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Overlanding the borders – A day in the life

Overlanding the border- An introduction.

This blog is a true to time post about my day spent on the border post of Sarpi, tucked between Turkey and Georgia. It’s a slightly different format to my last blogs, but that’s because I typed it up on my phone at the border. So there’s a mix of tenses in there – but I wrote everything as it happened, while it happened. Those overlanding who have been stuck at border crossings will understand the feeling. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Overlanding the border – The day before.

I sit in the back of my cab, listening to the cha cha fueled conversation in polish. I’m actually in Batumi, Georgia, but am well acclimated to hearing poles exchange words in the Georgian coastal city.

I’ve been here a week, a long week, again more trouble with the bike, the weather was just freakishly horrible and I did nothing more then play a pokemon rom while I waited the shitty weather out. I wanted to leave yesterday. But hey, shit happens, freak storms happen, poor quality fuel happens too.

A quarter bottle of fuel cleaner, some 95% ethanol and 2 days later, I’ve made my way back on the road. Geez, what a total crap run its been this last month – well nothing else could go wrong enough now to bother me so theres the plus side! On we go to the next adventure over the border to Turkey.

Overlanding the border – the border zone

Border crossings have been relatively easy thus far, excluding Armenia where the old soviet regime seems to have stuck. Today, I have now broken my record wait time for mucking about at a border… I spent 2 hours waiting at the Georgian side 20km outside Batumi.

‘Ok’ I thought, maybe they’ll have this resolved sometime soon. As usual, Georgian service was non-existent at the border cafes, so I gave it up as a bad job and returned to my bike, munching down a banana on the way… 2.5 hours later, I managed to ride 100 metres through the Georgian border control at Sarpi, only to be stopped at the Turkish border.

‘We are only accepting Turkish people. Everyone else must wait’.

I tried to sweetly persuading the turkish bloke, flashing a grin and making a joke, but like everyone else before me, failed. Maybe flirting will work? 2 hours later I was still in the same spot, smoking a cigarette and no one had crossed into Turkey except the Turks. So this gave me the time to wonder why the sky was blue and change my route for the umpteenth time this trip.

I was in another ‘hurry up and wait’ situation. 5 hours had passed and I had managed a rather incredulous 100 metres. Now was a better time then ever to play pokemon while I patiently waited for the turkish systems to go back online. After retreating from the masses, I found a nice little corner, and got going on the search for pokemon. Gotta catch ’em all!

Overlanding the border – when the hours dwindle

The hours dwindled by…

5 hours…

6 hours…

Ah come on, somethings gotta give…

While the great wait of mankind continued, every Georgian came over to stare at Trumpet, completely ignoring me. “Yeah don’t mind me guys, I’ll just pretend to be part of the road” I thought. Maybe I’ll become a chameleon human if I try hard enough. No Dutchie, thats just stupid.

I did manage to have a nice conversation with a guy from Azerbaijan – he was selling his hayabusa to get a trail bike to ride to europe on. He was a cool dude. The local police came and investigated when I began some WD40 maitenance on the bike, demanding to see the can, standing over me while I tightened up the bashplate. Everyone else was content just staring at me. Suit yourselves.

Oh look, I’m not the only foreigner here anymore – an Estonian family in a shiny nissan had arrived. The local posh dog came and barked at them for 20 minues while everyone just looked on. Finally the weight of the curious looks were averted off me for a short period.

A shifty stooge wondered over and tried to open my panniers. He saw me looking and shiftily walked off, head down and figurative tail tucked between his legs. Touch my bike again and we might be doing more then exchanging lazy glances mate. Not sure what the cleaner was doing on his sweeper cart – he definetly wasn’t sweeping up anything. There was more dust left behind then there was picked up. Probably killing the boredom of the nothingness happening.

Georgian border guards wandered over to me solemnly shaking their heads in pity, while I just giggled over the silliness of it all. They returned the giggles with smirks, and remarked I should remove the turkish sticker from my pannier. It suddenly seemed like there was more customs staff then travellers here. Funny kind of adventure today’s been.

7 hours…

My thoughts were now processing every little thing.

Oh look there’s some rain clouds. Hang on… they are headed this way. Well that’s something new. They look alot less daunting then that machine gun resting on that georgian blokes lap over there. “Ah, I cannot dial out to your daughter for you as I have no mobile service” I told an old lady with 5 bags all bigger then her. I wonder why there’s no cars over the other side of the border.

8 hours…

Some older Georgian blokes wander over to ask where I’m from and what I’m doing. Through the translation of a young fella, I manage to get a piece of my story across. Several of the usual questions follow. Then I start wondering whether I should pitch a tent. And food. What will I do about food? Ah, I’m fat enough, I can do without the extra pounds. Maybe another snickers bar will cover dinner. Hope those rain clouds stave themselves off a little longer.

Things are looking a little more desperate now. Hoods are up, and people are doubled over trying to get some kind of shut-eye. Leaning agaisnt fences, faces are looking miserable and tired. Some of these people have been here longer then me! With no transport! Gee I’m lucky… I need to wee again so I might go for the exciting 100 metre walk to the rank, piss smelling, danky dunnies.

Overlanding the border – Back from the dunny

I had a good wee at the dunny. There’s alot more turks wandering across the border then there was a while ago, small human chains of them are wondering through. Still no progress on crossing for foreigners except Azerbaijani’s. The turks are all busy arguing, shouting and beeping at each other to get across the border. Seems pretty standard from the last time I was overlanding in Turkey.

It’s getting dark now, luckily there’s no wind, it’s already getting somewhat nippy. I’ll give it another few hours and might contemplate putting up the tent if I’m still sitting as still as dried banana. The estonians still haven’t left their car. Their ultra friendly dog is back yapping at them again. Maybe they’ve fallen asleep. Wish that yappy dog would too.

Makes me think about that cute puppy I met in the street yesterday, who was basically just a rag doll. He was bloody excited to see me again yesterday though! I bought him a few sausages to eat but the poor bugger was barely strong enough to eat them. Sadly, Tomek wouldn’t let me bring him back to the hostel. I looked for him this morning to take him along on the ride back home, but he wasn’t around. Hope he’s doing ok, wherever he is now.

Overlanding the border – Not the worse place I’ve been

All things considered it’s been an interesting day. A new experience is always welcome (well, in 95% of cases). I’m lucky in that sense. Lots of weird people around to entertain me. Pretended to get busy with the bike for a bit, even if I know bugger all about fixing things. It’s bloody wonderful not having to race somewhere for once. With no relative deadlines, I’m not in particular rush to get places. Feels great.

The Turkish border pedestrian gate is looking very abandoned without the large number of Georgians that were present this morning. Don’t know where they’ve all gone, but they aren’t here. There’s definetly no possiblitiy of turning around to go back to Batumi for one night – I need a turkish set of stamps to get back in. I wonder whats going to happen next?

Ooopaaa, there’s another self righteous shouting match happening just to the right of me. A mini bus and tiny ford are disagreeing about their positions in the border line. The bus driver seems pretty animated – kind of looks like those hairless dogs you see with those huge bulging eyes. He doesn’t seem to be having the best of days. Their argument draws the attention of the sparse few people standing around. The Estonians are awake now, barely by the looks of things though.

Progress has stopped for everyone now. The whole line is backed up to the Georgian customs house. Everyone’s engines are switched off. Wish someone was making tea, I’d really love a good chai tea right now – ah shit, left my bloody teabags back in Tbilisi. A cigarette will have to do for now.

Asked the border guard to borrow his lighter. He was a real character – he said yes, and then ignored me, made a phone call, finished his phone call, flicked through this phone, mumbled something undiscernible, flicked through his phone again, lit my cigarette and looked the other way. You’d think lighter gas was a rare commodity in these parts. Politeness seems to be non existent.

The Georgian border guards are all getting a bit erratic now. They’ve all been here longer then me. Maybe it’s all the petrol fumes getting to them. Not sure why everyone has turned their cars back on again. Nothing has changed since 15 mins ago. I go back to staring at the fence again.

Overlanding the border – the final hour

10 hours…

Hey, why is that German bastard over there getting through and I’m not. The Estonians are all looking pretty pissed off too. We wander over to investigate… Ah, hes got a turkish passport. as usual, the Georgian border police just ignore us and our questions. I could be a cockroach and they’d probably look at me the same. Pleasant bunch to deal with.

Rightio, time for my last banana – I’m not rationing anything, I’m hungry so I’m eating the rest. Oh whats this?

“Hey Dutchie, do you want to come back to Georgia? I can bring you now”

“Yeah man, #$*@ this, I’ll come back tomorrow”

“Ok come, lets go now”

So Ioamanitze, a local policeman who I befriended, who also has connections in the customs house, manages to get me through the border back to Georgia where I wander back to Batumi 11 hours after leaving.

5 days later the turkish border opened.