We kept convoying with The Mongol Way Round Team all the way to Georgia (the country, not the state). While the border crossing had a long queue, it was quite simple and painless.
We were expecting to pay over 160 Liras (about $80) in fines because we crossed various tolls without paying them, but they didn’t ask us for anything as they checked our car out of the country.
If we thought Turkish drivers were bad, Georgians were way worse, and so were their roads. As soon as we crossed the border, we noticed the difference: potholes everywhere, dogs and people crossing the street at random, and the worst overtakes.
It was dark in the night already, and we were amazed how the roads connecting the major cities with the capital were completely pitch black and only had a single lane for countless kilometers (pretty much all of them).
We drove till 3:30 am or so, until we reached Tbilisi and pulled over a random street and slept till the early morning, when we bid goodbye to The Mongol Way Round, as they continued their way to Azerbaijan.
We didn’t know whether to stay in Georgia or to head straight to Russia. The weather was not that good and we had no idea what to do in the city. After a quick google search, we decided to stay and give it a try. What a good choice it was.
Around Tbilisi we visited The Ruins of the Red Gospel, the remains of what was once the tallest church in the city (destroyed during the Armenian-Georgian conflict); the Narikala Fortress, impressive ruins of a fortress built between the 4th and 17th century; Metekhi Church, one of the oldest medieval churches in the city which still stands proud on a cliff; and a few others.
I seriously enjoyed Tbilisi and at the moment I can say it is a city I would happily return to see more of it. It is pretty cheap too.
The following morning we woke up late (as usual) and finally made our way to the Russian border. This was the most dreaded border for us. During our planning stages, we weren’t able to find accurate information regarding the status of the border. Is it open? Is it closed? Can we cross or is it only Georgians who can’t cross?
Apparently, there’s one of the crossings from Georgia to Russia where you could get arrested if you try to cross it (since it is located in one of those undefined territories between countries).
We never tried that one, of course, and we made sure to use the one heading towards Vladikavkaz, Russia which seemed to be the best of our options. (Upon further information, apparently, the ones who get arrested on the other border are Georgians trying to cross to Russia. But I can’t confirm that information.)
The road to the border was both beautiful and painful. Georgian landscapes look almost unreal. The mountains, even on a rainy day looked almost as if taken out of a Lord of the Rings movie, or New Zealand (if we want a degree of reality).
There were a few fortress ruins on the way up the mountain, like the Ananuri Fortress, as well as a few beautiful scenic spots.
Now, I said it was painful too. Well, the road was the absolute worst one we had driven so far. We had potholes the size of the car (I’m not kidding) that were full of water and deep enough to get the bottom part of the car wet and fuming.
It looked like we were riding an old Soviet road, so it was in huge disrepair if we can say the road still actually existed and we were not just driving on rough gravel.
We finally arrived at the border, but before actually reaching it, we pulled over to the side of the road to hide most of our electronics and important stuff.
We had heard horror stories from other ralliers who were completely robbed by the police (this was in Bulgaria though, which has a police mafia) so we wanted to at least take a precaution in Russia, which has a reputation of crazy, bad policemen.
At 6:28 pm, once everything was hidden, we queued at yet another border crossing and waited till it was our turn. (We spent our time playing cards in the car)
Ar about 7:30 pm we crossed the Georgian immigration to enter no-man’s-land and stayed there for about 1:30 hour until it was our turn to enter the Russian immigration process.
I have to admit this was the scariest border crossing I’ve ever done. It wasn’t bad, but it was terrifying in all senses. You pull your car in the entry building where they have stairs and scaffolds to look over your car, as well as pits to check its underside.
Immigration officials and policemen look at you constantly with penetrating gazes that petrify you. Surprisingly I didn’t see any guns or firearms, so at least our chances of getting shot (as we all imagined) were quite narrow to none.
It was my turn to present my passport to the immigration official. I handed it as usual, but it was not inspected as usual. The official looked at it with the most untrustful face, testing every page to make sure they are not tampered (even the seams), and checking the visa with a magnifying glass to check its not fake.
After a few minutes, I’m allowed to go into the country, but the process is far from over.
Now is the car’s turn to go through customs.
In between processes we had a fun moment, though. When the officer opened the car’s trunk he found our water pistols. He first looked at them suspiciously, but after testing them and seeing they actually shot water, he laughed at it. I think he thought; “these fool westerners”.
Another officer gets Stephen’s passport to double check it. While Stephen might hate it (somewhat), we are “lucky” he has an unusual last name: Schreck. (As in Shrek, the movie)
The officer looked at Stephen and said; Schreck? Seriously?!
Stephen replied with a quick, yes.
And with a big laugh, the officer says, Welcome to Russia.
But, the fun wasn’t over for him. He soon told another guard to check his passport, and as he did he asked, Who’s cat?
Stephen replied, “He’s cat, he’s donkey,” pointing at me and Alex respectively.
They all laughed.
For me, it was a moment of relief in a tense environment.
More paperwork was done and at 11:02 we officially entered Russia and drive all the way till the nearest city to sleep in the car.
We were headed to Moscow, but little did we know that our plan would change drastically in the following 24 hours…
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