I’m sitting at our dining table looking out over the Chao Praya River to Bangkok a light mist hangs over the city yet to be burnt off by the morning heat.
Belinda is with her family in scorching Perth and our trusty van is sitting, frozen, in a storage yard in Sofia. To say the least the month or so since crossing the border into Bulgaria have been an emotional roller coast, especially for Bea.
We continued tracing the coast past Burgas to the town of Sozopol where we found an almost open campsite. While we were proceeding with haste toward Georgia we were still keen to explore parts of the Bulgarian coast.
The next morning we dropped the Van at a local garage for a lube and oil change then went to explore the newer part of town... dead. An hour later we picked up our Van paid an extortionate amount of money for the service... which I am pretty certain they didn’t actually do..ripped off.. Bastards! I suppose we have been quite lucky in our travels and this was the first really dodgy act.
The weather improved the next morning but fog hung in the valleys as we drove to the Turkish border then onto Istanbul.
We stopped around lunch time at a small restaurant set up in truck stop. We may now be on our dash to Georgia, but we loved Turkey last time we were here, so were going to at least enjoy the food. A simple meal but really tasty of koftas in a tomato stew with bread and salad.
That night we stayed in a campsite just outside Istanbul and spent the late afternoon hunting down an ATM and a phone shop to buy a local sim.
Early the next morning we skirted around Istanbul and headed along the main east west hwy toward Samsun on the Black Sea coast where we found an open campsite. It was a nice site located just a short walk to a restaurant strip where after a look around decided to on pass on the donner kebab, I had promised myself I wasn’t leaving Turkey without having at least one, and had a very nice pide. The owner was super friendly and had a daughter in Sydney, of course.
(Parked next to us that night was a delivery van, it seemed out of place in a camping park!)
We had worked out that we would arrive at the border late evening, we weren’t keen on doing what could be quite a long crossing at night so the next night we camped in the car park of a rafting centre on the Firtina creek an hours drive from the border, it was pretty impressive for a creek!
We arrived at the border around 9.30 well we thought we had as the trucks were queued on the side of the road. It was actually another 10km to the border, ominous signs.
Bea had to walk through while I drove the van, besides the usual perusal of car documents and incessant checking of my licence (not sure many Aussies drive across the border) we breezed threw.
One thing you must do once you have entered Georgia is buy car insurance, it’s illegal to drive without it and no external companies cover Georgia. To assist travellers with this a rather robust and thriving market has set up within 100m of the crossing. Hawkers will assist you to park, arrange your insurance, arrange a SIM card, change your money and even flog you cheap booze.
By the time I drove out Bea had already selected our designated hawker and was well on her way to arranging our needs, without the cheap booze!
Successfully negotiating both the border and the shark pit we could now relax and enjoy Georgia. There were a few reasons we wanted to come to Georgia, not the least was this was, it is arguably the cradle of wine. They have been making it here for 8000 years so they should have got it right by now. It also has a great reputation for food, Russians seem to love Georgian cuisine, but this maybe more a reflection on Russian food. Despite this we knew very little about Georgia itself and were looking forward to learning.
Lesson number one- there is a reason that no company will insure cars in Georgia, they are truely maniacs, Thailand is a land of granny drivers in comparison.
After spending much of the day exploring Batumi we drove a little further up the coast where we wild camped at a lovely beach side parking area. A very pleasant, if a little cold, end to the day sipping G&T’s watching the sunset.
Lesson two most cars are missing at least one bumper and or fender, probably related to lesson one.
We headed inland through rural Georgia toward Tbilisi the Capital where we camped in courtyard of the Tbilisi Yard Hostel.
Also parked in the grounds of the Hostel was a Land Cruiser with a camper trailer with UK plates. We met the couple that owned it the next morning, they were Aussies, (obviously different border guy) who had left England a few months earlier on their Grand adventure. They had been staying here for a couple of weeks as they did some repairs and modifications to their trailer.
After a brief chat, we headed to the rail way station. I was over border crossings with the Van and the further east the less insured it was. The plan was to take the overnight train to Baku in Azerbaijan and return, then do a similar trip to Armenia. The lady at the ticket booth was both friendly and helpful and made the whole ticket purchase a breeze.
After a bit of a scout of the neighbourhood we returned to the hostel where we caught up with Mark and Sarah again and they suggested we join them for dinner which we gladly accepted, its always nice to share a dinner with new friends on the road. In the late afternoon Bea received a message from her sister, Her Mum had taken a turn while out of a day trip with her social group and had been admitted to hospital. It was routine and nothing to really worry about.
The four of us jumped in a cab and headed to a cheap and cheerful restaurant they had recently discovered, it was a great night, good food, well the pickled pigs feet may have been a little out there, lots of very drinkable Georgian red and fun conversations. It was almost midnight by the time we got back after being waylaid at another wine bar on the way back!
As we arrived back Bea got the next message, Things in Perth had deteriorated rapidly and the doctors were very concerned, Ruth was struggling to hold it together and Bea started to crumble.
We immediately threw the essentials into Bea’s daypack, grabbed a cab and headed to the airport. Luckily there were still a few agents still operating at that late hour and we searched for the quickest possible options to get to Perth. Bea could leave now but it would take two days and three stops, the fastest option ended up leaving the following night but was a one, brief stop, and she would be in Perth Thursday afternoon. We booked it and with nothing else we could do headed back to the Van.
The next morning with a little time and slightly clearer thinking we formulated our plan. The hostel was happy for us to leave the van in their carpark for a few weeks, which was helpful and allowed me to travel back with Bea. Once we understood the situation in Perth I would return to move the Van, via the Black Sea ferry, to Sofia where we had originally planed to store it.
The rest of the day was spent packing up the van and getting our gear together, there was no real appetite for sightseeing!
Mid-morning Bea face-timed with her mum and though quite sedated was able to say hi and Bea was able to send her her love. an emotional but therapeutic moment for Bea.
The Qatar airways flight left Tbilisi around 9.30pm. 17 hours and one short stop later we touchdown in Perth. Bea was Anxious but trying to remain calm as we left the aircraft, after boarder control Bea headed for the exit and I went to collect the baggage. If the bags were taking too long she would go with her sister to the hospital and i would find my way there ASAP.
Finally our bags came out and I was rushed through the VIP lane and out into the waiting area where I immediately saw Bea and Ruth embarrassed and I realised we were too late.
Trying to pull it together myself we greeted and made our way, in idle chat ‘nice weather’ to the car and to the hospital where the nephews were waiting.
These times are tough, but you reflect on the good times, It was unfortunate that Bea didn’t quite make it, but technology had allowed her to say what needed to be said while June could understand. It puts travel and distance in perspective, wandering means missing family, but again its what we need to do and the world is so small you can get from one outpost to another in 24 hours, that’s incredible.
(Note. On my return to Tbilisi, parked up in the hostel was the delivery van we saw in Turkey and the Land Cruiser was still there. That Night Mark, Sarah,, the @Kingluie guys and I went for dinner, it amazing the people you meet and the friendships you make on the road)
A few days have past since I started writing this blog. It is now Xmas day and Bea is sharing it in Perth with her Family and I am in Melbourne with mine.
We’ll take a break from our adventure for a few more weeks but will be back on the road in march.
Merry Xmas & Happy New year