Wednesday, 7 November 2012
Day 223 – Witch’s hats and double denim. (Georgia)
Arriving in Tblisi on the afternoon of October 31st, we didn’t realise until heading out in the evening that it was Halloween. Having shacked up at Irine’s Boarding house, a homely guest house in what we thought to be the centre of town, we discovered that the nightlife was in fact centred around the old town, a couple of kilometres away. After making the walk we were glad to find a lively and friendly Irish style pub called Hangar Bar. We were enthusiastically greeted by the host whom we couldn’t decide was Irish or American (and later found out that both were correct), and entered what we discovered to be an excessively themed Halloween party. Feeling a little under-dressed as the only patrons not in face paint, witch’s hats, masks and capes, we sat ourselves at one of the pumpkin clothed tables in a room decorated with spiders’ webs. Making the most of where we were, Tom Unkles who has been designated Director of Interpersonal Relations, struck up conversation with a group of three at a neighbouring table. Despite the differences in choice of fashion (us in whatever clean clothes we could muster that seem acceptable to present ourselves in in a city, and them in black capes, black make-up, a mask and a witch’s hat) we hit it off like a house on fire and got ourselves a tour guide for the following day.
Elene met us the following afternoon to show us around her home city. We explored the fashionable Rustavi Street and the winding cobble-stone alleyways of the old town before taking a ride in the gondola to the top of the hill where we had a view over the rooftops and skyline of the city. The gondola, incidentally is on the same system as the standard Tblisi public transport system.
Whilst wandering the streets we bumped into Frank and Martine, a Dutch couple in a campervan who we’d met the previous day at Carrefour. They’ve made several trips in their car, even more extensively than us, including Australia, and with a dog too. Their website’s in Dutch, so for most of our readers it’s probably not overly exciting, but for anyone who can read Dutch and would like to know about their travels, visit http://theworldisbeautiful.nl/ .
After not succeeding at filling our LPG tank since leaving Australia, we were finally able to do so in Georgia. Some countries use CNG (compressed natural gas – a different substance to LPG), some don’t have gas at all, or the most frustrating one is where LPG is available, but with a connection that we don’t have an adaptor for. We purchased adaptors before setting off from home, but Georgia is the first country where we’ve actually been able to use one. We’ve been pretty concerned about the effects on the LPG system after being out of use for 7 months, but we excitedly filled up our bone-dry tank and started driving. Very quickly though it became apparent that something was wrong: the engine shuddered ferociously and stalled itself, then wouldn’t re-start on gas. We spent a while revving and experimenting with starting and re-starting on gas, and switching from petrol to gas, hoping that the system was just a bit tired and needed some fuel pumped through. We realised though that it just wasn’t working, so continued to drive on petrol until reaching Tblisi.
We headed to the outskirts of town to a strip of car dealerships, but unable to find what we were looking for, asked for help/directions at the Toyota building. Their best advice was to send us to a petrol station that sells CNG. Dismissing this, we kept driving until we spotted a tiny roadside shop selling oil and probably equipped to change a tyre. The man there had very limited English and his map skills were lacking, but he really wanted to help us and eventually we got directions to a mechanic. With no idea whether he’d understood the LPG thing at all, thinking that perhaps we were just being sent to a mechanic, we followed his directions and found the place remarkably easily.
A crowd of at least a dozen mechanics and on-lookers gathered around as we tried to explain that we needed our LPG tank fixed. Everybody seemed to want to send us to a petrol station – we drove here from Australia, do you think we hassle mechanics every time we need fuel? We switched the engine on and switched it to gas. A mechanic in blue overalls who had a beard that made Denner’s look like pre-pubescent bum-fluff and a cigarette glued to his lip, fiddled with some belts, looked at the radiator and flicked the catch for the hood release. No buddy, we’re not concerned about whether our bonnet can be secured, just look at the LPG system that we’ve got a problem with which we’re trying to demonstrate.
A man who was way too clean to be a mechanic, dressed in jeans, a woollen jumper and a vest, fiddled with the accelerator chord, revving Trev up to 7,000 Rpm. As it only switches to gas at a comfy 2,500 Rpm we were getting very frustrated at all our petrol being wasted while they weren’t even letting us show them the problem. Eventually we managed, and as soon as it switched to gas and conked out, the beardy mechanic realised there was a problem, lost interest and left. We continued to try appealing to the woollen jumpered man, begging for any sort of direction or advice other than where to purchase CNG. After adamantly informing us over and over again that there was no-one that could help us in all of Georgia, something seemed to click with the woollen jumpered man and suddenly he was offering to come in the car with us to find someone who could help us.
The first workshop was a CNG specialist. They sent us to another mechanic who in turn pointed us towards another. Eventually we were directed to a petrol station which sold CNG that had a workshop attached. It seemed to be mainly for the purposes of installing CNG tanks, but our new friend for want of a better word, got the attention of a scrawny man in double denim who attended to us. Straight away he started testing the electrics and we could sense he actually knew what he was doing. A while later we paid him 20 Lari (about $12) for his trouble, dropped off our woollen jumpered buddy back at his own shop and enjoyed driving on LPG again.
I can’t quite put my finger on the relationship between the woollen jumpered man who accompanied us, and the double denimed mechanic who fixed our problem. To us, woollen jumpered man was essentially a friendly stranger who we had no way of communicating with other than basic pointing. To double denimed mechanic though, woollen jumpered man must have been a friend, or at least some sort of confidante of ours. Yet throughout the whole reparation process they seemed to work together – from where we were standing they acted like colleagues. Does double denim just assume that woollen jumper is a mechanically interested customer? Or did woollen jumper introduce himself as a fellow mechanic? We could tell they didn’t know each other beforehand. Does woollen jumper get any sort of cut of our payment? We honestly doubt that one in this situation actually. And if not, then why was he playing such an active role in the fixing process? We don’t even know if he was a mechanic – maybe he owned the place where we met him, or perhaps he was just a nosey and bored on-looker.
Either way, this was just another example of the outstanding Georgian hospitality that we continue to experience. In many places this man would have bothered us for some extortionate amount of money for his “help”, but in Georgia this really just wasn’t a concern.