The time had come… as great as it was, we had enough of Turkey and it was time to move on. We had eaten so much pide, learned about as much Turkish as we could, suffered through the 5am call-to-prayer warbling so many times, and squandered too much of our savings on overpriced booze. Just over the northeastern border, Georgia began to feel more and more like the promised land; new country, new people, new language, new challenges, and new fun awaited us.
After a quick haircut and a shave, we made our way from Ardeşen along the sea coast towards the border. A great storm had kicked off, and throughout the 45-minute drive rain blasted our little car like water from a firehose. Even the normally bold and reckless Turkish semi-truck drivers had slowed down to a normal pace. The rain made the landscape incredibly beautiful, with lush green foliage covering the black stone of the mountains, and little waterfalls streaming down the cliffs alongside the road. After almost two weeks in semi-arid central Anatolia, it felt like magic.
After going through a few tunnels we hit the border. A cop was parked in front of the queue to go through, and he motioned us to head left into a parking lot full of dolmuş. We followed the car in front of us who drove through the parking lot and continued on, past a 500-metre queue of semi trucks and cars who were also waiting to go through the border. Aiyaiyai, this is going to take all day.
Once we found our place at the end, we parked and joined the group of people who had gone to check out the massive waves the Black Sea was kicking up.
The queue went way faster than we had expected, and soon we were up at the front. There was a car full of guys in front of us, and suddenly all the passengers got out and went into a building on the side of the gate. Mook had read online that passengers and drivers need to go through the border separately… why?? So I got out and followed the dudes in while he stayed in the car.
Inside the building was your typical row of immigration counters, separated by a maze of metal bars where people are supposed to queue up. The concept of queuing doesn’t really exist in many places around the world, though, and this was one of them. There was a crowd of people scrumming at the last two counters, mostly old ladies with bursting Chinese shopping bags flashing their Georgian passports. After some pushing I managed to stretch my arm over the tops of their heads and get my passport close to the window. The immigration officer took it inside and went to work. He frowned, and called me up into his booth. I went through the gate and awkwardly stood at the door of the booth.
“Where is your e-visa?” He motioned at his computer screen, which displayed a form with my name at the top and a bunch of empty boxes. He pointed at one that said “Visa Number”.
Americans can get visa on arrival in Turkey by filling out a form online. I had done so, but when I gave the printout to the dude at the Bulgaria-Turkey border, he had just handed it back and stamped “GIRIŞ” in my passport. I couldn’t remember what I’d done with the paper after that, though I guessed it was in the car.
“Uhh… I have one, I handed it over at the Bulgaristan border but the man didn’t want it and just gave it back. I think it’s in the car…”
“What car? Who are you travelling with? Why aren’t you with them?”
As I explained the situation his frown deepened. He kept my passport while I ran out into the rain to try and find Mook and the car, praying they hadn’t gone through the border yet. Ahead in a long queue of cars I saw little Jagger, ran up and knocked on the window.
I explained the situation to Mook while rifling through the folder where we keep all of our documents. “The immigration guy thinks I entered the country without a visa.” No e-visa in the folder. My feet were soaked and everything felt wet and cold. The line of cars moved forward and I started to panic a little, but as soon as I popped the glovebox a little piece of folded-up paper stared me in the face. E-VISA!
Back inside the immigration hall was blissfully empty except for the two officers in their booth. I ran up to the window and handed the officer the paper, and he called me back into the booth. More questions.
“Why do you have an Uzbekistan visa? Why are you going there? Do you like Uzbekistan people?” Uh…
His tone softened after a while, and he explained that he understood about the e-visa, but had I lost the printout there would have been a problem. He gave me an exit stamp, but before he handed the passport over he had one final question.
“Are you a soldier?” A what?
“A soldier–military.” I understood you the first time, but uh, no, no I’m not.
“Ah, soldiers often have many stamps like this…” He fanned the pages of my passport.
Turkish immigration complete, I headed back out into the rain down a long corridor with purportedly official exchange offices and a run-down duty free shop. Do passengers and drivers really have to go through separately? It seemed pretty ridiculous.
Next stop was Georgian immigration, located inside an oddly-shaped building, down a long hallway full of buckets to catch water as it poured from the ceiling. There were several staffed immigration desks with no queues, so I chose one manned by a trainee who looked like she just wanted to go out for a cigarette break. She smiled as she disinterestedly stamped my passport and wished me a good day.
Back out in the rain, there was a mess of people waiting for busses, taxis trying to pick up fares, cars waiting for their passengers, and stray dogs looking for food. People crowded around dodgy-looking exchange offices nestled beneath bilboards for Georgian casinos. Mook pulled out of customs and immigration about 10 minutes later, and I stuck out my best hitchhiker’s thumb. He opened the passenger door.
“Sorry, no prostitutes.”
Mook reported that the border crossing went really smoothly on his side; the only thing that took time was a friendly Georgian customs official who wanted to check through all my stuff for contraband. “Did you come to Georgia for work? Do you have narcotics? Cocaine?”
Aside from the silly questions it was a smooth border crossing, and much easier than the one into Turkey. We joyfully made our way towards Batumi, down flooded roads and around insane drivers, heading for our oasis of cheap, delicious wine and chacha.