Ghosts & Illusions in Abkhazia (Part 2 of the Adventure)

We really got the feeling we were being watched during our time there; from men in cars who seemed a little out of place, to one sitting at the other end of the restaurant to us with no food at any time while we were there, looking in our direction, but not daring to catch our eye.

There was an atmosphere in Abkhazia which echoed the not-so-distant Soviet times. People seemed to be ever so slightly afraid, and it was as if they had been told not to talk to tourists about anything to do with the Georgian conflict. The convenient gap in memory was apparent in everyone we talked to. The first man we talked to was a taxi driver. We asked him to tell us what happened in the early 90's. He pretended to have no recollection of Russian-backed troops murdering and forcing out hundreds of thousands of Georgians. It was as if it was just a normal day.

One man, a Government Official, took a liking to our female Lithuanian friend. He took us out a few times and kept trying to get me and my Hungarian friend away so he could have her to himself. We felt like bodyguards. She tried to squeeze something out of him (not in that way), but even her powers of female persuasion couldn’t break the secrecy.

But I think that it was he who was trying to get information out of us. We must’ve aroused suspicion when my Hungarian friend and I spoke English in front of him, naively assuming he couldn’t understand us. We used such words as ‘journalist’ and ‘article,’ with ‘Abkhazia’ and ‘Georgia’ in the same sentences. The next day he took us to visit a church, where we met a ‘Priest’. He spoke English surprisingly well, and with his friendly charm, lured us into a sense of relaxation. Out of nowhere, he looked invasively into my eyes, freezing me in place as if he were physically holding me there, and asked “are you a journalist?”

I have only ever experienced this look in someone’s eyes once before in my life, when I crossed the border into Russia and was questioned in a taxi by, what I am certain was an undercover FSB agent. It was overwhelming and the shock of being asked such a question, which I could tell he had been previously informed about, caught me off-guard, and I think I gave away that he was right. I don’t know if we succeeded in convincing him otherwise, or whether he just didn’t see us as a threat, but we managed to avoid further questioning during our time in Abkhazia.

It’s no wonder we attracted attention, because we weren’t behaving like ordinary tourists. Stepping inside the burnt-out government building on ‘Freedom Square’, we felt like we were entering the set of a zombie film; we half-anxiously entered each room, worrying about what could jump out from the corner. Ivy and other plant life had claimed the structure, just as the Abkhaz and Russian forces had done to the region.

Underground, we found what we believed to be a Soviet interrogation room. It was ever-so-slightly too small and contained a basic table and a chair with two back legs missing. If you believe in ghosts, then there were definitely some in there with us; the temperature dropped, and the air got heavy as we explored the lower floors. The eerie silence seemed to allow cries of the past to be heard.

One final thing we had to do before leaving was get the “visa.” To do this, we had to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sukhumi with our invitation letter, wait 15 minutes while they pretended to do something in the office, and pay the equivalent to 10 GEL each. We were handed a piece of paper which was so cheaply-produced that some of the words were slightly slanted. It looked like someone had gone to the effort of forging an official document but had done so poorly. We laughed about it and slipped them into our passports to keep as a souvenir, but they wouldn’t let us cross the border back with them, making it feel like more of a ticket to an amusement park than permission to visit a country.

By Tom Day

Tom is a Writer and Adventurer, and is currently hitchhiking his way around the world. Follow his progress at

22 February 2018 19:45