The Marshrutka Ride That Almost Killed Me

Mestia, Svaneti, Georgia

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 marshrutka 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?

Svaneti, Georgia

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.

Svaneti, Georgia

When the marshrutka finally pulled 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.

Svaneti, Georgia

Svaneti, Georgia

Have you ever feared for your life while traveling abroad?


7 thoughts on “The Marshrutka Ride That Almost Killed Me”

  1. Oh dear……..Glad you made it!
    I have heard so much about Georgian drivers and their deadly accidents.
    I will be visiting Georgia and was planning a trip by marshrutka from Tbilisi to Mestia. After reading your blog……hmmmmmmm, I think I’ll have to change plans, as I’m always carsick in ‘normal’ circumstances already. Or would it be okay if I’d take the nighttrain and only the marshrutka from Zugdidi to Mestia? Best wishes, Maria

  2. Oh god, sounds terrifying! That was me on a bus in Cancun – never experienced such bad driving in my life. He was even worse than me. Glad you’re ok 🙂

  3. Oh God, that sounds pretty bad. I’ve been in a marshrutka accident before, but just in St Petersburg. Our vehicle was fine, although we ended up taking the hood off of another car.

    Have I feared for my life when traveling? Yes, once when I actually thought I was going to die. I was in Mongolia, and we had a run-in with a psychotic drunk guy in the middle of nowhere. I first woke up with him in my ger brandishing an apple and a small knife, and then tried to distract him after he poured whiskey on an open fire in a tent. The next thing I knew, he was in his land rover roaring in circles around our tent (he was so drunk he could hardly stand up….) and he nearly killed our driver before plunging our van off the side of a cliff. Luckily it lodged on a rocky outcropping.

    Not fun. (That said, Mongolia was a pretty wicked place).

  4. I HATE mini buses!! They all seem intent on terrifying every single passenger inside. It doesn’t seem to matter which country their in either. I have spent more than enough hours scared out of my head, hanging on for dear life in a cold sweat than I care to remember!

  5. I was convinced I was going to die earlier this year in Iceland when the jeep I was in took a nose-dive off a snow-covered cliff. It was terrifying. I’m glad you survived your wild ride!

  6. Yeah that would be totally terrifying for me. I get nervous going too fast on a normal interstate. Glad you made it down safely. At least he stopped for puke breaks, that is nice. I remember a bus driver in Turkey stopping on the road so a woman could let her son pee in a cup.

    What beautiful scenery. Shame it had to be seen at such a breakneck pace.

  7. It’s one of those things where looking back you can almost say it was funny, but while it’s happening laughing is this last thing you want to do! I remember being in San Francisco and the taxi driver doing a painfully slow U-turn across a highway – that was pretty frightening. Really great photos too by the way!

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