Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Out of the Caucasus, into the Middle East

From the Georgian town Ninotsminda, I tried to hitchhike towards the main coastal city Batumi. But as hitchhiking goes, sometimes your lucky, and sometimes your not. This time, I had to wait about an hour for a car to pick me up. The guy brought me a couple of kilometres further and soon after, a second lift took me to Akhalkalaki. In this small town I walked into a cafe for khachapuri. And within 30 seconds in the cafe, I was invited by some Armenians to join their breakfast and a bottle of vodka. I talked a bit with them and did some vodka-toasting, before I headed to the marshrutka stand. I decided to continue by public transport as I was in the middle of a town and planned to travel far that day. I took the marshrutka to a place called Khertvisi, in other to see the amazingly beautifull fortress overthere. The fortress is one of the oldest remaining fortresses in Georgia and has a spectacular location. I walked around there for an hour or so and continued my journey towards Batumi. Unfortunately, the road was pretty much empty and as I didn't managed to stop a car until 3pm that afternoon, I ended up taking a marshrutka again. The marshrutka brought me to a provincial town named Akhaltsikhe, where I decided to spend the night. I found a cheap place for 5 lari ($3), dropped my luggage and had Adjarian khachapuri for diner in a small cafe with a really friendly owner.
The next day, I took a marshrutka throught the autonomous region of Adjara, until the coastal city Batumi. The road was in a pretty bad condition, which caused that the journey was long and painfull. The scenery was very nice though and it seemed like the area is inhabited by some kind of Amish people. The way of living is very primitive and when three local women entered the marshrutka, they seemed like they had never been in a car before. Stepping out of the marshrutka five hours later in Batumi, I had to get used to the solid ground again. I walked a bit and found a place to stay. Soon after I went to the city-centre and walked around. Batumi is quite a nice city, it has a subtropical climate and it is the main domestic tourist destination of the country. Full of palmtrees, beaches, expensive cars and a relaxed atmosphere, I was happy to stay there for a couple of days. I haven't done much though, I used the internet quite some time, enjoyed numerous khachapuri and coffee and did some walking. Also I was supposed to meet some girls from Tbilisi who went to Batumi for a month or so, but I haven't seen them more than 5 minutes. So as I didn't spend time with them and also because I haven't met any other travellers, I felt a bit lonely after a while.
My lonelyness was the main reason I left Batumi after two days for Turkey. I took a marshrutka to Sarpi, which is at the border and after an easy bordercrossing I was in Turkey. The border is heavily fortified, with fences all over the place and it is full of Turkish trucks. As the only form of public transport from the Turkish side is a taxi to nearby Hopa, I decided to hitchhike. After changing money, kebab and coke, I walked to the main road. Within a minute I pulled out my thumb, a big truck stopped for me and brought me to Hopa. From Hopa I had a second lift to a small town in a beautifull valley and soon after a third ride to a mid-sized town named Artvin. The guy who picked me up had been living in Nantes, France, and I communicated with him in my basic French. He gave me lots of fruit and roasted corn on the way and in Artvin he found a cheap hotel for me, which he insisted on paying. Really an amazingly nice man. In the evening I enjoyed tasty lahmacun and went to sleep early. Around midnight that evening, I woke up because of Georgian prostitutes knokking on my door. I didn't open, because I knew they were working girls as I saw them in the hotel before.
The day after I had something else disturbing my sleep at 04.30am. My room had an open window and was next to the main mosque, so I woke up because of the morning prayer call. After sleeping a bit more, I started my journey towards to Iraq. Throught a travelforum I met an Irish guy, Edward, who was going to Iraq as well and we arranged to meet in the southern Turkish city Diyarbakir. So on that day, I travelled for over 700km from Artvin to Diyarbakir in two different bussus, as I had to change in Erzurum. In the second bus, from Erzurum to Diyarbakir, we were stopped by a militairy checkpoint somewhere halfway. Appearantly, it had something to do with the PKK, as I was entering Kurdish territories. I arrived on Diyarbakir's Otogar (busstation) 30 minutes past midnight and as the only way to get to the centre was by taking an expensive taxi, I decided to sleep on a bench in the busstation. The day after, I went into the republic of Iraq, but more on Iraq later on.