If there is a lesson from this blog post its that, when it comes down to it, you really should say what you mean, even if you think you might look stupid….
(Oh and the cover photo is actually of the Black Sea a few km’s away from Batumi at the Turkish Georgian Border)
Georgia was never on my original travel plan. My route was only taking me through here and Azerbaijan because, as a UK citizen, I was no longer able to get a Visa for independent travel in Iran. It is therefore fair to say that I was rather disgruntled to discover when arriving in Batumi, just across the Georgian-Turkish border, that the Azeri Consulate there, famed for being the easiest most straight forward place to get an Azeri Visa, was no longer issuing any Visa’s, with the previous obliging Consular official seemingly having been “moved on”. So I was left to consider what my next Visa move would be and what I was now going to spend my time doing in Batumi.
There isn’t a great deal going on for travellers in what has been referred to as the “Blackpool of the Black Sea.” The town caters largely to ex-Soviet Union/Eastern Bloc citizens keen for some sun by the Black Sea, with our hostel playing host to Poles, Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians amongst others. It has a pebble beach though, lined with new buildings and construction work (some of which appeared to have halted) and these were at least blessed with “interesting architecture” (one sky-scraper type building had a ferris wheel attached to it…) and with the mercury pushing past 30 degrees centigrade a swim at this beach seemed like a good idea….
I went down to the beach with two Australian backpackers I had met at the hostel, called Chris and Brent who were doing similar travel routes to myself. Having amused ourselves taking photos next to a giant pair of shoes we wandered down to find a spot on the beach. Chris decided to remain on the beach to try to even out his farmers tan (I was very happy to know it’s not just me with this problem) whilst myself and Brett ventured out into the sea. There was almost no one else in the sea, which seemed a bit strange (the beach itself was quite full) perhaps because the water was not as warm as the temperature outside it suggested it might be, but it seemed nice enough for a swim, although the relatively calm water seemed to hide quite a strong current pulling you south along the beach. It was also noticeable that once in the sea the beach fell away remarkably quickly making it too deep to stand less than 2 meters away from the shore.
After about 15 minutes of aimless swimming around, we started to get bored and decided that a quick swim to a nearby buoy about 20m away and we would call it quits. I am not the worlds strongest swimmer, but I’d be happy enough swimming around so far, and even I knew I could manage 20 meters there and back. Or so I thought…
The swim to the buoy went without incident, but I was barely into the return leg when the roll of a passing wave caught me off guard and I ended up swallowing a mouthful of water. Before I was able to think and maybe as a consequence of not swimming in the sea that often, I found my reflex reaction was to try to stand up, which obviously was impossible given the steep angle of the beach and it is fair to say this made the situation rather worse. My stroke and rhythm now completely destroyed and rather breathless, I attempted to do what seemed to be the most logical and sensible move, which was give myself a chance to recover my composure by switching to backstroke. I was just starting to wonder if I was actually making any progress towards the shore when my thoughts were interrupted by another wave rolling over my face as I was trying to breathe. Abandoning the backstroke I found that I had actually be heading quite happily towards the shore, if a little slowly, but it was still close to 10 meters away and the continual swallowing of water, and lack of breathing was starting to take rather a severe effect on my energy levels and ability to swim much further. Starting to panic a little, I struggled forward with a few strokes of front crawl, deciding that I needed to get to land rather quicker than my backstroke would allow, before coming to the conclusion that in all seriousness, I now needed help.
If you find yourself in a similar situation where you start to believe your life might seriously be at risk if you do not get help, can I thoroughly recommend you just resort to shouting “help!” It is an unambiguous term, and in the context of someone saying it in the sea is likely to illicit a quick response from any nearby wannabe Bay Watch hero. Don’t try to muddy this message, however English and reserved you may be and however much you might not want to create a fuss. This would not be wise. It was however what I ended up doing. There was something so pathetic about having to require help to swim to a shore that barely seemed ten meters away that instead of calling my fellow swimmer Brent, or indeed anyone for “Help!” I came out instead with;
“Er….do you think you could lend me a hand?”
The response back of “what?” suggested he hadn’t properly heard me so I repeated myself again, before trying to set off again. A glance over towards my Antipodean friend revealed he was back to swimming on happily to shore whilst his fellow Australian, Chris remained sat, unmoved, on the beach. I remember thinking “bugger” and that this seemed to be rather a ridiculously stupid way to drown but that I seemed to be dangerously close to doing it. I don’t quite recall the next few moments but I obviously managed to push forward with what was now a very feeble and pitiable attempt at front crawl using up about all the strength I seemed to have left, before finally, almost giving up, I found I was close enough to land to put my feet down. I eventually staggered towards the shore, trying to catch my breath and get up the beach to my friends without making it too obvious I was basically close to collapse, before then pretty much collapsing next to them anyway, sitting with my head between my knees vomiting for next 10 minutes.
It transpired that thanks to my stupid choice of words my Aussie swimmer Brent had no idea I was in trouble and instead was rather confused about why I was asking if he had “had a stamp“. He stated it wasn’t until he got out of the water and saw me collapse out of the sea that it occurred to him what I must have actually said. Chris on the other hand, who had remained on the beach, apparently had heard what I said, even if he had made no attempt to move or respond to it. When pushed, he did assure me that having heard me, he did decide to keep an eye on me and that, had I fallen beneath the waves and not resurfaced, he had resolved to come to my aid, even if it had meant getting wet. Feeling as I was, exhausted and very, very sick I felt rather unable to suggest that it might be better in future to rescue someone before they had actually disappeared beneath the waves for a final time. The Australians then went for an ice-cream whilst I staggered back to the hostel for a lie down and a re-evaluation of my policy towards water, vis-a-vi me being in it.
The next day I headed off to Mestia, in northern Georgia, well inland and over a 1,000 meters above sea level. No more swimming for a while for me…