The air is crisp and cold in the Caucasus. The sky is fading to purple, craggy mountains ring our view, and a long, slushy path stretches before us.
This is the Trusso Valley, a vast expanse of plains and abandoned mining towns running along the Georgian Military Highway, close to the Russian border. It’s the beginning of March, and despite spring’s theoretical approach, the valley is still coated in snow. We are slightly unprepared: Alex has no hiking boots, jeans are our warmest layers, and we have no food.
We’re racing against the setting sun to reach the valley entrance, but it’s a long walk through a minefield of thin ice and deep, watery potholes. By the time we reach the road the sun has set, the sky is dark, and we’re hungry, tired, soaked, and cold. This is where our adventure begins.
We stand at an abandoned bus stop, hoping a bus might magically appear. Half an hour passes. Trucks roar by, cars whiz past, but there is not a single marshrutka in sight. As socks freeze and our bellies growl louder, we decide to try hitchhiking for the first time, before our thumbs fall off.
Another half hour passes. Over a hundred cars pass, but not a single one stops. They’re filled with Russians coming back from a day of skiing in a nearby resort. The drivers’ eyes lock on ours as they coolly pass by. There’s only one route through the valley and it passes our destination, Kazbegi, yet not a single one slows down. We curse the Russian people with chattering teeth–extra curses for the ones with spacious cars.
While we’re castrating ourselves before soulless drivers, a small car arrives at a police station several hundred meters away. Eventually a short, red-faced man in army fatigues comes over. Alex exchanges some pleasantries in Russian, then he asks “Kazbegi?” We try–and fail–to hide our enthusiasm. YES!!!!!… uh, if you’re heading in that direction. He nods, and ushers us into the car.
It’s like a clown car: a tiny, decrepit Lada with a huge, hulking man behind the wheel. Our fatigue-clad savior rides shotgun, while a small grinning man in a black cap scoots to make space for us in the back. We squeeze in, and we’re assaulted by a barrage of Russian. Alex tries to explain that her Russian is mediocre at best (and Sebastiaan’s is nonexistent), but that just encourages them. Black Cap cackles and says Sebastiaan should probably learn Russian already. Fatigues nods sagely. Hulk remains silent.
Black Cap then whips out a long knife. We exchange nervous looks. Is this the part where they chop us up and leave our bloodied bits on the side of the road?
Hardly. Black Cap digs around in a plastic bag, and procures a thick loaf of bread and two huge sausages. Before we can say “bloodied bits”, he’s ripping off chunks of each and pressing them into our hands. Georgians are among the most hospitable people in the world, and our saviors are no different. There will be no dead foreigners on the side of this road tonight.
Minutes later, Black Cap reveals the true spirit (literally) of the journey: a two liter bottle of chacha, the infamous Georgian liquor. Think of it as the Georgian version of vodka, but twice as toxic and potent. The store-bought version is around 40% alcohol by volume, but homebrewed versions can hit 80%. And this was no store-bought booze!
Black Cap, ever prepared, pulls out a crumpled plastic cup from his bag of tricks. Winking roguishly, he pours a hearty shot, and offers it to Sebastiaan. “Georgian vodka! Drink!”
Sebastiaan tries to refuse, but Georgians do not take “no” for an answer when it comes to men and drinking. Besides, what harm could one shot do?
But of course, there’s never just one shot. Alex takes a shot next, then Black Cap joins in. Fatigues also takes a shot, not wanting to be left out. Then, heck, why not have another and keep the party going?
The car trundles down the potholed Georgian highway as we get increasingly tipsy. Despite our language barriers, we manage to discuss everything from the luxury cars Black Cap would drive if he lived in Europe–Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Maseratis, to be precise–to the respective penis sizes of all the men in the car, wiggling pinky fingers being a universal word in the male vocabulary. There is never a moment when someone is not drinking, and Black Cap waves his knife with increasing animation as he becomes progressively more intoxicated. Hulk remains silent up front–clearly he is used to being the designated driver for his friends.
As we are enveloped by drunkenness, Black Cap grows serious.
“It is beautiful that we can do this,” he slurs in Russian to Alex, “You are from USA. He is from Holland. We are Georgian. You speak English, we speak Georgian and Russian. Still, we understand. We can talk to each other.”
Despite the drunken haze, the moment is not lost on us. One of the most incredible things about travel is when people from all over the world come together and communicate in some way, despite having different cultures, backgrounds, languages.
After the longest half hour ever, we reach our destination… and realize we’ve consumed the entire two liters of chacha between the four of us. Oh my.
Fatigues insists that we sleep at his home, but we’re forced to decline: if we do, we will die by drink.
We all topple (literally) out of the car to slur some emotional goodbyes. We offer money for the ride, but they vehemently refuse–that is not the Georgian way! We manage to slip a pack of cigarettes to the Hulk while they’re not looking, and he nods. Fair payment for driving you fools.
Goodbyes done, we stumble to our hostel, dangerously drunk.
The next day, we meet the dark side of Georgian hospitality, and it is foul. We find ourselves sprawled on our bed, surrounded by sick, suffering the most spectacularly hangovers of our lives. From 9 A.M. to 6 P.M. we alternate between being violently ill, and pondering death to escape being so violently ill. We waste away while dreaming of hydration, baths, and liver transplants.
It’s been months now, but we’ll never forget about the Georgians’ hospitality… nor stop shuddering at the word chacha. What can we say? It was a hell of a first hitchhike.
MEET THE NOMADS OF LOST WITH PURPOSE!
Hi! We’re Alex (25, USA) and Sebastiaan (27, Netherlands) and we’re currently in Pakistan.
Our mission is to see the world, of course! We want to share the “real” story about the countries we’re in. Pakistan (and Iran before this) have international reputations as bastions of terrorism and violence, but the people couldn’t be any further from! We’re hoping to give the countries the positive attention they deserve while we travel through.
Funding our travels
Before we were full-time travelers, Alex was working as a designer/creative person at a startup and Sebastiaan was a sales person/office slave. We saved money for over a year, sold all of our stuff, and are now hunting for ways to make money on the road.
Our hobbies on the road:
Alex does a lot of photography, we both try to write now, and we both devour books and magazines.
At this point, it’s gotta be Iran or Pakistan. We’ve never seen anything like the hospitality we’ve encountered in these countries. The people really do make the country!
Favorite way of traveling
All our love goes to trains. They’re classic, scenic, and comfortable (… most of the time). Plus, no seatbelts or security necessary!
Biggest lesson learned on the road
Sometimes that room with an en suite toilet is worth the extra $3.
Traveling taught us this new skill:
Toilet texting while on a squatty.
Most awkward thing that happened:
The toilet theme continues! You know when you’ve got the runs, and you’re not sure if you need to pass gas or pass… other things…?
Go with the flow, and enter new places with an open mind and an empty schedule!
Our travel philosophy:
… don’t die.
Our plans for the next year:
We’re continuing our overland journey through Asia. We’re still flexible on destinations, but China, Kyrgyzstan, and India are definitely on the list. Uzbekistan and Afghanistan may or may not make an appearance as well.