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  • Day16

    Following the rules

    July 21, 2017 in Georgia ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    So we had had little hints over the first couple of days in Georgia that this a country that seems to like its rules and procedures. At the border, Tom had followed the car ahead of us into the Georgian passport area and both cars had passed to the left of an empty guard post. The border guard standing near the passport office angrily told both of us to turn around and come back through on the right hand side of the empty post... despite the fact we ended up in exactly the same spot as we had been.

    At Vardzia, we paid for and were given tickets at the booth and then 2m on another man checked our tickets and let us proceed.

    Well today we were going to find out that this emphasis on protocol and bureaucracy is ingrained to an extent we've never seen before. And I've travelled in India where they really do love their protocols and procedures.

    But I am jumping ahead slightly. We started the day off slowly, heading into the city to check out the produce market (unfortunately the fruit was not as good as it has been in Armenia and Iran). From there we went to the Prometheus Cave which is the biggest cave found in Georgia. It was discovered in 1984 (though I have some trouble believing no one came across them before then) and has since been explored and opened as a 'natural wonder' of Georgia. It is certainly large, the walking tour covers roughly 1km through the main body of the caves and the larger caverns are immense.

    While the cave was impressive, it has been 'dolled up' for tourism with brightly coloured neon lights and piped music making for a very odd experience. There was a sad boat ride at the end that really just followed a tunnel for 300m barely pausing so you couldn't really really see anything.

    After this, we ended up on a 3hr diversion pursuing a look at the Okshan Canyon, involving the worst roads to date (neither of us have ever seen anything like them) and a bureaucracy mad ranger who scuttled us at the last hurdle. It started off relatively harmlessly, with a 'maps.me special' path sending us down gravelly roads with tight corners and steep gradients. Nothing we hadn't seen before on this trip, though the rocks were both larger and looser making it reasonably hairy.

    After taking us down to the river and trying to send us across a pedestrian swing bridge (even Lada Gaga couldn't take that on), we finally ended up back on relatively normal roads (by Georgian standards). We passed a small village before finding a turn off from the bitumen onto dirt that would lead to the canyon. After navigating barely visible tracks we finally found the way down. The first nudge of the nose down the 'road' it looked rocky but potentially do-able but within a couple of metres both of us were silently praying the road would be a loop and we wouldn't have to come back. The road was tight and the rocks so loose that there was nothing to do but commit to it as we went down incredibly steep gradients on rocks that wouldn't stop moving. There was a slight reprieve going through deep puddles and mud before an even steeper, looser descent. It was a nightmare, especially as the 4wd system (like trying to get her into reverse) is extremely finicky and at that stage Tom hadn't been able to turn it on despite much playing with the lever so all he had was the low range.

    Despite all of this, we did make it to the car park for the canyon, greeted by some bemused and at times amazed Georgians! We gladly rocked up to the pathway that would lead us down into the canyon to be told we needed a ticket. The ranger spoke no English so called someone who did, we politely pointed out that the ticket booth was empty but were told we needed to go to the visitors centre. We had passed no visitors centre so asked if we could go through and pay on the way out... or pay the ranger... or...

    We went back and forth but there was no budging Georgian bureaucracy, the visitors centre we were told was 1km away back up the horrific road we'd come in on and we'd have to go back get a ticket and then come down again! We tried everything but there was no budging him.

    We trudged back to the car with the faintest glimmer of hope that maybe we'd somehow missed it on the way down and headed off. Going back was worse than coming in. The Pajero ahead of us was sliding so badly on the first steep ascent we all had to reverse back and start again. Then there were 4wd and tour buses coming in the other direction that sent us reversing back down these impossibly tight laneways. It felt never ending. Thankfully in this, Tom finally managed to sweet talk Lada Gaga into 4wd and between that and low range he managed to get us out.

    We never found the visitors centre, though it must be there somewhere. And neither of us could face it all again (even being a passenger was stressful). It was gutting that after 3 hours spent finding it and then the horror of the road, the ranger drunk on what little power he has wouldn't let us in or help us out.

    It made for a quiet drive north to Mestia, now pushed for time and still on shitty roads where 60km feels like highway speed. This is further hampered by the sheer number of cows... turns out bureaucracy is not the only thing Georgia shares with India. There are cows on every road, sitting, lying, standing nonchalantly flicking their tails and sending clouds of flies into the air. It's an extra little surprise to find yourself facing 6 cows, 2 lying in each lane and the standing around so you have to weave in between them.

    Needless to say, finally arriving in Mestia was an amazing feeling. Especially as we were greeted st the door by two gorgeous puppies vying for attention!
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