Exhibit B: The Marshrut’ka

There are several ways to travel in Georgia. They just recently opened their third airport in Kutaisi. They have a train system. I’ve used it only to go to Armenia and back. I only used the sleeper cars and not the regular passenger section.

For local traffic, they have the taxi, which operates like the taxis in America in theory, but much, much worse. Then there is the Marshrut’ka. This mode of transportation is the main way Georgians get from place to place. It basically is a minivan.. Even though I still need to humbly just hold out my hand with a lot of coins and let the driver take what he wishes…the fare is very inexpensive.

The spectrum of quality goes from new to old beat up soviet vans. Thankfully I haven’t had to ride in a beat up one yet. Those things are shady looking and rusted out. That’s not to say the better ones run much better. I’ve been in one where we were racing the sunset, because he had no headlights. I’ve been in one where is was bad to pick up more passengers or stop at stoplights, because it would stall out and passengers would have to get out and push to jump start it again.  And I’ve heard (by a reliable source) that if it gets crazy full, people start doubling up on each other’s laps. I can’t even imagine things getting to that level.

They travel from point A to point B that being from city to city, or town to city. If you are fortunate enough to live in a city or town, you are fortunate enough to get on at the start of the trip and can usually get a good seat. The marshut’ka has a sign in the front window that tells the destination. Although I know the Georgian alphabet pretty well, its quite different when its scribbled on a piece of cardboard in a dirty window in front of a van speeding towards you and you need to make a split second decision to stop the moving vehicle (and if incorrect, to induce the wrath of the furious driver for making him stop, unnecessarily) or let it pass.


But the marshrut’ka also stops along the route to pick up or drop off travelers. So the marshrut’ka could potentially be bursting at the seams with passengers by the final destination or totally empty.  The driver will also abruptly stop for cigarettes or to refill the oil. And on longer trips, make a stop for food and bathroom break.

But as with all new things, you eventually get used to them. At first, I could not figure out the marshrut’ka system, much less which ones went to which destination, or even where to find the ones I wanted. (Ozurgeti has three marshut’ka hub locations.) But now, I not only know where to get the marshrut’ka I want, I pretty much know their schedules of departure.

If if all else fails, the Georgian hospitality extends to confused travelers, too. Once we were lost as to which marshrut’ka went to my friend’s village. And I think we were pronouncing the village’s name incorrectly, so the eager to help gentlemen couldn’t understand us. Then out of the back of the marshrut’ka popped a young guy who spoke great English and walked up to the correct marshrut’ka stop. Another time, we missed the train to Batumi, and were walking around confused and dejected. A man stopped us an mimed that a marshrut’ka would come soon to take us. In Armenia, The driver yelled to us in the back of the bus that we had arrived at a monestary we were looking for. When we got off, we didn’t know which way to walk. But because we were evidently walking the wrong way, the driver beeped his horn and EVERYBODY on the marshrut’ka (including the driver) pointed for us to walk in the other direction. And lastly, coming home from Batumi on a marshrut’ka, I fell asleep. The driver woke me in his most desperate broken English, and told me I had arrived.

“Ah ha, hush that fuss
Everybody move to the back of the bus
Do you wanna bump and slump with us
We the type of people make the club get crunk”

Rosa Parks, Outkast


One response to “Exhibit B: The Marshrut’ka

  1. Your experience reminds me of travel as a young Army major in South Asia with regard to the crowded condition of the vehicles and their level of maintenance.
    At least your driver woke you up. I remember falling asleep at the back of a bus in Northern Virginia (DC area). When I awoke, I was the only passenger, and we were at the end of the line. The driver agreed to drop me off at a point only a mile are so from my home on his way to the garage. 😦

Holla atcha boy!

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