Am I really ready?
The day that I had been looking forward to for almost a whole year had finally arrived. Our bags were packed, we had cleaned our flat in Gori and said our goodbyes to our friends. But the day before our departure I got very sick. I spent more time on the toilet than anywhere else. I was lucky we weren't on the road yet. And it made me wonder: did I really want to leave the comfort of a home?
Was I really ready to spend my days again on the side of the road, hitchhiking in the heat, rain or cold? Was my body still up to camp on hard surfaces somewhere in a forest or a meadow? Did I really want to go for days without a proper shower, warm meals and electricity? Those were some of the main reasons why I've been living like a nomad for more than 6 years and they used to make me feel so alive and awake. Now I've been living an almost ordinary life for nearly one year in one place. Having a home made me feel so comfortable that I started having doubts if I still really wanted to do this.
I'm always a bit emotional when I have to deal with change. Change means letting go and I'm not someone who can easily do that. Even when it comes to bad habits, like smoking. About a month ago I quit smoking cigarettes and although I know and feel it's so much better for my health, I sometimes still have a hard time letting go of this old self that used to enjoy tobacco so much. Change isn't always easy and it often requires mental and emotional rewiring. I was sick for nearly 5 days and I realized that this time in bed (and on the toilet) had been for a reason. It gave me the time to slowly get ready and prepare myself to go out of that comfort zone again.
A symbolic walk
The day we left our apartment, we had to walk about 6 kilometers to the highway. We had the option of taking a minibus but we preferred to walk this distance so we could get used to the weight of our backpacks. This walk was quite symbolic for me. I was physically making the transition between a life in a house and a life on the road. The more we approached the highway, the better I started feeling! It was like something fell from my shoulders and I started feeling lighter and brighter, despite the heavy weight of the backpack and the heat of the burning sun.
By the time Niko and I reached the highway, we were already sticky and sweaty but we had huge smiles on our faces. We were back in our natural habitat. This is what we had worked so hard for during the past year. Standing there on the side of the road while sticking out our thumbs felt like coming home.
Trust the drivers
Our minds and bodies remembered exactly what they had to do: waiting patiently until a car stops, asking the driver where he's going, getting in the car, starting a conversation with the driver, watching the landscapes change while the car is moving forward, checking the map where we have to get off next, thank the driver, walk to the next safe hitchhiking spot, repeat all of the above.
This might sound like a boring series of actions but in reality it's much more exciting. We never know who will stop, what will happen while being in the car and where the driver will drop us off. We're very aware that we have to trust in the good intentions of strangers. But that's not the only thing. We also have to have faith in their driving skills. Georgia is one of the safest countries we've ever been to but getting in a car with a Georgian driver might be one of the dangerous things we've done so far!
I don't want to generalize and say that ALL the drivers in Georgia are reckless but probably 70 % are. I never did this in any other country but every time Niko and I got into a car here, I prayed. And I'm not religious... So far we've been lucky and never had any bad experiences but during our first day of being back on the road, we got VERY lucky!
We were hitchhiking towards Telavi, the main city of the Kakheti region, an area in Georgia that we hadn't visited yet and that we wanted to see before leaving to Azerbaijan. One of our drivers, a very kind and gentle man, had insisted on paying a mashrutka (minibus) for us towards this city. You have to know that the worst drivers in Georgia are the mashrutka drivers!
They always seem to be in a hurry, trying to overtake other vehicles while it's not even necessary and putting the lives of all their passengers at stake. The driver of this mashrutka wasn't an exception. He drove like a madman and I started to have a bad feeling. I trust my intuition and I knew something bad was about to happen. I was right. About halfway our journey the driver tried to overtake a truck while an oncoming car approached very quickly. I don't remember much of that moment, only that some passengers screamed, that the minibus swayed severely, that I dropped my water bottle and instinctively started bracing myself for impact.
We came within an inch of ending up in a severe car crash! The woman who was sitting in front of me was so mad at the driver that she yelled at him. The only reaction I had was whispering thank you to my guardian angels. If people ever tell me again that hitchhiking is dangerous, I'll challenge them to take public transportation in Georgia... That's even more risky!
Luckily not all drivers were as reckless as this guy! After arriving safely in Telavi, we headed towards Tusheti, a very beautiful and remote region. The road to Tusheti is notoriously known as one of the most dangerous roads in the world due to its many steep climbs, narrow turns and precipitous cliffs. Most people rent a Delica (a 4x4 mini-van) with an experienced driver to get there but we decided to hitchhike. We didn't have high hopes of finding a ride since we got dropped of in a tiny village with little traffic, but we got lucky. We didn't have to wait long before a driver of an old Kamaz truck (a Russian brand of trucks) gave us a lift. At first I wasn't too sure about this ride. The truck was very wide and I didn't feel too safe about driving on a narrow and steep road in a big truck like this. After a conversation in Russian with our driver (I'm so happy that Niko has an exquisite talent for languages) we discovered that he was very familiar with this road as he had to drive it 3 to 4 times a week.
Normally it takes about 4 to 5 hours to get to Omalo, the central village of Tusheti, but it took us about 7 hours in this big truck. I didn't mind it though. The landscapes were breathtaking so I had more time to enjoy it and our driver was very careful. I was amazed by his skills and focus! Imagine taking sharp and narrow turns with the risk of tumbling into a deep canyons (there are yearly incidents of cars tumbling down on this road). I felt super safe with this man! I even forgot about the dangers of this road until we passed another car with a smashed-in hood. A boulder had fallen down from a landslide and had hit the hood of the car. The 4 passengers were very fortunate that the huge rock hadn't hit the roof... We were very fortunate to find a skilled driver with a monster of a truck that kept us safe from all kind of dangers!
Don't be scared of strangers
Although I always tend to see the good side of people, it doesn't mean that I'm not careful. Even though we've only met good people on this journey, I always have my guard up whenever a stranger randomly comes up to meet us and invite us into his or her home. It's probably in our nature to think that someone has a hidden agenda or that they want money or something else in return for being so nice.
When we were walking in Pshaveli, a small village in Kakheti, I found it rather odd when an elderly woman just randomly walked up to us and asked us to follow her to her house. I know by now that Georgians are genuinely good and respectful people and that I shouldn't have to worry but I couldn't help but thinking about why she wanted us to follow her. Maybe she was seeking customers to stay in her guesthouse? I looked at Niko to see how he felt about the situation. We work as a team and always trust each others' instincts. Niko had a good feeling about this and wanted to go along with the situation so I followed him.
I'm glad I didn't act upon my prejudices. This woman was the sweetest! The reason why she had invited us to her house was because I reminded her of her daughter who was living in Europe and she genuinely wanted to host and share a meal with foreign travelers in the hope that people would do the same for her daughter. She reminded me of my mum who always gives hitchhikers a ride and food in the hope that people would do the same for me. I felt such a connection with this woman that I had tears in my eyes and gave her a big hug.
Her husband joined us during the meal. He was proudly showing us the wine, chacha (a typical Georgian spirit) and cognac that he made himself and insisted that we tasted it while eating the food his wife prepared for us. He also showed us the horns from a ram out of which he drank wine during special ceremonies.
We spent about two hours in the home of this elderly couple and when we said goodbye I felt a bit emotional. These people had been strangers just a couple of hours ago. This situation was a good reminder that I shouldn't be too suspicious about strangers. It's in our nature to be careful and judgmental but often we miss out on beautiful meetings and connections because of our stupid fear (thank you media, ahem...). People in western countries have become so afraid that they would never invite a stranger into their home. In Georgia it's still a common thing to do as they see guests as a gift from God. Imagine how the world would look like if we didn't have to be scared of strangers, if we all would have such an open mind and heart...
Toughen up dear!
I always loved camping. There's something so pure and romantic about sleeping in a tent somewhere in the wild. I actually don't mind the hard surface (especially since we have these super-duper soft sleeping mattresses now) and lack of comfort that much and I love waking up, opening the tent and seeing the beautiful nature around me.
It's not always so fun though, especially when it rains. As long as we're in the tent it's fine but when there's a big thunderstorm, chances are that there will be some water coming in the tent and nothing is so annoying as having wet clothes or a wet sleeping bag! During one of the nights we spent in Tusheti, we saw some heavy dark clouds coming our way and knew it would be a very wet night. While we were searching for a sheltered place to pitch our tent, we came across a little stone hut. It was tiny and made out of layers of flat stones. It looked very old but it was warm and dry inside. It looked like it had been used to store some hay and we found traces of dried manure on the stony floor. Niko reckoned this could be the perfect place to spend the night as it was just big enough for us and our bags. I wasn't so sure about it. It looked quite dirty and I noticed some spiders and insects crawling around. I'm normally not very picky but somehow I had a lot of resistance. I didn't like the thought of having spiders and bugs crawling over my face while being asleep.
I had two options that evening: we could spend the night in the tent and wake up with the possibility of our stuff being wet or we could sleep in this hut and wake up dry but with the possibility of having some insects nestled in my hair. My first reaction was opting for the first choice. I realized though why I was having this resistance - thank you dear mind for your irrational fears. I knew I had to overcome these silly fears. I mean, I'm hitchhiking across the world, I'm putting my life into the hands of strangers on a daily basis and I'm camping in wild places with the chances of having a bear or other wild animals paying us a visit at night but I would be afraid of having a few innocent bugs crawling on my face or in my hair while I was asleep? I knew I had to toughen up a little and get beyond my comfort zone again. So after some inner debating, I agreed with Niko that the hut would be our best and driest option for the night.
I'm glad I didn't listen to my mind. We had such great night in that little hut. We drank the bottle of wine that we were given that day- which also helps quietening silly thoughts – and we stayed up late that night, watching the thunder and lightning outside and talking a lot while being warm and cozy inside. When I woke up the day after, I was so comfortable that it took me a long time getting out of my sleeping bag. Niko had a good chuckle, knowing how resisting I had been about staying there in the first place. Now I didn't want to leave the hut.
Later we found out that this wasn't just an ordinary hut. We had no idea because there weren't any signs and we still aren't 100% sure but one of our Georgian friends saw the photo and suspects that it's a sacred place, called a khati. A khati was a stone shrine or a little pile of stones, made by the villagers during Pagan times. It's the place where the family's guardian angel used to live. Normally a khati is decorated with white stones and horns of sacrificed goats,which we didn't see around this little hut. Visitors and women aren't permitted to approach a khati so we still hope that this was just an ordinary stone hut. We couldn't find more information about it and even our Georgian friend wasn't sure but in any case, we didn't add the video footage of this night to our vlog. Without the right background info, it could be perceived wrong by someone.
I'm writing about it here because I want this blog to be an honest journal about our events on the road. We're not ignorant people but sometimes we just can't know. Honestly, if there would have been horns from sacrificed goats dangling outside this little hut, I would have known that it was a special place and wouldn't have stayed there in the first place. And if it turned out to be the home of a guardian angel, then I'd like to thank that angel for it's hospitality and for providing us with a warm and cozy night (without crawling insects).
Exchanging hot showers for cold rivers
One of the comforts of having a home was that I could take a daily shower. Unfortunately our tent doesn't come with a bathroom so it can be a little tricky to wash ourselves every day. We use wet wipes and a bottle of water to take care of our daily hygiene but that's about it. We also use deodorant to cover up certain smells – especially needed in this hot weather – so our drivers don't regret taking us along in their car. However washing our hair and giving our bodies a full scrub to get rid of the dirt and sweat isn't so easy when we camp for a few days or even a whole week. That's why we often go in search of a nice camping spot near a river or a waterfall but those spots aren't always so easy to find.
We were very lucky to find two wonderful places in the past week where we could jump into the water and take a natural bath in the cold water. There are times – especially when it's becoming colder at night – in which I crave taking a good warm shower but as long as it's still warm outside, I don't mind this one bit! I love the feeling of going back to basics and it makes me feel so close to nature!
These are the simple things that make me keep traveling this way. It's challenging,liberating, invigorating! I absolutely love it!
Remembering how to enjoy the moment
This past week of being back on the road was so refreshing! I can barely believe that I had doubts before leaving. Funny how the mind works sometimes. The biggest and most important reminder I had since we left our home in Gori was how to enjoy in the moment.
During the past 11 months I pushed myself a lot. I have a huge dislike for routine but while I was teaching online, I had to keep to a strict schedule. I wanted to make the most out of the time that we had to work and save money so I was working about 10 to 12 hours on a daily basis. Every day started looking the same and it was hard for me to be 'stuck' in such a routine. Don't get me wrong, I really liked the job and I gained a lot out of it but it was also a huge challenge for me. I became a bit of a workaholic combining two full-time jobs of teaching and blogging.
I was always thinking of what I still had on my to-do list, I was planning my days ahead of time, I was always busy with something. If I wanted to achieve my goals and make my dreams possible, I had to work for it. I became a little obsessed even and spent so much time in my head, that I forgot how to take it easy. It felt awkward and a waste of time if I would take it easy for a day and do nothing. I started to forget how to live on my own rhythm. I think that's also one of the reasons why I became sick just before we left our apartment in Gori. Suddenly all the schedules and pressure fell away and my body started reacting to the pressure I had put on myself in the past months.
Since we're back on the road, my whole rhythm has changed again. I feel more at home being on the move than staying in one place. I feel more inspired and more connected with myself and my surroundings. I can't force things to happen but embrace the situations that present themselves.
The first time I remembered this was when we were charging the batteries of our cameras in a small shop in a tiny village. We had to wait for about 3 hours to let the batteries charge. Normally I would already have found ways to make good use of this time but there wasn't any Wi-Fi. So instead of doing some work on my laptop, I was just enjoying the moment, listening to Niko communicating in Russian with the shop owner and his friends and meanwhile learning more Russian myself. I realized in that moment how good it felt just to enjoy the moment. How much of life and little opportunities would pass by if I would always be stuck in my head, thinking of the next thing to do. It was bliss!
The second reminder was when we were in Tusheti. It was the morning after we had woken up in the little hut. Niko and I spent hours of talking, observing our surroundings, relaxing, enjoying. We even talked about this subject, how we always had the feeling we were in a rush, that we had to perform and be productive while we were living in our flat. We had been living and working together 24/7 but barely spent time talking to each other. I mean, of course we talked a lot but it was always about our work. Now we had big and small conversations about so many different subjects. I saw how his eyes were glowing with joy and I also noticed how much my face had changed in these last few days. I looked happier, healthier, more relaxed. I looked and felt like myself again.
I'm so happy I'm back on the road. It feels good to live at my own pace again, being my own boss. I realize that the time we spent living in a home was necessary, not only for the continuation for our journey but also for ourselves. I learned that if I have a clear goal in mind, I can do whatever it takes. I also learned that I should't forget about myself in that process. I thought that I had enough of constantly moving around but now that I'm on my way again, I know that this is my true home. I have a good feeling about what's to come. I notice that Niko feels the same way. We are nomads in heart and soul.
Here are the vlogs related to this journal: