Driving in Georgia … A Terrible Task

The Tbilisi airport security lady looks less tired than me, even though it is 3 am for both of us: “You have a bottle of vodka in your cabin luggage.”

“Yes, I do,” I tell her proudly, “I bought it downstairs, in one of the airport shops.” Because I lost a bet with my husband on whether the ersatz rental car driver was going to notice our/their broken-down car standing alongside the busy village road or simply drive past it – and in an unexpected show of competence, he noticed it. But I can’t tell her that.

“You know, you are not supposed to carry that in your cabin luggage.”

“So only the duty free shop beverages are allowed?” As if whisky from a duty free is that much less dangerous than the real Georgian chacha

I am then told to notify the plane security guys about my vodka and let go. Duh …

Before undertaking our 10 day excursion to Georgia we had agreed I better not drive because Georgians don’t do traffic rules. Before you take pity on my husband, let me tell you something: being a non-driver in Georgia is every bit as hard. It is not only that Georgians do not believe in traffic rules, roadworks and road maintenance or cowsheds, horse stables and pig sties, they also do not consider good maps to be of vital importance. So while my husband was swearing at other drivers on the Day 1 of our Georgia Exploration In A Rented Car and they were probably routinely swearing back at us, I managed to get us lost by simply holding a predominantly useless city map in my hands and saying rude things to it. Still, by switching on my brain cell I soon learned to read other signs to navigate us out of Tbilisi and get out we did. A few problems later my husband suggested I use his smartphone and Google Maps. Which is why we own Google a drink or two. They made me the best road navigator in Georgia and we almost never took a wrong road again.

Unfortunately, on that first day of successful travel out of and back to Tbilisi, we didn’t know getting lost was going to be our least problem. The main trouble ensued a few days later and had to do with our having rented a car from a Georgian agency calling themselves Concord Travel.

Obviously, bad roads and intended trips to the mountains mean you need an SUV. So you request an SUV, pay a European price in dollars for it and get a wrack with four wheels attached to it in exchange, a rejected American car that was last serviced back in the early 2000s … We thought this to be a normal car to take us to the mountains and to survive the bad roads in general, until the front wheel came off. Like, it wanted to leave our car and roll on on itself.

You know about the power of bad situations? When you’re visiting a foreign country for the first time and you can’t speak their language or read their writing and then your front wheel comes off, your car lands on it and it all makes a terrible sound?

A few seconds later there are these roadworks guys (it turns out even Georgia pays some of them to improve at least some of the roads in important areas) and they lift your car, fix the wheel with nuts from the other 3 wheels, offer you a cigarette, drive you to an “automotoservice” where you get another wheel nut for free, tell you you can drive max. 60 km/h by writing “max. 60” on your dusty windshield, and, before sending you on your way with happy faces of people having done a good work and a good job, force you to take the whole box of remaining cigarettes. Well, how do you say “I don’t smoke” in Georgian? What I said was “Spasiba. Matloba” several times, matloba being “thank you” in Georgian.

And then on Tuesday, while trying to get home via the Tbilisi Airport and after having stopped to check the mails, our car simply wouldn’t start again. Once again, we had no choice but to consider ourselves Lucky Bastards… If the car had broken down in some more rural area or while driving behind thousands of Turkish lorries trying to reach our next city by night (never a good idea – night traffic in Georgia), our trouble would have been much, much greater. As luck would have it, we only had to cross the street and buy coffee in the hotel opposite our abandoned shit of a car. By now, we had learned to communicate with Georgians quite well: “Ara, ara (“No”), aeroport Tbilisi Germania” is what I told the nice lady who brought us our drinks and asked us whether we wanted a hotel room. Three hours later, the guy who had me lose my bet and buy a bottle of chacha arrived and took us to the airport in a much better SUV.

Let me just derive a recommendation from our story: do not rent a car from a Georgian company with no reputation to lose. We didn’t but you may land out in the sticks due to car problems only to find out help is far away.

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