11 January 2012

A New Type Of Travel

We traveled by car for the first fifteen months of the trip. Now, the car is back in America. A lot has changed in the way we get around. Above, the Tbilisi train station at dusk.
The biggest difference is the amount we are able to carry with us. We used to have a tent and folding table, a gas stove, pots and pans, spatulas and cheese grater, sleeping bags and wine glasses. We had to leave behind our tripod, our bags of books, our bigger bags of clothes, our thermoses and CD's. We used to feel as though there was a complete home in our car, ready to be unfolded at a campsite or rented room. One bag was called "the kitchen," another "the library," our tent was the bedroom, put in next to "our closets." There were times when we contemplated buying houseplants (or, car-plants?).
Now, everything we carry must really be carried.
Above, an uncrowded moment on the Tbilisi subway, which is actually quite convenient, fast and clean.
Another difference - we now have to know more precisely where the next destination will be, and how we are going to get there. With a car, it's easy to pull over for the night at some roadhouse or inn. We could wander at our own pace. There were no prescribed routes - we could take a back road or continue beyond where the busses ran. Now, we are at the mercy of our drivers, conductors and pilots, whose job is to go from one point to another.
We took a plane from Tbilisi to Mestia, which we never would have done before. On our flight there, we were the only two people aboard (there were sixteen seats, supposedly - I counted fifteen). On our flight back, the plane was full of Svans journeying to the capital for Christmas - it seemed most of them had never flown before.
Of course, in this part of the world, people travel by marshrutka, and so we have too. We'd been on them before, of course (our most memorable ride being into Transnistria), but not as often as most travelers in Eastern Europe.
Marshrutkas are, essentially, private busses - usually vans, actually - that run along predetermined routes and pick up or drop off passengers as they go. Sometimes they are quite pleasant. Sometimes, they are over-packed and uncomfortable.
We took a slow sleeper train from Tbilisi to Baku in Azerbaijan. It was, at one time, probably very luxurious, but was now tattered and faded. We felt that the journey - especially in between dreams, waking to darkness and clanging - was decades-old. The curtain rod was rusty, the fabrics musty. The porters had raucous laughs and a tiny room where they drank tea. They spoke Azeri to each other, hard-edged Russian to us. Outside, only occasional lights in the desert. We felt, for many hours, the slow tilt of the land downward to the caspian sea.
It was wonderful to drift in this relic of empire and Brezhnev, letting the miles pass unnoticed. We could read and play cards, drink Georgian brandy and use the bathroom. We miss our car very much - but this kind of travel isn't so bad.

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