The hardest part was leaving Erzurum İ think…we were thumbing (actually petting the dog) on the road for four hours with no rides…only people stopping to tell us we cant hitchhike. We were standing beside a school where we were entertainment for the kids. They began climbing the fence to come talk with us and help us stop cars. They went to get their English teacher because they thought it would be funny for us to speak to her. She invited us in the school and we walked with her. This made a huge riot among the children and 50 of them swarmed around but the teacher got us safely in the staff lunch room where we met other teachers and were given a good lunch. Eventually we made it to Artvin…a beautiful mountain village….and spent the night there with some couchsurfers.
The next morning we hitched out, first getting a ride from an engineer from İstanbul who was working on some dams in the area. He spoke some English so communication was not a problem. He dropped us off after a 30km ride and 5 min later he changed his mind and came back to give us a ride another 40km to Hopa. From there we flagged another car after waiting about half an hour. This guy was cool but didn`t speak like us so communication was lacking sophistication. He was happy to meet us though and called up his friend who spoke English so we could have a translator. He invited us to dinner but we apologized that we had to continue hıtchıng so he left us his number to call him if we come back this way. He took us as far a he could then even flagged down the next ride for us, a big transport truck! This next ride was short because we were now close to the border.
We entered Georgia! İf you don`t already know… Georgia lies between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the south by Turkey and Armenia , and to the east by Azerbaijan. Georgia is an ancient country with history dating back to the 12th century B.C and is populated by only about 4.5 million people. There are hundreds of languages in the world but for all of these there are only 14 alphabets, so its pretty cool that the 5 million Georgian speakers own one of these alphabets, mkhedruli, which has 33 letters and makes me totally dizzy. Georgia was attacked by the Red army in the 1920`s, fought with the soviets against the nazi`s in WW2, and remained under soviet control until they declared independence in 1991 after the collapse of the soviet union. But in 2008 war broke out again between Georgia and Russia over some Georgian territories under Russian occupation which Russia sees as İndependent countries. But despite this almost all Georgians İ talked to have nothing against Russian people, they only dislike their government and know that the people have little to do with it, they just want to live in peace. İm sure other countries could learn a thing or two from the Georgians.
So İ spent about 2 weeks in Georgia, most of that time in the capital Tbilisi where İ met a lot of great friends. First we stayed with George, an old friend of mine, and drank a lot of cheap beers and wine, and eat tons of great food. George is crazy and it ws great to meet up again. Then Maarten took a visit to Spain and İ moved in with some friends İ met in a park one afternoon. These folks took great care of me and though communication was sometimes pretty shitty İ felt like we were family. İ was almost convinced by them to stay living with at their place in Tbilisi, but my ass belongs to the road and my wheels have to keep rolling. İt was sad to leave but İ`m sure İ will be back in Georgia again in the future.
To Maarten`s surprise İ was still hanging around Tbilisi when he returned from Spain and we were able to hitch out together. Driving in Georgia is a pants shitting expirence. İf you follow the traffic rules other drivers will have no respect for you, rules are for people that don`t know how to drive. It seems the rule is the biggest vehicle wins. Having your hands in the 10-2 position is never an option, not even for bus drivers, because one hand is used only for lighting a smoke, changing the music, or honking the horn. And most important….you never pass the care in front of you unless you see oncoming traffic less then 500m away.
Our first ride took about one hour to catch, this after many people coming to us saying it wasn`t possible to hitchhike, nobody will stop and we have to take a bus. But someone did stop…a Turkish trucker going our way pulled his rig over and we hopped in. Slowly our small Turkish vocabulary returned to our hungover brains. This guy gave us a ride only about 110km then had to stop for the night so we were left at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. We tried to hitch further but it was already pitch black and the drivers couldn’t see us until they were too close to stop, and the gas station was not very popular, so we decided to camp out around back. THEN….it was realized that my dumbass forgot my mandolin back in Tbilisi! S**T!!! İ couldn`t leave my baby behind so Maarten joined my on a 2 euro bus ride back to the big smoke….
Back to square one. We gave hitching outta Tbilisi another shot, it worked the first time so we knew it could be done though many more people again said we have to take a bus. A few hours passed bye along with the few thousand drivers that wouldn`t pick us up, blowing bye us like stones flying from a slingshot on mars. One guy stopped and offered to take us to the bus station and pay for our ticket, but we stayed true to the way of the road. And finally an old guy with a few teeth and rickety old van stopped for us. He was rolling on about 300km our way and we bumped along the road with him…as you might imagine there was not too much conversation between us but we enjoyed the music on his cassette tapes. At one point the man stopped at a small road side market to talk with a farmer. Upon leaving we got stuck in deep loose gravel and had to push his van out in the poring rain. We rolled on into the night until it was the end of the line for ol farmer Joe, he dumped us out on the road in front of a cop shop in case we needed a place to sleep out in the middle of nowhere.
We put our thumbs out in the cold night air and the first cars stopped…a lawyer in shiny fast car. He spoke Russian so Maarten used what he knows for conversation. The friendly dude brought us 40km to a town close to our destination, then İ guess he felt bad for us because he decided to go out of his way to bring us the extra 15 km to Batumi after buying us some drinks. We found a place to crash for the night and in the morning we crossed the border back into Turkey and put our thumbs out again. İt was a beautiful sunny day and beside the Black Sea a man pulled over his pıck-up truck to give us a lift into Hopa. From there we found the road heading east to Artvin, were refused a lift by a trucker just pulling out and waited about 5 min for our next ride from a young couple, Englısh teachers, heading home to Artvin. 70km later, after passing by the trucker, we were dumped out on the road surrounded by giant mountains to be picked up again a few hours later by two toothless farmers in a dirty old truck. They forced me at gun point to play them a song, good thing İ went back for my mandolin! They flew us around the steep mountain roads with stunning views of valleys. rivers, and snow-capped peaks, then left us on the side of a dusty mountain road. 40 min and 4 cars passed by the time a young geologist from Ankara picked us up in his new sporty pick-up. Conversation was understood and we rocked out to his good taste in music.
Night came early ( 5pm) when we were dropped off at the road to Erzurum where we waited 3 hours in the cold and dark mountains for our next lift. We were also joined by a young Turkish dude hitching to Erzurum so now we were three. Eventually a food delivery van stopped for us. Our new friend hopped in the back of the van with no windows and bounced around back there in the dark for an hour and a half. Maarten and İ sat up front crammed in next to the two delivery guys in their late 30`s. They fed us pears and shared continuous elementary conversation as they were very interested in our favorite football ( soccer ) players. Maarten was renamed Ricky Martin and forced to make numerous prank calls to the guys buddies. Finally after a lifetime of closely smelling the one dudes terrible b.o we arrived back home with our bikes in Erzurum.
Now…hitching is over for me…for a while anyway.
We are 30km from the İranian border today, in the town of Doğubayazit, shadowed by Mount Ararat. We spent an extra day here because İ lost the bolt for my front break cable and thought it better to find a bike shop to get a spare bolt, then to cycle in the mountains without breaks. Or maybe we are just lazy and want to bum around more. Either way…tomorrow we shall cross a new border!