In Sarpi, the border town, I met my new travel partner for a couple of weeks. Katherina the Austrian, who had already soaked up some of Georgia’s interesting ways before I had arrived. We camped out on some beach chairs, falling asleep with the sounds of kms of passing Trucks overhead, and that horrible, overly electronic music that seems to infest this part of the world.
The next day it was up through Batumi, and North, to find just one decent beach to camp out on… This is where we met Goga (something like that).
Hitching out from the main road North, Goga appeared. The usual “Where are you from,” changed to “I’ll come with you!” an old man decided to join us, who actually stole our ride (maybe without even realizing it?)… But after a few strange rides we got to a place called Kobuleti.
I don’t think there was one spot on Georgia’s black Sea coast that was human free. But free enough for a night. After an awkward escalation in Gogas’ painful flirting attempts with Katherina, he randomly and suddenly disappeared. As mysteriously and strangely as he appeared, he vanished… This was also one of the more tame men to have gone after my poor friend.
The next day we headed to Kutaisi, or rather the mountains north of there. Oakatse canyon was our goal, to the big ‘ol waterfall it was well known for. The rides were more or less uneventful, although I did get my first true glimpse of just how many cows love to block the roads in this country…
In the foothills of these mountains we passed through some large abandoned Soviet complexes (the biggest being an old wellness center based around mineral water, I think?) and sweated our asses off walking the final few kilometers to the falls. Luckily, at this time, most people were leaving. It was a perfect way to end a humid, sweltering hot traveling day – staring off at hillside cottages with a massive waterfall beside us as sunlight died away.
We stayed for another night as rain basically trapped us up there, but it’s hard to complain about being “stuck” in such a spot, right?
The next day it was off to Tbilisi… Kinda. We were making good time from the mountain, even after being stopped by local hill folk and force fed bread, cheese, and very strong wine… But then we met my sketchiest hitchhiking ride yet.
Off Kutaisi’s southern edge we were picked up by three guys. They were more or less going our way, at least to the main road East. Cool. Except, when we got to the main road, they wanted to take us South. After some confusion, Katherina spoke to a friend of theirs over the phone (she speaks Russian, thankfully), who made it sound like they would eventually take us close to our next destination, Chiatura. We felt a bit off but kept seated, and away we went.
We stopped near some small nowhere village, the guys greeted some locals, and we proceeded down a dirt road. Questioning this direction, the driver assured us that two of the Georgian passengers were just being dropped off… Alright. Of course the muffler got smashed off by a rock and half an hour of waiting out in the farmlands commenced. The guys were giving my friend disturbing looks, and that voice saying “leave” kept haunting me… But once fixed, we got back in the car.
Eventually two of the passengers left, thankfully, and it was just us three. Off to Chiatura!… Or not.
Another two hours were spent locating a mechanic, picking up a seemingly random old man, and questions concerning mine and Katherinas relationship came up more than once (we agreed to be married for this trip to attempt to save awkward situations).
Right before we decided to just drop it all and leave, the car was fixed and we hit the road again, this time to Chiatura. We were so happy. Were.
Cruising through small roads we stopped at a gas station. They asked for gas money (we collectively sighed). Of course we tried to explain we were hitchhiking, that we don’t pay for gas, this is how we afford to travel. Locals began to gather, curious as to what was going on…. Again, we were about to leave when they told us to just sit down and we would go… Why we both ignored our instincts, still, I don’t know.
Not far back on the road, they turned off towards another small village. Fuck this. “OK, here is good, we go.” They didn’t even look at us or flinch, but went a little faster. “Hey man, STOP. We go Chiatura, other way.” Still nothing. Katherina yells “stop the fucking car!” We obviously pick up speed this time. We’re almost away from any houses by this point.
Katherina turned to me. “I’m gonna jump,” she says. I say wait, and yell at the damn guy to stop. Nothing. So she opens the door, and I grab the handle of my pocket knife. I don’t want to escalate this but the situation was getting really out of hand. Luckily, as soon as she opened the door, our driver suddenly clued into reality and slammed on the break.
As she got out and unloaded our bags, I kept talking to the guy until it was clear. We said thanks, backed away, and almost ran back to the main road, laughing and swearing at the absurdity of what just happened. Luckily, a transport van stopped almost immediately, and we were outta there.
For at least an hour, “fuck” was our main word. What happened? Were they so suddenly deaf? Were they going to rob us? Kill me, rape her? We were hitting ourselves for having not listened to our instincts, to those little voices saying “this is wrong, something isn’t right.” The looks the driver was giving us through his rear-view mirror suddenly seemed so dark… And that unchanging face when he so clearly ignored us seemed so concentrated, so dead set on something. And why did he stop? Was he scared that the locals would be alerted so he decided to cut his losses? Would he have stopped if there was no one else around?.. We shall never know!
Onwards we went, thankful we had each other, and that we got away with an odd story, and nothing more.