12 November 2018 18:38
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If you could see us today, you'd see that we are not looking our best. We're camping on a river bed in Georgia and in the past few nights, there have been some heavy storms. A lot of lightning struck near to our truck and so we've not been getting much sleep there.
Regardless of that, we're still in high spirits though: in a few days, our passports should arrive in the capital Tbilisi, together with the visa for Russia and Mongolia. Last month, we had to rethink our route as Pakistan refused to grant us a visa, but now our path across Russia's far east is free. In terms of paperwork, at least.
On the way to the Caucasian Republic of Georgia, we crossed Iran from the dry south right up to the north. Our stop off in Esfahan was especially exciting: not just because of the huge Naqsh-e Jahan Square, but also thanks to our encounters with the locals there. Hardly any tourists are attracted to the country these days and so the inhabitants are always glad of the contact with people from outside their country. People regularly spoke to us, offered us sweets or wanted to take photos with their phones.
In light of such fantastic hospitality, it was clear to us that we should stop by and visit an "old acquaintance" of ours: a farmer who gave us several kilos of fruit on our way through the Dasht-e Lut desert. This time, we had gifts on-board, for example some home-made jam from the fruit he gave us. The farmer was really pleased and invited us to meet his family. His brother, a mechanic, fell in love with our Yamaha. He offered to service it for free, but we politely declined. We didn't want to take advantage of their generosity, plus the bike – incidentally, just like our Axor – is running just fine.
Sometimes, even the strongest of trucks can't help you, as we found out on our way to the Caspian Sea. There, we climbed a series of passes and the landscape just kept getting more and more green, whilst the climate was almost tropical. Our destination: a lake at more than 2000 metres altitude. At some point the road became so muddy and steep that we had to turn around. Or should we say, reverse as far as it took to have enough space to actually be able to turn around.
We were also forced to turn around in the Dasht-e Kavir desert, east of Tehran. There, military personal at a checkpoint mistook us for spies! It has to be said, Iran isn't exactly the easiest land for tourism. While camping, the police have also checked us over several times. Although each of these situations all ended unproblematically, the language barrier meant that we were never truly sure whether everything was really OK.
Despite that, after four weeks in Iran, we were left with an overriding set of positive impressions. And incidentally, some of our most adventurous occasions only happened because we had deliberately decided to cross the country using the smaller roads. That took us into a dried-up river bed which felt like being on the moon. We had to use the drone a good number of times as we just couldn't get enough of the pictures of us from the air.
A particularly tricky obstacle was passing from Iran into Armenia. We spent five hours being sent from one border officer to the next. In the end, we were told we would have to wait for a vet who was to check over Aimée. After an hour of waiting, another official turned up and asked what we were still doing here and that they had finished processing us a long time ago!
Southern Armenia is essentially a network of mountain passes. The roads have been worn down by innumerable trucks transporting Iranian diesel into the heartlands, and we were also given an almighty shaking on them. Mike wished we had half gears and a retarder. Several times per day, we went from heights between 1500 and 2500 metres down as low as 400 to 700 metres and then back up again. The architecture here was strongly reminiscent of the Soviet era. In shops, we communicated using our hands and feet, which made the cashiers behind the counters giggle.
Armenia is the first Christian country in history and so there are lots of churches and abbeys dotted around. Among the most well-known is Tatev Monastery which is built on a rockface. There, we experienced the thickest of fog. We parked 100 metres away from the edifice, yet we couldn't even see it! In exchange for that, after taking a short walk the following morning, we were rewarded with an even more spectacular view of the abbey.
Grandiose views were also to be had further north on the Selim pass. It was a good thing Mike forced me – Andrea – to get up early after spending the night above the mountain pass. I was able to immortalise the sunrise with my camera. After that, we decided to spend a couple of nights at Lake Sevan. We somehow felt we needed some time to let the impressions of the previous weeks soak in a little.
Still in Armenia, we discovered that the solar system on top of the living area had only been working at half its capacity for a week. Thankfully, we managed to get support from the bodybuilder Bliss Mobil. Their suggestion was to remove the panels step by step and test the voltage at each connection. In the end, it was just a loose connection and a fuse that needed replacing.
Here in Georgia, we also drove along innumerable mountain passes, with some areas reminding us of Swiss landscapes. Our first stop was a cave monastery in the south of the country where 20,000 people are alleged to have once lived. We crossed the entire country to the coast of the Black Sea and camped there on the beach.
Despite the storms over the past few nights, and the sometimes heavy downpours, the temperatures have remained summery and it's still possible to go for a swim in the sea. That's something we're currently really enjoying. After all, we know that we'll soon be setting our course for the north, where we'll be heading for winter. And with it, in the direction of the next "Xtreme" location: Oymyakon in Russia's far east. We're really looking forward to the journey there!
Part six of the RoadStars series will be published on 22nd October. Stay tuned!
4-Xtremes – the tour of superlatives.