After a short (OK 1 month) sojourn in Greece, I sailed into Bodrum in glorious morning sun. The tips of the masts in the harbour twinkled, the red Turkish flag fluttered in the increasingly stifling breeze, and the castle stood proudly, its Green covered battlements still in good nick. Then I prepared myself for the mammoth hitch: 2000kms to the Georgian border, 2 days left on my visa (really did I need to worry so much? The answer, as it turns out, is no, but how was I to know that? After all, they hadn’t been the most inviting when I arrived in Turkey from Greece).
Anyway, after some crazy rides, which included a detour for breakfast, an 18-year-old driving a monster truck, a van filled with 5 laughing guys who make, and repair power stations, and night-time hitching through Ankara (seriously lesson learned – don’t hitch through Ankara!), I found myself in another world: the Black Sea region of Turkey.
Suddenly I felt like I was in a different country: the mountainside was awash with green, different shades and shapes hanging like jungle land, tea plantations cascading downwards everywhere I looked. The fields were filled with tea pickers in brimmed hats – it was a scene I had seen in a thousand photos…from the other side of the world!
And so, I waved goodbye to turkey and headed for Georgia…
OK that’s a lie. I wanted to simply wave goodbye to Turkey but when I tried to I found myself wedged between so many people, that I felt like I was in the middle of a disaster movie, escaping from some terrible apocalypse. But no, it was simply just the Turks going on holiday in August, combined with the joys of Turkish border control.
There was a crush of people trying to get through the gate – emphasis on the singular use of gate – enough room for one person. Of course this didn’t stop the mad rush to get away, as everybody tried to push their way to the front. Women practically threw their small babies ahead to the front of the crowd, swiftly followed by their (very) extended family, hands linked together, climbing over people, passing bags forwards. “We’re with her” they would shout. “And i have a baby – Its my baby!!!!” came the wailing women. And then there were those who went down the medical route – a couple steadily pushing to the front, the woman swooning and fanning herself, and moaning, carried along by her husband. The fainting trick – oldest in the book. Then of course there were the friends of the policemen, and their various friends and family, who were motioned past us all like VIPs.
I stood squashed against sweating men and women, young and old. The police walked around shouting at people who were trying to jump the queue, every now and then their forceful, increasingly angry voices rising over the din and clamour, to send the miscreants to the back of the line, like naughty schoolchildren in a tuck shop queue. A few minutes later, the same “naughties” had miraculously found themselves once again near the front, weaving (in so far as you can weave in such an environment) themselves through the cracks in between the people.
Eventually after about 2 and a half hours standing in the midday heat in August, my bag on my back, barely able to move, I was motioned through to a set of barriers…where I joined another jostling queue. Another hour later and I was close to the booth to present my passport to the surprisingly smiling policeman. Meanwhile the Turks pushed, screamed and still tried to jump the queue.
I struck up a conversation with a Georgian. “It’s not like this in Georgia, just wait and see”.
Through the no-mans land which exists in every border crossing, into a corridor lined with stunning visuals of Georgia, and…
It was exactly the same on the other side!
I entered a hall for Georgian passport control, 6 desks, and the same crush. Another fainting lady squeezed past pulling her husband, men passed babies and pushchairs forwards, and women carrying babies (or children if they were still young enough) explained how they needed to get out. “Different, eh?” I say to my new Georgian buddy. He just looks at me and shrugs.
OK, a new tactic: with my bag on my back, I planted my feet and staunchly refused to move, blocking all. I decided if they wanted to push, let them. I was going to have a little breathing space in front of me. Somehow, of course, this meant that the scrum to my right saw a gap and made a mad rush towards the try line, jumping over the barriers to get in front of me. I saw a policeman, looking at the crowd in bewilderment, hold up his hands, shrug, and leave.
Even as I stood in front of the Georgian passport control desk, Turkish hands pushed their passports and identity cards forwards, in front of me towards the glass screen of the policeman’s booth.
But eventually I was motioned through, and turned one last time to look back on the chaos of 5 hours(!!!).
Note to self (and anyone else who may find themselves in a similar position)…never try to cross the Black Sea border between Turkey and Georgia in Summertime!
Gule Gule Turkey, gamarjoba Georgia.
What’s new in this country? Time to go explore, see a different place, and put myself once again outside the comfort zone.
The mountains are calling me…