“Georgia, yeaaa? It’s really, really, really, really nice, yeaaa.” So said Jonny Rainbow, legendary traveller and international man of mystery whom we met in Sarajevo. Thus we decided to visit Georgia, or the country sometimes also known as Gurcistan.
After an eventful border crossing – first the bus from Rize broke down, then the immigration officer on the Turkey side abruptly left his post to go to the loo or lunch, leaving a bunch of us waiting in the sweltering heat, and on finally the Georgian immigration officers took our passports to show their colleagues at the back just for fun – we were in Georgia.
The closest Georgian town to the Turkish border is Batumi, a seaside resort town in the Adjara autonomous region. The old town of Batumi, where most travelers congregate consists of perpendicular grids of old shop houses leading up to the town’s main attraction, the beach.
We spent two days in Batumi. The hostel won our Cabutlari award for Worst Hostel of the Trip hands down. The place was filthy, the toilet doors had partially see-through windows, one of the caretakers was preoccupied with surfing the internet and making out with her boyfriend, and we even had to make a special request for bed sheets (even though it’s included in the price).
On the bright side, we met some of the most hardcore travellers ever here. Our roommates were riding from France to Mongolia on motorcycle. Three others were cycling from Germany to Mongolia. Two guys were walking from Paris to Kazakhstan.
One thing that we found particularly disturbing in Batumi was the number of children begging on the streets. There were beggars on almost every street corner, most of whom were young children or women carrying babies. A few kids who looked like they were no older than five were on wheelchairs or had bandages around their hands or feet. One was crying his eyes out to get attention from passerby’s. Many were very persistent and would cling on to us. We were even chased down a street by two ladies carrying babies, after Dylan had given some spare change to one but didn’t have any more to give to the other who suddenly appeared from nowhere.
Wondering if there was a syndicate at work here, we looked it up on the internet. From what we gathered, there is no official estimate of the number of street children in Georgia, though unofficial estimates put the number at around 2,000. A 2009 UNICEF report on a survey of 301 street children around Georgia concluded that there was no syndicate at work here, just economic hardship resulting from the recent turbulent history of the country. The majority of the kids surveyed were on the streets simply because their parents did not earn an sufficient income to feed (and often house) their families.