By Brianna 18/November/16 Georgia
All land borders were not created equal. Some are sketchy. Some are slow. Some like to make you feel as if you are being extradited. And some just make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Our crossing, taking us from Trabzon, Turkey, to Batumi, Georgia, fell into the second and last categories. We spent a long night confused and frustrated but, lucky for you guys, we lived to tell the tale...
The cliche goes that meaning is often found in what you don't say. With that in mind, Alex left Trabzon with an excellent haircut styled by a very professional Turkish barber (Cheddar also got his whiskers trimmed) and I left with a long skirt bought to spare men the trouble of staring at my short-clad legs. As a hostel friend who'd been here a little bit too long put it, 'It's like I went on holiday to Yorkshire and spent all my time in Huddersfield'. Fortunately, we only had 24 hours to kill. 24 hours to stuff ourselves with as much Turkish food as we could physically eat before boarding the bus to Georgia.
It was disappointing to be moving on from such a hospitable, diverse and delicious country so quickly, but a part of us was relieved. Although most of our favourite Turkish moments were indirectly due to the mass exodus of tourists this summer, it was a shame to see how the media and volatile political situation had negatively impacted the everyday life of so many people, socially and economically. Even happy occasions, such as flags raging across the nation for Victory day, were very subdued and made tense by the onslaught of security in major areas. If you cope well with feeling a bit on edge then it's still worth a trip. For us, 10 days seemed like a nice compromise.
Getting from one country to another overland can have its issues. You always need to have an idea of what you're getting yourself in for before you get there. This one, however, appeared uncharacteristically straightforward. It didn't involve having to find a taxi to get us across (Romania - Bulgaria) or being questioned about our allegiance with Armenia (Georgia - Azerbaijan) or destroying our pain medication on a 25hr train full of smugglers (Kazakhstan - Uzbekistan). It was barely 100km to Batumi, our first Georgian destination. We laugh in the face of 100km journeys. Ha. Our cocky attitude was still in force when we reached the border town a couple of hours late. Our fellow passengers were not so easygoing. Agitated, they hovered in the aisles as people do while taxiing after a long flight. They threw themselves off the bus, collected all their luggage and raced to passport control. There were men everywhere shouting at us in languages we didn't understand but we gathered we should just do as everybody else had already done and trot quasimodo style behind them under the weight of our massive bags.
We are now in India, so our British idealisms of queue etiquette went out of the window a long time ago. Officially leaving Turkey, however, was the first of many pointless shoving, pushing in and raised voice experiences. We could not understand what the rush was about. The whole process, including a good 1.5km walk between border posts and a thorough questioning on the Georgian side, took about 30mins. The quickest land border we'd been through east of the UK. Despite this, because it was getting on for midnight and raining by the time we got through to the coach pick up point we went into panic mode. Maybe everybody was in a rush because the coach leaves without you if you don't get through in time! We searched desperately, squinting through the water to see if our suspicions were correct. A few familiar faces seemed to be heading in a similar direction so we stalked them to a waiting area. And we fulfilled the purpose of the area dutifully. Time went by. So slowly. 90 minutes later, our patience was running on steam so we went in search for answers.
We didn't find any answers. But we did find biscuits. A family from our bus with so much luggage that I can only assume they were moving house approached us with bad news and some malted milks to soften the blow. The bus could be here in 5 minutes. It could be 5 hours. Who knew? They seemed to think the whole thing was hilarious. We had lost our senses of humour 2 hours ago.
'Bri, stop being a fool. We've wasted enough time, let's just get a taxi. It can't be more expensive than my counselling bills will be if I spend another minute here.'
For once, Cheddar was actually chatting sense. But his stubborn travel compadres were determined to wait it out after already spending the majority of the night grumpy and damp, stood in a car park in the middle of nowhere. At some time after 3am, the bus made it through the truck queues, which seemed to resemble those we had experienced at the border. We were relieved. For about 10 minutes. When the bus stopped again. This time it was so everybody else on the coach could smoke a few cigarettes, buy some ice creams and exchange some money. For another half an hour we sat there fuming a mere 10 minutes from our destination while the others around us gossiped, sang and danced the night away. Georgia was going to be a fun place. But not tonight. Tonight it was hell on earth.
It turned out that Batumi wasn't even 20km from the border. Cheddar was right, we were fools. 20km in 6+ hours. Thankfully, our Airbnb was surprisingly easy to find and our lovely host was not in the least bit angry that we had arrived at such an awful time. We had heard mixed reviews about this black sea town but we actually found it quite charming. We swam, wandered around pretty, green spaces and ate at a great restaurant. Our waiter even corrected our order from the vegetarian Khinkali (peach-sized dumplings) to the meat variety ('vegetarian no good, meat much better') and brought us some delicious badrijani (walnut pesto spread over aubergine slices). The main reason we were here, however, was to get visas for Azerbaijan. If you're interested in how that process works, check out our No. 1 visa correspondent's TripAdvisor report here.
It was a long night. Followed by a long day of visa hunting. Overland travel can be tiresome and sometimes it feels like you waste precious travel days recovering from long stints on questionable public transport. But it does have its perks. By just driving 100km, you can see how quickly a world can change from the fragrant spices and minaret filled skylines of Turkey to Georgia - where the food is hearty, the hearts are warm and the script is as beautiful as it is indecipherable to the rest of the world. It's never predictable, but it has got a lot more character than your average flight. So despite hating it for a good 24hr period, we were happy to continue our journey on the nation's No.1 form of transport: marshrukta (if you went to state school, think of it as your school minibus) from the black sea to the mountains of Svaneti.
Well, friends that's my rant over. Until next time!