Note to readers: You should read the previous blog “Tbilisi – Georgia” before this one.
We set off from our little courtyard apartment in the still dark hours of the morning our head lamps illuminating our way along the rough street with crooked curbs, open manholes and dog poo. We hop on the metro, using the last ride on our tap and go card, ride in the correct direction, and miraculously emerge right beside the train station. Our train arrives on time. It’s a double decker and we have seats on the top deck. Our two seats face two other seats. A man sits in the one opposite Pat and keeps his feet to himself. A woman sits opposite me and decides she should remove her shoes and put her smelly feet on the edge of my seat. The trip is about five hours long. Every once in a while I fish something from my pack or put something back in, this requiring her to move her damn feet. She did not take the hint. I debate returning the favour but just couldn’t bring myself to be as rude.
We arrived in Batumi on time. The city is advertised as a show piece. Well the train station is not. It is in fact closed. There were taxi touts practically clambering onto the train with their shouted refrain, “taxi, taxi, taxi.” Each time shouted louder and closer to our faces than the previous. It is a constant here and just needs to be ignored. We shoved our way through the worst of them and accepted a ride from a less obnoxious driver who spoke a bit of English. “Bus station,” we say.
“Airport?” he asks.
“No bus station,” we repeat.
“Hotel?” he tries.
“No bus station,” we insist.
“New bus station?” he suggests.
“There are two?” This in unison. We only knew of one.
“New bus station?” he repeats.
“Sure. Yes,” we decide. It seems like a good place to start.
So we get a drive about two kms to a new bus station which is just as lively as the closed train station. We had by this time realized our mistake in changing the time of our 00:30 10 No bus ticket to the 17:00 hrs 9 Nov bus. You have realized our error too haven’t you? (If not you will soon enough.)
We ask at a couple of kiosks in the nearly deserted station to see if anyone can give us any info. They can’t. Nor are they interested in trying to find someone who can. We are used to an often unhelpful attitude at bus stations so take this in stride. We find out there is an even earlier bus departing shortly, at 14:30 hrs. If we get this bus, we reason, then get held up at the border, we will be able to catch the 17:00 hrs bus. (We’ve already been told it’s impossible to cancel the tickets.) What clever travellers we are. We buy tickets for the 14:30 hrs bus and once the tickets have been issued – they are small scraps of paper – the woman tells us the bus will come at 15:15. When we point out the 45 min difference she shrugs. Traffic is blamed. At 15:15 there is still no bus. At 15:20 another woman arrives and we are to follow her. We do and get on a local mini bus. The other woman pays our fare and we go to a spot on the road by a restaurant. The woman indicates that in 5 mins the bus will come. Ten minutes later she shows us that it will come in 7 minutes. The charade goes on for over an hour. At 16:45 a bus roars up the road and slams on its breaks. We are to jump on. We indicate our big packs have to go under. A man jumps off the bus, opens the cargo hold and we toss our packs in, we hug the lady, and climb on the bus which is already rolling. It is packed except for our two seats.
About two hours later we have cleared through Georgia customs and are in the zone between countries. We are approached by a boy of about ten asking if we can help him, concerned, we ask what he needs. His hijab wearing mother shows us her bulging bag of booze. She wants us to help her smuggle some across the border. You know that devout Muslims don’t drink alcohol right? Does anyone see the various hypocrisies here? Needless to say we decline her request.
We approach the Turkish immigration desk, hand over our passports and Visas and wait. Of course we are five hours too early, so of course it is impossible to enter Turkey. No amount of persuasion works. We show him our bus tickets. We wave pathetically to the bus purser who scowls back.
There is nothing to do except buy new Turkish Visas. Despite what the various websites say. This is easily done at the border if you have enough USD or Euros.
“What about Turkish Lira?” we ask.
“Turkish Lira, no. USD or Euro,” we are told.
“We aren’t American. We’re visiting Turkey. We have Turkish Lira,” we boldly counter. We aren’t really in a position to argue but…. The customs guy cracks a smile and we remain firm on the subject of the appropriate currency to be used for this transaction.
Truth be told we do both have a precious stack of USD but it’s the outrage that every freaking country we’ve visited wants the bloody things more than their own currency. Where is their national pride?
We are very soon buying our new Visas with Turkish Lira.
Despite the delay, we are among the first people back on the bus because we didn’t have masses of cigarettes and bottles of booze to declare.
We continue the drive south and at about 22:30 hrs the bus comes to a grinding halt on the road. The purser comes and tells us we are to get off. There is no bus station in sight. We remind the driver that we have our packs to retrieve, he’s sorely upset to have to climb out of his seat, flip on a light in the underbelly and help us dig our bags out from piles of duty free shopping. We are left at the side of the road.
We get out our IPads, open our wonderful Pocket Earth app and see that miraculously we are about 500 metres away from our hotel. A convenient pedestrian overpass presents itself and within 15 mins we are in our lovely room in a very nice hotel.
We are in bed within moments, another ridiculous adventure to add to the growing stack of odd stories of our journey along the fabled Silk Road.