The Georgian Coast
The Black Sea Travel Blog› entry 2 of 9 › view all entries
At the rate that we are travelling, we may never arrive, although I am led to believe that we will be there within four or five hours. I am not sure that I will be too disappointed to see the back of the ship, but it could be my preoccupation with timing and the uncertainty of the next step of the voyage that is getting to me.
When I saw that the vessel had been built in Germany in 1988 it didn’t actually register with me that it would have been East Germany; not that the DDR's engineering is suspect, of course, but their sense of decor, and the generally authoritarian stamp that has been imbued in the ship’s soul, is unusual.
Decoration is bland; think inexpensive rec room designs of the late seventies and wash away 80% of the colour. Inoffensive and cheap panelling prevails, and a sense of joy is almost completely lacking. Built for service, and presumably eavesdropping, the ship soldiers on in a new world order unaffected by change. This description, however, is perhaps unfair, because it is designed to be a ferry for trucks, and not a cruise liner; it is a working ship, a rare species these days, and I am glad to sail on her for this reason alone.
Most of my fellow-travellers are a breed unto themselves; primarily truckers working a very difficult route, plagued with paperwork and bureaucracy that defies imagination, they lead a difficult life. They all smoke incessantly, and as we edge closer to Georgia and freedom from the MS Greifswald, there is a sense of the open road.
Depending on the time, I shall try and find a bus to Tbilisi or stay overnight in Poti and head into the capital in the morning. The current issue is the language, or more precisely the script. An ability to read is essential when trying to catch a bus.
Georgian script is unique, and impenetrable to outsiders. Now I know that Wikipedia should not generally be quoted, but I will, and this brief entry should offer a glimpse into the linguistic quicksand into which I am entering:
“The Georgian word for "alphabet" is ან��'ანი [anbani], derived from the names of the first two letters of each of the three independent Georgian alphabets, which have the interesting characteristic of looking very dissimilar to one another yet which share the same alphabetic order and may be seen mixed to some extent, even though there is no official distinction between upper and lower case in writing the Georgian language”.
The problem of finding the correct bus will be coming apparent. All I have to do is to find the bus station, which will be filled with minibuses and Georgian passengers in a wonderful mayhem, and find the one going to თილისი. When I say "bus station", don't think of the shiny facilities so prevelant in western cities, think muddy marketplaces full of noise, colour and idiosyncrasy.
Fortunately Georgia is not a very large country, and I can’t go terribly far wrong, although it might take an additional day or so to get there if I end up in a Russian-occupied border zone by mistake.
I have a Snickers Bar for company (don’t be fooled by the wrapping on a Ukrainian Snickers Bars; they are not the same, and taste rather different; not exactly fishy, but different, nonetheless). I didn't get breakfast this morning because my place at table 10 had been taken by a Georgian woman with her small grandson; their plac ehad been usurped by someone else, and I couldn't see an empty seat other than one at a table full of swarthy men who appeared to be wrestling team from Turmenistan.
Food, other than at the proscribed time and in the proscribed portions is unavailable on the Greiswald.
So the plan is in place. We dock, wait for the Georgian border controls to do their thing, then I find the bus station, track down a bus, go to თილისი and check into the hotel. Or not, depending on how the day unwinds.
Ah, the miracles of modern technology; the internet on the high seas.
We slipped almost silently away from the dock in Illychevsk at about midnight, some fifteen hours after I had been urged to be at the dock for “borrdink’. Why it took so long, I have no idea, although when I asked one driver, he shrugged and mimed the payment of a bribe.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised. From reading the newspapers’ accounts of the issues of the upcoming election, corruption seems to be endemic, and a very serious impediment to the Ukraine’s growth, and its ability to be taken seriously as a forward-thinking nation. There is an extraordinary gap between rich and poor, one that in previously uncompetitive economic times was filled by the Black Market.
In complete contrast to Ukraine, however, is the ethic in Georgia. While disembarkation may, I am told, take several hours, any attempt to financially induce an officer to speed up the process will result in jail time. Interesting, that a country that was renowned only a few years ago following Eduard Shevardnadze’s premiership as the most corrupt of the former Soviet countries, it is now, at least on the “retail” end squeaky clean.
It is hard for many; now that the currencies of each of the former Soviet Block are readily convertible, the Dollar and Euro are the de facto currencies. Unable to come close to the efficiencies of the western nations, the relative value of the local currencies sink, yet all goods are still nominally denominated in the global currencies. It was said, of life under the communist system that “We pretended to work, and they pretended to pay us”. However, as long as everyone believed these fantasies there was food; as we all know, that particular emperor had no clothes, but it seems that while well-clothed, the emperor of globalisation’s garments are simply too expensive.
And so to sea; we are progressing across a mill-pond still Black Sea at a very slow rate. Perhaps they have already decided to arrive in Poti on Saturday morning, and given up on trying to reach there on Friday. I have no clue. I just know that the sea is passing outside my porthole very slowly.
Lunch was almost as awful as dinner. Meals are served at a proscribed time, and for a thirty-minute period. Plates are left out, and will start getting cold immediately. With the powerfully testeronic atmosphere of the ship, and the almost complete absence of women, “chow-time” reminds me of prison movies. The soup was good though, but I am not sure what sort of animal had been cooked for the main course. We will see about dinner.
One is never far from a cigarette in this part of the world, and this ship, actually pretty vast to accommodate 53 trucks, fourteen railway freight cars, two 4WD vehicles and 130 passengers, is awash with smokers. Almost all are Ukrainian, Georgian or Armenian, and the primary fashion statement appears to involve various shades of black and grey. With a blue shirt and brown jacket I stick out like Liberace. There is one other” westerner” on board, a pleasant German fellow (originally from the DDR) en route to vacation with a couple of Russian friends in the Caucuses. I thought that this sounded a touch dangerous for a Russian here, but no matter.
Otherwise we mosey slowly forward, having just passed a couple of miles off the Crimean coast, and with it a brief phone connection, we now head straight across to the Georgian coast.
It is time to go and wander around, and pass time until it is socially appropriate to sample the Moldovan Red.