Georgia was a massive mixture of highs and lows for us – as you will shortly read.
The boys had raced on through Azerbaijan whilst we had messed around at the mud volcanoes – so after a smooth border crossing into Georgia (Our first visa free country since leaving Latvia) we hooked back up with them and found a green little campsite just off the road.
The roads out of Azerbaijan and into Georgia had changed dramatically. Well – I should say the scenery. It started to get green and lush. The grassy land laying on either side of the road was good enough to make a bowling green. The pine trees started appearing and we picked wild berries from the bushes. Camping heaven.
Jerome and I had watched Worlds Most Dangerous Roads – Georgia which gave us the idea of driving up to Omalo via the Abano Pass. The pass is only open from June-October, before it snows up. The road winds its’ way up to around 2,800m before plateauing out and descending to just over 2000m where Omalo lies. Beyond Omalo you have the heavily guarded and monitored Chechnean border.
The pass itself is just 72km long and is doable in a day. We set off early arvo and just 10km or so in we were met with literally hundreds of sheep descending the one-track road towards us.
They were being herded by a few young farmers and their trusty earless dogs. These dogs are huge and are an invaluable asset for protecting the livestock from the mountain wolves.
We stopped our cars as the sheep weaved their way around us on either side of the precariously narrow track. We soon realised that we had the rare honour of viewing the farmers bringing their animals down the Abano Pass for winter before it became impassable. It was a truly excellent experience and it got us really geared up for an awesome track that would be closed within two weeks.
We continued winding our way up the track and literally every few kilometres coming across a huge possy of cows or sheep being shooed along by young men and the occasional shotgun.
It was green everywhere, even the rocks had moss on them. As you rounded the tiny corners there would be memorial sites – all devoted to men who had been claimed by this road. It reminded us to take extra caution.
As we wound our way up towards the pass summit – we hit what Jerome would describe as DEMON MIST. It enveloped our Troopy and everything turned quiet as we strained our eyes to see just 5m beyond the bonnet.
The road began to plateau out and we had a hazy view of the beautiful switchbacks that marked our first descent.
Eventually we reached a small settlement about 20km short of Omalo, and just after that we found an awesome little campsite down next to the river with enough wood for a fizzly fire in the half-hearted rain. We were all buzzing after such an amazing climb. Our troopies had bounced around on the rocks and the tow-bars had bottomed out on the track countless times.
The next day we hit Omalo and took a peek at the visitors centre which had a great lookout point.
Omalo has Kesalo Fortress (or the remains of) which was built in the 12th century. The road to Omalo is also peppered with old watchtowers. We couldn’t drive up to the fort so instead we found the nearest vantage point and stopped for lunch.
That afternoon we tracked on past Omalo towards the Chechnean border. The track was fantastic but we eventually turned back in favour of a great campsite just outside of the village overlooking a watchtower and the ever-present river.
Tim and Nick led the way down a little hill-track to the campsite. There was a rutt running the length of the track and Tim went up the side of the track to avoid it. Unfortunately he was on a big angle and still slipped two wheels into the rutt, almost rolling the Troopy.
Nic was out in a flash and pretty much held the car at it’s tipping point. It looked pretty bleak. Jerome snapped into off-road action and barked his orders. We would snatch-strap Bosun out of the rutt backwards. Tim turned his wheels away from the rutts and we slowly pulled the car backwards as the boys pushed it from the side. It totally worked and we all reversed out and chose a better way into the campsite. We had a few celebratory vodkas as Tim calmed his nerves! earlier that day Jerome had negotiated a tight upwards corner leaving us on just three wheels so we both had our stories to tell 😉
The next day we headed back down the pass with the aim to get to Tbilisi. Jerome had driven all the way up so it was my turn to drive down – my favourite bit. Jerome got extreme jealousy as whilst we had been hanging out in Omalo it had snowed on the highest part of the pass and I got to drive through it.
We pulled off the track and commenced a snowball fight with a group of Lithuanians who we passed – also in a Troopcarrier.
The snow made the pass look so different to the previous days – and instead of oncoming herds of animals we had to overtake them. Several times I had to carefully shunt cows in the arse to get them to move out of the way 😉
Anyways – we made it down the pass without incident. Jerome sussed out a track leading to the capital Tbilisi so we started to make tracks. We stopped for the night about 100km short of the capital and just before the actual track started. Jerome wasn’t feeling too well so we headed off to bed. In the night Jerome was rolling around a fair bit and complained of being too cold. Looking back now I knew I should have woken up and checked him over better. At 6am the next morning I woke up to find that Jerome was really ill. He had a horrible fever and was running a temp. of close to 39 degrees. He was in and out of it and we knew that his UTI was back and bad. I woke the guys up and we packed away quickly. I left Jerome in bed and with the boys leading – we took the main roads into Tbilisi.
I picked a hospital from the offline map (Pocket Earth) on our phone and when we got there I was amazed to see the hospital had it’s own Centre for Urology building.
Unfortunately it was still in construction and only one floor was operational. It was a literal building site.
found an English speaking doctor and we got Jerome inside.
To cut a long and painful story short – Jerome’s UTI had come back – and quickly. It had also spread to his testicles which was not a good sign. He spent 6 days in hospital on IV antibiotics and a drip. Luckily he was given a private room with a spare bed for me to sleep in. There was no way that I could have left Jerome alone in that Hospital. Bar the private room it was easily the worst hospital (with the worst staff) that we have ever encountered.
There was a shared toilet but no loo paper, hot water, soap or towels. There was no shower facilities at all so I boiled water 6 floors down in the car park and brought it up in a bucket for Jerome to wash with. They supplied no water or food so again I would cook in the car park and bring it up to him 3 times a day. The staff were totally inept and it was a battle to get even a clean sheet. I was expected to do Jerome’s obs and check on him though-out the night. He had about 5 different doctors come in – each one had to be informed of Jerome’s past issues before action was taken. Upon being ‘discharged’ (they just billed us and refused to administer the last course of IV antibiotics) the doctor prescribed the oral meds to take for a few weeks. Luckily we checked because they were Penicillin based – which Jerome is extremely allergic to. We had told all of the doctors and they had made note in his file (which I don’t even think existed). Upon informing the doctor of the day that he couldn’t take this medication – the doctor proceeded to have a go at Jerome; complaining that he should have told someone about the Penicillin and that he wasn’t God who knew everything! What a charmer. Anyways – we scooted off without so much as a single thank you to anyone. We were back on the road again but taking things real easy.