“I know a guy.”
It has to be one of the most said things in this part of the world. You might not be able to find what you need in a shop, advertised anywhere or on the internet, but somewhere, somebody “knows a guy.” And that guy knows exactly how to help you.
So I was on the hunt for the first of them, who could supposedly help me develop my rolls of photo film I’ve been carrying around for a while. Down a back street to a courtyard in Tbilisi, past a banged up scooter and a couple of 80’s cars and through a gated yard, I met a fat man whistling and cleaning the patio with a hose.
“Through that door.”
How can anybody find this place? I ducked to get through the little brown door and there I was, in the most underground photo lab I’ve ever seen. There was the guy who could sort out all my photos. The price to develop a roll of 36 was 3 Lari. Ridiculously cheap. That’s just over a Euro!
Here is the roll of black and white I shot in Yerevan:
Then I was off to the bike shop, or rather, all the bike shops in Tbilisi, which total five, I think. Most of them are pretty poorly stocked and by far the best one I saw was Bike House, where I could sort out at least some of the problems with the steed. Nowhere had any spare tyres for me though, which could be a minor issue. The current ones have done about 7,000km and are wearing a little thin.
At the shop I met Ian, an English bloke cycling to Kyrgyzstan or there abouts, and he kindly invited me for a Georgian lunch! We soon learnt that the “small” of every dish in Georgia is about 25% more than you can physically eat. You’ll never starve in Georgia. But all the food is made of butter and white carbs, so you probably will get sick of it. After 3 days in Tbilisi I ended up eating Thai food just to get some vegetables.
And so after lunch I continued my tour of Tbilisi, this time to find the guy that knew how to weld back the eyelet that snapped off my frame. I cycled across town to a slightly more industrial quarter where all the car fixing goes on.
There are three and a half cars in the place. Some tools lie scattered around with some random screws and old brown oil smeared into the floor. One wall is entirely made up of large, black, obscurely-shaped pieces of plastic along with gun-metal grey blocks and pipes. It’s not exactly the most welcoming of places. But it was a car garage. What did I expect. The table is full of miscellaneous items. Totally cluttered with plastic bottles, beer bottles, a half tin of fish, a bit of old cheese, a phone charger. Atop the table, resting on the wall, is a neatly positioned mirror, as if to make one presentable to the world. Surrounded by porno posters and calender girls.
I can’t see any of the twiddling screws that bike mechanics do, sipping coffee and chatting about clipless pedals. These guys all have their tops off revealing all-round hairy beer bellies occasionally braced by sweaty black oiled hands. The biggest strongest guy looks like a retired Olympic discus champion, and could easily crush my head with one hand. By looks, I think the only guy who isn’t mean enough to kill me is “the guy,” who also happens to be the person most others are waiting to see. He’s currently welding an unidentifiable piece of metal, and just by the way he uses his tools you can tell he’s a professional. He’s a machine designed specifically to put things back together with fire.
Soon enough he had me holding my bike and the part I wanted stuck back on with a pair of pliers, as he began tig welding and I tried to keep my hands steady and not be blinded.
I’m glad to report my bicycle is in a much better state and might actually survive a few weeks in the roadless mountains.
One great thing about cycling your way around countries is that wherever you end up you always have a bike. In the end I got to see all the corners of Tbilisi without public transport. Cycling is actually not a bad way to get around Tbilisi, but I only ever saw two other cyclists on the road, one of which was Ian. Everything is quite flat and straightforward to get around (except Heroes Square, which isn’t a square but the Georgian equivalent of spaghetti junction, and probably spells “Georgia” in Georgian from space or something). There probably is a slight fear of traffic even though in the city it’s fairly slow moving. It’s a shame because it’s immediately clear on arrival in Tbilisi that far too many people drive here, and it’s clogging up the streets. But then again it’s just the same as anywhere else.
Some pics of Tbilisi:
It’s interesting to think about the impact of convenience and the internet on our lives. Travelling in foreign cities certainly used to be a lot more foreign. Now in order to find anything, nearly anywhere, you just google it and it comes up on a map. You can follow your way there with GPS. People eat from Trip Advisor. So it’s nice to be forced to look for things “the old fashioned way”. I think we could all do with putting a bit more adventure into our everyday lives, and ditching the internet more frequently. Just going out and taking a gamble. Asking people, and making guesses. It’s more adventurous. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. The encounters with the locals are usually pretty interesting. And frankly nearly all the best places I’ve found both when travelling and just wandering cities, I’ve found without the internet.
With that in mind, I decided not to bother buying a sleeping bag in the end, and just to wing it. I really couldn’t justify spending weeks cycling across the desert in Uzbekistan with 2 sleeping bags neither of which I’d use. So I’ll just buy a warm jacket when I get to Tajikistan. They must wear jackets there. And maybe I can go on more mini adventures around cities.
All for now.