Crossing Georgia

Posted by on Jul 20, 2013 in blog | 14 comments

Crossing Georgia

By Robin Ewing

One new Renault clutch and quite a few dollars later, we crossed the border into Georgia. Immediately gone were the shiny, silver domes of the small roadside Turkish mosques, the headscarves and the occasional black flowing abaya. Instead, everyone looked like they were going to the beach. Blonde women in short dresses and shirtless men in flip-flops with towels thrown over their shoulders strolled through traffic. A man with a cardboard box wrapped around his chest stood on the side of the road. It felt like Europe again.

We were hard pressed to find alcohol in Turkey, but at the Georgian gas station, there was an entire wall of vodka and the largest beer I’ve ever seen.

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Perhaps giant beer explains the driving. It seems to escalate in each country, making the one before it seem tame.  In Georgia, the highways are two lanes but Georgians have collectively decided to make them three. The imaginary middle lane is for passing at excessive speeds from both sides. The entire country is one big game of Chicken.

Want to get an idea of what it’s like to drive in Georiga? Watch this video that was posted from Tbilisi and is called “street drag.”

What that video doesn’t show are all the cows, dogs and people milling about. After dark, entire villages come out and loiter in the road. If I were crazy enough to walk down a Georgian highway, I certainly wouldn’t do it at night, wearing all black, in the middle of the road while looking at the ground. But apparently, I’m in the minority.

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If you nudge the cow with your car, it will move faster.

 

Just before midnight, we’d had enough. We stopped at a roadside hotel with sprawling vacant halls and a second floor reception with one kind woman who spoke only Russian to us.

Hungry, we wandered out to the only restaurant to be seen, on the highway across from a gas station. A lively woman named Marta jumped up, grabbed us by the arms and swept us around the empty room, pointing out all the food she could make while chattering away in Russian. Then she poured me a pale glass of homemade Georgian wine from an unmarked plastic bottle. It tasted like watery, two-month old apple juice. Wardlaw said it tasted like Chardonnay.

We sat outside and the picnic table filled up with fresh tomato and cucumber salad, fresh Georgian cheese, pan-fried bread with melted goat cheese and a sizzling pot of chicken and onions. Whenever we asked for beer, another woman disappeared into the dark to return a few minutes later with a bag of bottles. It was one of the best meals we’ve had yet.

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A few extremely drunk men sitting near us finished their board game and walked over to their tiny car. It didn’t start. They rolled it backwards into the street. Still didn’t start. They conferred and then left it jutting out into the road, the car door open and the radio blaring, to walk over to the station to fill up a water bottle with gasoline. Didn’t work. Then another man stumbled over and messed with the engine and suddenly the car was running and another man suddenly appeared, they all jumped in and sputtered off into the dark.

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Jamie cheers the moment the car finally starts.

 

During our two-hour meal, we heard a dog get hit by a car (a woman said it was ok but I think she was lying) and another mystery thud that ended with a car up on the sidewalk and a small crowd of onlookers. Lesson learned: don’t go anywhere near a Georgian road at night.

The next morning we drove through the Trialeti mountains straight across the country. Small stick shacks lined the road and women in all black waved huge loaves of bread at oncoming cars. Horse-drawn carts passed small stands selling a few lonely ears of roasted corn. As we entered Tbilisi, the decaying grandeur of houses with crumbling latticed balconies gave way to the old beauty of the city that has been Georgia’s capital for more than a thousand years.

It’s frustrating not to have the time to stop and explore all these places. We need to be at the Turkmenistan Consulate in Baku, Azerbaijan at 9am Friday morning to meet the Bandits, get our visa and get on that elusive ferry over the Caspian. Tbilisi has made the list of places to return.

Next challenge: crossing Azerbaijan and getting on the ferry and into wacky Turkmenistan. Updates to follow soon.

14 Comments

  1. OK, that video is terrifying. At least we can see his license plate so we can give him a ticket for very dangerous driving.

    Wahoo for making it to Baku on time!

    Now for the countdown to your BIRTHDAY!

    • That guy must’ve been a pupil of the Victor Manning Driving School… much of New Orleans drives like that! Keep ’em coming, Robin – I look forward to your posts daily and am vicariously the fourth passenger! What a grand adventure. Thank you for sharing.

      • Thanks!!

    • Pretty terrifying, I agree! Driving in Georgia was crazy.

  2. Robin, Keep your blogs coming . We enjoy them and you will need them for your book when this is over. What an exciting trip. Stay safe. Kathy

  3. Love reading your travelogue and seeing photos. Thanks, and keep’em coming. But need more photos of Robin & Wardlaw!

    • Thanks! I’ll definitely put up some more photos for you!

  4. I hope Jamie bought the beer! You never know when you may need one!

    • Not the beer, but he did buy some Turkmenistan vodka!

  5. Would be interested to know more about what is so interesting in Tbilisi to make it on your “return-to” list.

    • the 1,500-year-old history, the many ethnic groups, numerous religions, great food and diverse architecture. It just seemed like a lively and interesting place!

  6. Having lots of fun reading your blogs.
    Mom

  7. Thanks for all the fascinating stories and pictures! A bunch of us IMTT folks (Wardlaw’s coworkers) are keeping tabs and eagerly await the next installment of your travel adventure. Thanks for bringing some excitement into our boring lives!

    • Thanks so much! It’s been so much fun having wardlaw here. Wish he could stay longer!

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