The Rain in Colchis

Posted on 2019-03-09

Entering Georgia from Turkey was a bit of a shock to us. The people were colder, the houses were colder, and the drivers were the worst we had encountered since the start of our trip. But that speaks more about the overwhelming warmth of Turkey than about Georgia itself. Once the initial shock wore off, we began to learn more about and enjoy our time in this new country.

Western Georgia is an area that roughly corresponds to the ancient kingdom of Colchis, home to the legendary Golden Fleece, that Jason and the Argonauts came from Greece to find on their quest. It is a lowland area east of the Black Sea, bounded to the north by the Greater Caucasus mountains, to the south by the Lesser Caucasus mountains, and to the east by the Likhi Range, that connects the Greater and Lesser Caucasus. This topography (of coastal lowlands surrounded by high mountains) results in high precipitation, and precipitate it did!

Statue of Medea with the Golden Fleece on Europe Square in Batumi. The statue symbolises the ancient Georgian connections with the European world.

Statue of Medea with the Golden Fleece on Europe Square in Batumi. The statue symbolises the ancient Georgian connections with the European world.

We spent the first week in Batumi, Georgia's second most populous city, catching up on much needed rest, gear maintenance, trip planning, and blog writing. Most of the days, we only left our warm and cozy cave apartment to go to the supermarket next door. On two of the sunnier days though, we went out and explored the city and its wacky, tacky modern architecture.

Skyline of downtown Batumi, from left to right: Chacha Tower (that reportedly dispenses the Georgian national alcoholic beverage 'chacha' daily at 7pm), Radisson Hotel, Batumi Tower (with integrated ferris wheel), Porta Batumi Tower and Alphabet Tower

Skyline of downtown Batumi, from left to right: Chacha Tower (that reportedly dispenses the Georgian national alcoholic beverage 'chacha' daily at 7pm), Radisson Hotel, Batumi Tower (with integrated ferris wheel), Porta Batumi Tower and Alphabet Tower

The city lacked any really interesting character though, so after one week of rest, we started cycling again, despite a forecast of rain for the next few days. Needless to say, it was a rather miserable experience: we couldn't see much of the landscape because of the rain, and only gradually became wetter and colder. Our guesthouses for the first two nights on the road might be nice in summer, but with small space heaters, they were just plain cold when we were there. On top of that, the people mostly seemed as cold as the weather, and the unpredictable drivers put us on edge the whole time.

So when we reached Kutaisi and the weather remained cold and wet (even snowing one night), we decided to hole up again in our guesthouse where the room could be (somewhat, slowly) heated. Kutaisi, as the second most important city in Georgia (after Tbilisi) and the former capital of the ancient kingdom of Colchis, also seemed more interesting. We met a local student through Couchsurfing who gave us a free tour of the city, and on one of the less rainy days, we also took a day trip to two beautiful monasteries a bit outside the city, Gelati and Motsameta.

Colchis Fountain, in the central square of Kutaisi, with enlarged models of ancient golden artifacts found during archaeological excavations nearby Kutaisi.

Colchis Fountain, in the central square of Kutaisi, with enlarged models of ancient golden artifacts found during archaeological excavations nearby Kutaisi.

The Motsameta monastery near Kutaisi, in a beautiful setting on a cliff-top promontory above a bend of the Tskhaltsitela river

The Motsameta monastery near Kutaisi, in a beautiful setting on a cliff-top promontory above a bend of the Tskhaltsitela river

It was also Hannah's birthday, so on one evening, we went to Toma's Wine Cellar, a small, cosy restaurant that the owner Toma runs with his family in the basement of their house. We had a tour of his wine cellar, where he makes his own wine, and were then served SO MUCH GOOD FOOD. And wine. And chacha. We almost couldn't walk back to our guesthouse after the dinner.

Hannah's birthday dinner (supra, or celebratory feast) at Toma's Wine Cellar in Kutaisi, that the owner Toma runs with his family in the basement of their house. We were given a tour of his wine cellar, where he makes his own wine, and then served SO MUCH GOOD FOOD! And wine. And chacha. We almost couldn't walk back to our guesthouse after the dinner.

Hannah's birthday dinner (supra, or celebratory feast) at Toma's Wine Cellar in Kutaisi, that the owner Toma runs with his family in the basement of their house. We were given a tour of his wine cellar, where he makes his own wine, and then served SO MUCH GOOD FOOD! And wine. And chacha. We almost couldn't walk back to our guesthouse after the dinner.

After five nights in Kutaisi (instead of the original two!), the sun finally came out and we had two pleasant days of cycling up to the Rikoti pass through the Likhi mountain range. The days were warm and sunny with clear blue sky, but the night was extremely cold (the forecast said -11°C), so we didn't camp, but stayed in a guesthouse in Ubisa, a small village in the mountains. Our Airbnb host himself was not at home, but we were hosted by his parents, who didn't speak any English, but cared for us and fed us like we were part of their family.

With our Airbnb host's mum on their balcony overlooking Ubisa village and the Dzirula river

With our Airbnb host's mum on their balcony overlooking Ubisa village and the Dzirula river

Just before the Rikoti pass, the main road goes through an almost 2km long tunnel bypassing the highest point of the pass, which we didn't want to cycle through, knowing how crazy the Georgian drivers are. Fortunately, the original road over the pass is still there, but unfortunately, it was not properly cleared of snow, so we spent a lot of time pushing our bicycles up this last climb. In the beginning, three young men helped us push, which was a welcome help, though we suspect that they are snow plow drivers who didn't complete their work!

We had to push our bicycles up quite a number of stretches of the road up to the pass

We had to push our bicycles up quite a number of stretches of the road up to the pass

At the top of Rikoti pass (996m), a mountain pass in the Likhi Range, which divides Georgia into its western and eastern parts

At the top of Rikoti pass (996m), a mountain pass in the Likhi Range, which divides Georgia into its western and eastern parts

This pass marks the border between western and eastern Georgia (and also between the ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia), so we'll continue our story in the next post!