My my. I am still trying to figure out how I feel about this place. I have three distinct impressions of Georgia, the first of which is complete shock and disorientation: I just spent a month in a muslim country. Now I find myself here in a Christian one, though perhaps these associations are not wholly appropriate, for the implications are very suggestive. In Turkey many women wear hijabs, long sleeves, long skirts. All the men wear pants. There is no alcohol sold aside from in special little kiosks that are relatively infrequent: none in the grocery stores, corner markets, or on the menus at restaurants. There is no gambling, or at least it is not advertised.
In Georgia you can buy hard liquor on just about every corner. The first towns along the Black Sea coast are little beach resorts and there are young men in bathing suits wandering all over the place with beers in their hands. There is a billboard for a casino with a scantily clad woman on it. Every carwash, even though they are basically a pressure washer and a bucket of suds, advertises with posters of “well-endowed” women in bikinis scrubbing cars in sexual postures. I can see women’s ankles, shins, knees, thighs, their hair is uncovered! Summer dresses and short shorts abound, and I am completely surprised by my own surprise- I found myself a bit horrified even, despite this being the norm in my own country. The transition was from one world to another and my blood pressure was up, in a perverse combination of indignation and excitement, frankly. I can only imagine the confusion a person must feel having been raised in a conservative muslim community their whole lives at seeing this liberal Western society! Everything and everyone reeks of sexuality. Even though this is normal for me, the effects of this shock persist, even after six days.
The second impression I had of Georgia was of blind hatred accompanied by a sincere prayer to God to allow the sea to swallow the country whole. That is no hyperbole, I wished with all my being at one point for some evil to descend and smite these people off the face of the earth, which I am very ashamed of. This is a natural reaction to a population that actively and persistently threatens your life.
I stopped on the side of the road to eat a snack and drink some water. I soon wished I hadn’t, for as I idly studied the types of cars here, which are more like what one sees in Europe, I noticed that Georgians pass each other in spite of oncoming traffic. What they do is force a third lane into existence, wedging both lanes of traffic out towards the shoulder. I watched in horror as this was repeated half-a-dozen times in a few minutes. As I rode into Batumi, the usual chaos of transit vans and taxis stopping in the road perpetually altered traffic, but the Georgians have a peculiar loathing for their brake pedals and will perform the most elaborate of stunts to avoid slowing down even a little. I almost got my clock cleaned by a Beamer that cut a turn without slowing down in the slightest. I watched as the grill of this SUV came at me without any signs of stopping, mesmerised as time slowed down, wondering, perhaps, in a detached way, how many bones were going to be broken and how far I would fly, how that gate behind me was going to feel as it stopped my momentum. Thankfully, BMW’s have excellent brakes, and I very narrowly missed getting ROCKED. I look back at the driver who is smiling as he waves an apology. I simply throw my arm up in dissent and continue on. The rest of that day and continuing into the next I was very, very angry because I want to live and I don’t want to end my trip because of these reckless, senseless assholes who seem to have absolutely no regard for their lives or the lives of others.
Thankfully, once I hit the highway there was a huge shoulder and people calmed down a bit. In the more mountainous interior of Georgia, people drive a little more like sentient beings and less like monkeys who have been dropped on their heads as babies.
So, I wished evil on the families of all Georgians and opined that I was ready to ride through India. I have a feeling the drivers are at least as psychotic in Russia…
Another part of why I hated Georgia initially was pretty much my fault. I pulled too many Turkish Lira out of the atm in Trabzon. I guess I thought I would be in Turkey longer and also suspected that I would get stuck in a hotel a night or two due to the rugged and populated nature of the coast. So, I rolled into Georgia with almost 400 lira, which are depreciating, so I had to change money. I know you get screwed at the money changers, but they took a good 15 percent cut and this pissed me off. Then in Batumi, still disoriented and fuzzy on the value of the Georgian Lari, I was charged double what I should have been for a pide. (I got used to eating out in Turkey once a day because it was so cheap). The menu had no prices and I should have been suspicious. The thing is, in Turkey for the most part people are so honest: many times there were opportunities to take advantage of me that were never exploited; often times I was surprised by how cheap the food was! Here this bastard of a fellow smelled blood in the water and nailed me. I paid a good seven euros for that pide. Ouch.
Between the 10 dollars I was charged to change money, and the four euros I was tricked out of for lunch, I had some very unfortunate experiences by which to judge Georgia. I did check the value of the Lari, but I looked at it in reference to the US dollar and also to the Turkish Lira, even though I budget in Euros. It was really my fault for not being better informed. I didn’t look up the cost of living beforehand either. The perils of living without constant internet…
I met another cycle tourist, at last though, a German named Sebastian. We talked for a while, but we were both tired and somewhat reticent. We exchanged information though, and I hope to see him again in the future. I camped on the beach that night. The next day I hit the interior, en route to Tbilisi. As I said, the traffic had calmed down a bit by the end of the day. I experienced so much rage in the morning that I was almost shaking on the bike. I really lost my faith in humanity. I also lost any illusions of self-control I had. It really felt like everything I have been working towards in the realms of tranquility, perception of and acceptance of things as they are, emotional awareness, and self-control were just shattered. I totally unravelled and was filled with self-loathing and shame for the blind hate I felt. How little control we have over our lives, how instinctual, reactionary and automatic we are sometimes! I calmed down though, largely exhausted by the wanton waste of energy on negative emotion. I also felt better after talking to an Israeli, who has lived in Georgia for decades, at a gas station who agreed with me that drivers were craaazy here, but that he loved Georgia.
Another fact about Georgians and also Russians is that they don’t smile if they don’t feel like it. This takes some getting used to. In fact, you really shouldn’t smile either, to the men at least. Just as I was in the depths of my childish rage, I passed a man. I smiled and nodded, for this is what you do in Turkey, and the man just stared at me. I almost jumped off my bike and beat the tar out of him. In the States, that much eye contact without any facial expression could easily be perceived as a challenge. So, I really lost my head, bad. Blind as a bat. I was also mad because I was so excited about Georgia and had notions of spending a long time here. I wanted to like Georgia something awful, but it didn’t seem to be in the cards at first. I have come around though. I like Georgia a lot, but I will admit I miss Turkey, the call to prayer in particular! It’s strange to see churches.
The third impression I had of Turkey is that it is an alien planet, and I have good evidence for this:
I think Tolkien’s Elvish language is inspired by Georgian script.
They are not afraid to go modern here, real modern.
The driving: It is inhuman. Such senselessness transcends any my notion of human possibility I had.
This weird plant:
They do have a sense of humor though…
Okay. My second day in Georgia was a long one, I covered around 140k, I’d say, trying to put my initial impressions behind me. I saw on the map there was a natural preserve of some sort and headed for it. It turned out to be a huge expanse of forest with almost no underbrush. The camping looked prime, but the town of was right across the road and there were a lot of trails winding through the wood, not really anywhere out of sight, it’s so open! I am also very tired, so I walk in a couple hundred meters and call it good.
I set up camp, eat, drink some tea. Some cattle wander by. Night descends and I hear a dog and a man near my tent, but I assume he is collecting his cows and don’t worry too much about it. After a moment I do get out of my tent and look around, but by then he has disappeared. I am not worried about it. It is warm, and I fall asleep without even unpacking my sleeping bag, exhausted and feeling grimy.
I wake up to lights being shined into my tent. I open the door and there is a congregation of people shining very bright lights at me and murmuring in Georgian. Someone takes a picture. Oh boy. I say hello, say I speak English. One of them does as well, thankfully, though it’s broken. They take a few more pictures of me laying in my tent in my underwear, and I pull on my pants and get up, too groggy to really care. I don’t care if I spend a night in jail, sounds pretty cozy to me, and that is about the worst I can see happening. There is a policeman, three locals, and another chap who I think was a representative from the military; turns out there is an unmarked military base only a couple hundred feet away. I ask if it is illegal to camp here, try to figure out what is going on. I don’t get much by way of a response, the local who speaks a little English said they were worried about me and that I could stay at his house. Okay. I pack up my stuff quickly and efficiently. I crush a plastic bottle that is trash and the cop tells me just to leave it on the ground, which makes me laugh. I leave it while I unlock my bike but pick it up before we leave. The cop and the fellow from the military take pictures of my passport and then we go. I try to figure out if I am trouble, but it seems not. There is probably an incident report or two in the Georgian records about me though!
We walk to the road, where there is a police car and another cop. We walk right by and I head towards this fellow’s house, ready to go back to sleep. Another local insists I stay at his house instead, even though he speaks no English. Sure, whatever, I don’t care. He brings me inside his gate. He leads me into a little house with a living/dining room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. He shows me the shower and my eyes light up. I have not showered in four days and it has been hot. We sit down in front of the tv and he asks me if I am hungry, but I try to convey that I have already eaten. After a moment, he shakes his head and disappears, after asking me if I like wine, to which of course confirm. He returns with a plate of meat, a plate of cheese, cuts up some cucumbers and pickles, sets the table for three, and brings in a large pitcher full of homemade wine. He invites his neighbor over, who I think is his brother. I don’t speak a lick of Georgian. Challenging. My translator goes from English to Georgian only. I end up staring at this brother for almost half a minute, neither of us saying anything. Finally he asks me if I was trying to say something. Nope, just staring into the depths of your soul old man, feeling as if I am being weighed and measured! He beckons to the table and we start eating. And drinking.
We take large shots of this strong wine, one after the other and snack on the food. I am starting to feel pretty good now! The man’s wife wanders in and out, the other local who speaks English pops in to check on me, and eventually the man’s son comes in. He only speaks German. So, we have a pretty good conversation in a confusion of German and Turkish, neither of which I have any grasp of, bjt thankfully we have the translator. There is more drinking and then the neighbor disappears. One more shot of wine and I take a shower and am put to bed on the couch.
The next morning I thank my host for his very generous hospitality and set off on the road again with a bit of a headache.
The road gets windy. It wends along a river through a narrow valley and is quite beautiful, and a little hilly. I meet a strange young Georgian who is just dying to have my spare bike tire. I had almost thrown it away that day, and decided to give it to him. It was probably getting killed anyhow from all the sun and being folded up for so long.
Up up up. The only hill I climb between Turkey and Tbilisi, surprisingly. I crest the hill and coast down through Khashuri.
I cruise through town and cut South of the river, veering off the highway in search o f camping. I find a nice gravel road along the river. I duck down a cattle trail (there are cattle everywhere in Georgia. No sheep, only a few goats, hundreds and hundreds of cattle. And pigs- no pork in Turkey, obviously, so it has been a while since I’ve seen em.)
I wander in and keep choosing older and smaller paths. Imgot caught last night and I don’t intend to be caught again! I wrestle my bike and bags through some rose bushes, briars, and hawthorns. Surely no one will wander in after me here! I feel a little paranoid, but Georgians also seem to have a talent for wandering in unusual, rural places. I joke to myself that with my luck I am on another military base or in an artillery range. It is not long before I hear the chanting of many voices, men yeling loudly, as if they were drilling. Yes, that’s what it is- a boot camp. Geez! They sound far away, I think. I still feel pretty safe.
Antony says I have too many pictures of my tent and not enough of myself. Here you go, I’ll meet you halfway. I have lived over a quarter century and I am just learning how to sit, by the way. You have to sit like a guru if you have no chair and don’t want back pain, I’m not posing!
I slwpt the night through and woke up VERY tired. The sun, the qine, and another long day really wiped me out. On the way out I saw this sign:
I snuck out of mt campsite without being discovered and hit the road, about 120k from Tbilisi. T’was a nice ride.
I couldn’t find any solid camping, so I just stayed in a field on the other side of a line of trees. No one noticed.
Here I am, in Tbilisi, well on my way through Georgia. My bike is being qorked on as we speak and tomorrow I will start the process for my Chinese visa. I also need some new shorts and some more long sleeves, maybe a hat, for I am getting fried! I also cannot decide whether to go through Russia or not. It may be a hassle at the least and also potentially dangerous from what I hear… I’ll know in a week!