It was a Sunday morning. I got up first and I started doing my routine exercises for my scoliosis. We have breakfast and leave Hakan`s place in Trabzon quite late, around lunch time. We figure it`s not a problem as our destination, Batumi, is only 200 km from Trabzon, plus a border to cross.
We get past the airport and start hitchhiking. It was an industrial area with lots of dust and plenty of wind; horrendous combination. After a 20 minutes wait – quite long for Turkish standards, we get a truck going all the way to Batumi. This was easy, we tell ourselves, but hold your horses. The truck was making all kinds of noises, red buttons were flickering on the dashboard and the driver stopped often to pour water on the engine. Salome wants to get off the truck, but I ask her to wait for a bit longer to see if the problem will go away. The troubles finally stop and we are getting close to the Georgian border. The scenery was beautiful: it was a sunny afternoon, the mountains were rising on the right side and the sea was calm and beautiful on the left side.
We enter Hopa and see a huge line of trucks stopped on the right side of the road. The border is still 20 km ahead, but trucks needed to stop for controls before the border. Our truck stops as well and we find ourselves in the middle of the town, between trucks, so not so much space for cars to pull over. As I was moving one road sign to make space for cars, one woman stops and takes us half the way to the border. We hitch again in the middle of the town and get a car to the border. The traffic was crazy, we were barely moving. As no one can cross the Turkish border into Georgia in a car, we get off and head to the queue.
The queue was huge, more than 100 people gathered in a flock that was forever pushing forward as if that would speed up the relaxed border officers. There were 2 lines for Turkish nationals and 1 line for other nationalities. We head to the third one, obviously. People were pushing forward and shouting and screaming at each other or at the guards. We had to stay in line with big backpacks, being pushed to the left, to the right or to the front. It felt surreal. I wanted to see the world, I tell to myself. There it was, a world of smells and colours, of any kind.
The border officers form another line, for women, so that they don`t have to stay there. I tell Salome to go there and we will meet right after the Georgian border. For some reason, her line did not advance faster than mine so I go past the Turkish border, heading to the Georgian border, which took less than a minute to cross. I put my backpack down and I`m waiting for Salome. Time passes, she sends a text message saying she is stuck at the border. I listen to music on my phone (which I never do while traveling) to fight boredom. After a while, she texts me saying that she is being retained because she doesn`t have an entry stamp for Turkey on her passport. This smells like trouble. I receive another text message from Salome where she says the Turkish police officers want to see the stamp I have on my passport from entering Turkey, so I go through the Georgian customs into the no-man`s-land, but I`m stuck there as there is another big line entering Turkey. A few phone calls later, Salome comes with a police officer to retrieve me from there to go to the police station. I enter the room, many question, lots of explaining with maps, times of crossing the border, stories from the past etc. After the police officer gets a printed copy of my stamp, Salome signs a piece of paper and we are off to Georgia. 3 hours later. Thanks to this incident, Salome is not able to go to Turkey for a month because of some bureaucratic bullshit. All this because the border officers did not stamp her passport while entering the country from Bulgaria. While exiting the country, we were told, on a superior tone, that it is our duty to make sure we have a stamp.
It`s 10 PM and we start hitching towards Batumi. In no time we get in a car and enter the city. As our host, Irakli, was living up the mountain and the access road to his place did not even exist on Google Maps, our driver finds it difficult to locate it. We make it, eventually, we are tired, but we are greeted with the best mussels I ever ate, good wine and a stunning view of the city.
We decided to arrive to Georgia on a Sunday so that I can apply for the Iranian visa on a Monday, to gain some time. Monday it was, first thing in the morning we go to the Iranian Consulate, but there is no one there except for the guard. He told us that there is no one inside as it holiday. What?! Quick online search and we learn that it is Mariamoba – St. Mary on the Gregorian Calendar which is used by the Georgian Church. We quickly catch our friends, Nino and Akaki, for brunch and a stroll around a heated up Batumi.
Batumi is quite a beautiful city and I expected this since it was heavily advertised by Salome. It has a very long beach, though made of stones, not sand, mild weather for a big chunk of the year and beautiful buildings with newly renovated street facades and shabby looking courtyard facades.
We enjoyed extensive walks in the city, a trip to the Botanical Garden and a swim just next to it. Enough with the positive parts: During our second day we contracted a stomach bug that plagued the city. For Salome it was so bad that she needed to call the ambulance in the middle of the night after throwing up several times. We couldn`t eat much of anything as it would cause severe stomach pain, meaning we were in a constant state of hunger and stomach aches. This was actually worse than it sounds. We took some medicine and our state improved day by day, but at a slow pace.
After 4 days in Batumi, we start hitchhiking towards Ghari, in the Racha Mountains, on empty stomachs as we didn`t want to have any unpleasant surprises on the way. Especially in someone`s car. We hitch out of the city and the first car takes us to Kobuleti. The driver had an insane driving style, meaning he was going over 100 kilometres per hour on a small, busy road while trying to overtake other cars while on curve to the right. Like I said, insane! He was the worst driver I ever had while hitchhiking, and I got in thousands and thousands of cars over the past 7 years. People often say that hitchhiking is dangerous citing all the wrong reasons, but actually the main thing to mind is the driver`s abilities to drive the car. Always make sure to wear the seat belt, regardless of how well they are driving and keep in mind that you can always get off the car. Just make sure you do it in a good place for you to hitch further.
7 rides later we arrive in Ghari, were we stayed at the family of Teona and Markus, Salome`s friends. The gathering was quite large, normal for Georgia, consisting of the family, neighbors and extended family and a bunch of stumari – (foreign) guests in Georgian. Georgian feasts are impressive by any standards, but we were forced by our stomachs to restrain from the delicious (and very heavy) Georgian cuisine. We go on (relatively) short hikes each day for a few hours to get to know the beauty of the region. After each hike under the scorching sun, we take a bath in the cold, mountain river, where locals build a dam each year in a different places to create a small pool. A village of beavers.
After a weekend spent in Racha, we are on our way to Borjomi, a small mountain town in southern Georgia, where Salome`s father is from. Her parents are already there waiting for us. For Romanians or people that know Romania, Borjomi is pretty much the Sinaia of Georgia. About the way here, stay tuned for the next article.