Ship ‘Till you Drip


Imagine,” I suggested, “a cat pulling a cow. This cat is strong enough to do the job. Or remember from your days on the big ship- did you ever see a tiny tugboat leading a massive vessel a hundred or more times its size? This is that for grounded planes.”

We were watching a small, flattish and very specialized vehicle connect to the nose wheel of an airplane which would have obliterated it utterly if it had landed on it. But the little car was strong enough to seemingly effortlessly maneuver the huge plane into position to move to its takeoff strip, somewhere else on the layout of the large Istanbul Ataturk Airport which was currently hosting my wife and me between flights. The “land tug” was even electric, and seemed even more the strong, silent type as a result, hiding huge muscle in its compact form.

We had a few hours to kill en route to Toronto and from there to fabulous Cancun, Mexico, where a week of sun waited to help us forget Svaneti’s ongoing snow, thick enough that lower layers of it were compressed by the weight into solid slabs of ship-sinking, pickaxe-taunting ice. A briefly quiet, unused flight waiting room soon filled with Jeddah at one end and Minsk at the other, and between them a group of Chinese who were quite content to blare at each other from a couple of feet’s distance as if all were deaf. But at least there were empty seats together for the two of us.

Eventually, a couple of the Asian men wandered closer to me, and one of them pointed to his cell phone. He tried to speak the English translation of his question, but his pronunciation was rather a struggle, so I read it myself. “Are there any extra seats on this flight?” I answered, “Which flight?” and we proceeded from there via the clever translating software. It turned out that he and his friends were bound for… Nouchakott? Noukachott? I’ll have to look up the spelling of that African capital and also refresh myself as to which country it belongs to. I told them I had no idea, unsure even if they were hoping for standby.

“Are you resting here?” was their next question, to which I typed out that we were on holiday from Georgia. Where was that, they asked? Did they know Stalin? Yes, apparently. Well, his home country. Capital being Atlanta? No, no, I assured them, just next to Turkey, where we are now. I think they got it. And what were they doing? Shopping, they replied. Er, no, they changed it to shipping; one was captain, another first mate, of a fishing vessel, with a crew of seven Chinese and a lot of Africans. My wife and I, as it turned out, would be the shoppers at the moment. But the Asians could make about $86,000 in two years, and then go back home and support their families with this bounty. The first mate had twin girls and confessed that being away from his family for two years was quite hard, but hopefully it would be worth it. Ah, shipping and THEN shopping, I said. Indeed.

Next flight, as one of over 400 guests, would be the first for me on which Wi-Fi was advertised on board, my last flight having been about a year and a half ago. The first, too, on which I received an entrée dish which wasn’t on the menu at all, let alone being the other available choice. It was tasty enough that I let it go, although mystified at its appearance. The headphones had been updated from in-ear ones, which have always failed to impress me, to simple but much more effective ear-covering ones. I expect that next time around, Turkish Airways will have active noise cancellation of everything you don’t want or need to hear built in too, so far are they surging ahead!

So, rather a surreal start to this holiday. From such beginnings, how can Cancun’s main event fail to be amazing? Soon all will be revealed.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1800 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

05 April 2018 17:54