“I feel like I’ve been electrocuted.” I slumped on the leather sofa in my friend’s front room in a quiet London back-street. The words formed in my mind but when I opened my mouth only a discordant groaning emerged. There was nobody else in the room to hear me, anyway; I could hear the clatter of pots and pans that signified the preparation of dinner.
I hoped it would be a suitably colossal meal. I’d just arrived after travelling down from the East Midlands. Normally, this would have meant a short ride to the nearest station, a couple of hours on the train and a twenty-minute cycle through central London. But today I’d decided to give the train a miss.
Last week I travelled to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi to meet Andy for a few days of mountain-biking in the Caucasus mountains to the north of the city.
Andy told me that many people outside the country still think it must be a ‘warzone’. This is probably due to the monumental fuss made by the international media over an incident last year which has become known as the 2008 South Ossetia war. The reality of this war was a few days of localised conflict on the borders of a region which has been fighting for independence for nearly twenty years, but this didn’t stop it being portrayed as the closest thing to World War III (with a good deal of anti-Russian spin for good measure).
Today, a tentative peace prevails. Ethnic groups arbitrarily united and divided by newly-drawn borders still struggle to accept their neighbours and find justice for past wrongs done against them, but it seems that most people would rather harbour their resentments and get on with the business of eating, drinking, working and having families.
We headed out of Tbilisi — me, Andy and his Georgian mountain-biking friend Dato — towards Zhinvali and the small mountain villages of Georgia; square, tin-roofed, wide-terraced houses of bleached wood and crumbling concrete. Vines pulsed with ripe grapes, chickens, calves and sows roamed the little pot-holed tracks, and the trees were just beginning to dust the ground with the oranges and browns of autumn. It was our last chance to go and explore these high, remote valleys before the onset of the harsh Caucasian winter that Andy and I knew all too well.
I arrived at my parents’ home in England nine days after I left my home in Armenia to try and hitch my way there. The trip began well, progressed through a lot of self-inflicted suffering, continued into ill health, and ended on a happy note. I have to be honest — it was a lot tougher than I’d thought it would be. It was also a lot further than I’d imagined.
I embarked rather spontaneously on this micro-adventure, carrying nothing but a toothbrush, a poncho and a knife (as well as my wallet, passport, and a cameraphone to record the journey). Hitching is something I believe is worth reviving. Last year I wrote an article for MakeTravelFair to promote the idea.