Georgia Adventure Navigation

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Posts

  WORKING AT A HOSTEL: WHY NOT

WORKING AT A HOSTEL: WHY NOT

  HOBO ON TV

HOBO ON TV

  DRIVING IN GEORGIA

DRIVING IN GEORGIA

  WEIRD, WRONG, AND ENTERTAINING

WEIRD, WRONG, AND ENTERTAINING

  SPOTLIGHT ON BORJOMI

SPOTLIGHT ON BORJOMI

  TWO OBNOXIOUS GUESTS

TWO OBNOXIOUS GUESTS

  FREEDOM HOSTEL BATUMI

FREEDOM HOSTEL BATUMI

Stories

  INSOMNIA IN TURKEY

INSOMNIA IN TURKEY

  MT. KAZBEK: RUIN AND REDEMPTION

MT. KAZBEK: RUIN AND REDEMPTION

Awesome People (and a Dog)

  NUTSA, ZINYAT, AND DAVID

NUTSA, ZINYAT, AND DAVID

  LENA

LENA

  BEN AND ELLA

BEN AND ELLA

  MARIETTA (JET)

MARIETTA (JET)

Photo Albums

  SVANETI: NATURE

SVANETI: NATURE

  BATUMI AND THE BLACK SEA

BATUMI AND THE BLACK SEA

  MT. KAZBEK

MT. KAZBEK

  SVANETI: TOWNS AND VILLAGES

SVANETI: TOWNS AND VILLAGES

  STREET ART IN TBILISI

STREET ART IN TBILISI

  HOBO'S HIKE

HOBO'S HIKE

  BACKROADS OF TBILISI

BACKROADS OF TBILISI

  MTSKHETA

MTSKHETA

Freedom Hostel: Batumi

Unbeknownst to me prior to arrival, there happens to be a network of Polish-run hostels throughout the country Georgia. One of these was my hostel in Tbilisi (Why Not) and another is in the city Batumi, called Freedom hostel. Naturally, that is where I stayed during my visit. There was only one problem. I foolishly took a taxi from the bus station to the hostel, and as it turned out, the driver had absolutely no idea how to get to the place. We drove in circles for nearly an hour, narrowly avoiding several head-on collisions, before ultimately getting to our desired destination on a small, secluded dirt road. Thankfully, the driver and I already agreed on a price before I got in the cab so I didn't get over-charged.

 A royal welcome.

A royal welcome.

After that ordeal, things got exponentially better. The hostel was a comfortable place with a relaxed atmosphere and a nice balcony outside the main room, but that aside, the staff (just like Why Not) was awesome! Shortly after arriving, I was greeted by a very tall, bearded man who introduced himself as Tomek. He said he was the guy who runs the place and offered me an invitation to join him and some other guests who were all going to a nearby pub that evening. Naturally, I complied without hesitation.

It turned out to be a small, cozy local spot, just a couple minutes walk from the hostel. As we entered and Tomek walked through the door, the bartender's face lit up with joy. Tomek then went over to talk to the people working, and within minutes, we were served drinks and treated like we were family. Before we could even finish a round, they would have another at the ready (no swill for us!) It was a great feeling that continued on to the stony beach ad lasted well into the next day. This time, though, Tomek and the staff bought large jugs of beer for everyone and we all hung out outside the hostel and told travel stories together until the early hours of the morning.

From the second I arrived until the moment I left, I felt right at home and I couldn't recommend it enough. Fair warning on two things though. It is a difficult place for taxi drivers to find so make sure you negotiate a price before you go there or else they may just keep running the meter up on you. Also, these guys party hard. Not like the yelling and in-you-face hard, but the breakfast beer type of hard. It's all great fun, but if you're not prepared, your body is gonna really feel it after a few days. That said, the hostel is still amazing!

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A Pair of Obnoxious Guests

Over the past five weeks of working in a hostel, I have met many people. They have been young and old and from countries all over the world. Many have turned out to be amazing human beings who I've formed strong friendships with, but others... haven't been so great. As you probably have guessed based on the heading of this post, I am about to write about two individuals that fall into the latter category. During my final week, two particular individuals arrived that made me want to tear my hair out and smash my head against a table on multiple occasions.

They weren't the first obnoxious guests we've had so far. Every few days, there seems to be some belligerent group of 19-year olds on gap year that feel like they can treat the place like their own personal playground just because they have a trust fund. But while these groups are terrible, they're usually easy enough to control if you stand your ground and speak loud and firmly as you would to a misbehaved child. But these two guests were different. They were not 19 year olds on gap year. In fact, they couldn't be further from it. These two guests were old men in their 70s.

The first one stumbled in mid afternoon, supported by the taxi driver he was surprisingly able to hail. How he found our hostel, I do not know (it is likely he does not know either). But one way or another, here he was at the reception desk during my shift. He began speaking to me in Polish, but unfortunately, despite my ancestry, I could not understand. I asked if he knew English. He did not. I asked if he knew Russian and he said "Немного. Лушче чем Англиский." (Somewhat. Better than English). He then explained his situation, words slurred and Russian worse than mine, but I was able to understand that he wanted a bed for the night (it was about 4:30 in the afternoon). I showed him our room options and upon making his decision, I asked for his passport or ID in order for me to make the reservation. That's when things started to get problematic.

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He had neither. As he explained, he had been out drinking since the previous evening (again, keep in mind that it's 4:30 in the afternoon) and ended up losing them both. He had no idea which places he had been to nor where he could have lost them. Nonetheless, I called the owner and we checked the guy in for one night. He was clearly in no condition to go back outside and, surprisingly enough, actually had enough money for the stay. It was an awkward situation, but since he seemed on the verge of passing out, I assumed he would just go to bed and leave the next morning and go to the Polish embassy to try and recover his passport... But that didn't happen. He didn't go to bed. Instead, he just awkwardly stood around, and stared at people without speaking.

One girl went into the kitchen to make food. He followed and stood there staring. She asked if there was something he needed or wanted. He shook his head but remained there, just staring at her until she left the room. Later on, a guy was hanging up laundry and again he walked over and started staring, all the while continuing to pound vodka like it was water. All social cues seemed to fly right past this man, as guests became continually more and more uncomfortable. It felt like dealing with a child (albeit a very drunken child with poor hygiene), but I reassured myself that it would all be over within 24 hours. But unfortunately, it was not... He stayed for five days.

Not once did he leave, nor did he ever make any attempt to go to the embassy in order to recover his documents. He just awkwardly lingered and hovered around people, refusing to engage in conversation. Why? I have absolutely no idea. Nor do I care to know just as long as nothing like this happens again.

And that brings me to the second guest. Like the first man, this guy also had to be at least 70, but their personalities (despite both being terrible) couldn't have been more different. Unlike the first guy, this man was incredibly loud, constantly shouting at everyone all the while trying to hit on girls approximately 1/4 his age. He wanted to be the center of attention, and would not relent no matter what was going on, all the while treating the whole staff as if we existed for the sole purpose of serving him.

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Busy ordering a taxi for a different guest to get to the airport? Not now! He demands you make him tea.

Counting the money and balancing the books for the next shift? Forget it! He wants you to translate his creepy messages for some 19-year-old.

Trying to make an important call to the manager over the phone? Not anymore because he wants to know where he can buy a gun. (Yes, he actually asked this twice. It was terrifying.)

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, this guy also spoke no English and only knew some Russian as a second language. So when he found out that I knew some Russian, he got the wonderful idea that I should be his personal translator and therefore neglect all other duties at the hostel. Literally every ten minutes, I'd hear this big, booming voice shout " Переводи" (Translate!) from across the room. Most of the time it was to translate some bizarre pick up line he had for one of the girls who he was simultaneously trying to get to do vodka shots with him, so naturally I refused his translation demand. Unfortunately though, like a stubborn child, he didn't give up, thus making the whole evening incredibly awkward for everyone.

 The Savior

The Savior

Thankfully, the second guy left after one day. Maybe he realized that picking up young girls wasn't as easy as he first thought (granted being an abrasive, belligerent, septuagenarian did not help his cause). But as I said, there were still four more days of Mr. Linger (the other old guy). I'd wake up in the morning and find him standing in the common-room, drunkenly staring at things, and despite trying multiple times to explain how he could go to the embassy and recover what he lost, he never tried. It was like he was incapable of perceiving outside information. But eventually though, he clashed one too many times with the owner of the place and had to leave. Comfort and tranquility was finally restored to the hostel.

Ping-pong, Cherry Liquor, and Awesome New Friends

Before I started this trip, I had a few ideas in mind of what I would be doing. For example, I was certain that at some point I'd be doing treks in the mountain, I knew that I would visit the Black Sea, and of course I had to purchase homemade grape-liquor (chacha) from an old lady in a village. One thing I didn't expect was to be playing ping-pong with a bunch of university students in their school's common room on the night before their big exam week.

But... that happened.

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And it was awesome!

How did this happen though? How did I find myself here out of all places? Well, it all started when a friend, Lena, (see Awesome People section) happened to be at the same bar where a group of students from the university were celebrating a birthday party. I had been out earlier, but the compounded weeks of sleep deprivation and alcohol ended my night early (3:00am). So it was just Lena there, and since awesome people tend to get along with one another, the group invited Lena to join in on the party. It all went so well that Lena invited them to join us the following weekend after that. Within minutes of out initial meeting, I quickly realized how awesome they (Zinyat, Nutsa, and David) were and from then on, I no longer felt like an outsider in the city.

It is funny how it all works out and how many small factors went into play to make it all happen, but regardless of the way, it all helped make my stay in Tbilisi exponentially more enjoyable. Between the three, I was introduced to Azeri music, given a liter bottle of homemade cherry liquor, promised a special home-cooked dish upon my return, and best of all, got to have some great conversations about life and society that really helped broaden my perspective about the country as a whole. Not to mention, it was really awesome getting to know each of them.

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So anyway, Zinyat, Nutsa and David, here's to good times and an exciting future reunion!

 A toast with the cherry liquor

A toast with the cherry liquor

Hobo on TV

Fifty years ago, a young man from Los Angeles named Jim proclaimed "Break on through to the other side." While he was mostly referring to his focus on becoming a psychedelic rock star and rebelling from his conservative military father, his words now right echo true for both me and my blog. Why is that? Because... (brace yourselves!) I was just interviewed for Georgian television!

 Yup, this face is gonna be on TV.

Yup, this face is gonna be on TV.

Someone stumbled onto my blog after I had written my post about Georgian drivers, found it to be quite amusing, and invited me to be interview for a program entitled "Georgia through the Eyes of a Foreigner." (rough translation from Georgian). Without hesitation, I agreed and just two days ago, I met my interviewee in Tbilisi's old town to have our filmed interview in a bar called Wine Lab (highly recommended). We sat down and had our chat about things I liked and disliked about my time in Georgia.

I'd like to tell you more, but instead I have a better offer. I will soon show you! Once it is aired, I will be given the link and then shall post it here on this website so you can see it for yourself. What did we discuss? Did I come off as witty or boring or insane? How long has my beard gotten? Did I look handsome or homeless (or both)? All of these will be answered!

The hype is unprecedented.

The suspense is killer.

The wait is excruciating.

But rest assured, my friends, it will be awesome! (I know since I was there.) It has been a long, grueling road to get to this point (and by long I actually mean short since I just started this thing in March), but now the dream is becoming reality. And to top it all off, I was asked to make it all the more exciting, at the end of it, I was asked to start writing for Georgia's largest English-speaking publication! It will even be sent to embassies and other things like that! So next year, I'll return once more.

On a personal level, I feel like somebody from the early 1900s who just road a plane for the first time (not one of the planes that crashed. One of the ones that made it.) I'm still in a bit of disbelief that this can actually happen. Notoriety and future paid work just by writing stories and making cartoons about my various mishaps around the world? People can fly in that thing? Can't be! There must be a string somewhere... No wait! It's real! Sweet!

The future is bright, dear readers, and the stories shall continue!

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Driving in Georgia: Order in Extreme Chaos

The delicate balance of terror and fascination.

 Rules of the road

Rules of the road

I'm usually a rather calm, relaxed person and since I've had so many bizarre experiences, it often takes a lot to get me startled or scared. That said, there is one thing that never fails to terrify me: Georgian drivers. Now let me set the record straight. I absolutely enjoy Georgia. I've already returned twice in two years (including this current six week trip) ever since my initial visit and I've made it my goal to see every corner of the country. I've adored every bit of it, except those moments where I come within inches of dying in a flaming wreckage on the side of the road. And unfortunately, this seemed to happen at least two or three times per road trip.

Let's take the one I did yesterday, for example. It was a three hour ride from a town called Zugdidi to Mestia. Conditions were... not good.

 This was the actual view out the front window

This was the actual view out the front window

But with one hand firmly grasped on a cell phone, the other on a cigarette, our driver persisted at rapid pace, passing anyone and everyone along the way. Blind turns? No fear. Oncoming traffic? Time to win a game of chicken. There wasn't any daring move this guy wouldn't take. He said our trip was going to be three hours, and goddamn it, nothing was going to stop that from happening! Or so we thought.

 People weren't too keen about me taking an actual picture of the crash. Hence the cartoon.

People weren't too keen about me taking an actual picture of the crash. Hence the cartoon.

Just as we were coming around another blind turn, about a dozen cars and trucks stood motionless in our path, blocking the way. With a rock wall to one side and a sharp drop off a cliff to the other, we had no choice but to come to a screeching halt. The driver then opened the doors, letting me and the other passengers out to see what was going on. Based on everything I'd already seen on Georgian roads, I had a pretty good idea of what this could be. Moments later, my suspicion was confirmed. At the center of the car congregation were two vehicles smashed to pieces and wedged into one another. Imagine if Optimus Prime had a child with terrible birth defects, and that pretty much summed up the scene on hand. Clearly, breaks were not used, but thankfully, no one seemed to be badly hurt. The problem was, for us, that the road (the only road going to Mestia) was now entirely blocked. It was time to play the waiting game...

 Not the worst place to be stuck. Plus the weather cleared up which was nice.

Not the worst place to be stuck. Plus the weather cleared up which was nice.

Thankfully though, my travel buddies and I found a rickety old bridge suspended over a river, and since I am easily amused by bizarre things, this kept me occupied for the next 45 minutes. After that, we proceeded to wander around the scene until we came across an unusual red van. Out of its window, a friendly barking dog peeked its head out to shout at passers by. By this, I was now even more intrigued. I made my way over, maneuvering my way through (and occasionally bumping into) the various people standing about as if I were a snake that had one too many drinks. 

 This was not sturdy

This was not sturdy

 Ben and Ella

Ben and Ella

In the car sat a tall man and a dog. Wanting to know more, I introduced myself and asked for their story, which turned out to be so interesting and awesome, I'll omit it from this post in order to save time (yes, I can be cruel like that). However, if you want to know, check out the post entitled Ben and Ella in the Awesome People section.

Finally, after an hour, the army arrived (the actual Georgian Army) in a large military truck. Soldiers hopped out in full gear and made their way to the accident. Shortly after, they yanked the cars apart and cleared the way, thus allowing us to finally pass through to our ultimate destination. But all of this got me thinking. Georgian driving is completely unlike anything I'd ever experienced in life. In just a short period of time, I've seen traffic jams caused be sheep and cows, police officers giving rides to hitchhikers, people driving off the road onto the grass (including on highways) just to pass other drivers, and one guy using his car's engine to dry marijuana leaves. Here is how I've tried to make sense of it.

Part II: My Understanding

 Not when driving

Not when driving

 When behind the wheel

When behind the wheel

Upon arrival, I was told that Georgians are incredibly and welcoming in all situations except one: when behind the wheel. That's when everything changes. The welcoming hosts turn into bloodthirsty warriors in hot pursuit of a desired destination. Here is the unspoken code to drive by.

  • Speed limits do not apply
  • You can pass anyone at any time (including police cars)
  • A double yellow line in the middle of the road is the most common passing lane. The second is the grass and dirt on the side of the road.
  • Before passing, slam on your horn as loud as you can to make your presence known.
  • Occasionally herds of hundreds of sheep will be in the road
  • Stoplights are virtually nonexistent
  • It is quite common to see cars with missing pieces on the road
  • Brakes are for cowards
  • Police cars are to be treated no differently than other motorists

Ok, this may sound terrifying. And I do admit, I was incredibly terrified during my first ever Georgian taxi ride (see story Taxi of Terror). I thought at any moment I was going to die in a flaming wreckage on the side of the road. Somehow though, I didn't. As surprising as it sounds, I still haven't even died, despite my road trips in the country now totaling to around 50. It's quite shocking considering how there happens to be about 3-5 close calls per hour, per trip that I'm still alive, but I guess I have to give the drivers credit. If I had to drive in Georgia, I wouldn't last a week. I'd smash into someone head on or lose control and go sailing off into the abyss on some mountain pass. Yet these guys always make it through.

Awesome Person: Lena

During my travels, I have realized that for some reason, awesome people tend to gravitate towards awesome places. Therefore, it should be no surprise that I first came across this awesome person in Why Not Hostel in Tbilisi, Georgia. Unlike most other serious stiffs out there, this awesome person hadn't forgotten that life should be playful instead of stressful and was always ready for wander and adventure, even when it comes to joining a bearded coffee fiend on a trip to rural mountain villages. Now, fresh after our journey together, let me introduce Lena.

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Little did I know at first, but Lena's trip to Georgia almost didn't happen at all. Originally, she was planning it with a friend, and at last minute, something happened and her friend had to drop out. Everything that was planned could no longer be, which for some people would have ended any possibility for a trip right then and there. But for Lena, it did not. Instead, she threw herself fully into the experience and decided she was going to make the most of her time in this country of which she had never been and knew very little about. And when I say 'make the most of her time', I'm not speaking in hyperbole. From sun-up to the early hours of next morning, Lena seemed to do everything. Within two days, she had walked the entirety of Tbilisi, got invited by a group of local university students to a birthday party, and quickly befriended Georgi (the hostel cat).

However, it was during a trip we did to Mt. Kazbek where one of Lena's most awesome traits came to light. Right after we arrived, even before we got to the guesthouse, something happened. A dog ran out onto the street and bolted right toward us, but instead of barking and biting, it went right up to Lena and rolled over on it's back so it could be pet. And it didn't stop with the dog. Every animal we came across, from the guesthouse cat (they have one too) to the many wandering cows and sheep, and even the lone donkey all were drawn to her. Lena just has this overall presence. She's open to the world and all the people and animals within it. She tears down barriers, defies borders, and seeks to make meaningful connections and friendships.

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ADVICE: Be like Lena. Befriend everyone and everything you can and never forget that life can be fun and joyful.

Street Art and Graffiti in Tbilisi

In my many aimless wanderings up windy roads and down deserted alleyways during my stay in Tbilisi, Georgia, I started to notice something. There was quite a lot of street art (a lot of it involving lambs)... and it was awesome!!! And although some of it was in the center and near main areas of the city, a lot of it was in discrete places and less trafficked areas. Please enjoy what I have so far, and I plan to add more as I am bound to get incredibly lost in new parts of the city before I go.

NOW UPDATED MARCH 2018!!

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Seems to be a lot of lambs.

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Batumi and the Black Sea

After some time in Tbilisi and the mountains, I hopped into a 1980-era minivan and headed to the Georgia's tropical Black Sea coast. En route, many potential car accidents were very narrowly avoided and several thousand beads of sweat poured from my forehead (as there was no air conditioning), but eventually I made it here. Now you can vicariously like the experience!

 Black Sea at sunset

Black Sea at sunset

 Waterfront park in Batumi

Waterfront park in Batumi

 Beach along the Prominade

Beach along the Prominade

 Shore at dusk

Shore at dusk

 Apparently there's a lumber yard in the middle of the city

Apparently there's a lumber yard in the middle of the city

 Drying machine? Who needs that?

Drying machine? Who needs that?

 Center walkway through the city

Center walkway through the city

 Odd yet interesting statue

Odd yet interesting statue

 Walking along the street

Walking along the street

 Interesting monument meets chaotic traffic

Interesting monument meets chaotic traffic

 Very green colored pond

Very green colored pond

 Mix of things at dusk

Mix of things at dusk

 Yeah, I thought this was pretty awesome

Yeah, I thought this was pretty awesome

 More beach

More beach

 Down by the pier

Down by the pier

 Palm trees,bike track and sea coast. What more do you need?

Palm trees,bike track and sea coast. What more do you need?

Work at a Hostel? Why Not?

Why Not? Hostel, Tbilisi

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So I wrote this as a bit of a play on words. Shortly after arriving in Georgia this time, I began working at Why Not? Hostel in Tbilisi. I had stayed there during my previous visits, so this time I thought, "Why not work there?" (hehe). Anyway, dad jokes aside, I asked if I could work there in exchange for free accommodations, and without hesitation, Krzysztof (the manager, pronounced Kristoff) agreed and began scheduling a few shifts for me. Here is how that has been so far.

Getting the Job (How to do it and what to expect)

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This actually turned out to be much easier than expected. I just contacted them to ask if I could and they said yes. There was no rigorous application process, nor was there any of the bureaucratic paperwork that plagues employment around the world. I just asked and said the time frame I was planning to stay in Georgia. Right away, they agreed and we set up a schedule of three eight-hour shifts per week. Once I arrived, they showed me the basics and I was ready to get started.

Just as a side note though, I did know the place and Krzysztof prior to my arrival this time. Granted we didn't know each other that well, but I did stay at Why Not during my previous stays in the country and had a couple of conversations with him in the past. Maybe that helped me a little, but having talked to other workers here, it was most likely not the determining factor. About half the other people who work here simply did contact the hostel out of the blue to offer their labor in exchange for free accommodations.

The one thing I would recommend, if you are considering doing something like this during a trip, would be to contact several different hostels in the cities you plan to visit. It usually depends on whether or not the hostel is short staffed at the moment regarding whether or not they'll take you, so casting a wide net always helps your chances. Also, if you plan to stay in a place for a while, like over a month, it will definitely up your chances too.

The Routine/Shifts

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The time for shifts can vary a lot from hostel to hostel, but as for Why Not, each day has three 8-hour shifts (12:00am-8:00am, 8:00am-4:00pm and 4:00pm-12:00am) My partucular one has been the 4:00pm-midnight, but I'll fill in what's expected throughout each.

MORNING SHIFT

  • Wake up whoever was working the night shift (usually they've dozed off on the couch near reception)
  • Feed and let the hostel cat outside
  • Drink as much coffee as you can since you're gonna need the energy
  • Make/cook breakfast for the hostel which can hold up to 50 people
  • Clean up after breakfast (the horror)
  • Check people out of the hostel and say how to get to the airport basically every 5 minutes (check out is noon)
  • Throw all the check-out people's bed sheets in the wash
  • Check some people in (involves showing them around and giving them the hostel info)

AFTERNOON SHIFT

  • Take the morning wash out of the machine and hang it up to dry (later fold and put away)
  • Check people in (majority check in during this shift)
  • Keep everything clean enough
  • Sweep up the floors from the morning
  • Stock the shelves when the beer and lemonade shipments are brought in
  • Clean up periodically after the people who are too lazy to do their own dinner dishes
  • Count up and all the money for the day

NIGHT SHIFT

  • Tell everyone to quiet down after midnight
  • Deal with the neighbors when hostel guests don't quiet down after midnight
  • Closing everything up
  • Cleaning up the remains of the day that was
  • Occasionally checking in night arrivals
  • Making sure no one uses the washing machine during the middle of the night (for some reason people often try to without considering that it'll wake everyone up)
  • Handling really drunk people (doesn't happen every night, but there's usually at least one or two on the weekends)

The Benefits

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This pretty much goes when it comes to working/volunteering at any hostel: free food and a free bed. Technically speaking, if I wanted to live like a hermit here, never leaving or doing anything, I can continue living indefinitely without earning an income. However, I do want to do things while I'm here, and working at this hostel has a few perks as well. Scattered throughout Georgia, there are a few hostels that are considered 'friend hostels' to Why Not, including one in each of Georgia's two other prominent cities: Batumi and Kutaisi. I even went on to visit the Batumi one (Freedom Hostel) and not only did I get to stay for free, but I was given free drinks from a local bar that the owners befriended.

Plus, best of all, working at a hostel gets you to meet so many more people than you would simply by staying there as a guest. People will come to you and ask for tips and information about where to go and what to do, so you have the opportunity to be creative and share the things you like about your current city. Maybe this could be recommending your favorite restaurant or bar, or suggesting a certain day trip that most people are unaware of. It's a fun way to get to know people and it comes about much more naturally than many of the awkward introductuary conversations.

Unexpected Happenings

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At first, Everything seemed to be going so smoothly, but in the last few hours in my very first day, things got a bit weird. And for some reasons, weird things have been happening in threes during this trip.

First off, one woman approached the front desk and asked for gasoline. Unsure if this was a joke, I replied, "Unfortunately we're fresh out today." Then I realized she was serious. I asked if it was for a car or motorcycle since there is a gas station nearby, but she insisted that it was for something else. However she never said what that something else was. I eventually got here to leave by telling here to ask someone else instead. (Win for me!)

The next two both occurred within half an hour of one another, and unfortunately I was not as successful in dealing with them. One of the other guys who works at the hostel, Karstens, had spend the past few hours making a special dinner for everyone, but right when he was about to cook the pasta (the base of the dish), the gas went out for the stove. Hot dinner was no longer a viable option, so we had to resort to bread and cheese. And if that wasn't enough, the computer at reception decided it no longer wanted the abuse and quit out on us. This meant we had to use a combination of personal laptops and good ol' fashion pencil and paper to record the rest of the information for the day. It was a bit of a chaotic mess.

Since then, however, I have come to realize that normally things are not like this and that most shifts are far more simple and relaxing. But every once in a while, there will be weird things that happen and odd folks that come by (including a recent high maintenance guest that demanded we go out and buy more fans for the rooms)*, so be prepared just in case.

*we did not buy any extra fans

Recommendations

 Hostel cats know where it's at.

Hostel cats know where it's at.

If you plan to stay in a place for an extended period of time, I definitely recommend working at a hostel. It can help keep your expenditure close to zero and it'll give you a great opportunity to meet people and make friends. Just make sure the people who run/manage the hostel aren't maniacal pricks. I got lucky with everyone being chill at Why Not, but I've heard some horror stories of people being put to work for 50 hour weeks and left unable to do anything else. So therefore, just make sure you know what the schedule is like before you get started. But anyway, if they do turn out to be pricks, you can easily just leave since it isn't formal employment.

Just prepare yourself. You'll be dealing with people all day long and will have to do a fair amount of cleaning/housework. And some travelers can be ridiculously high maintenance and disrespectful/belligerent. Most aren't, but there's always that one guy who is, so be prepared. Overall though, it's been great for me, despite the few mishaps, and I definitely would encourage any long term traveler to think of doing it.

Mt. Kazbek: Ruin and Redemption

14 September, 2017

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I awoke in the morning to a clear sky and fresh mountain air. The temperature was cool and the town still lay asleap as I walked through the old stone buildings. Overlooking everything, the mountain stood proudly on the horizon.

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Making my way through the windy dirt roads, I came across an old friend (the pig from a few days ago) as well as a particularly loud sheep.

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But after a quick greeting, I began the ascent, reaching the church in just 40 minutes and already breaking into a sweat. It was alright though, I had a liter sized water bottle full of coffee with me, so fatigue was not going to settle in today. I was already moving much faster than last year and nature appeared to be in my favor. Quickly, I snapped a photo and set in the direction upward.

 So tiny, off in the distance.

So tiny, off in the distance.

Soon, the trees diminished and the terrain grew increasingly rocky. Along the path, tired fools stopped and rested (clearly they forgot to pack unhealthy amounts of coffee like me) as I rapidly powered through like a goat. But soon, I noticed something. A minor make-shift shrine stood out on an overpass. This was the spot where I had to turn back and flee for my life last year. I was going to pass it and go farther. I was going to see new parts of the mountain that I never had before! And I was only three hours in, leaving my 25-year old former self in the dust. Finishing the liter of coffee, I proudly stood on the overpass and looked out at the glorious rocky nature ahead. I was going for it all, and nothing was going to stop me this time!

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Crossing the overpass, I began a minor descent before inevitably going upward once again. Grass and plant life had completely vanished by this point and had been replaced by dirt and rocks. However, the view was far from bleak. So many colors of stone (including nearly every shade of purple and red) surrounded me in the form of a towering canyon. The full face of the mountain lay ahead while a tumbling glacial stream ran its way through the valley below. And there, finally visible, stood the glacier and base camp. My destination was in sight.

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Cruising past rock after rock, eyes bulging from excess caffeine in my bloodstream, I soon approached something unexpected: a river from the mountain runoff. How was I to get across? Was nature yet again trying punish me for my hubris? Maybe I could try to wade across and hope not to get pulled away in the current, I thought. But just as these reckless ideas were entering my head, I found my solution. Someone had created a makeshift bridge out of an old ladder. Unsturdy? Yes. But better than my ideas? Absolutely yes. I put one foot on and it began to shake. Then I put on the second and it shook more. Trying to scare me, Mr. Ladder? Think again! Today is my day and I shall pass!

 Represent Magic Hat

Represent Magic Hat

Soon, I was on the other side. Now it was just a straightforward, very rocky path to the glacier. I was going to do it, barring any sudden catastrophe like an earthquake or animal attack. But that did not happen! 30 minutes later, I stood by the glacier triumphantly. Toes had been stubbed, skin had been sunburned, heart valves had been damaged by caffeine, by I had my redemption! Plunging my hand into the glacial lake, I took in the fresh mountain air and wonder of my surrounding. I was here, alone and away from civilization. No cars. No people. No industry. Just a man on a mountain! It had been done.

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Finally, I took one last parting shot of the mountain before beginning an uneventful descent.

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Upon return, I thanked the good friends (my shoes and walking stick) that helped make such an undertaking possible. I then poured myself a celebratory glass of bootlegged wine and proceeded to remain immobile for the remainder of the day. And that, dear readers, is where I shall leave you for now.

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Hobo's Hike (Part 1)

Recently, I've grown a bit tired of cities. In my distant youth, I used to cherish the idea of blaring car horns, smog in the atmosphere, trash in the rivers and hordes of  stressed out business people playing their part as cogs in the industrial machine. But since then,, I have changed my mind a bit and decided to wander off a bit (and by 'a bit', I mean a lot).

So anyway, I've gone on a few hikes, and I, like a dog that just came across a dead bird, feel the need to share what I found. These are the compilation of two specific ones, the first being in the Georgian town of Stepantsminda and the other in Borjomi. A little bit of trespassing, playing with pigs, and climbing ancient ruins may have been involved, but it was all necessary and awesome. Please enjoy.

Stepantsminda

 A friend on the trail.

A friend on the trail.

 Yeah, this was pretty amazing.

Yeah, this was pretty amazing.

 I did try to climb... I was unsuccessful.

I did try to climb... I was unsuccessful.

 Friendly dog powering up the path. Props to him.

Friendly dog powering up the path. Props to him.

 Mountain waterfall. Cannot be found in cities.

Mountain waterfall. Cannot be found in cities.

 Small people, Big nature.

Small people, Big nature.

 My driving skills would not have made it.

My driving skills would not have made it.

 Trees. Sweet.

Trees. Sweet.

Borjomi

 I like rivers.

I like rivers.

 And mountains too.

And mountains too.

 Don't care much for cars.

Don't care much for cars.

 More trees. Sweet.

More trees. Sweet.

Small Town Spotlight: Borjomi

Town Info

Borjomi is a town of about 40,000 nestled in a valley in the middle of the Republic of Georgia. It is most well known for its mineral water which is sold widely throughout ex-Soviet states. The main street is Rustaveli Street which runs alongside the river that goes through the town. Most of the restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops are here. The whole city is surrounded by mountains and nature, some of which has even grown into the city and around the buildings. It is pretty much right in the middle of the country, about two hours by marshrutka (cost is 6 lari) from Tbilisi.

What To Do

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Although the town happens to be small, it has a fair amount to do while you're there. Most obvious would be the giant attraction park, located right across the river from the center, which consisted of many 1980s retro rides and arcade games dispersed in a dense forest surrounded by a thick forest and lined with walking trails. Leading up to the entrance, there were many small cafes, and street-side shops (most of which were selling homemade wine and honey). Once the rides and attractions end, the trails continue, eventually leading to hot springs which are open to the public for swimming. It's big enough to wander for the entire day and still not see everything, and overall, it's completely unlike anything else I'd ever seen anywhere before.

Alongside that, there are a few other trails up in the mountains surrounding the city that allow you to hike up and see the entire view of the valley below. Unlike the park, though, the entire trail system is completely void of people, thus allowing you to to climb up without the shouts of families. The views are pretty incredible and you can see the whole village below in the valley once you are atop.

Finally, there is a huge national park just outside the city which can either be reached on foot or by marshrutka. It is the biggest national park in the entire country, and if you really enjoy it, it's big enough to spend several days there, going on multiple different treks. Just remember to bring a tent and other supplies like food if you decide to do this since there will be no shops or access to supplies once you are in.

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Granted I have only every been to Borjomi once, and therefore have only stayed at one place, I can still confidentially say that Riverside Hostel is awesome! The host, a man of about my age named Libo, could not have been more welcoming. He was incredibly helpful with all of my questions and gave great information about what to do in the town and where else to visit in the country (even providing photo books and travel guides). We communicated in Russian and he spoke to me as if I were a friend, as opposed to a guest.

As for the hostel, the place was clean and had a full kitchen and comfortable beds. The showers were warm (not always a guarantee in the small towns), and the whole atmosphere was cozy and relaxed. Not to mention, it only cost 20 lari (about $8) per night with everything included. And also, as a cool side feature, Libo's friends come around to hang out some nights and were equally friendly. English wasn't well known among them, so we spoke entirely in Russian and they weren't bothered in the least by my numerous mistakes.

Bottom line, Riverside Hostel in Borjomi is awesome!

Where to Eat

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Prior to arrival, I was completely unaware of any sort of eating establishment in Borjomi. However, Libo quickly gave me a recommendation of a place called Bergi on Rustaveli street. Trusting his judgement, I went to check it out. As it turned out, he was absolutely right. The atmosphere was nice and relaxed, the food was great authentic Georgian cooking, and the wine was best of all. And as a final plus, my total bill (apatizer, main course, and drink) was just 11 lari (about $4).

Even though it was the only place I went to eat during my stay in Borjomi, I can highly recommend it as a place to eat. It's easy to find, about half way down the main street and on the opposite side from the river. Plus the staff was nice too, so all the better.

My Odd Encounter

Believe it or not, strange things can sometimes be found near old, abandon train tracks. I first saw the sight upon my arrival to the Georgian town of Borjomi. Overgrown by grass and plant life, they followed along a river before vanishing off into the woods, and I, being curious and feeling like a cat, had the idea of following along and seeing where they went. However, no more than three minutes into my journey, I came across a short, stocky, middle-aged man in jean shorts and shirtless. Seeming to appear out of nowhere, he approached me.

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Speaking in Georgian, he began saying things to me, but since I didn't know anything in Georgian other than to say hello, his words fell on deaf ears. I asked if he knew Russian or English, but he shook his head no and continued talking. That's when things got a bit strange. He began pointing to a hidden spot around an abandon shed, and, motioning with his hands, he acted out shooting a needle into his arm. I stood there, looking perplexed, and he pointed again.

"Heroin. Heroin." he said, pointing first to him and then me.

Well, I thought, this wasn't quite what I was expecting. Usually locals just offer food or drink. Eventually, I shook my head no, but he was persistent. He kept mimicking the action of shooting up and again motioned for me to follow. Again, I refused, and again he insisted. This went on for another five minutes until I eventually realized that I was half this man's age, significantly taller, and in much better physical condition.

So, without another word, I turned and left, periodically checking over my shoulder to see if he decided to follow.Thankfully though, he did not. And just like the babushka fight before, I decided not to return to the tracks for the rest of my stay in Borjomi.

Weird, Wrong, and Entertaining (Top 3)

There have been many great adventures so far, but occasionally things don't go as planned and get a bit weird. That being said, here are the three most weird/unexpected occurrences of the trip to Georgia so far.

Third Place: The Quest for Food

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It was a seemingly normal Friday evening in Tbilisi as I sat in the hostel, working on this very website. Recently, I had just made friends with a new travel buddy, Julie, and together we had agreed to go grab a bite to eat later on. That later on time turned out to be just after 7:00, so, feeling quite hungry, we exited the hostel and hit the streets.

At first everything appeared quite normal, but only a few minutes into our journey, we heard a low rumbling off in the distance. Looking up, I saw something on the horizon moving forward at an alarmingly fast rate: dark and ominous clouds. Our destination, a restaurant that was recommended to us by locals, was still 2km (1.25 miles) away. What were we to do? Turn back and have a bite to eat at the hostel instead? Of course not! We were hardened travelers. A few droplets of water and volts of electricity weren't going to stop us!

Sensing our huburis, the sky opened up and began to pour upon us, all the while spitting out flashes of lightning at an alarmingly fast rate. In responce, we broke out into a run. First we crossed the main street, Rustaveli, and then bolted down a narrow side road that spilled out into a park with fountains. Normally, this would have been the opportune place for a photo, but there was no time for such distractions in our current state. The restaurant was getting closer and there were bridges to cross (literally). The rain seemed to lessen a bit, but the lightning increased its intensity, now forming spiderweb designs in the sky.

Julie looked down at the directions, and to our relief, we were now only one minute away. Then we saw the building... but unfortunately, something seemed off. All the lights were off and the there were no signs of human activity. We walked up to the door and it was bolted shut. All this struggle was for naught. As a last ditch effort, I asked a random passerby if there was a decent Georgian restaurant nearby, but unfortunately he shook his head. He did tell us though of this nice place in the center, but that would involve pretty much going back to where we started. Nonetheless, we agreed to give it a shot and made our way, now tired, wet and hungry, back to the center.

Thankfully, this place was open, and they gladly welcomed us crazy looking foreigners. And best of all, the place had glasses of homemade wine for just 2 lari (80 cents). Thus, the night was salvaged.

Second Place: Babushka Fight

 Ready to fight

Ready to fight

Sometimes good intentions do not lead to positive outcomes. I personally learned this the hard way on a trip to Mtskheta with another travel buddy, Kira. As we arrived, an old woman with a hunched back and a limp approached us and asked us for money. Wishing to do some good and to give the impression of being a masculine yet kind, I reached in my pocket and handed the woman one lari, which she happily took.

That part was all expected, but then something happened that I was completely unprepared for. Another elderly woman beggar ran over and started shouting and cursing at the woman I just handed the lari to. She said that it was her territoriality and that the money should be hers. However, the first woman refused to back down, saying that she rightfully convinced me to give her the lari. The two faced each other, shouting and cursing in a mix of Georgian and Russian. Then they charged (albeit quite slowly). They met and began throwing fisticuffs with quite a ferocity, and only were stopped when a nearby police officer had to run over and intervene.

I simply stood by completely stupefied and watched the events unfold. Here I was, thinking I had done a good thing, but instead caused a literal fistfight among two old ladies. Eventually, I slinked away, not to return to that street for the remainder of the day.

Winner: Tracks on Tracks

 Where it happened

Where it happened

Believe it or not, strange things can sometimes be found near old, abandon train tracks. I first saw the sight upon my arrival to the Georgian town of Borjomi. Overgrown by grass and plant life, they followed along a river before vanishing off into the woods, and I, being curious and feeling like a cat, had the idea of following along and seeing where they went. However, no more than three minutes into my journey, I came across a short, stocky, middle-aged man in jean shorts and shirtless. Seeming to appear out of nowhere, he approached me.

 Seems friendly enough

Seems friendly enough

Speaking in Georgian, he began saying things to me, but since I didn't know anything in Georgian other than to say hello, his words fell on deaf ears. I asked if he knew Russian or English, but he shook his head no and continued talking. That's when things got a bit strange. He began pointing to a hidden spot around an abandon shed, and, motioning with his hands, he acted out shooting a needle into his arm. I stood there, looking perplexed, and he pointed again.

"Heroine. Heroine." he said, pointing first to him and then me.

Well, I thought, this wasn't quite what I was expecting. Usually locals just offer food or drink. Eventually, I shook my head no, but he was persistent. He kept mimicking the action of shooting up and again motioned for me to follow. Again, I refused, and again he insisted. This went on for another five minutes until I eventually realized that I was half this man's age, significantly taller, and in much better physical condition.

So, without another word, I turned and left, periodically checking over my shoulder to see if he decided to follow.Thankfully though, he did not. And just like the babushka fight before, I decided not to return to the tracks for the rest of my stay in Borjomi.

Day 1-2: Airport Horrors, Insomnia, and an Unexpected Visit to Turkey

It all started so well...

 Would this be the case?

Would this be the case?

I looked around at the few dozen faces surrounding me. Some were old, others young, a few were in groups, while most seemed to be on their own. Not many were talking, as an ever-present fatigue had settled in, but those who were conversed in a variety of languages, all different than my own. However, despite our differences and backgrounds, we shared one thing in common. It was 11:00pm in a far removed corner of the the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul and we had all been stranded there for the same reason. Our story began in Terminal 1 of the JFK airport in New York more than 24 hours earlier and at the time, none of us could possibly have imagined the events that were about to ensue.

At first, everything was going so well. The traffic leading to the airport was minimal (an extreme rarity for JFK) and for the first time in my life, I was not stopped and frisked by security. Things were going so smooth, in fact, that I even reached my gate more than two hours early for my 7:00 flight. There was no mad dash, stress, or beads of sweat pouring down from my brow. I got to relax, download podcasts to listen to during my flight and enjoy one of the many snacks I had packed away. And on top of it all, my ultimate destination was Tbilisi, Georgia, one of my favorite cities in the world, just with a minor 90 minute layover in Istanbul. "Maybe this is good karma coming back to me after all the JFK horrors of the past," I foolishly thought to myself as I got in line to board the plane. Today, it seemed like nothing would go wrong, but unfortunately something would.

  SOMETHING IS DIFFERENT...

SOMETHING IS DIFFERENT...

Just as I was about to line up to board the plane, an announcement sounded over a speaker. "Ladies and gentlemen," a crackly voice spoke in a lackluster monotone "We regret to inform you that the 7:00 flight to Istanbul has been delayed 30 minutes. We apologize for the inconvenience." I sat back down. Just 30 minutes, I thought. I've had worse. But, unfortunately the 30 minutes ended up being just over an hour, and I began to feel a bit nervous. Our new projected arrival was now 12:40 Istanbul, time just half an hour before my connecting flight was set to takeoff. My mind began to race.

"What happens if we're late and miss it? I couldn't be the only person this flight going to Tbilisi, could I? Would they hold the flight if there's a bunch of us?" Each of these thoughts played in my head on repeat like terrible, generic song lyrics. I tried to relax and listen to a podcast before attempting some shut-eye, but the unease of missing the flight kept me from fully dozing off. Nonetheless, after roughly nine hours of flying, we touched down on the runway in Istanbul almost exactly 30 minutes before my next flight. I sprung to action, ready to bolt off the plane to my next gate, but the fools sitting ahead in First and Business class decided to move exceptionally slow (presumably stopping to fan themselves with wads of hundreds while drinking the tears of the poor). By the time we were off, there was just 15 minutes left.

I weaved myself through my fellow travelers, determined to make my flight, but to my surprise, an airport security personnel stood there waiting for us with a sign that read 'Tbilisi'. "Tbilisi passengers, follow me. I take you to your gate." I instantly felt relieved. If this man was waiting for us, they ought to be holding the flight as well, so, alongside about 30 other passengers, we gathered around this short, mustached man and followed. Unfortunately for us, though, this man's sense of direction turned out to be as bad as mine after a night of a few drinks. Three different times, he led us the wrong way, only to backtrack and try again.

When we ultimately reached the gate, right exactly at the scheduled departure time of 1:10, I could tell something seemed off. The whole area was completely void of people and the doors to enter the plane were closed. "Oh well," the airport employee casually grumbled, "Looks like we missed it." WHAT! I ran over to the man, making myself as tall as possible so that I could tower over him.

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"I'm supposed to arrive in Tbilisi before night! What the hell do I do now?" I kindly asked (just kidding about the kindly part).

"Check with the information center."

Fine. I ran off, following the signs, getting lost a little, before ultimately reaching the airport's information center. Already, a long line had formed, thus leaving me there to stand and wait. Slowly but steadily, the line creeped forward, all the while my head feeling like Mt. Vesuvius just prior to eruption. When I finally got the chance to speak to someone (nearly an hour later) I explained my situation.

"We can put you the next flight." The person at the counter replied. "It leaves at 1:00am, just about eleven hours from now...

 The volcano has errupted

The volcano has errupted

I was not going to settle for this. Compensation was in order, come hell or high water, and I was ready to fight tooth and nail for it. I shouted about how there was absolutely nothing that I could have done since one plane landed as the other took off and that I was now stuck in this airport for hours on end since I could't leave and enter without a visa. My nostrils were flaring as the fury of my sleep deprived state was kicking in.

Thankfully, it turned out the person didn't want to make a scene and quickly made an offer. If I was willing to spend the $30 it cost to get a Turkish visa, they would let me stay for free for a few hours at the airport hotel just across the street, thus making it possible for me to sleep some place other than a dirty floor surrounded by stressed out travelers. I agreed, filled out the necessary paper work, made my way through customs, and headed over to the hotel. Most of the people there were dressed well, clean and put together. I was none of the three but I didn't care. Fitting in was the least of my worries at this point.

After waiting for a significantly longer time than expected, the staff finally told me that my room was ready, so I hoisted my backpack and made my way up the stairs. The room seemed comfortable enough. Unlike the airport, there were no hordes of people or screaming families, so with regards to that, I was relieved. The downside was that I only had about two hours to sleep until I had to head back to the airport for the new flight. But this was my time to myself and it was up to me to make the most of it (meaning I flopped down on the mattress right away). Far too quickly, the alarm rang, rousing me back to reality. It was now time to return to Ataturk airport for round number two, thus bringing me back to the start of the story.

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(SKIP FORWARD A FEW HOURS)

Finally, the airplane crew called us up and let us board the plane. Drifting in and out of present consciousness, I stumbled aboard and slumped like a corpse into my chair. It was now just past midnight, although time didn't really register to me anymore. Numbers didn't matter. Neither did the turbulence that ensued shortly after takeoff, nor the rather large man that complained loudly about the drink selection. The only thing of any importance was getting to a soft cozy bed (well, technically I would have settled for anything. Even a mound of dirt would feel soft and cozy by this point. I digress).

Finally, the plane landed. I would provide a more descriptive detail, but I wasn't cognitively processing my surroundings by this point. Somehow I stumbled through the doors and made it through customs, probably looking like a semi-tranquilized sloth. My watch read 3:45am, meaning that it was still just over 3 hours until the bus busses started. I was left with two options: either wait or risk death and take a taxi. Without hesitation, I chose to risk death. Approaching one of the drivers, I told him my location, quickly haggled down the price, and hopped into the cab.

If I could remember the ride, I would describe it now, but unfortunately (or fortunately), I cannot. All I know is that I made it to the hostel in one piece and immeadiately flopped down I on the bed I was given. No covers or bed sheets were used, for I had not the energy nor the will to put them on. The bed mat was good enough. Before I knew it, I drifted into a deep slumber, thus ending the days of travel.