Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Understanding Georgia

It took us a while before we understood this strange country. Strange because it seemed to do away with quite a few of the things we grew up with and considered basic necessities. What didn't help in understanding Georgia is the insane way the majority drives here, which in the first week or so needed all our attention simply to survive.

We realised quickly that even the most basic rules of driving, like staying in your own lane, drive on the right side of the road, obey speed limits and road rules, don't apply here. Overtaking is done wherever and whenever it is deemed convenient, road markings are seen as decoration and there is no such thing as driving on the wrong side of the road as Georgians tend the drive wherever they feel like. In towns and cities this leads to 3 lanes of traffic on a 2 lane road... or 4 lanes of traffic whereby they simply also use the lane reserved for traffic going the other way. The word tailgating doesn't have a translation into Georgian and it is seemingly legal to fumble with your mobile phone, check Facebook and e-mail while driving as the Georgian police does it too... Meanwhile the roads are bad. Seriously bad. The potholes are big enough to throw you off the bike and there are thousands of them. Driving here is truly mental and you need some form of suicidality to even consider taking part.

But there is another side to Georgia too. Once you leave the major roads and head for the hinterland Georgia changes dramatically. There is still the odd idiot who shouldn't have a car or van but in general people are friendly, open, interested and despite the language barrier come over for a chat. The roads here are even worse than the main ones but are so much more worth riding. If you give yourself time to let it sink in, look around and open yourself to Georgia then the experiences you will have are priceless. It still took us quite a while to understand this land, well part of it anyway. Some of the things we saw will remain a mystery, like why every village has a dozen shops all selling the same stuff and all for the same price.

Campgrounds don't exist here, but free camping can be done virtually everywhere. We found the most idyllic places to pitch our tents and where always met by friendly people having no objection to us camping there. We lived simple and frugal, washed in rivers and lakes, ate what was available locally and loved it. Talking about food. Here again the things we consider basic simply aren't there. We always carry a can of tuna or two as it's good food and easy. We haven't found any tuna in rural Georgia, plenty of Mackerel in tomato sauce but no tuna. Bananas, pears, apples, strawberries and half decent bread can all be hard to come by too. Or is at least when you are away from the main roads.

Lack of money also ensures nature is about as wild and unspoiled as it gets. Nothing is cultivated or modelled on a drawing board. Rivers simply run their natural course rather than being 'guided'. People tend to live with nature rather than try to adapt nature to their wishes. Horses are still used for farming as they are simply more practical in this kind of terrain. Another thing we noticed is the absence of fences. No miles and miles of barbed wire here, everything is open.

A home in Georgia can be as simple as this...
Friendliness wherever we went
As simple and natural as it all may seem, there is of course also another reason for this way of life: lack of money. Serious lack of money. We've seen paddocks being mowed by hand, hay raked and collected by hand and fields being planted and harvested by hand. Some may have a brush-cutter and use that to mow the fields for the winter hay, others may have an old little tractor. But quite a few don't have any of those and do it all by hand.

Young cattle curious about us and our tents!
Cattle isn't locked inside fenced fields but freely roams this fence-less land. Sometimes minded by herders, other times just allowed to wander wherever they feel like. The same goes for sheep, goats, donkeys etc. The people minding the herds sometimes live in makeshift tent like structures, moving along with the availability of grass. They are true nomads if you like.

Looked at it through our eyes we see poverty. No iPhone, no internet and no social media. Camping is done under a tarp rather than in an RV. At the same time they seem devoid of stress, don't have mortgage pressures and have time to talk and simply enjoy what they have. Yes there is a lack of schooling as we know it but also a lack of elbow mentality and the typical western push for more, more, more.