She got a hold of me because she knew nobody in Tbilisi and was working at some awful hostel across the river. When I said I knew a good cafe, she told me she only had 10 lari, so I told her I had a beer in the fridge and we could split it. She finally made it over around midnight.
We drank the beer and finished my flatmate’s wine and then it was 3am and I told her she could crash on the couch in the living room where I had been sleeping, since she didn’t really know how to get back to her hostel. I piled up a nest of blankets on the floor to sleep on and woke up when she left the next morning.
I saw her again two days later in a cafe at the end of a long hangover, feeling happy that I was able to hold down the bowl of mushroom soup I ordered. Apparently she just found out her dad was going to be in Yerevan the next day. “Do you want to hitchhike to Yerevan tomorrow?” she asked. I thought about all the work I had to do, the book I wanted to write, the job I should find, and the visa I needed to get. Fifteen minutes later I was looking up the best spot to hitchhike from Tbilisi and hunting for a place to crash in Yerevan. I threw my sleeping bag, some clothes, and a few random food items into my backpack and met up with her the next morning.
“Do you want to hitchhike to Yerevan tomorrow?” she asked… I threw my sleeping bag, some clothes, and a few random food items into my backpack and met up with her the next morning.
She was Lithuanian, had grown up in Moscow and was fluent in four languages. She had huge, thick, curly hair that stuck out from under the edge of an earth toned felt hat. She was bumming her way across Europe selling handmade ceramic jewellery along the way and she told stories laced with fantasy that were hard to distinguish and wonderful.
It took us three rides to make it to the Armenian border. One from a talkative Marshutka driver with a kindly gold-toothed smile, the second from a father and son who invited us to their animal farm near the border, and the last from a trucker who had grown up a shepherd in the hills of Kakheti and had a hand gripping the shifter so immense it made me feel like a child sitting next to it.
She spoke to them in Russian and each one asked if we were married, and when they were told that we had just met two days before, asked if we were going to get married and stay together forever. When faced with another negative response, they asked why a beautiful girl wouldn’t want to marry and have kids.
At the Armenian border, I went through quickly, but she was held up for some time as her passport was juggled around between officers, supposedly with some distaste because of the Turkish stamp. The border guard writing down his number for her tells a different story. He passed it over and told her not to tell anyone or he’d be fired.
…we drove over a snowy pass and the clouds broke and a mountain, white and jagged and wonderful, rose up from vast fields of snow and mist against a suddenly clear and vibrant blue sky.
The next ride took us all the way to Yerevan in one of the old Russian Lada sedans I love so much. Through the mountains along the slow, pothole-ridden road through bleak, impoverished valleys and villages that blended seamlessly into the greyscale overcast weather around us until we drove over a snowy pass and the clouds broke and a mountain, white and jagged and wonderful, rose up from vast fields of snow and mist against a suddenly clear and vibrant blue sky.
We arrived in Yerevan without difficulty and parted ways. She was meeting up with her father, a journalist unexpectedly in Yerevan on business, I went to find a place to sleep for the night, and she drifted out of this story the same way she had drifted into it. She disappeared to become another brief encounter leading to an unexpected journey and a much needed reminder of the joys of hitching.
A city is a city is a city. And Yerevan is quite a nice one, but what is there to say? I met some great people, drank some beers, wandered around and saw the old Soviet architecture. I continued my love affair with old Russian automobiles. The owner of a bar I randomly walked into took me out to Lake Sevan and a couple of monasteries. A lovely couch surfer took me in on a moment’s notice. At one point I pulled my roll of film out of its case and had to delicately remove it in a dark bathroom, happy to find it more or less intact when developed a week later. I have nothing bad to say about my time there, in fact I had a great time. But I wasn’t craving a city, I was yearning for the road, so I walked out to the edge of town, stuck out my thumb on a stretch of pavement pointing towards Tbilisi and was picked up 2 minutes later, bound for the couch I called home.
My first ride was from an actor who spoke English and forced a pastry into my hands as soon as I got into the car. He was wearing a solid black suit and a clean white shirt, returning from filming a commercial in the morning in Yerevan. Later that day, he was supposed to announce a wedding. He bought me an ice cream bar at a shop and told me about Jesus Christ and his love for me. We picked up three other hitchhikers along the way and when I got out he forced another pastry into my hand and told me he hoped to see me one day in heaven. I’d be more interested in getting into heaven if I thought all the people trying to go there were like this man.
We picked up three other hitchhikers along the way and when I got out he forced another pastry into my hand and told me he hoped to see me one day in heaven.
The next ride greeted me with another pastry and a napkin to wipe up the strawberry filling that oozed out with every bite. He worked in the energy field and zipped around corners in a foreign car on his way to a hydroelectric plant. He spoke English and told me stories of growing up in Yerevan after the collapse of the Soviet Union when Yerevan had no electricity, gas, or water and was fighting a war with Azerbaijan, while still dealing with the effects of an earthquake that had killed 45,000 people and left 500,000 homeless. The word he used for that time was “terrible”. We drove through a town near the epicenter of the earthquake and he told me that you would find no old buildings there.
I waited for my next ride with a grandmother who tried to teach me a few words in Russian, as we did our best to be friendly with no shared languages. Hitchhiking with an old woman has a way of humbling a boy’s adventure. We jumped into an old Lada together with two quiet men and then I had one more ride to get me to the border. The last driver dropped me off at the gates and immediately turned around to go back the other way, apparently having driven ten kilometers out of his way to take me to the crossing.
We piled into a van without seats in the back, along with several Georgians at various levels of drunk, all with cigarettes in hand and smiles on their faces.
Without a girl for the border guards to flirt with, my crossing took almost no time. I found a nice Swedish couple on the other side that were looking for a Marshutka and right then a man waved us over and offered us a ride. We piled into a van without seats in the back, along with several Georgians at various levels of drunk, all with cigarettes in hand and smiles on their faces. They cranked up the music and the Swedes had a rowdy, smoke-filled introduction to the Republic of Georgia. We danced in our awkward non-seats, took selfies and listened as the Georgian at the highest level of drunkeness said countless ridiculous things in broken English that make me wish I had a memory for quotes.
In Tbilisi I sent the Swedes in a taxi and hopped on the subway home to find my roommates dressed up fancy with friends. “We’re going to a nice restaurant where there’s live music and dancing. You should come. Now.” I put on a clean shirt, hoped I didn’t smell too much like I’d just hitchhiked eight hours, and spent the night eating, drinking, and dancing with expat friends from several continents and a Georgian girl with a nice smile and a tattoo just like mine.