“Your legs are not giving out. You head is giving up. Keep going.”
Georgia is one of those countries which every world touring cyclist talks about because inevitably it ends up on someone’s “top countries to cycle though” list. And now I know why. Georgia is absolutely wonderful due to its beautiful mountains, quaint villages, and it’s extremely hospitable people. Though I have experienced kindness throughout every country during this bike journey, Georgia was something different. Here, it wasn’t just a few individuals who stepped out of their way to help you out, but rather it seemed that every single Georgian wanted nothing more than to make you feel welcome and at home in their gorgeous country.
Part of the reason Georgia was so fun and relaxing is because it’s possible to safely camp anywhere. There is plenty of flat ground, even in the mountains, and hundreds of rivers and streams to choose from. Georgians also have a huge picnicking culture (especially in the summer), so there are fire pits – usually by a river and trees for shade – which make perfect spots for camping. Plus, if there are alright other picnickers there, you can be sure they will invite you to join in on their feast!
Since I already did a whole post about food earlier, click here!
It’s not the amount of wine produced or the production process itself which interests me most, it’s the traditions and rituals that go along with every glass. At every picnic (or gathering of any kind) or whenever there is a guest over (meaning every time you are at someone’s house) Georgians will pull out their homemade wine and commence an evening of heavy drinking. This doesn’t just mean sipping on your wine nonchalantly during dinner though, drinking wine in Georgia is a process in and of itself. First someone makes sure that every glass is full before commencing a toast. Oftentimes these toasts turn into a “competitions” since each toaster tries to create a more eloquent, emotional, and poetic speech than the last. Then, everyone drinks their whole entire glass (like a shot but it’s the size of a normal glass) to that toast. We have been told by many that the Russians are “bad” since they don’t toast before they drink, a seemingly unthinkable action here since the toast is just as important as the wine itself. Though I haven’t learned the correct order, there always seems to be a toast dedicated to dead relatives, to their church (because everyone here is “religious”), to the whole world, and of course, to God (I’m not so sure He is so happy with this one though). This process is easily repeated ten to fifteen times a night meaning that by the end, if you have managed to keep up with the toasts, you are completely and utterly wasted. Hence the hundreds of road side memorials we have passed; unfortunately drinking and driving is still a common practice here.
Since Kevin and I qualify as “non-drinkers,” this whole process, which is repeated every time we met a new family, has turned into a difficult affair since we don’t want to drink yet we don’t want to offend them either. (They simply can’t understand that some people don’t drink, here everyone, even the young children, are made to participate in this tradition). It is harder for Kevin than it is for me. Though women do drink, being able to hold your alcohol is a sign of manliness and strength for the men so each time Kevin refuses a glass they assumed he was “weak.” Never the less, we have definitely enjoyed learning about the Georgian art of wine drinking during our stay, and it’s fascinating to us how alcohol, something neither of us grew up with, can play such a central role in a country’s culture.
To find out more, read this article I wrote earlier about the Art of Drinking Wine.
Georgia is a very cheap country to cycle across if you plan to cook your own meals and live in your tent, and you can happily live off of five or six dollars a day (even cheaper if you only eat local food and camp every night). If you aren’t cycling (or don’t like living in a tent) it’s easy to visit Georgia on fifteen to twenty dollars a day which would give you a hostel or guest house every night along with wonderful “restaurant style” meals. We ended up paying for three nights in the mountains (room and board) as well as for two weeks at a hostel (six dollars a night) at the end of our trip as we were waiting to cross into Turkey. Food is really cheap, and we slowly figured out why since most of the locals make as low as ten dollars for a sixteen hour day of work.
Guest house (room and board): 55$
Extras (shampoo, toiled paper…): 10$
Georgia proved to be the perfect combination of friendly people, tasty food, amazing camping, and beautiful landscapes which makes a cyclists spirits soar. If you have four to six weeks free, come cycle through it for yourself, there is something for everyone here, from rough unpaved roads, to large touristic cities.