It’s never good to boast or brag about ones achievements. Nonetheless I couldn’t resist a little bit of boastfulness recently. It came about like this: on returning from our trip to Georgia I was looking for details of one of the stages we had cycled, the route over the 2620m Zagari Pass to the highest inhabited village in Europe. I found all the information I needed on www.dangerousroads.org a site for 4wd enthusiasts as well as this comment: “ Any driver attempting this route should have supreme confidence in their vehicle and their driving skills”. As it happened this same mountain track was featured in a TV programme ‘The Worlds Most Dangerous Roads’ a few days later. This was my chance to impress my more car orientated family and friends . Most of them, I fear, would prefer to have bicycles banned from the roads altogether. They find it more an eccentricity than an achievement or adventure that I spend my summers cycling up and down mountains in obscure countries.
Well it worked…this time they were impressed.
Now, if you promise not to tell, here’s the truth: on a mountain bike this road wasn’t particularly frightening.
It was certainly tough going and physically demanding but not specially difficult or dangerous. For a bike the roads were wide enough, we didn’t have to cycle along the very edge of ravines and we could easily avoid fallen rocks. Without taking any risks I was much faster going downhill, and sometimes on the flat sections, than the motorised vehicles.
I tend to think that our vacations are a little more adventurous than most peoples but a lot less adventurous than others. Even then any reputation we may have for being adventurous travellers is largely based on the public image of the places we choose to visit.
Slovenia, a small,peaceful country a lot like Austria but with fewer tourists and nowhere near as many geraniums,is (or was) associated with Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and all the violence and atrocities that went with the break up of Yugoslavia. Most people have not even heard of Kyrgyzstan but it does have -stan at the end of its name so it must be a scary place! Romania, many people think, is full of thieves, bandits, pick-pockets and dodgy builders. Georgia, is associated with Russian aggression and organised crime. Despite these preconceptions, except for the odd attack by stray dogs and being given the evil-eye by a gypsy women, we have not felt threatened in any of these places.
Taking the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants, per year, as a rough indication of the level of violence: Central Asia & Eastern Europe, the regions we have mostly visited during the last few years,score just 5.8 and 5.9 respectively which is certainly a little more than Western Europe (0.9) but far less than Southern Africa (31), Central America (26.5) and South America (22.6). In Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, the murder rate is 5.0 which is less than New York (5.6) and not much more than Amsterdam at 4.4. Inhabitants of Detroit or New Orleans are at least four times more likely to get murdered if they stay at home than if they visit Kyrgyzstan..
So the roads we travel and the countries we visit are not as risky or unsafe as they at first appear. Perhaps we are not so adventurous after all! Ah well – one man’s adventure is another man’s walk in the park and vice versa and we do have our exciting and scary moments. This year they mostly involved travelling by bus, taxi, car or bicycle in Tbilisi. Just crossing the road was at times good for a serious adrenaline rush.
The fact is, worldwide, assuming you avoid war zones, there is far more chance that you will be involved in a road accident than an act of violence. Sticking with Georgia for the moment, the number of fatal traffic accidents per 100,000 inhabitants, is 15.7, compared with the national murder rate of 4.3. In Slovenia there are 6.6 road fatalities compared to 0.7 murders. Greece 9.1 compared to 1.7, in the UK you are three times more likely to die in an accident than as the result of a violent crime.
Official travel advice for foreign travel will stress that you must beware of pickpockets when using local public transport but usually they don’t mention what the risks are of you getting knocked down by a bus!
There are well known, common sense steps and precautions one should take when travelling; stay out of certain neighbourhoods, avoid demonstrations and don’t wear your diamonds when you are visiting street markets for example. From experience I would add, especially after dark, watch out for unmarked roadworks and missing manhole covers…
…but above all, travelling anywhere and everywhere : be very, very careful crossing roads.
( All these photos were taken in Georgia either by myself or my partner Yvonne)