Nestled between villagers, cramped seating, pounds of bread, animals and fuel is the heart of the transportation marvel...the marshultka.
Although I hope to never ride another once I leave this country, I must say that I would not know where I'd be without the "beast."
In the morning I typically ride a marshultka—or conversion van/mini-bus—with my host mother, brother and other teachers to school. The 20-minute village ride is bumpy, noisy and in most circumstances, annoying as all hell. But it's an experience.
On days I am lazy or just don't feel like riding with teachers, I will catch a later ride at a stop not far from my flat. The later bus is filled with primarily villagers, hauling goods and farm supplies from Zestafoni (Zest'aponi) to either their houses or those who are not able to do it themselves.
I learned recently that much of the mail that is transported across the country is done so by marshultka. So, basically a person gives a package to a driver, who is then trusted to deliver the package at a reasonable date to the specified location. Talk about trust (and a busted mail system).
Longer journeys equate to better buses and better seating for passengers. If I want to travel to Tbilisi, Batumi or even a shorter hop to Kutaisi, I pay a higher fair but generally have a more luxurious ride, equipped with better seating and fewer animal companions.
But despite better suspension and seating for a motor ride, you will never feel at ease due to the poorly kept roadways.
I'm not exactly sure why the country doesn't invest much money into it's infrastructure (instead of ridiculously nice glass government and police buildings). Maybe government officials like a rustic feel, similar to block wheels on a rocky hillside being powered at ridiculously fast speeds.
The reason I brought up the marshultka is because I've been asked numerous times about it as of late. It's not a new mode of transportation—relatively unknown to the west—and is in fact also used by nearby countries as the primary means of getting around cheaply.
Here is the Wiki link describing how it works: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshrutka
I can't imagine the States having this sort of system as there are too many impatient and thuggish people that would not be able to sit together for great distances. What do you think?
In other news, I'm nearly done with my contract and I look forward to what's ahead. I've enjoyed my time in a new and wonderful place, but the teaching aspect of things has been a bit rocky (as I've described before) and has undoubtedly swayed my decision to not want to re-sign.
This week Zestafoni FC won the country championship and celebrated with a party in the town square. Fireworks, singing, chanting, drinking and dancing created an atmosphere that I had never witnessed before here. It was like the city had just been founded or some type of extravagant importance had just been dug up in the dirt—besides football cleats of course.
The weather is still rainy and periodically cold, so it's been hard to plan trips on the weekend to places where I'd like to hike or lay beachside.
Last Thursday, I went to the coastal community of Poti, which is about a 2.5-hour marshultka trip to the west. The town is quite industrial and far from a beach resort, but the architecture of the houses and the well-kept lighthouse were definitely high points for me.
In my head, June looks to be the best month yet. With only half-months schooling and warmer, drier weather, trips to Mestia and Kazbegi to hike are in the works—as well as a few day trips to the south and west to hopefully see some dinosaur bones and a bikini or two.