The aid convoy set out slowly, soon leaving Kutaisi beyond the rear vision. The rural countryside took on a different nature, the rolling floodplain of the Rioni River giving way to more hilly landscape, each rise and fall creating tremendous variation in the convoy’s speed so that Konrad’s mind worked overtime constantly re-estimating and re-guesstimating their arrival. Herb too found his laptop’s communication with the outside world increasingly sketchy, until finally in frustration he decided to quit until they stopped, when he could use the satellite router again. Alan’s GPS unit periodically protested its isolation, and some of the truck drivers and Martine found their phone conversations dropping out.
Larger mountains could be seen east and west but ahead of them and gradually looming the Caucasus Mountains dominated everything, intimidating the entire living landscape. A radio station or two found its way between the hills and along the Kutaisi-Tkibuli-Ambrolauri Highway as it followed the Tskaltsitela, the Mtis Chala and then the Tkibula Rivers, inspiring a variety of views among the truck drivers. The one Herb had chosen for company cursed the Rusebi for meddling in Georgian affairs. Others like Gvantsa blamed the Georgian government for the current crisis – what do Mingrelians care if South Ossetians want some independence fromTbilisi?
At Tkibuli Gvantsa phoned Vaja in the truck ahead who was only too willing when Alan suggested a quick stop. The other side of Tkibuli was the first of the really great climbs the trucks would have to do. Vaja chose a well known truck stop and while others ruminated over coffee and fried breakfasts he was desperate to look over the older trucks, quizzing a driver on movements of the temperature gage. All seemed to be holding up.