Not this time Kemosabe.
So it is Thursday last week. The day my Georgian visa expires. I have to get a visa for Azerbaijan today so I can get out of here to Baku.
Things don’t start so well. I wake up late. Or perhaps that is a good start? I take my time to repack my bag. I dawdle out the door, talking about my plans with the woman who runs the homestay. I wander to the taxi stand, finding fruit along the way. There is an incredible traffic jam. I have the wrong address. Eventually we find the Azeri consulate.
But it is closed. How can this be? It is only 12:30.
But closed it is. At 12pm in fact. And Friday is a holiday (and so are Saturday and Sunday). But you are welcome to come back Monday to get your visa.
No, there is no possibility of doing anything today. No, it does not matter if you ask nicely or explain that your Georgian visa is about to expire and you really really need an Azeri one. And point out that the consulate was closed on Wednesday as well. No, it does not matter if you pay something over the odds.
This leaves me with very few options. I head to the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ‘I am sorry’, says the nice man who speaks excellent English, ‘but I have discussed this with my boss and your visa can not be extended’.
He suggests that I just get on the train and go to the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan. On the way out my Georgian visa will be stamped and I will not be allowed back in. But perhaps the Azeris will give me a visa at the border, seeing as how the Georgians certainly won’t let me back in without a visa. And they can’t very well just leave me in no man’s land forever, can they?
I conclude that spending any significant length of time in the middle of the night in the space between Georgian and Azerbaijan, with no visa to enter either is not necessarily my cup of tea.
‘Your alternative’, he says, ‘is to leave Georgia today’.
It turns out, of course, that that is impossible. The only place I can go without flying is Turkey (because I don’t need a visa to get in there). And I can not get there till tomorrow morning.
So I backtrack. Well, first I bitch a bit about it, and why didn’t I pack later, and why was there a traffic jam and blah blah blah. And then I jump on the train west. And in the morning I grab a bus to the border. My guidebook tells me there will be a fine. Based on their formula it could be US$100.
So I rock up to the border (at Sarp, on the Black Sea coast, a nice spot), with a smile. Three checks I wander through. ‘Thank you. Bye bye’, they all say. Perhaps no one is going to notice that I am eight hours late.
But then the final one. The fourth. Always the fourth one. Here are two friendly Georgian women. We are smiling and talking about New Zealand. But there is a problem. You are a day late. They listen carefully to my reasons (which, I freely admit, sound very very thin). One wanders away to find her boss. I finger the US dollars in my pocket.
Boss comes in, flunky in tow. A big man. A big suit. A big voice. What is he saying? Eventually I make it out: ‘Ah New Zealand. Do you eat people there?’. What kind of question is that from a customs official? ‘Yes, of course. But only for breakfast’.
$10. The standard charge for all customs services, it seems. And on my way.
Three days later and I am back again. New Georgian visa. Another fourth customs post. Another payment. Only $5 this time. No receipt though. ‘Thank you. Bye bye’.
The taxi driver asks me what the $5 was for. I shrug my shoulders. What do I know?