In Which Sanchezi Goes Home To Oz

Standing in the middle of a foreign country as it gets dark, 25 km from home and not knowing how you will get there is not exactly my idea of fun.

But let me back up….

It’s been so long since I’ve taken a marshrutka from Tbilisi to Ozurgeti, I forgot how, when and where exactly they leave from. But Didube (a market area in Tbilisi)  seems like a good station to start from, because they have tons of marshrutkas.  So once I got to Didube, I started asking around. The first driver I found was going to Batumi. I asked if he would go through Ozurgeti, and he replied with what I remembered the answer being several months ago when Caroline and I went on the ‘marshrutka tour of southern Georgia’. He said that the Ozurgeti bus departs in the mornings and has long gone. He suggested that I take his bus to Batumi, he would let me off at (a place I didn’t know and can’t pronounce) and then I could transfer to a bus to Oz.  I asked about Kutaisi buses, but in the end, I figured this would be cheaper. So I got on.

Even after getting water and snacks, I was the only one on the bus for a long time. I sat near the back and dozed off a little, due to being out til 5 that morning. When I woke up there were two other passengers sitting in the front. I had my headset on and was preparing for the multi-hour long trip. Another bus driver came and told the other two passengers to get on his bus, which was beside the one I was on. This confused me, but not enough to get up. The other marshrutka was half full, when it dawned on me that they could have possibly combined our two buses into one and were about to depart. I stood up a little to pack up my headset, when one of the (what appeared to be) assistant drivers, peered into the bus from the sidewalk. I then realized I was near the back of the bus and therefore hidden in shadows. So I can understand and imagine the shock and alarm he conveyed by seeing a black face peering from the darkness of the bus like a lost puppy. He peered… then pointed, then shouted, “Hey! There is someone else on the bus!” When I got off, the four or five bus drivers were questioning me and each other as to say, “What the hell are you doing in there? We almost left your ass.”  The driver of the original bus came forward and told the new driver that I was going to Oz and to help me transfer at (the place I can’t pronounce or have never heard of) to get there.

They packed me in with the rest of the passengers and off we went.

I have been on a lot of bus rides. I have been to Oz from Tbilisi many times many different ways. But STILL I had not been this route or seen this part of Georgia. This is a truly beautiful country.

*I have an aversion to taking pictures on moving vehicles. I need to rethink that policy.

After driving forever, I think they forgot to drop me off at the said transfer spot. When we reached a town a little further than Kutaisi,  the first passenger asked to get off. When we stopped, I saw the assistant driver smack his head and say the place I didn’t know where I was supposed to transfer. The driver pulled over again, and the whole bus had a conference about what to do with me. (Only a few made sly apologetic looks in my direction). Once a decision was made, off we went again.

After another couple of hours I started seeing signs for Oz meaning we were close. But I did not recognize any land marks. We stopped abruptly and the driver told me to get out.  …Okay. The assistant driver pointed to a turnoff and explained to me that the road would take me to Oz. I got out, they shut the door and sped off.

I found myself on the side of the road at a mini fruit stand. There was a tractor-trailer truck in the near distance and its driver seemed to be stretching his legs. I asked the kid attending the fruit stand was this the way to Oz, and he enthusiastically replied, Yes!

I was standing in a very inconvenient place to be picked up. I noticed a couple of other travelers walk down the road a little and were eventually picked up by a car.  So I walked to their now vacant spot to wait for a bus or anyone to pick me up.

It was getting dark.  There were very few cars coming down this road and NO marshrutkas. And every car that did come by just passed me by. Standing in the middle of a foreign country as it gets dark, 25 km from home and not knowing how you will get there is not exactly my idea of fun.

But remember, this is Georgia, a.k.a. Narnia.

I was standing there thinking to myself, ‘Do I need to start walking back?’, ‘Do I need to look sadder or more happy and carefree to get picked up?’ when the least expected thing occurred.

A car was passing that I realized was full, so I was going to let it pass. But it started to slow down. In the passenger side, a blonde headed face was smiling at me from ear to ear. And she was also waving frantically. Not until the car stopped did I realize it was my friend Marta! She and another friend in her program were hitchhiking from the beach. She got out of that car to keep me company. She said another 10 friends were following, hitchhiking, too. We waited for a while and a van slowed to pick us up. The back of that van was packed with her other friends. So we jumped in and sped off to Oz.

Everything works out in this country… one way or another.

***

Dorothy Harris: Are you coming along?

Young Forrest Gump: Mama said not to be taking rides from strangers.

Dorothy Harris: This is the bus to school.

Young Forrest Gump: I’m Forrest, Forrest Gump.

Dorothy Harris: Dorothy Harris.

Young Forrest Gump: Well, now we ain’t strangers anymore.

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