Published: December 7th 2011November 27th 2011
I head to school on Friday and it’s a pretty standard day. Eka asks if I want to leave before the last lesson but I decline as I’m in no particular rush to get to Tbilisi and leaving 45 minutes early won’t make much of a difference anyway. Eka and I are kind of at a loss as to what to do with first grade. We’ve finished the alphabet with them and taught colours and the early numbers but from there the Macmillan book jumps onto basic grammar and neither of us think they’re ready for it. They’re only young and they’re still learning the Georgian alphabet. On the other hand Eka can’t just continue to go through the alphabet for the rest of the year!
I grab a marshrutka into town and check my balance at the bank – it’s not good news. The last weekend in Borjomi turned out to be an expensive one and, given the mood I’m in, Tbilisi is going to follow suit. I’ve decided that I’ve had quite enough of nature and villages for one month and what I really need is a weekend of drunken debauchery! I jump on the 3pm marshrutka to Tbilisi and it’s a pretty boring journey all round. I’m scared to go to the library on account of misplacing their book so I’m left with nothing to read. Fortunately the plan is to pick up my package from DHL so I should have a massive tome of a thing for the return journey. Ali calls me on the way and informs me that I have to be there by 8pm because that’s when the party starts. Party?! Because the hostel is moving premises this weekend, not only are all the beds half price but we’re having some booze and food as well. Wonderful. I’ve now realised that about once a month something clicks in my head and I just need to have my own space for a day or two so I take the opportunity to ask Ali to reserve me a private room at the hotel. I know it’s decadent, particularly given the state of my bank account, but the prospect of having my own room for a couple of nights is too good to pass up. Ali then phones me more or less continuously for the remainder of the journey to tell me to hurry up and get there. I try to explain to him that I can’t make the marshrutka go any faster but to no avail. We finally make it to Tbilisi and I’m dropped off at the same bus station as last time. The second I get out a taxi driver asks me where I’m going and when I tell him asks for ten lari so I laugh in his face and leave him standing there. 200 yards down the road I jump in one that takes me to Freedom Square for half that price. I wander into the hostel just in time for the first toast and am immediately handed a glass of wine. I know it’s her job to make people feel welcome but Ketia, the woman who runs the place, remembers my name and seems happy to see me too which is nice. Just about the first thing I do after I arrive is ask if there are any Brits about, meet a guy from Aberdeen called Dave and commandeer his adapter to charge my laptop – I still haven’t managed to find one to replace the one I ‘lent’ to Eka so it’s a joy to be able to use my laptop again. After ten minutes of thoroughly ripping the piss out of everything Dave says he informs me that he’s missed the British sense of humour. We sit around the hostel eating, drinking wine and chatting to the other guests (mostly TLGers) for a while before heading out for the night. Dave, Ali and I are joined by a couple of American girls called Linda and Tamara and we wander towards the old town. We pop into one bar which I know to be really expensive so that Ali can say hi to the barmaid and then continue on to what turns out to be an even more expensive bar. The difference is the music they’re playing is dire whereas the place we’ve just left was playing rock so I drag Ali and Dave back that way. I figure if I’m going to pay a fortune for drinks I should at least be able to dance at the same time. However, in an attempt to minimise costs we purchase a bottle of lemon vodka from a local shop and sit on some steps down an alleyway drinking it like a bunch of hobos before heading back to the bar. Well anyway, we had a great night. It’s probably the first proper night out I’ve had in Georgia. I got to drink cider and tequila and spent the whole night dancing like an idiot with as many people as possible, first to a live band and then to Ali’s iPod which they were kind enough to let us plug into their system. I think I got back to the hostel around 4am but I’m not sure. Judging by the way my gloves smelt the next day there was a kebab involved somewhere along the way.
I’m up late and feeling pretty special the next morning. Ally and Ara have been on some crazy adventure East of Tbilisi since Wednesday but I figure they’ll be passing through the city on their way home so I text them and tell them to call me if they are. I find Ali and inform him that he’ll be coming to the DHL office with me. I ask one of the guys who works in the hostel to call them to find out where their office is and he tells us they’re closing at 2pm. At this point it’s around 1.30pm so we jump in a cab and just about make it in time. Well, it’s an absolute debacle. The friend who kindly sent me the parcel was asked to fill out a form stating the value of each of the items in it and, thinking it was for insurance purposes, he stated that the camera I’d bought cost £150. I assure you it didn’t. It was about the cheapest one I could find on Amazon. The people at DHL kindly informed me that I would need to pay 300 Lari to get the package released from customs. I could just about fly home and get it for that! I kindly informed them that I would be doing no such thing and that I’d come 300 kilometres to get this package and I wasn’t leaving without it. Which got me precisely nowhere. It turns out the package wasn’t in the office I was at and was actually at a depot down the road. The woman behind the counter told me that if I went there they might be able to help me, probably more to get rid of me than anything else. So Ali and I traipse down the road to the second building. By this point I’m hungover, starving hungry, in desperate need of a drink and extremely pissed off. I get the same gumph from the people at the depot, only in much more broken English. In the end they get a woman who speaks English on the phone and I get to yell at her for a bit, only not really cos I know it’s not her fault and I’m not very good at that sort of thing. I tell her that I can prove the camera only cost £30 because I have a receipt for it. She says that’s good and I can post it to them. Are you fucking kidding me? How exactly would you suggest I do that? Does Georgia even have stamps, post offices, post boxes even? I’ve never seen any. I reckon I’d be back in England before they received it. In the end I ask if they have internet access in the office, plonk myself down at one of their computers and print out the Amazon receipt for the camera. The woman tells me that’s fine but they still need to send the information to customs and that they’ll deliver the package to the Zugdidi office in three days. I concede that that will be acceptable and leave with as much dignity as I can muster. At the end of the day it didn’t cost me 300 Lari so I’m chalking it up as a draw.
By this point it’s gone 3pm and I’m beginning to get seriously scared that I might be dying so Ali and I go for a long lunch at the usual place on the river. About half way through the meal Ally calls me and tells me that him and Ara have run out of money and ideas and don’t know what to do. I tell them to hitch to Tbilisi and I’ll look after them. Honestly, sometimes it’s like having children! We head back to the hostel, me with very specific ideas about napping before meeting up with the boys later but when we get back the vegans are there so I have to catch up with them for a while. They’re heading to India for five weeks in December and have to go to Armenia to get their visas and are just passing through Tbilisi on the way. It’s nice to see them but eventually I manage to crawl into bed for some well needed rest. At about 8pm I call the boys to check on their progress and it transpires they’ve managed to persuade a taxi driver to bring them all the way to Tbilisi for 12 Lari. Given it’s over 100 kilometres I don’t know how they do it! I tell them I’ll meet them at the restaurant next to the Bazaleti and head out into the snow. It’s not heavy and, having spent enough money already, I decide to walk to restaurant, which is fine until I get to the final stretch and realise I’ve never done the walk on my own before and I don’t really know where to go when the road splits. I call the boys who are about as useful as a chocolate teapot, pick a road and head down it. I know almost immediately that I’ve taken the wrong road but I can’t be bothered to go back on myself so I keep walking. After about ten minutes a cab pulls up beside me and asks me where I’m going. I’m determined to walk so I wave him away. It’s not that I don’t know where I’m going by this point; I’m just taking the long way round. The taxi driver, however, is not to be put off that easily and pulls up beside me again and tells me to get it. It doesn’t look like I’ve got much say in it so I jump in and tell him to take me to the Bazaleti and we have a nice little chat on the way. When we arrive at the hotel I ask him how much and he waves me away. It’s little moments like that that make me love this country. The restaurant is good as it always is. I catch up with the guys and we eat and drink and dance a little. There are some Georgian students at the next take who are completely trashed and keep telling us that they love all foreigners and are very proud to have us in their country, which is kind of nice. Until they get a little out of hand and the security guard comes over and tells them to shut up. We’re none of us up for a late one so we head off relatively early and walk back along the river in the snow. On the way home we pick up armfuls of junk food and finish the night by watching a movie and pigging out, pretty much as I would were I at home.
We were actually sensible enough to buy breakfast ingredients on our way back from the restaurant the night before so I get up and rustle up some eggs in the morning. I have to make my usual, and mostly unsuccessful, Sunday attempt to make it back to Zugdidi for the last bus so I set off as soon as I’m ready. Now, the irritating thing about the conclusion to the story is that I actually set off in plenty of time. I take a cab to the big bus station at Didube and, as normally happens, the taxi driver asks me where I’m going. I tell him Zugdidi and, when I get out of the car he tells the guys herding people into marshrutkas that I want to go to Zugdidi. I hear him say this. I then tell them I wanted to go to Zugdidi and I’m put on a bus with my luggage stowed away, no problem. Except that I can hear the driver outside the bus shouting, ‘Batumi…Kobuleti…’. I sit there for a few minutes going through my scant knowledge of Georgian geography in my head and trying to work out if there’s any way the marshrutka can be going to both Batumi and
Zugdidi but there’s no way. The road splits about 90km outside Zugdidi and carries on to Batumi so I make my way off the bus and check with the driver. Of course he’s not going to Zugdidi. Why would he have put me on a bus to Zugdidi just because he was told three times that that was where I needed to go? I collect my bag and money and I’m taken to another marshrutka. Except by this time it’s gone midday and the bus doesn’t leave until 1pm so that’s any chance I had of getting the bus home out the window. It’s nearly 7pm by the time we pull into Zugdidi and there’s now no rush for me to get home so I do some shopping. For some reason all the pharmacies in Georgia keep all their products in locked glass cabinets. I mean absolutely everything – make up, shampoo, cotton buds. Don’t ask me why. I manage to make my purchases by miming several different actions to the staff and then try to find a cash machine in order to withdraw the exorbitant taxi fare home. I don’t know what was going on in Zugdidi but I had to visit five of the damn things before I found one that worked. And then I get one of those drivers that stops half way through the journey, insists I get in the front and then spends the remainder of the journey grabbing my hand every time he asks me a questions. Not a great end to an otherwise enjoyable weekend. Still, within an hour of getting home I’m scrubbed, fed and curled up by the fire so it’s not all bad.