6.11.2006

Planes, Buses, and Cars: Istanbul to Batumi, Georgia

Friday night we pulled an all-nighter and took a cab to the Istanbul airport at five in the morning to catch our six o'clock Onus Air flight to Trabzon, Turkey. Word of advice to the frugal traveler, don't buy beer in the Istanbul airport; it cost 14 TYL (about 10 bucks).


The flight went off without a hitch and we landed in Trabzon at about 8. Upon arrival, people started shouting "taxi! taxi! taxi!" at us and we hopped in one. The cabbie took us to the bus station and we bought tickets to the Hopa, Turkey, near the border of Georgia. The sun beat down hot on us in a way I've never felt before as we napped next to the Black Sea. Trabzon is a bit of a dump; it just felt like a city with very little soul, maybe due to the bland architecture and the prevelance of shoddy little shops everywhere.

We got on the four hour bus ride, which proved to be uncomfortable. No worry though, we were excited to enter Georgia. The bus stopped in all the small towns to pick up and drop off people. Eastern Turkey is what one would expect out of a rural area in a fairly poor country, but the towns were flanked by gorgeous hills and the Black Sea. About three and a half hours into the trip, someone hurled a rock at the back of the bus, shattering the rear view window. Naturally, the three of us were sitting in the very back. None of us were hurt, but it was frightening as we discussed whether the rock was thrown because a Turk saw Americans sitting on the bus (we stick out like sore thumbs) or if it was just some rebellious teenager without a cause.

In Hopa, a shady man told us to follow him for a cab, and we did after briefly discussing whether or not he was planning on scamming us. We followed him and found ourselves in a minibus to the border.

The border between Turkey and Georgia is a strange place. It's nestled among beautiful surroundings but there are watchtowers and guards and empty buildings. We proceeded and got stamped to exit Turkey, then we talked to someone else and went through a gate. Walking alonside abandoned buildings circa Soviet times, it started raining and we hurried our way to the next checkpoint. We got in a "line" to have our passports reviewed and stamped; Georgians repeatedly cut us and we eventually figured out that it was every man for himself to try and get to the window. We enlisted Ryan (he's 6'4) and he got to the front with our passports.

Next we entered customs, easily the most hilariously backward step in the whole six point process of crossing the border. There was an x-ray machine that people put their bags through, although it wasn't on and no one was monitoring the screen. People simply shouted at the attendants until they left them through. The entire customs declaration was in Georgian, so we simply walked forward looking confused and mumbling English. The infamous mustached troll woman whom we've read about in other accounts of Turkey-Georgia border crossings was present, but she proved to be quite friendly and completely un troll-like, sans the mustache. She glanced in our bags and welcomed us to Georgia. The whole process took about half an hour and no one asked for bribes, which we were expecting to pay.

A few feet from the border, one can feel the difference between Turkey and Georgia. Turkey is tough to gauge, with its mixture of east and west, but much of the countryside has a very middle eatern feel. Any signs of middle east immediately disappear in Georgia, and one knows they're in a former Soviet state. We sat down in a cluster of cafes and shops and ordered beers and khachapuri, a traditonal Georgian delicacy consisting of bread and cheese. We ordered it because it was the only food Joe knew how to say in Georgian (no one spoke English), and it proved to be absolutely delicious. The waitress was nice and the meal and beers cost less than ten dollars. We waited for Joe's friend George (George from Georgia...har har) to pick us up, and just enjoyed the fact that we were in an amazing place where few Americans have ever been.

After eating and drinking and waiting for about an hour, an argument broke out in the cafe next to ours as a tall, thin, quite visibly drunk man started shouting at four large Russian looking men. They screamed at each other, then stopped and the thin man's wife tried to calm him down by giving him more beer. This was a bad idea. About fifteen minutes later, the thin man started yelling again and one of the fat Russians got up and punched him in the face. He hit him extremely hard, it was probably only the booze that kept the thin man conscious. His wife was hysterically screaming and the fight was coming closer to our table. We moved to the next table with some Georgians who bought us beers and welcomed us to the country. The fat Russian punched the thin man again, and started kicking him in the ribs and the temple. The wife pleaded with the fat man and he eventually stopped as the thin man and his wife stumbled off and went home.

The message was clear, welcome to Georgia! Don't fuck with anyone and you'll be fine.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Jarret said...

Somehow I feel that drunken karaoke would not go over well in Georgia. At least not with Chase shouting slogans...

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Sean said...

Crazy shenanigans as usual. Glad you guys are enjoying yourselves. Do they not have internet in Georgia or is Joe just shacking up with his girl and you two are sitting around with your thumbs up your butts? Where are the new posts!?!?! Cordially yours, Sean

3:38 AM  
Blogger FDSJ said...

Sean,

So harsh! They are enjoying Kindzmarauli and the scenery of Georgia! Or, I am wrong!
Peace.
FD

3:22 PM  
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