A horizontal line drawn from a point midway along a moon-shaped cove on the eastern end of the Black Sea represents the end of the Republic of Turkey and the beginning of the Republic of Georgia. To the north of the line, sunbathers are sprawled on the sand. To the south of the line, the beach is empty. Instead, there’s a crowd of people milling about in front of, next to and behind a line of vehicles – semi-trucks and tour busses, mainly – all with their motors turned off. Every 10 to 15 minutes, keys are turned in ignitions, motors rumble, and drivers move their vehicles forward a few meters. The process is repeated, again. And again. And again.
Picture 27 Sarp: The Border
On the occasion that we were participating in this exasperating bit of car choreography, the performance lasted about 8 hours!
Not that this is a border-crossing you’ll be breezing through on a normal day (the driver of the tour bus behind us said a couple of hours’ wait was normal); however, the Andy Warhol-John Cage proportions of this production can be attributed – as so many other things in Turkey are being attributed these days – to the ‘July 15 coup attempt’ – after which various and sundry perpetrators were found to have made their escape through – ta-daaa – this very same escape hatch.
If you’ve been paying attention, the ‘previous episode’ of this tale left off somewhere around Çorum, which is nowhere near the Georgian border. Thus, in the effort to speed up this virtual-border crossing (Would that I could have sped up the real-time event!), I’ll just present you with some higlights, in bullet-points, with a focus on highways, in case you ever find yourself in a car travelling along the Black-Sea coast of Turkey towards the Georgian border:
The highway from Central Anatolia (Çorum) to the Black Sea (Samsun) gets you there much quicker than you’d think.
Samsun has a confusing highway system, but once you find the shore (and a parking space nearby), it’s just as pleasant as walking along the Izmir Kordon, albeit (believe it or not) a little more humid.
The highway between Samsun and Ordu is one giant speed trap.
The sea looks lovely from the highway, but getting to it is nigh impossible, especially since heading east, by the time you spy a bit of sand or rock that makes you want to say ‘that looks like a nice place to stop’, you’re way past any exit (if there was one in the first place).
One of the easiest places to ‘get off the highway’ is Ünye. We got off the highway to go to the Social Security Office and get a print-out to show to the border guards (‘extraordinary times’, we are in) so that we could exit the country. While it turns out no one at the border showed any particular interest in these particular papers, it was worth stopping, as we chanced on a melon that was truly delicious.
Picture 28: Unye: The Melon
For a prettier (way prettier) drive, get off the new highway and onto the old highway that hugs the coast between Perşembe and Ordu.
There are some lovely places by the seaside east of Ordu all the way up to Georgia that cannot be seen from the highway. If you are not in a hurry, it might behoove you to pick an exit – any exit – and get off and back on the road again, heading west. Drive slowly in the right lane until something ineresting pops up.
Something interesting will pop up if you get off the highway around Limanköy, after Rize and before Artvin. (You will hear more about Limanköy on the return trip.)
Now, I have to admit, despite the fact that Harun and I had been romanticizing our ‘Trip to Georgia’ for around a year, sadly, the banality of the new highway and the wait at Sarp/i made the actual ‘Crossing of the Border’ seem more like a denouement when it should have been a climax. Because everyone other than the chaufeur needs to get out and walk across, the pedestrian line is a lot longer than the line for cars, and since it’s my name on the registration of our Toyota (which is now even more well-travelled than our erstwhile Twingo), it was Harun who had to do the walking. This meant that 30% of my border-waiting was actually done on the other side.
I’d love to share with you my pictures of the lovely Orthodox church at Sarp, of the architecturally unique Georgian border installation (someone’s idea of an airborne submarine?), or even of the signs posting the exchange rates given by the shops servicing all those who wait (showing a correlation between the number of meters walked and the number of lari pocketed), but in fact – I have none. (Note to self: Possible title for next novel: ‘Dead Batteries’.) Instead, you will have to make do with a few snaps of the lovely architecture of Batumi and some classic Black Sea Fog.
Picture 29: Batumi (1)
Picture 30: Batumi (2)
Picture 31: A Little Black Sea Fog
And as an end note, I’d like to offer a little explanation as to what this attenuated ode-to-a-road-trip is doing in a blog ostensibly devoted to ‘process/progress’ (at least that’s what it says on the tab):
It’s that art/life, thing, ya know?
I mean, we can’t be in the studio all the time, now, can we?
Every once in a while we gotta get out there and take the pulse, see?
So, the road to Georgia – and back – was like holding a big long index finger tight over the national wrist-vein. It’s been a while processing the data, but things are not looking good.