Saturday, July 31, 2010

to live amongst pagans

paranoia is a deadly force. it further divides the natural sense of unity we are born into and it makes the lines we draw around our countries' borders thicker. it becomes 'us and them' and no two of us are the same ever again, be us brothers or strangers. yet there is so much beauty in this strange place i've found nestled in the valleys of the caucus mountains. its a wonderful place that very few people come to.. its not exactly number one to see on your travel wish list, especially after all that youve been fed from the media about georgian/russian relationships in the near past. still, i find that our knowledge of the world can be built upon by visiting places completely unknown to us. tbilisi and surrounding georgia have brought me deep into personal relationships with people from many walks of life that i would have never otherwise experienced. we sit together at the same wooden table and drink from the same cup. food is shared and sweeter when eaten with guests. historically speaking, we are among the first in thousands of years to do so.. our people are supposed to be of different flag and our grandfathers may have killed each other. but tonight we toast. tonight we share somethings that the rest of this greedy and blind world could learn a lesson about - friendship.. happiness.. laughing.. loving.. food.. music.. culture.. all the things that give any shadow of meaning to our lives. we're alive tonight, lets do our best to give thanks.

tell me the story of what brought you here.. tell me why you dont know my name yet you trust me enough to be your companion on this long and crazy trip. you, brother, will watch my back and i will watch yours.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

tales from the 'dry bridge'

memories are like hearing in colour. its strange how they take you back to places we've been as if our dreams are frozen and available to us to thaw whenever we feel that taste for something from the past. even more curious is how some memories both new and old seem to be connected albeit in very obscure ways. i woke up this morning feeling awake and alive. my eyes opened slowly and i knew it was still early. this was a good time to go for a long walk along the riverside of tbilisi before the day becomes too hot to wander. i made my way back to the dry bridge market where i had found myself a few days before. in such a strange way i realized something i've noticed a long time ago; smell can be the most potent trigger of memory. it was something in the smell of the old army shirts and rusty soviet knives that took me back to a day i had met a long long time ago in the company of the stranger who most people believe was a ghost. i remember the smell of old military thrift and soft forest leaves somehow mixing together in that hot summer day. we hid in the forest for a few days. nobody in the entire world knew we were there. i like when nobody knows where i am. i like days of silence and contemplation and wandering. these are three things that will meet together again in my future travels coming up very soon.

the ocean is like the desert in many ways. some times in samoa on bad days when i wanted to forget about the world i would put on a mask and snorkel and sit on the rocks completely submerged in the water, inches from the surface above. i'd watch the endless blue and marvel in the curiosity of how directly in front of me is an endless blue with absolutely nothing for thousands of kilometers. nothing. this is something that you feel in the desert, that endlessness of void and colour. you can hear your own thoughts muffled by your doubts and suddenly you realize why those strangers crossed your path.. and of course although your path is desert and theirs is ocean, somehow you are both the same.

tbilisi black markets

in the city of tbilisi it is not hard to find old soviet left-behinds. people collect old artifacts and antiques from the former soviet union and its hard to go anywhere without seeing remnants of one of the biggest power-houses in history. it is in real memory here and still a sensitive subject for conversation however to a foreigner most people would love to share their stories. because there are so many things left behind and because the borders between georgia and chechnyan russia are so sensative it is quite possible to find things that are less than legal in the hands of questionable people. i was naturally intrigued by this and when i caught wind of the rumor that in the open market region known as 'dry bride' it is possible to find what we would consider to be the black market. its run by corrupt government officials and therefore away from the definition of illegal and from what i'm told you can find absolutely anything there. i went with Vladic, a russian friend of mine who speaks perfect english and russian. he warned me of the georgian customs which entail should we find ourselves invited into conversation with anybody. in georgia you never make a toast with a beer, that is something you do to an enemy. you never interrupt a toast and you never say no to cza-cza, a homemade alcohol not unlike vodka that georgians drink like water. eye contact is necessary when toasting and you dont turn down food. lastly you never offer to pay anything as it is a great insult to the entire institution of hospitality.

dry bridge was absolutely amazing. its crowded and hot and full of tons of beautiful old shit. it stinks of cigarettes and old beer and everywhere you go you will find something with joseph stalins famous face. slanin, of course, is from gori in georgia and therefore his memorabilia is quite popular. so in the open market, vladic and i did some asking around about how to find who is in charge and where we can find the oldest and central location of the market. this is what took us to a downstairs yet outside area almost completely abandoned and covered in dust. the only thing we found there was a table with 6-7 men drinking together. awkwardly and hesitantly we approached and asked for a light to vladic's cigarette. this would become among the most interesting three hours of my life. they were friends who gathered every night in the old market to drink themselves stupid and sing songs together.. at least thats what they told us; i have a feeling thats not all they did. from what i'm told by a friend of mine who saw the video i'm about to publish at the bottom of this entry, one of the men in this video is indeed the corrupt politician himself who runs the black markets and is responsible for a great deal of weapons trafficking in georgia. he was removed from office a while back yet his influence remains strong. the men offered us countless rounds of cza-cza and told us sketchy stories about what they do. i didn't believe much of what they said but after i showed the video to some georgian friends i learned that a few of the guys are apparently quite notorious in the area. this explains why they requested not to have their pictures taken. a man in black with a toothpick and a tattoo of a rosary on his hand looked to me and in translated russian asked me if there was anything i needed. anything i named he could get for me. theres a conviction in the eyes of someone who makes a statement like that. somehow i didn't doubt him. the night sunk in good peace for the most part but i was naturally a little frightened. they got a little weird when we tried to leave. they grabbed at us and told them we were insulting them by leaving. of course they were very drunk by this point and the friendliness was starting to fade. it was very relieving when the one guy suggested we get a taxi and told us we shouldnt be there anymore.. of course the cost of the taxi screwed us.

pictures from the outskirts of 'dry bridge' in tbilisi

shaky yet interesting video of the market collaborators. taken with a hidden camera.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tbilisi gathering

shots from inebolu, turkey.. dinner along the rocks before a 12 hour storm.. a gypsy camp along side the mosque, also our home for the rainy night.

for now... we toast...

and now... french people smoking cigarettes...

and just plain smoking french... :)

Friday, July 16, 2010

how to live and love on the black sea

a few shots from Sinop Kalesi.. and old roman castle on the sea side which later would become a fortress prison in the mid 1800's

one last shot of Amasra

İnebolu.. a town where the rain almost carried me away to never-never land.

the view from the cliffs of the black sea are in many ways similar to my memories of the pacific ocean from Samoa. the water seems to drift of into an endless blue while being dwarfed by huge green cliffs that roll off into the distance. the cool thing about the black sea is that you can imagine each country to the opposite side. from where i sit here in Sinop it is easy to image ukraine directly north of me. im moving fast and im okay with that. i want to get to georgia to see something different. for now im happy with my camping-travels along the beautiful and turbulent nature of the karadeniz. here are a few stories from my travels so far...

my story begins with the beautiful ayşe naz. we left istanbul and went directly to ereğli to meet a friend i chanced upon a few times back in the city. he blessed us with the keys to an old apartment and gave us shelter and food for a few days while showing us around the sea side village surrounding the small city. his father was a politically driven man whose voice was slow and easy for me to understand. i was compelled by his nationalist stories and actually felt kind of proud to be living in turkey. the beauty of his village cliff-side house was indescribable and i sincerely regret not photo documenting it. it was his dream house that he built with his wife and they life there happily in peace and sunshine. ayşe naz and i found our way to amasra via four boring mini buses. amasra is painfully cool. it is an old roman fortress with many travelers from all over europe. i was probably the only american for a hundred kilometers. we set up camp near a series of almost impossible rocks and built a tent under the saftey of the watchful stars. this is where i said goodbye to her and began my story of traveling alone. its a long way from here to kırgızıstan.

since she left ive traveled with various strangers ive met. first a group of three french folk who accompanied me to inebolu, yet another small city along the black sea. we set up camp next to an old mosque with permission from the iman. this was alongside a gypsy camp on the beach who paid us no mind at all yet lived peacefully in their more than temporary dwellings in tents on the beach. that night... all hell fell from the sky and the air was illuminated with lightning more than it was ever filled with darkness. i didnt sleep. i curled into the only dry corner of my tent and protected my backpack from the invading storm. everything was soaked.. it was at this point that i packed up and slept on the floor of the mosque for a few hours before abandoning the city all together to head to my next destination without saying goodbye to my new friends.

when you travel alone the voice in your head sings loudly to you like punk rock music, forever narrating your life and reminding you of your successes and failures. nobody is there to tell you the way and when you end up in a strange and unfamiliar city with the expressionless eyes of the locals fixed on you, you had better be smart. you learn from experience and you grow balls really fast. this is survival. you know when youve made a mistake and you know what you must do to escape from its consequences. beer that night tastes better than any beer youve ever had.

for now im safe and healthy and clean. i had my first shower outside of the sea in quite a long time. im full of life and looking to the east quickly. its easy to hitchhike and im tired of the easy way out. ill be in georgia soon and after that my story will continue in azerbaijan.

me and bob... dont ask...