Here we were again, stuck in a martshutka van the middle of Zugdidi market waiting for the driver to choose which sandals he likes best – the brown leather strappy ones or the classic plastic crocs! There was a lot of deliberation, I personally would have gone for the leather. We’d boarded this vehicle (in the same town) 2 hours ago and had already circled the market once whilst everyone on board picked up their weekly shopping but this is the price you pay when you are only paying a few pounds to get across the country. With the shopping all done (we had to window shop), it looked like we were finally on our way (or supposed to be) to Svaneti.
Waiting for hours… nothing moves fast in Georgia except the drink drivers
Svaneti is a province in the northwest of Georgia (near to the Russian border) and in my opinion one of the most beautiful in Georgia. It’s known for its skiing and the old stone watch towers called ‘koshkebi’ which are scattered across the region. We weren’t here to ski as let’s be honest, between Alexei and I we would most definitely break a leg and we would have ended our world trip before we’d really got started! Instead our plan was to do some serious trekking, enjoy the scenery and enjoy whatever unique local food we could find.
Arriving in Svaneti was just a dream at this point however, as the martshuka was currently stopping every five minutes so someone could undertake some random errand. I was even tempted to join in the fun by asking the driver to pull over at a post office as I had a few postcards to send. The slowest two and a half hours into any journey we’ve ever made, the driver decided it was time for a break as we’d done about 30 miles. We all piled out of the bus and into the cafe at the side of the road. Fresh kachapuri (big cheesy bread) was baking, we couldn’t wait to tuck in.
Old lady stopping our bus to buy some dry fish. Despite her having sat on the bus next door to this chap for the past hour!
Outside the cafe, the driver was sat on a bench with his mate who had been sat in the passenger seat of the martshutka. If I had to describe what this guy looked like it would be the village idiot. Socks, sandals, vest, tracksuit and a tendency to squat on the floor with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Throughout the journey he had sang and danced (quite violently), always distracting the driver. Now it seemed it he had an even better idea, he’d decided that the driver was bit too tense and really needed to relax. And there is no better way to relax than ordering two 1.5 litre bottles of beer EACH! They must give you this helpful tip before you take your driving test in Georgia.
So we watched as the service break turned into an hour long pit stop and both driver and village idiot downed beer at Formula 1 speeds. ‘OK, this is Georgia and they drink lot so this is probably not a big deal. At least they’re almost done’ we said… then the waitress brought out another bottle of beer for each man!
“Hmm, Alexei, did you even see any seat belts on this bus?!”
With the driver’s belly now very much protruding and full of beer, it was time to hit the road once again. Feeling nervous, we got back in the martshutka. We spent the next few hours clinging to the seats everytime the driver attempted to turn on a bend. It seemed his reactions were not the quickest at the moment. Throughout this terrifying ordeal, the village idiot was just messing around with the stereo and shouting stuff at the driver and other passengers in the marshrutka, who we were coming to realize were all friends. He seemed to be keen on blasting a single annoying Euro pop song which we had to listen to on repeat for about an hour!
The road to Svaneti – not exactly straight and made for a drunk driver!
Finally the martshutka breaked sharply and to everyone’s relief the village idiot got out. “Thank god it’s his stop” I thought, “the driver might actually drive straight now”. If I had to listen to the village idiot sing any longer I’m not sure Alexei would have been able to stop me from going over to the stereo and breaking it to pieces!
2 minutes later. Oh shit! The grinning fool walked back onto the bus with a plastic bag. It seemed that the sudden stop had only been made to accommodate the idiot’s genius idea – yes more beers for the driver, not even for himself this time!
The drunk driver and the village idiot to the right, making sure the driver finished every last drop from the bottle
Over the next two hours as the sun went down on the mountains, we watched the driver down beer after beer. As we went higher and higher, the road got more and more windy, it became very dark, I got more nervous and the village idiot got even more stupid. Eventually he got so drunk that he passed out on the dashboard and the rest of us finally got peace and quiet. After starting our journey at 10am that morning we finally arrived in Svaneti (alive) at 11pm, despite being told that this journey should take about 3-4 hours max.
The driver got out to unload our bags and all I saw was neon green. “Ahhh, so you went for the crocs eh?”