Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Georgia - It's the Little Differences, Part 1

The more you travel, the more you are struck by the little differences even between seemingly-similar, neighboring countries, not to mention distant ones. My first blog post about the little differences between Country A and Country B, and the second one on the same topic, both referred to the UK. Any native-born Israeli visiting the UK for the first time is amazed by the differences, both prominent and minor. Isn't that one of the main reasons for traveling abroad?

So no wonder I took note of the unique characteristics of everyday life in Georgia. But -- unlike Vincent's comments in Pulp Fiction -- this time the differences were pretty big.

Take cows, for example. How many of you nearly bump into cows on the road when traveling between cities? This is Georgia, not India where cows are sacred. What on earth are cows doing here, roaming freely, obstructing traffic, sitting comfortably on broken asphalt in the middle of the road, barely condescending to lazily move their skinny asses out of the way?.. And yes, they are skinny, compared to the fattened cows in Israeli cowsheds on farms and kibbutzim. There's also a plethora of sheep, goats, dogs, and the occasional horse or donkey. All feel quite at home on the road.
Sorry, cows pic not very good...
... so here is the sheep version.
Other traffic-and-travel related differences:
- The near-total absence of any 2-wheel vehicles: hardly any motorcycles, scooters, nor bicycles (neither ordinary nor electric). Quite a relief, actually, after being used to murderous pizza-deliverers and this-pavement-is-mine bicycle riders in Tel Aviv. Not to mention the cohorts of scooters in Vietnam...
- Some of the buses -- notably the yellow ones -- are as old as the hills... Okay, not quite, but about mid-previous century. Last time I went on such a bus was when I was a kid! Over half a century ago!
- No RVs. In 13 days of traveling, we saw two RVs. No RV camps or parking grounds. Nowhere to rent or buy one, as far as our guides knew.
- Many cars have the steering wheel on the right... That's right, like in the UK, India, South Africa,  and other countries where you drive on the left side of the road. At first I thought it was an aberration -- some tourist who came with his car, say from Cyprus, which retained its British-era driving norms. But no; these cars were too numerous. Our guide had a very simple explanation: They're cheap. Imported from Japan, and cost about half the price of standard cars, i.e. with the driver's seat on the left. Meanwhile, it seems, the government got wise and imposed high taxes on these Japanese cars, so as to make them less attractive financially.
- Signalling before changing lanes? before overtaking or making a turn? Really? What for? Is that a "thing" where you come from?...
- Solid white line? A double yellow line? Isn't that, like, for decorative purposes?...
- "But the driver said it takes half an hour to get to Picturesque Village X, so why have we been sitting in the car for 2 hours already...?"  - That's not the driver's fault; it's the roads. Georgia, unfortunately, has been through wars, bombings, and upheavals. Of the type that smash and ruin roads. It also has considerable stretches of mountainous, rocky terrain. So yes, as-the-crow-flies, your destination is a mere 30 minutes away. But when you have to keep shifting gears and wend your way carefully through pits, cracks, bumps and rocks...
- Pit stop, a.k.a. toilet en route. What's wrong with that cluster of bushes over there?.. Well, for lack of anything better in sight, those bushes were fine. On a different occasion we resorted to a hole-in-the-ground surrounded by makeshift wooden walls, put up for construction workers. But even in places that provided a squat-toilet, it was often in pretty bad shape, compared, say, to the ones in China that were constantly washed & scrubbed. Ladies: Thought I'd share with you this helpful link: A Woman's Guide to Using Squat Toilets.
- Rest area, coffee break. You must be kidding. Why didn't you bring a thermos of coffee with you, then? Wait, I think there's a place just a few kilometers away. But don't order the meat-filled khachapuri, or chibiriki; last time we were here, it was more fat and gristle than meat. So order the classic cheese khachapuri, to be on the safe side.
Lunch stop on way to Mestia; can't vouch for the coffee...
... but the view of the Patara Enguri river from the patio was beautiful.
- Passengers in the back seat do not have to be buckled in. The horror of it! We've gotten so used to buckling in we feel suspended in mid-air if we don't. So we buckled in, no matter what the driver and guide said.
- Drivers talk on their mobile phone freely during driving. All of them. Why, you can't be expected to ignore an incoming phone-call! Who knows, maybe it's the Queen inviting you for tea (UK); or Erella, the lady from the National Lottery, informing you that you hit the jackpot (Israel). Why take the risk, when the fine, if you're caught, is merely 40 Lari. (Which is enough for a decent meal for two, including beer. More about the buying power of Georgian currency in another post.)

Anyway, main thing is we reached our destination safely.
 - Read more in Part 2 of "Georgia - it's the Little Differences"

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