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We rode for miles and miles beyond the Georgian border, alternately spraying dirty slush onto parked cars and plodding cows, or being temporarily blinded ourselves by the arcing fountains of dirt across our windshield from bypassing trucks.

Georgian castle enroute

Samir’s car brought us steadily closer and closer to the capital of a country which several years ago fought a brief, if scorching, war with Russia.  Entering Georgia from the east-southeast, I knew I would not see signs of this conflict, not just yet.  Instead, I saw the now-familiar groups of men (any age-group, you pick), wearing black pants, black jackets with black caps, standing around smoking furiously.  It seems that unemployment is a significant contributor to the happenstance of these sightings.  It is less intuitive a thing to puzzle out, though, why the gathering locations for these these fellas are forever in the slush-spray zone on a road.  I’ll have to think about that one, because their choice of place to gather and gab is so unlike where I would pick to stand.

Anyway, the rest of the trip to Tbilisi passed without much incident, and – true to some strange unwritten agreement within the vehicle – without a whole lot of

Almost there

conversation, either.  We drove through quiet villages on very well-maintained roads.  Road conditions surprised me.  Although I did not have a very good sense for how much effort the Georgian government placed into transportation infrastructure such as roads and rails prior to my going there, I guess I incorrectly assumed that this would be a neglected area.  I think this may be the Ukraine-influence on my preconceptions, to a degree: there, road-improvement funds never arrive intact at the road-worker level.  So, if you want smooth sailing during your South Caucasus travels, drive around eastern Georgia.  You’ll love it.  Nary was a bump or pothole found.

I got the sense that Samir had about had enough of us.  Maybe it was just all the driving.  Gas pedal seemed to dip just a bit further toward floorboard as the kilometers began to whistle by beneath the tires.  The closer we got to the finish-line, the more momentum seemed to build in the little moss-green Honda.  I can’t fault a guy for wanting to go to sleep within the borders of his own country.  When we arrived in front of our hotel in the Georgian capital, Samir underwent a moment’s deliberation … to stay, or to head back south across the nearest border.

Driver with a purpose

In the end, he chose to leave while there was yet daylight from the retiring sun.  We parted company with our driver at the curbside of a tumultuous traffic circle, but it is clear that a part of Azerbaijan is always going to stay with me.