Today I tried my hand at driving the van, so Simon could spend the day on my bike. Big mistake – but more of that in a moment…
We all pushed off early along the coast road – eastwards towards the Georgian border which we’ll reach tomorrow morning. High quality dual carriageway, low quality drivers. With the Black Sea a few yards to our left, the road swept round a series of dramatic headlands covered with woods and steeply-terraced orchards. Every five minutes we’d pass through a town just like all the others on this coast – a rocky beach, a small, near-empty harbor with two stubby lighthouses at its entrance, a long row of shabby apartment buildings painted in faded seaside colors and, of course, a glittering new mosque.
But the best thing about driving the van is watching Richard ‘interact’ with the locals. He’s highly animated, waving his arms furiously in a series of homemade signals – “Don’t even think about passing, you imbecile”, “Give me some damn room here”, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” and, finally, “Fuck off”. Hilarious – and yet astonishingly effective. The best moment was in town when two white vans overtook me in a crowded street and tried to squeeze in alongside him. In quick succession they got the “Give me some damn room here”, then “What the hell are you doing?”, followed by a couple of “Fuck offs”, punctuated by blasts on his horn. Then I noticed the single word painted on side of each van – ‘POLIS’. But did Richard give a damn? Hell no. “Fuck off” Fuck off”. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” “Fuck off” TOOT! TOOT! “Give me some damn room here” “Fuck off”… Until finally they fucked off. Quel hombre!
One extraordinary moment on the motorway/freeway – limited access with all the trucks, cars and motorcycles zipping along at 65-70. Suddenly, ahead of me, all our motorcycles veered right to avoid something. And there in the fast lane was an old man on a bicycle. He was struggling to keep moving, weaving from side to side, on the very edge of falling off – but credit where credit’s due, he was wearing a suit and tie and smoking a cigarette!!
I wonder if he’s still alive?
We also passed a car being steered by a grizzled man and pushed by two 50 year-old women who were roasting in their headscarves, heavy robes etc. The man obviously believed that if he got out to push and let a woman steer, his balls would drop off.
We made a detour of 40KM away from the coast to visit the Sumela Monastery and, as we wound our way up narrower and narrower mountain roads, my one hour of experience driving the heavily-loaded van began to feel very slight. The final 3KM was up a steep, heavily-rutted, goat-track with an enormous drop to one side, but by now I was committed – keep going, or reverse down. I don’t know how many of you have seen the French Classic “Wages of Fear”, but this was it – wheels scraping the very edge of the chasm, beads of sweat stinging my eyes, hands clamped in terror on the wheel… And then, at the steepest part of the track – on a slope only the hardiest of goats would attempt – the van ground to a halt. It couldn’t make it up the hill, even with the accelerator floored… My sphincter twitched.
I slipped the clutch, piled on the revs and tried again…and inch by inch the van started to move forward up the slope…
I’m not sure the monastery was worth it, but it was very impressive. Hanging halfway up a huge vertical cliff.
Finally, we made it to our hotel on the edge of the Black Sea, where we dined fairly well and, more importantly, watched Chelsea beat Barcelona 1-0 in the first leg of the Champions League Semi Final.
But my sphincter was still twitching.