by Josh Cahill
"Everything is gonna be alright." That's what was going through my mind as I decided to leave Istanbul one late afternoon, hitchhiking towards Georgia. Did I have any stops planned in between? Mhhhh, not really. It was just a 22 hour drive, or if you wanted to measure it by distance it was 1600 km. As long as I stuck to the Black Sea Coast I would get there somehow, somehow where? Georgia? Isn't that a state in the United States?
To be honest with you, I didn't know much about Georgia before getting there and that kept my expectations low. That all was about to change. Tbilisi, its capital, would change my life for good and fill my heart with great memories and moments that I will never forget. It touched my soul forever and when I look back I'm glad that I had the courage to visit the gem in the Caucasian Mountains.
But let me tell you the full story. I was somewhere between Istanbul and Ankara. A truck driver on his way to Iraq gave me a lift for a few kilometers. Now I was standing at a service station in the middle of the night. It was raining and I jumped from one puddle to another. Have I told you that I love the rain? Weird. After a tea and a little bit of a wait I saw two Mercedes' approaching. There was nothing special about this, but then I noticed that they both had German number plates.
"This is my chance," I thought. I went towards one of the drivers, approaching him in German but he didn't understand a word I said. Damn! I then changed to a weird mix of sign language, English and even threw in a bit of Russian. He must have thought I was asking him for money. But then I said "Georgia, Tbilisi" and he replied "Azerbaijan!" Mhhhh, but wait! Don't you have to drive through Georgia in order to get there? I then said "YES! Azerbaijan!"
"I couldn't believe that I was crossing the entire country"
There was a pair of tyres in the backseat, and he said that if I was happy to squeeze myself in between them then I was more than welcome to join him for the next 1500 kilometers. Hell yes, it was better than standing in the rain. He seemed like a nice man, skinny, wearing an old suit, bald and a massive moustache. His friend in the other car who seemed very skeptical of me was the pretty much the bigger version of him. Big, tall, also bald and had an even bigger moustache.
Off we went and I hoped that he understood me right, a straight lift all the way to Georgia? That would be awesome. We drove along the Black Sea Coast, all night and all day long. I couldn't believe that I was crossing the entire country. It was stunning. Samsum, Ordu, Trabzon, 500 km along the coast. It took the whole day. We tried to communicate, shared cigarettes and stopped along the way for some rice and kebabs.
It was getting dark and the sun was about to set. We were almost there. But then we stopped. I can't remember his name but he said he needed to catch some sleep before he continued along to Georgia and Azerbaijan tomorrow. Right, he deserved it, he did drive all night and all day long. Because I napped from time to time I decided to continue on my journey, even though it had gotten very late already. I said goodbye and thanked him for all his help.
"I once again said goodbye, put my headlight on and walked away"
There were only 10 more kilometers to go. I placed myself next to the street again, stuck out my thumb, and appreciated the beautiful Black Sea Coast next to me. I savoured the noise of the waves clashing against the stones, and the smell of the sea. That moment made me very happy, I enjoyed life right at that moment and I couldn't have felt more alive. While I was enjoying being high on life, a truck stopped, and the driver took me to the border. There was a long line of trucks and we joined that queue. I once again said goodbye, put my headlight on and walked towards the border. It was probably no more than kilometer.
I walked past many trucks, all waiting to enter Georgia. While everyone was getting ready for a long night in their cars I was about to enter my new favorite country. A bunch of young female immigration officers looked at me and kinda laughed, I laughed back and handed my passport over. I didn't need a visa, much like many other nationalities entering Georgia. The girls were quite funny and made me blush, even though they didn't speak a word of any of my languages it still was a conversation on a different level... a refreshing welcome!
Baaaaaam, the noise of the stamp hitting my passport. Another country, one that wasn't particularly on my list, was waiting to be discovered. I walked on for a few meters trying to continue my journey. It must have been 10pm, maybe later. I didn't even know which time zone I was in after all the travelling. I knew I was in Georgia, that was all that mattered to me.
I got my first lift straight away, taking me to Batumi. There wasn't much happening at this time of the day. The place looked nice and I could tell immediately that I was in a former Soviet state. I wandered around for a bit, then I asked a taxi driver to take me to a street leading to Tbilisi. He did, for one dollar. When we got there it looked quite sad. We had arrived at an abandoned petrol station or something. The street light wasn't functioning properly and I stood underneath, a bit helpless looking.
The street led into a black nothing, an empty hole. There wasn't much traffic either. It seemed like the country was asleep. It was wet, dark and quiet.. too quiet. It's moments like these where you start talking to yourself. You have deep, meaningful conversations with yourself, not because you are going nuts but there isn't anything else you can do. You feel like an outsider, "Why am I doing this, why am I here?"
"Why am I doing this, why am I here?!"
Because I wanted to be here. Because others sit in an office and have these conversations with themselves too. They ask themselves, "Why am I here and not out there?" I was here by my own choice and no one else's. Because I seek out this kind of life, because I can't see myself anywhere else but in these such scenarios. I gave up on corporate life and accepted an open-ended one instead, not knowing where I was going be in two, five or twenty years from now. I might end up as a homeless, or maybe as a storyteller. God knows, but I was here and it was meant to be that way.
As I finished my little journey inside me I realised that I was still standing there and that wouldn't change if I didn't do anything about it. Instead of waiting for someone to stop I would make them stop. A white old Lada passed by, and I waved with both hands like a seal trying to applaud. The car stopped. A guy got out of the car and walked towards me. His hair was combed back, and he was smoking a cigarette. I said I had to go to Tbilisi and I think he understood. I said "I have to go there NOW". I think he got that too.
He looked at me, I looked at him and we both knew what he had to do. Without saying anything he walked past me, towards the street. He was standing right there, in the middle of the road. He looked a bit skeptical, or curious if I were to say it in the right way. I saw a white bus coming our way. What was he gonna do? Was he going to stop the bus like superman? With one hand? Haha, that would be awesome. When the bus approached it slowed down and just stopped a few meters in front of him.
He whistled to me, like a dog. I think I had the coolest smile on my face. I grabbed my bag and threw it in the area for luggage before jumping on the bus. The Georgian guy pointed to the bus and farewelled me with the word "Tbilisi". I gave him a high five and said thank you. People on the bus looked very dubious and there were no seats left so I had to sit on the floor. But I didn't care. I was happy to stay there for the next six hours.
"He looked at me, I looked at him and we both knew what we had to do"
By the time I woke up the bus was already half empty. I got up and took a seat. My eyes were still struggling with all the light, since the sun was rising already. I slowly got used to the light and I was literally shocked by what I saw at the horizon. It was one of the most majestic things I have seen and I was speechless. The Caucasian mountains right there just a few hundred kilometers away with its 5000ers, all its peaks covered by snow. It was magnificent.
It wasn't far anymore and we arrived to Tbilisi. One of the greatest places I have ever been. If you wanna read the second part of my journey, and everything else you need to know about Georgia, please continue reading here...