07 July, 2008

Feeling pochee in Sochi.

Here I am in Sochi, beach holiday capital of Russia on the Black Sea and similar to most resorts around the Southern mediterranean.

5th July - Pyatigorsk to Sochi - 600km.

After my two day sabbatical in Pyatigorsk (don't worry about the different spellings - the Russians aren't consistent about it either) I left there on Saturday the 5th of July for a magnificent ride over the mountains to the Black Sea Coast .

This part of Russia has some of the most interesting and diverse scenery I have seen. Around 50km out of Kislovodsk the road heads up and crosses a North-South mountain range (of which Mt Elberus is the highest peak in Europe) just North of Dombai. The views of the snow covered peaks are magnificent but you feel the cold on a bike - I even rode past a ski resort. I met a group of Russians who were planning on doing some hiking and they helped me out by donating a 10 year old Russian road atlas - I now FINALLY have a Russian road map (it was impossible to buy one in Australia and my GPS is not exactly reliable as indicated in my earlier posts).

After crossing the range I still managed to lose my way to Maikop (pronounced make up as in "kiss and ....") as I missed the sign ****, but soon found my way back on track after taking some back roads through rural villages. The villages were a wonderful sight - ducks and geese wandering across the road, cows and goats ambling down the main street - and a I truly love the simplicity of life that they suggest - it's almost like a time warp back to when I was a boy in the '50s, and lived on the outskirts of a country town in Northern England, playing in wheat fields and cow pastures whilst riding my bike along country roads to go horse riding.

Once back on track I then had to cross the final ridge of mountains (which border the Black Sea) to Tuapse. This would have been a fun ride around switchback corners but (there's always a but...;-)) it was 20km of boulder strewn dirt and very steep. After reaching Tuapse (on the sea itself) around 9.30pm I then had a 120km ride South to Sochi along some great tight 30-40kmh corner cliff top roads ( a little like a combination of the Great Ocean road and the Dandenongs all rolled into one, except tighter. longer and more curves, for you Aussies), except (there's always an exception...:-)) it was dark, the bitumen is pretty rough, every drunk Russian and his friend was out driving too (it's Saturday night remember) and most importantly after 17,000km the rear tyre on the Burgie is now pretty much square (which means that as I turn the tyre "topples" off the square edge, rather than rolls gently, to the side) so it's not quite as much fun as it should have been.

At midnight around 35km from Sochi I called it a night and pulled to the side of the road, found a clearing where I could put up the tent in a reasonably secluded spot (not easy to find when the road has been carved into the cliff side and there is no extraneous flat land to speak of).

I woke up around 8am to the sound of a tour bus operator disgorging his load of passengeres around 5 metres from my tent - apparently I was camped on the track down to the beach.

6/7 July. Sochi.

Sochi s the venue for the 2014 winter olympics (together with Krasny Polyana - the ski resort in the hills above Sochi). I've been here two days now relaxing at a homestay run by a little old Russian babooshka lady (the locals rent out their bedrooms in summer to make a little money.

She is sleeping on the kitchen floor, and I am sleeping in her bedroom for $40 per night.

Sochi is chock-a-block full of tourists having fun and enjoying the rocky beaches and thunderstorms (yep, it's wet here all right - when it rains it REALLY rains HARD).

For me this is a brief respite before I hit the road up to Moscow via Rostov-on-Don. I now have less than 2 weeks left in Russia and want to make the best of it.

**** there is a reason I missed the sign, I was a little shaken up from an encounter I had in a local cafe where I had gone in for my usual lunch of borsch and coffee. This is a highly islamic area, and after I ordered my meal a couple of big burly chaps came up, grabbed my arm (to shake hands), slapped me on the back and wished me salaam. They then went off into a cubicle in the cafe and asked me to sit with them. Before I knew it, they had whipped out a bottle of vodka and insisted I join them in a drinking session. I should have known what was going to happen because the waitress called out to the pair, basically yelling Nyet, nyet (no, no)Now besides the fact that drink/driving is highly illegal in Russia, the last thing I wanted was to get involved in one of these drinking sessions (where you essentially keep drinking till you drop). However, it is very hard, and considered very bad manners, to say no.

At this point they started to demand money, and as they had me wedged into the cubicle it was impossible for me to get out without climbing over them. One of the fellows, Akmet (fine islamic name, but muslims aren't supposed to drink, but of course, this is Russia!) then got out his passport and started to show me the stamped pages - he then asked me to show him my passport. Now the last thing I was going to do was to risk having my passport stolen, but it gave me an opportunity to escape what was becoming a tense situation. I gesticulated that my passport was in the top box on the bike (even though it was in my pocket) and that I needed to go to the bike to get it. Reluctantly Akmet let me go out (he even held my arm) and once I was outside I did so more swift talking beside the bike and manged to convince him that I really had to go.

That was one of the swiftest takeoffs I have done on the Burgie yet. :-)