Everyone is always asking me what I find interesting about Georgia; it’s on our monthly reports, our colleagues want to know, our families want to know, and even the occasional stranger will ask. There are many things I find interesting about Georgia, yet I usually don’t answer this question honestly because I have a sneaking suspicion that the people eliciting a response aren’t looking for a genuine answer, so I respond, “Qvelaperi. Dzalian momts’ons Sakartvelo” [Everything is interesting. I just love Georgia!] instead of truthfully listing the aspects I find especially peculiar about life in Georgia.
After quite an adventure with my friend Stephanie this past weekend, I’ve decided that traveling by taxi is a particular blog-worthy Georgian peculiarity. For tourists meandering the rather small city of Tbilisi, traveling by taxi is quite popular. It’s also assumed to be the ‘easy’ alternative for getting from point A to point B if you happen to be a tourist who does not speak Georgian—don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that taxi drivers speak English (because they most certainly don’t), but as a rule, one can usually travel anywhere in the city for no more than 5 lari (unless you are a tourist who has not gotten the memo to limit the amount of spoken English in the backseat, in which case the driver will most likely rip you off and charge you some ridiculous fare, well, because all English-speaking foreigners are rich—didn’t you know?!)
There are 5 popular ways to commute in the city:
1) Avtobusit [by bus]: Personally, I would consider this the ‘safest’ means of travel. You can pay 40 tetri (about 25 cents) to travel virtually anywhere in the city, and there are blue signs with a picture of a bus scattered along the main streets all over the city to indicate where to stand in order to catch one. Unless you are skilled in reading Georgian rather quickly, a newcomer might have to ask a local which bus to take in order to get to a specific street/location. Once you are familiar with which bus numbers go down which streets, it’s a simple means of travel. The schedule is also pretty reliable (except for #6, which is the bus I take to get to my friend Stephanie’s, and sometimes keeps me waiting anywhere between five minutes and one hour). It’s also important to know that the words ‘maximum capacity’ carry no weight in Georgia, and, depending on the time of day, traveling by bus might find you forced into the lap of some disgruntled stranger or pinned up against a pole while 15 hands compete for a place to hold in order to keep balance.
2) Marshrutkit [by marshrutka]: Definitely the fastest means of transport, and possibly the most dangerous as well, but nonetheless my favorite option. Marshrutkas are EVERYWHERE (except in Vake because it’s much too ‘posh’ for marshrutkas and except on Rustaveli Street, because apparently they were banned two years ago because the street was much too congested). I was informed that there are over 200 marshrutka routes in the city. There are no schedules for marshrutkas, and there is absolutely no way of knowing where they are headed unless you again, can read Georgian quickly, or have been told by some local Georgian which one to get on. There is a trick for beating the system, but it requires a day of doing nothing but standing on popular streets and writing down the numbers of marshrutkas that fly by (this is how I’ve figured it out, and I can proudly travel almost anywhere in the city by marshrutka these days). For those of you who I’ve lost completely, marshrutkas are small vans: usually rusty and rattling at every turn, equipped with about 15 seats (but usually packed with 25 people), and travel wicked fast. It’s an adventure you have to experience for yourself to believe!
3) Manqanit [by car]: Many Georgians have cars. After all, I’m sure that you can speed through any traffic signal, reverse for over 50 meters on a HIGHWAY if you realize you’re going in the wrong direction, and even hit a pedestrian, and STILL get your driver’s license here. I don’t travel often by car, unless someone from my village offers to give me a lift while I’m waiting for a bus, in which case I gladly brave the offer.