MVW Travels: Day 12, Kutaisi and Poti

Dateline: Poti, Georgia—11 Mar. 2017

Last night I started my packing to prepare for moving day. After five days my stuff had spread out, but with only one bag there’s just not that much stuff. I saved loading the pack for this morning, but everything except for my bed clothes was ready to go. The packing cubes have really made this trip easier.

My alarm went off at 7 a.m. so I’d have plenty of time to get packed and be ready for my ride to the train station at 10:30 a.m. Even with hitting snooze once and catching up with my news feeds before getting out of bed, I had my bags downstairs before eight. Russian Grandpa (I finally found out his name is Batu) was surprised to see me up and drinking coffee before him.

It didn’t take long before he was put a plate of vegetables down in front of me. I have no idea what it was called, but it was some sort of cold mixed veggies with seasoning and a light sauce. The shut up and eat rule worked in my favor again and the tasty dish was gone before I knew it.

I showed him my bags in the hall, and made a going motion with my hands to let him know that it was my last morning there. Once the table was clear I sat with my tea and started watching the clock for my ride.

No train for you

As 10:30 a.m. came and went, I was starting to get worried. Grandma Russian was up by now and Batu had left for where ever he was going for the day. The train to Poti doesn’t come into Kutaisi. The station south of town, Rioni, is where they disconnect the Kutaisi cars, and the rest of the train continues to Poti.

The boarding time at Rioni was 12:06 p.m., and I needed to be there in time enough to buy my ticket. I estimated that it’d be about a 20 minute ride to get there. Then factoring in my ride might be late, I wanted a full 90 minutes of cushion time.

And it would’ve worked out beautifully had my ride showed up. My host, Beqa, was to have one of his friends drive me to the station since he went to Germany for the weekend. Somehow the message didn’t get passed and by 11:30 a.m. I gave up on taking the train. I’m glad I didn’t buy the ticket in advance. Maybe that was a little tingle of the spider-sense.

Now I had to make other arrangements.

Normally this wouldn’t be a bit deal, but when my grasp of the local language is all of counting from one to twenty it sort of throws a wrench into the works.

I did know one thing: the seventeen Lari in my pocket wouldn’t be enough.

So ducked out to find a currency exchange to swap out a Benjamin. One that was done, I decided to stop into a travel agency looking place. They had English on their sign so I hoped I could find out where I could catch a bus to Poti.

The young lady that did speak English was helpful enough and told me to catch the #1 city bus to the Kutaisi II station and there I’d find a marshrutka to the coast. She also insisted I’d have to get to the main traffic circle in downtown to get on the #1 bus.

I wasn’t fond of that idea. I’d be loaded with my pack and camera bag, and that traffic circle is about a mile from the house. I had seen the #1 bus on the avenue just north of the house and decided I’d catch it there.

I thanked her and headed back to the house, loaded up my gear and tried to reassure Granny Russian that I’d be fine. I don’t think she believed me.

The #1 bus runs both directions on the avenue and I just missed the eastbound one. I crossed to the other side and saw the westbound #1 bus approaching. I thought I was going to miss this one too, but the driver waited while I humped my ruck to the door.

Now here’s the funny thing about Georgian buses. You don’t pay when you get on. New riders get on through the rear door, and then exit thought the front door, paying the driver as they pass. There’s also no fare box. The driver has a tray that divided for the different denominations of coins.

At the bus station, I handed the driver a 1 GEL coin and he made change out of his tray. I now know the bus fare is 50 tetri (Georgian cents). I’ve never ridden any Western transit that didn’t require payment up front. Things like this make me think I’ve stepped back in time.

Minibus a-go-go

The bus station is next to the only MacDonald’s in town. So that’s what everyone uses as a landmark. The bus station isn’t really a station either. It’s more like a building surrounded by a few dozen minibuses, some parked in loading dock like slots, others scattered around the edges. They all have a sign in the window with their destination.

I was looking for ფოთი.

I saw one that was just pulling out, and wasn’t able to get in. One of the other drivers pointed around to the back of the building.

I found another Poti minibus about halfway around the back. The driver told me the fare was 7 GEL, only 0.50 GEL more than the train. Sold. I got on and found a seat at the back. I think this minibus was Ford Transit van. The Mercedes Sprinter models are also popular.

Not long after I was settled, the rest of the seats filled up, and we pulled out. There’s not really a schedule. They minibuses leave when they’re full or the driver feels like it. The whole system is chaos theory in action. But it seems to work, as most of the country relies on these minibuses to get people where they need to go. I’m not sure how they’re managed, or if there’s some method to the madness. The individual minibuses might even be privately owned. Maybe if I learn enough Georgian to talk business, I can find out.

We also didn’t take the main expressway that runs from Poti to Tbilisi. The minibus I was in was on a milk-run route. The driver had a few fixed stops, but would also drop off and pick up people along the way. Some just flagged him down from the side of the road. Several times the driver threw it reverse and back up to get a fare. Mind you, this was all done in the regular traffic lane of a two lane road.

Only two of the riders that started the trip with me went all the way to Poti. Most everyone else got on or off somewhere along the way.

As we drove through the countryside, I got to see a lot more than I would have from the train. The amount of farm animals roaming loose was something to behold. The cows were grazing near the edge of the road without a care in the world. And it wasn’t just a few. I probably saw a few hundred wandering that way during the trip. I guess they went home at night because I didn’t see anyone herding them. There were horses roaming like that too.

The only time I saw cows out on the pavement was when the minibus had to stop and let two cross the road near a railroad crossing. The rest of the time, they stay out of traffic. I guess they had been doing their whole life, so being around the speeding cars was as natural as eating grass.

On the coast

The minibus “station” in Poti is right across from my hotel, it was a short walk to get checked in. I was glad I changed up the money, as the manager wanted payment up front. I paid and was show to my very pink room.

My home for the next four nights is a single room with a double bed, couch and pink painted walls. I guess it is sort of soothing. At least now I know what it feels like to be inside of a Pepto-Bismol bottle.

But it has an honest-to-God private bathroom and and very hot water. I started my stay with a relaxing hot shower. It was nice to be able step out of the shower and take my time drying off and getting dressed. I’ve not had that sort of privacy since that first morning at the Marriott. The downside is there’s no kitchen, so I’ll be eating out more.

Once settled in, I headed out into the street market across the circle to find dinner. I missed lunch dealing with my impromptu travel plans, so I decided the first thing that smelled good I was buying.

That happened to be roasted meat from the shawarma stand I ran across. Six Lari lighter, and carrying an Arab burrito the size of my head, I when back to the hotel to eat until I couldn’t think any more.

It was a good plan and I executed it to the fullest. I took a short nap afterwards, then started writing this trip report from bed. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.

What's next?

Tomorrow I’ll go exploring. My one goal is to see the Black Sea. Anything else is icing on the cake.

Use the MVW Travel tag to see all the posts in this series.