I have spent five months hitchhiking east, and now I find myself in Georgia, where it is easy to get a ride (you never wait more than a few minutes) and where the locals are very friendly. I spend a few days walking in the mountains and hitchhiking around with my friend Françoise.
I then hitchhike alone to Tbilisi, which is a near-perfect city, with its beautiful crumbling buildings, vast flea market, cheap cognac and tasty VEGAN icecream!! I could live here for a while!
After a week of drinking the local tipple, cha-cha, at my friend’s Tbilisi Hostel, I decide to head west again, back through Turkey – a country that I have already spent four months extensively hitchhiking.
So, I reach my Tbilisi hitchhiking spot at the King Dave the Builder statue (“why isn’t he standing next to a forklift truck, with his arse-crack showing and a cup of tea in his hand?” my friend Huw muses). I stick my thumb out and am immediately surrounded by local men, amused by a lone-female hitchhiker. I walk up the road more and get picked up by a bus, going all the way to Batumi, on the border of Georgia and Turkey. I tell the driver, “no thank you, no money” again and again, but he ushers me on anyway.
This is my third time in Batumi and my third experience of the Black Sea in the heavy rain. I want to sleep on the beach but it’s impossible. The bus driver insists on treating me to dinner. One of my personal dilemmas when hitchhiking alone is whether to recognise my gender and take precautions as a woman, or whether to stop thinking in that mindset. The bus driver wants to give me a roof over my head for the night. Do I trust him and go, or do I listen to the western-European voice in my head and treat him with suspicion?! All I have is my gut instinct, so I follow this and leave the man. I decide to use some of my last money and go to the lovely Rover hostel. Whilst walking there the bus driver pulls up twice in his bus, obviously following me. Does he want to make sure that I am okay? (He thinks I have no money and friends here)….or does he have other intentions? Luckily my knowledge of Batumi’s backstreets is quite good, and I shake him off!
The next day I head to Sarpi and walk back across the border to Turkey. I have read many opinions on the internet about females hitchhiking alone in Turkey, most of which say, “don’t do it”. I disagree. In my opinion, Turkish people are the friendliest I have ever met. A journey from one city to another often gets side-tracked by being taken into a family home for tea or lunch. I take the obvious precautions; the most important being to follow my first instinct when approaching a male driver, and I refuse many rides based on this. I also always say that I am meeting my (fictional) boyfriend in the next city. And obviously I cover my body and tone down the makeup. Oh, and I tone down how much I smile at the driver (really, this definitely works!) Hitchhiking in Turkey is so rewarding, a real chance to see the local customs and generosity towards strangers. (See the photos at the end of this post!) Of course, there are frequent enquiries about a boyfriend or even propositions for sex, but I never normally feel physically threatened. These incidences make me annoyed and I usually roll my eyes at a driver and act coldly towards him, or just get out of the car.
I want to reach Sivas, where my friend Ismail lives. It’s a long distance, but I am confident I can make it. One lone old man tells me he can take me to Giresun, so I get in his car. However, he then drives away from the road to Giresun, saying “Otostop no. No. No”. His detour doesn’t scare me, but really irritates me. He is trying to kidnap me, probably to take me to a bus station, because he doesn’t think it is safe for me to hitchhike! “STOP THE CAR!” I shout. He ignores me. “STOP STOP STOP” I yell, and he stops. It frustrates me that, as a woman, my choice of transportation is seen as too dangerous, whereas if I were a man an incident like this probably wouldn’t happen.
My next driver is the type I occasionally come across – one who shows off, who speeds and constantly asks about a boyfriend. “I’ll take you to Sivas”, he says. Sivas is a 300km detour for him. I know what his intentions are, so I get out of the car.
There are mountains separating the Black Sea from Sivas. I hitch to a village called Dereli and stick my thumb out again. I am immediately surrounded by locals. “No car to Sivas”, they say again and again. A family speaks fluent German to me. They say, “NO car to Sivas. You will get stuck in the mountains and it is very cold at night. Come and stay with us”. However, I am stubborn and insist on continuing. After all, all I need is ONE car. The family insists that I go to the police station for help. People always think you are in dire straits if you’re hitchhiking! They never believe you when you tell them that it is your choice! The German-speaking family take photos of me, and then I walk towards the mountains, with daylight fading fast, but with optimism.
A bus pulls up next to me. The locals must have heard about me because the bus driver beckons me on. Once more I explain that I am travelling by hitchhiking and he wants to take me anyway. We reach a mountain town called Şebinkarahisar and the driver tells me that it is not possible to reach Sivas tonight. I admit defeat – it is dark – and ask him if there is a good place to camp. He won’t hear of it, invites me for food (typical Turkish hospitality) and invites me to his home in a small mountain village. Again, I go with my gut instinct, and it pays off. Before long I am being greeted by his wife and four children. I meet his elderly parents and sit with his paralysed sister, who quizzes me about my lifestyle. They give me a beautiful room to sleep in and then put me on a bus the next day – insisting that I do not hitchhike. Suddenly the bus has become my normal mode of transport!
I am humbled, but also uncomfortable, at the generosity of people. There is sometimes a fineline between freeganism and freeloading, and I feel that I am doing the latter lately. It is, however, difficult to convince someone that I can fend for myself, that I want to hitchhike and camp! I also think that I would come across as rude if I turn down invites to dinner, or even to houses! The kindness of Turkish (and Georgian) people never ceases to amaze me.
It is my second time in Sivas, and, with my backpack on, I am obviously not a local! “Tourist!” I hear them say. Children say hello and follow me. A man welcomes me to his city and shakes my hand. A university student wants to practise his English with me. I sit in the sunshine with a big smile on my face and wait for my friend, Ismail, to join me.
Photos of Turkish and Georgian hitchhiking and hospitality: