The longer I spend in the caucus region, the closer I come to death.
Georgia is an interesting country with a peculiar history. This is the country that gave the world Stalin. I wasn’t sure what I would find in Tbilisi, would it be a former Soviet state still clawing its ways out of the abyss of communism’s collapse? Would I find the steriotypical hedonism of the post-Soviet system? What do you make of a country that has named its largest road after George W. Bush?
After going to Tbilisi for the weekend, one would think scenes like this would be the cause of an untimely end
Our taxi driver told us a story of the 2008 invasion, where the Russians randomly attacked cars on a highway. There were bullets everywhere and shrapnel flying, he dove from his car and into a ditch to avoid being killed. He was so close to the original strike, he later saw himself running from the scene on a BBC video of the attack.
And that was only three years ago.
Then there were the stories of sex-trafficking. And, not to make light of something so horribly serious, I knew Georgia must be an amazing place after a friend insisted I go, even after nearly being abducted off the streets of Batumi and then discovering that her hotel was in fact a brothel.
Surprisingly, its not the Russians or invasions that threatened my life, nor was it groups of former-Soviet thugs and their sex-trafficking that had me worried, but rather the complete and utter shit-show that is the road system.
Public transport on this side of Europe leaves a bit to be desired from a safety standpoint, Turkey has desensitized me to some of the perils of road transport, but nothing could have prepared me for Georgia: potholes the size of a small village, cows crossing the street on a narrow mountain pass, boulders larger than most homes littered across the highway, the smell of cha-cha on the driver’s breath…
This past weekend, while in Tbilisi, I got the adrenaline flowing. After a particularly treacherous (if absolutely stunning) ride through the mountains on the Turkish/Georgian border in the dirt-poor province of Ardahan, we arrived in Akhaltsikhe, (written ახალციხე) in Georgia.
In Akhaltsikhe we were quickly (with Frank’s glorious Russian) directed to a marshrutka (former-Soviet state minibus). Sasha and I made a quick pitstop in what just may be the most disgusting bathroom in the entire world. The first thing I thought of was this scene from Slumdog Millionaire:
We entered an old wooden trailer where Stalin himself probably went for relief as a child, it smelled so putrid I seriously debated popping a squat next to the stairs. The sewage was piled up to the rim of the square hole, and I dont think I have ever peed so quickly in my life.
Back on the marshrutka we wedged in and prepped for what would be a bumpy ride. The constant swerving, the plethora of one-lane highways, the omnipresence of tractors and herds of cows, the general disregard for street maintenance or human life, it all was a bit much to handle. We gripped our seats, shot commiserating glances, held on for dear life as we barreled towards the capital.
Having not eaten in hours, we visibly ogled at delicious looking strudel-cake two older women had pulled out for a snack. They chuckled at our faces, we must have looked pitiful. Then, to our surprise (and utter delight) they pulled out one cake for each of us, laughing as we devoured it. Speaking no Georgian, we attempted to physically convey our thanks as we were launched from our seats as the bus hit pothole after pothole, its shocks long worn out. And, for a brief moment, this kind bit of hospitality turned our attention from impending doom, and to the utter joy of homemade strudel.