Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Sarpi border crossing - Goodbye Georgia, Hello Turkey

It was time to head west again and cross the border into our first non-ex-Soviet country since China 7 months ago. Marshrutka hopping, we were heading to the the Sarpi border crossing. The most striking thing about this particular border is the Georgian immigration building. A feat of engineering and striking modern design, it is as if the Georgians screaming 'Hello Europe, let us in!!' Although usually a big no-no at borders I just had to get my camera out and take a picture. No one seemed to mind, I am guessing they get it all the time, they can't build a building like that and not expect people to take photographs.

On getting to Turkish immigration they checked our passports and explained that we needed to buy the tourist visa before we could get stamped in. The official waved vaguely to a line of buildings. This was border crossing number 18 on this trip and by far the busiest border we had crossed so far. Trucks and cars waited patiently to cross and there were lots of people milling about. We were confronted with an array of buildings and went into random doors to ask about the visa. Eventually, at the very end of the line of buildings, we found a small booth where we handed over $20 each to get the visa. Why this booth wasn't at the immigration check at the point of entry I don't know.

Our next challenge was to get the visa stamped. We returned to several of the offices we had visited in our initial search but to no avail until I finally put my foot down and demanded that the poor unfortunate official behind one particular desk stamped our passports. He laughed, refusing to be drawn into any argument, happily giving us the stamps we needed and wished us a good trip.

We were on our way again, now all we needed was some form of transport into the local town where we could get a bus. And then it hit us, for 7 months we had been in the sphere of Russian influence and could communicate by speaking Russian, now, with just a few steps, we had left this sphere and with a jolt found that we couldn't communicate what we wanted. We were also sans guidebook so weren't even very sure where we had to go. We knew the next town was called Hopa but every time we asked the minibus drivers they pointed to the taxi rank. We were totally confused and couldn't work out how all the people coming across the border were continuing their journey. In the end an empty minibus agreed to take us to Hopa. When we got to a village called Kemalpasa he dropped us off and, for no extra cost, pointed us to a minibus to Hopa. The riddle was solved. Minibuses from the border only go to Kemalpasa, there you need to change to go to Hopa and beyond.

I am embarrassed to admit that we were quite excited at getting to the coach station in Hopa. The last time we had been on a big coach was the National Express we had taken to Heathrow. It was a sign that we were getting closer to home; closer to things more familiar. At the coach station there was an array of choice. We opted for the next bus to Trabzon and loaded our bags. Then, whilst nosy-ing around the station waiting for our coach to depart we spotted another coach that happened to be leaving for Cappadocia, the place we needed to get to, in 15 mins, no need for any changes! We quickly abandon the first coach and swapped onto the direct one. Welcome to coach travel in Turkey, they go everywhere, any time of day or night, amazing. Within 15 mins we pulled out of the station and settled down to our 16 hour over night journey.

Georgian immigration building, Sarpi border crossing

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