After the typical Turkish hotel breakfast (gotta love it; hard to fail with olives, cheese and tea) we set a straight course eastwards. We had heard evil rumors about the road quality in eastern Turkey, but the road from Samsun up to the Georgian border at Sarpi turned out to be in absolutely excellent condition and on top of that, maybe thanks to the auspicious combination of both Sunday and Ramadan, there was remarkably little traffic. So we made good way, squeezed in a lunch stop with the Turkish grilled meats we enjoy so much, and arrived at the border crossing already in the afternoon. At the border, we caught up with the unidentified British team in a Nissan Micra who (beautifully coincidentally) ended up being the car right in front of us in the line waiting to be allowed to cross the border. Our paperwork did, however, take longer than theirs so they drove off into Georgia before we got a chance to find out who they were. (To the unidentified British team: If you read this, please send us a message.)
At the border crossing, the Turkish emigration officers were both friendly and funny, asking curious questions about our ambulance and the Mongol Rally. Their counterparts on the other side of the border, the Georgian immigration officers, were equally friendly and funny (making jokes about other teams in the rally not standing a chance) and at the same time showed an impressive thoroughness and professionalism in how they handled our paperwork. All in all, it took quite some time before all vehicle documents were read and verified, all team members photographed, all passports stamped, etc., etc., but none of the horror stories we’d previously heard about this border crossing turned out to be applicable to us.
With a smile and a wave we were thus allowed to drive into Georgia. For many years now, I have longed to visit this country; it’s name bringing images of lush mountain slopes, dotted with rich vineyards and ancient monasteries, to my mind; and there was no disappointment. Already directly at the border, the mountain slopes throwing themselves into the Black Sea provided a scenery that I can best describe as trying to imagine Lago di Como but enlarged ten times.
Shortly thereafter, on our way northwards along the coast, we drove through the city of Batumi, an almost surreal display of the new-found wealth of modern Georgia. Here old Soviet era cars, side-by-side with ridiculously expensive brand new imported cars, drove past not only innumerable herds of cows roaming the streets but also absolutely incredible recently finished and construction sites of modern architecture. The contrasts were beyond belief. To bring back my old images of Georgia, we did however not have to do more than exiting the city on the road northwards to see the first vines growing on the mountain slopes and the first monastery perched at a mountain top. Driving further north, we also passed by the ruins of Petra (but unfortunately, one major limitation of travelling like this is that it’s impossible to stay and visit every interesting place along the way).
Tonight’s rest we’re spending in Kutaisi, at the Old Town hotel where we checked into a penthouse suite that’s probably likely to make all other Mongol Rally participants resent us forever. To get something to eat and drink after a long day of travelling and before going to sleep, we went down around the corner of the hotel, where we met Sergio; cook, historian, political commentator, rock music connoisseur, father and all-around great guy; born and raised in Georgia by a Georgian father and a Bulgarian mother, with a history all over the western half the former Soviet Union but also working as a cook in Georgian restaurants in London. He cooked us some excellent food of his own recipes, and gave us the crash course on Georgian language, Georgian history, the importance of rock music, and the Russian expression Идиотский велосипед, apparently immensely useful in describing Georgian politics.
|In the photo: Sergio and Rico. Not in the photo: Liberal amounts of Georgian beer.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue driving eastwards, visiting the birthplace of იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი on the way and then finally reaching Tbilisi.