem to be near the tent, I shrink into a ball in order to avoid any of them to reach me at the edges of the tent.
The sunflowers bend their head down, to the opposite side of the sun, it seems almost like a sign of rebellion to nature or maybe it could represent the nature itself, surrendering to humans, which burn and pollute the fields without respect.
It’s hard to count all the camps of sunflower, now dead, that I find on my way. I have the impression sunflower is in absolute the main crop of Ukraine, following, in smaller number, I see grain and corn fields too.
ROKYTNE, MY FAVORITE TOWN
A different town is in front of me, it’s called Rokytne. I notice immediately the many cyclists, friendly people, and finer shops.
I have a break here, it’s the only place that stands out from the standard Ukrainian post-soviet, outdated style. Also, the mentality of the people seems to be more forward. I get to this conclusion judging by how the cars drive and the fact that many locals ride bicycles for choice, not because of poverty.
Rokytne 110km – Skibin 150km
DRUNKEN MAN, WANTING TO PAY AND KISS ME
In order to get water and some food, I stop in a “Magazin”, an omnipresent small shop that sells a bit of everything. NB: the everyting that you can find in a country where import is quite limited due struggling economy and an active war.
I see a table outside, where a drunken man is napping, in a deep sleep, which is for me surprising because it’s about 10:00 in the morning; I seat at the opposite side of him, there are two bottles of beer on the table, one is right where I am sitting. From the moment nobody is there, I move the drink away from me.
After few minutes, a man comes straight to me and shouts something. I understand that I took his place, I try to explain but from the moment he realizes that I cycling a long way, he smiles, holds my hands, and introduces himself; proposing me some food. Once I tell him that I am coming from Finland with the bicycle, he becomes euphoric, offering me money as help; at a certain point, he even tries to kiss me while we take a picture.
Highlights of the rest of the day:
Too much wind, I can’t cycle.
Stop for a long reparation. My hands get black and I don’t find a place to wash them.
A scooter stops next to me, the driver has a technical problem.
Skibin 150km – Uman 220km
All the way with no restaurants or snacks.
A man is on the ground, lying on a bicycle.
Many cows and goats attached at few meters of chain.
I talk to a woman milking a cow.
Uman 220km – Kryve Ozero 310km
Lost in the woods full of trash.
In a snack, the shop owner tries to cheat with the price. It’s the first time I notice someone tryes to cheat about prices in Ukraine.
Many dead foxes on the highway.
I meet Alexander, a young boy walking on the highway attempting to reach Odessa by foot. He has not even a bag or backpack, wears dirty clothes and broken sandals. I think about the difference between him and me.
A golden toothed man gives me fruits.
Many horses on the chain.
Without knowing, I slept at the entrance of a school.
Cryve Ozero 310km – Zhovten 400km
EXTREMELY HOT AND SUNNY, I GOT A SUNBURN
A man hosts me, he is caring and helpful, drinks vodka, but misses two front teeth. He heals my burning arms by applying milk cream on my skin.
When I am about to sleep, he comes to the room without knocking, looks at me smiling, makes a circle with his right hand, putting the index and the thumb together, then releases the index finger to his neck making a sound.
I am not sure about what this may mean, but I go to another room with him.
He shows me a bottle of Ukrainian vodka, I get a full glass of it. Explaining that it’s too much, I take another glass and pour one finger of vodka in it, he takes the rest and drinks it all in one shoot.
Not even five minutes are passed, he wants to show me how strong he his, so he starts to do push-ups and similar exercises.
Zhovten 400 – Odessa 500
Main issues: disastrous road, dogs, wind, sun.
ODESSA – BOAT
Going fast under the rain: slaloming around huge ponds, crossing with red traffic lights to get to my ship, which is departing soon.
Before boarding, in the check-in room that looked more like a refugee camp for mentally disturbed and alcoholic, I already get to know that Georgians are heavy drinkers. They drink and drive, and as it turns out, they also drink and sail: a drunken officer coming from the ship confirms this.
Waiting for hours in the corridor of the custom control area, I discover that inside this small space a full ecosystem is around me. There is a mini bank office, which is actually a two square meters hole with a think glass; a miniature restaurant and even toilets, the latter smelling like an open latrine.
THE GEORGIAN NEANDERTHAL MAN
A drunken tall man, featuring a Neanderthal walking style, argues with me about his ‘priority’ in getting through the entrance.
For unknown reasons, he was carrying an old washing machine from Ukraine to Georgia. He was there with his mother, which was constantely embarassed by his behavior.
There is not much I can tell him because he is totally drunk and doesn’t appear to understand any language that I know, anyhow I explain him the situation in English, he does not get any happier.
This individual continues, during the long hours of the custom control, to harass people and disturb. He reaches the point of repeatedly attempting to kiss a well-shaped female bank employee, a security woman—old and of the dubious attractiveness—, and other women.
During these absurd actions, he was leaning so close to the victims that his lips almost reached them. He was explicitly asking to have sex, verbally and physically.
Constant shouts, aggressive approaches, pushing and pulling, verbal assaults, were all perpetrated by this monkey-man. He was talking no-sense even with whom didn’t speak his language.
We were maybe fifty passengers, there was at least a dozen of people working in the station, nevertheless, nobody stopped him, not even the border control police, customs, and military personnel.
Walking with feet at two shoulder distance, bended knees, and open arms, he looked like a zoo escape.
After the initial feeling of indignation, I could not stop to laugh, I thought to be in a dream, real life can’t be so funny.
There were continuous grotesque scenes, going from unreal hilarious to unbearable, these could all have been used in a low-quality comedy, which could have been really funny somehow.
He ended up falling asleep on the benches of the waiting room.
RUSSIAN WAR HELICOPTERS ON OUR HEADS
Two Russian war helicopters visit us, they roam around the boat for about half hour. Coming approximately ten meters close to the vessel.
It is a quite intimidating experience, also because I am on a regular, innocent, ferry boat. The only issue with it is that it’s a Ukrainian ship, that’s why the Russian harassment.
DANCING ON THE DECK, DRUNKEN
Passengers offer me drinks, I drink more vodka than what I am supposed to drink, this caused:
Discussions with officers.
All night vomiting.
Sleeping for two days.
Back highly painful.
BATUMI – TBILISI
Batumi 0 – Kobuleti 35
HILLS ON MY WAY
My first kilometers in Georgia are a new experience for me.
All is really different than in Ukraine. The traffic, the roads, the altitude and the people.
A kind-hearted man helps me uphill and gives me food. There is no mutual language we both speak properly, so we communicate by hands. He tells me that with his car he just needs two hours to get to the capital. Pointing at the Coca-Cola he is drinking, and at his chubby belly, I tell him: “this drink, together with a car, are the worst for health”.
The way was becoming really steep, it seemed that the mountains I was cycling on would never end. My back it’s painful since four days already, today more than ever, I can barely walk. My bicycle has just three gears so I have to push it, operation almost impossible due the condition of my spine.
Next the first high hill, three young girls give me some water, cause my bottle was empty
Kobuleti 35 – Lanchkhuti 100
A minibus stops, there are two men in it, one of them tells me to get inside, he helps me to load the bicycle. He does not speak any English, it’s hard to communicate, nevertheless, I do understand that he is offering to bring me to Tbilisi.
I speak also with his wife on the phone, she could speak English and was really kind too.
My point is to cycle to Tbilisi, I explain this and I tell him that I just needed a bit of help for these hills and because my back hurts.
His sense of hospitality it’s really disarming, he definitely wants to do more for me, so he offers me a coffee, food, and asks if I need anything else.
Before leaving he gives me a bag full of food. There is a piece of flatbread, which is really tasty. When they are about to leave, the minibus does not start, I help to push it but it does not work. Luckily, the other person, who is his father in law, knew a trick and by maneuvering at the engine, managed to make the vehicle start.
It starts to rain, I stop at a snack, the only of the village. There I spend half day and I get to know nearly all the students of the village.
They are friendly and many of them speak english. It seems they don’t want me to leave.
One of them tells me that he knows a place where I can put my tent, I follow him but instead he brings me his home, not sure about what to do, I cycle fast to the first possible place where I can install my tent, it’s pouring rain and I am in the mud.
Lanchkhuti 100 – Samtredia 150
I get Bread and water from a sweet old lady.
I am outside the tent, shirtless, about to pack my stuff, when an older woman passes by, I regret to not have asked the people nearby if I could camp there, so I say to the woman who I am, that I have slept there and where I am going. She says something like “cleb” , I just understand that she may want to offer me some food, so I try to explain that I have already bread–offered me from another kind Georgian the day before–.
She is faster than me, I get a big fresh backed piece of bread and a bottle of water.
RAIN IN THE MORNING
I was about to depart when it started to rain, the tent and the bicycle were all wet, the sky didn’t promise any sun, I packed and I started cycling anyway, hoping to find a place where to get my stuff dry.
HORSES ON CHAINS
One of the nicest things of Georgia is the freedom of domestic animals, they are just everywhere, with no chains.
Horses don’t have the same fortune, I have seen many of them with short chains; which is horrendous for an anymal that is naturally made to roam fast in vast spaces.
Samtredia 150 – Meore Sviri 200
RAIN AND MUD: A CAR STOPS IN FRONT OF THE TENT
Blocked in the rain I can’t move from the tent, I hear people passing in front of it.
An old mercedes is slaloming in the mud like a rally car. Two man with a little beard are inside. They tell me to get in the car, I do it.
I am brought some kilometers away, in a house where there are six more men, I don’t know what to expect, also cause we don’t have any language we can use to communicate.
Some tension and worrying feeling builds up, I relax and it all ends up really sweet.
They are all very welcoming and hospitable, offering me food, drinks, even drugs!–the latter I refuse–.
I am invited to stay for the night and I get even the mud from my feet and the bicycle cleaned up by them.
Watermelons are brought to me by them as present for the morning breakfast.
The only negative side is that the host is drunk since the beginning and he does not hesitate to drive the car, like there is no tomorrow.
Meore Sviri 200 – Kvesrevi 300
Rain, rain rain.
Kvesrevi 300 – Tsromi 350
I have to depart with the tent being wet and the rain continues almost all day.
A young dog followed me a little. For the first time not to attack me, but in search of company, or food.
He was so sweet that I almost wished to take him with me.
One of his legs was injured, in a car accident probably. Anyhow he managed to run and jump run behind me. Happy as I have never seen a dog before.
Once I shouted at him to make him stop following me, he makes a dog cry, it’s disarming and pitiful, even for me that I don’t consider a dog better than a pig.
PERCEPTIVE ILLUSION OF THE STREET INCLINATION
I have to do the highest climbing now, reaching almost 1.000 meters of height.
The bicycle seems not to cycle properly, I feel that something is preventing its wheels from spinning smoothly. Therefore I stop and by putting the bicycle upside down, I check what’s the problem. All seems to be normal with the bicycle. The way, a two-lane road, goes uphill but it seemed to my eyes that it was downhill, so I got confused thinking that the problem was the bicycle. Probably my perspective made me have a wrong perception of the road’s inclination.
After the long climbing, here the fun part comes: the downhill!
In the first village, a Kid asks me for money, I am really touched by that, unfortunately, I am not able to give him money, nor I manage to spend some time with him to understand his problems.
In the fields, where pastors bring animals, I met a Man who served in the USSR army in the Baltics. We can’t understand each other much cause he speaks Georgian and Russian, I just understand few words of Russian. He seemed to be nostalgic of the USSR time.
Few hours before the sun sets down, when you still see a strong yellow-orange light, I set my tent up, on a beautiful hill, where there are cultivated fields and no garbage, finally, except for a couple of synthetic napkins.
I hear shootings nearby, it’s gonna be another night of worrying for hunters.
Tsromi 350 – Gori 400
In the night before, I have a visit of several different animals around the tent.
It was deep night. A craving creature comes out from few centimeter of my tent’s back side.
After few hours, something that could have been a fox, defecated just outside the entrance of the tent.
HOUSES AND CAR – POLICE AND COMMON PEOPLE
My eye catches many houses with just the front façade painted: it first seemed funny to see houses where the only finished side is the one facing the street. The other three sides have just bricks. Later I understand that poverty is still rampant here, the most people don’t have enough means to finish the building works. Probably stucco and paint are also expensive because they need to be imported.
From the other hand, Police buildings are really modern and luxurious. For reasons to me unknown, they have the European flag outside their police stations.
Police cars are extravagant too. They often leave police vehicles in the street with the engine running. When they are driving they keep the emergency lights, blue and red, always on. As it’s permanent emergency. Which is true, seen how georgians drive!
It seems there is a lot of money for police, but not for the Georgians or the streets, the latter often with rainwater draining gaps unfinished, transforming them in a mortal trap.
Georgians drive Cars, mostly vans actually, with German and Dutch text on it.
In first instance I was surprised, I thought many Germans were living here. Nevertheless, when I started to notice that these vehicles had German and Dutch minor businesses’s advertising, I realized Georgians were driving them.
They simply didn’t have means to paint the cars again, probably it looks cool for them to have a van with some European ununderstandable text such as: “schilderwerken Van Den Lieve”
TOMATO SELLERS GIVE ME FOOD
I was going off-road, for about two hours, going at walking speed and stopping often because the way was uphill. The bicycle was heavy, the weather is hot, therefore I get quite tired.
To get out of the dirtroad, I cross tomato sellers, one of them invites me inside a van, offering me tomatos, bread and anything he had on the small table.
In a small shop, they are kind to me, offering coffee and sweets.
This time my politeness got me into troubles, because I am not supposed to drink coffee, still, I accepted it. The coffee made me totally nervous for all the day and I could not sleep properly at night.
I discover that Georgians shops owners, to save electricity, do not keep the freezers for food always on, they unplug it for a while. They ignore maybe that unfreezing and freezing again makes food going bad.
Now I finally understand why ice-cream’s taste like expired here.
Gori 400 – Noste 428
THE CITY OF STALIN
I actually got to know just after have crossed Gori that it was the city where Stalin was born. Anyhow I had a feeling of strangeness while I was the city.
NIGHT VISIT OF A KIND THIEF
I have my tent in a side path of a muddy county road, between cultivated lands with low trees and green crops.
It’s really dark, late, cold, and it rains.
A kind shop owner offered me a coffie yesterday, I did the wrong act of drinking it, so I am restless all night. This makes me really sensitive to noises.
The bicycle is parked at the tent’s side, from the other side, I hear footsteps: “hallo”—I say immediately—“hallo”—the man replies, —“karasho”—I say, but there is no reply to it.
I hear footsteps going to the back side of the tent, then I don’t hear anything, I guess he went over a small path behind the tent.
Trying to sleep again, when not even ten minutes are passed, the same man is passing by, I pop out with my head from the tent and I see, in the darkness, his shape, the reddish light of a cigarette, and three animals going with him.
He does not come to talk to me and seems evasive, so I deduct he has stolen the beasties.
It rains since yesterday, I was wet when I went to sleep and I wake up wet, in the morning the sky is totally covered with gray, intimidating clouds, so I stay in the tent.
I discover that the ‘thief’ of yesterday, was actually the pastor of the animals.
Maybe the fact that I have eaten yesterday a tomato from the, not too clean, hands of a farmer, or maybe some other food I got in a shop which was not really hygienic or not rinsed properly; possibly a mix of these, plus a coffee that I was not supposed to accept—because caffeine act to my body like a drug—all this made my belly going crazy in the night.
I had cramps and swollen stomach, my sleep was constantly disturbed, it seemed like the digestion was having main issues.
SHOOTINGS IN THE NIGHT
Hunters became a constant, they hunt everywhere and do not seem to have much legal regulation.
I am not surprised anymore to hear shootings few hundred meters from the tent.
What surprised me was the fact that yesterday night there were shootings during hours of complete darkness, it could have been after midnight.
I wonder: “How can they see where they shoot in the night?”
Hoping they will not shoot in my direction, and that there will be no bullets coming back from the sky to me, I managed to sleep a bit.
INVITED FOR LUNCH
I go in a restaurant to eat, before I am able to order any food, I get invited from a group of people eating. They are really sweet and caring, adding food to my dish every five minutes.
GEORGIANS EATING HABITS
Just one is person talking while toasting, and strangely to me, he just cheers with few persons. I get to know that some of them are deputies.
At the end, suddenly, all people stand up and leaves within one minute.
I MEET A BICYCLE TRAVELER
From far, I see a shape of something that looks like a bicycle coming in my direction.
It’s a cyclist, traveling.
Henk, is his name, he is Dutch and we have a lot of experiences to share.
Homelessness for example, he is involved in helping people sleeping rough.
Moreover, our cycling route has similarities, he is doing the same route, but the opposite direction.
He started in America, coming from California to Asia and Middle East. Now heading to Greece, to help in refugees’ camps.
Two hunters with dogs pass by us, between the harvested corn fields. After circa five minutes we already hear shootings. For few hours they will be hunting just next to us.
Noste 428 – Tbilisi 460
A COLD NIGHT
On top of the high Georgian hills, the wind blows strong, the temperature drops steep down in the night and I get quite cold.
I have an unfortunate body setting that makes me feel extremely cold at night.
My sleeping bag is too thin, I need to wear all my clothes, even the jacket, hat, and gloves. Yet, I am not warm enough, I wake up often.
This cold night, added to all other cold, uncomfortable nights I had so far, makes me thing about people sleeping rough for all their life.
I have dreams of Henk, a boat, and a girl.
ARRIVING IN TIBLISI
The first huge advertising panels I find:
Great at hospitality.
Superb with food.
Bad with trash disposal.
Horrendous with driving.
The most recurring Georgian question: “how are Georgians” – meaning if they are welcoming enough.
Hygiene to improve.
Expensive cars, but broken teeth
As other post USSR counties, Tbilisi it’s full of architectural barriers. Car culture it’s spread as the plague and a pedastrian has big difficulty sometimes just to cross a road. Risking maybe his life.
HOSPITALITY CUSTOMS AND HOMELESSNESS
Why hospitality rules don’t apply for an homeless?
What’s the meaning of these hospitality traditions?
Are they more a “show off” or do they have social implications?
THE MORE SOUTH, THE MORE CONTRASTS
Traveling south, traveling slow, connecting with locals, this will make you truly understand a culture.
It seems that the southern one goes, the more people are different in their kindness and honesty.
In Northern Europe, you will find mostly friendly people with strong ethical values.
In Central Europe, some people may be less trustworthy.
Southern Europe is considered to be a region where you can’t really give a generic opinion, some people are extremely sweet and helpful, others quite dishonest. Asia and USA could also be placed at this level.
More South, in middle-east and North Africa, this contrast becomes more visible, many would help you no matter what, while others are just waiting to get any kind of own advantage from you.
In the Southest of the world, central-southern Africa and Latin America, you find angels, but also devils.
I still have a long way to go to prove this thesis.