I thought I was going to die.
Every time we cruised toward a hairpin turn without slowing down at all, the cement barricades directly in front of us, I thought I would die.
Every time we sped past multiple vehicles on the single lane highway with a semi-truck bearing down on us in the opposite lane, I saw my life flash in front of me.
And when it started raining and we seemed to go even faster?
Yeah, I mentally increased my odds of dying from about 50% to 99%.
We left Mestia around 6:15 a.m., the sun already up for an hour but the morning mountain air chilly enough that I wore my windbreaker. When the marshrutka (minibus) picked me up at 5:30 from outside the Nest Hostel just outside of the center of town, I felt lucky to score the last remaining single seat on the right hand side of the van – no smelly drunk men falling asleep and drooling on my shoulder on this trip! This group seemed to be a calm mix of professional-looking Georgians, including several well dressed women in heels and full makeup (at 6:15? Really? For a 9 hour marshrutka ride?).
Mestia is a village in Svaneti, a region high up in the mountains in Georgia , not far from the border with Russia. The three hour ride there from Zugdidi a few days earlier had been nerve-wreaking but not terrifying – probably because we were going up, which necessarily made for slightly slower going. This time, though, the driver seemed to be on a mission to get down those mountains as fast as possible – or to kill himself and take all of us with him.
Oh, and did I mention that car crashes are allegedly the number one cause of death for young men in Svaneti?
Within thirty minutes of departing Mestia, we made our first pit stop. While I had heard stories of frequent stops on these trips for drinking, eating and more drinking, this was just the opposite – a woman sitting in back was already ready to puke her guts out from motion sickness.
About an hour later, our driver claimed his second victim as we stopped again for some more roadside puking.
Our third barf break didn’t come until we were well past Zugdidi and on the road to Tbilisi. It probably would’ve come earlier if our other stops had included any of the massive drinking bouts I had heard so much about.
It all made me very glad I did not eat breakfast before we left.
But while they were trying to hold everything in, I was trying to hold on for dear life. My single seat that I thought was oh-so-perfect turned out to be a disaster. No sleeping on this marshrutka ride for me – nope, I had to hold on to a small piece of rubber lining the window in an attempt to keep myself from sliding off the seat at every turn. Add in a slightly awkward angle of the seat and words don’t do justice to how much the left side of my butt hurt by the time we arrived in Tbilisi.
When we finally did pull into the parking lot of the main train station in Tbilisi, I think I exhaled for the first time in eight hours (yes, the ride that supposed to take 9 hours somehow managed to take only 7 hours and 45 minutes!).
Looking on the bright side, when I wasn’t in fear of my life, I did manage to enjoy some pretty amazing scenery.
And I lived to tell about it.
Have you ever feared for your life while traveling abroad?