Thursday, January 3, 2019

Flashback: Border Crossings: Vakhtangisi

I'm headed out west again, to El Paso-Juarez.

Border crossings, and almost-border crossings, are on my mind. On so many of our minds.

For me, I've been lucky. I am just a tourist. I can go over and I can come back, go over and come back.  I don't take this for granted.

Below is a flashback to a favorite almost-border crossing, experienced with my TLG friend and colleague, Sandy, originally published in March 2012: Nothing There Tour #1: Vakhtangisi.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nothing There Tour #1: Vakhtangisi

Using a clever ruse, we photographed this man, who may have actually been to Azerbaijan, in order to take a clandestine photo of Azerbaijan, over there on the right, said country apparently not liking to be photographed, or Georgians not liking that it be photographed. 

This is the inaugural post for the Nothing There Tour, where I check out a place that has seemingly nothing to see, and either confirm or deny said nothingness.

Last weekend, colleague Sandy and I contemplated our choices for a day trip. At first we planned to go to Mtatsminda, a location overlooking Tbilisi, for its views and .... yawn ... some other stuff, like a church and a famous cemetery .... and we were game, but we felt lukewarm about it.

Then I remembered my pledge to myself to visit Gardabani. I loved telling Georgians that I planned to go to Gardabani because they always responded exactly the same way: "Gardabani?! Whyyyy?! There's nothing therrrre?!"

Would Sandy be interested in going to Gardabani? Why yes, she would!

Gardabani has a large Azeri-Georgian population and it's very close to the Azerbaijan border. Some villages are right on the border. The police mentioned Jandari as one example; Nely cited Vakhtangisi.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Houses. 2012

Sandy and I caught a Vakhtangisi-bound marshrutka (#13) at Old Bazaar in Old Rustavi. (Tbilisi also has marshrutkas going to the Gardabani area, which depart from Tbilisi's Didube station.) The fare to Vakhtangisi is 1 lari, 50 tetri.

As we chugged out of Rustavi, we passed two prisons, one for men and the other for women; factories, both active and defunct; and some sort of energy plant with structures that looked like nuclear power plants. We passed through Gardabani, a pleasant-looking town. We knew we'd stop there on the way back from our Vakhtnagisi tour.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. House. 2012

The border crossing

About 45 minutes later, we arrived in Vakhtangisi, the end of the road.

In town, we went by a surprising event: men drumming and playing some kind of flute; a young girl riding in a flower-festooned, horse-drawn cart, holding a plate of fruit, many people gathered inside a schoolyard. What strange ritual this?

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Bayrami 2012.

But our minds were on the border. When the marshrutka stopped, the first thing we did when we debarked was head to Azerbaijan. To get to Azerbaijan from Georgia, you have to get a letter of invitation from someone in Azerbaijan, submit your passports to some authority in advance, and pay some bucks. We didn't have any of those things. Except our passports. We'd brought them with us, just in case. Just in case what, we didn't know. But just in case.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Houses. 2012

We approached the border police officers. We smiled brightly.


Two or three uniformed police looked back, bemused. Then a non-uniformed gentleman walked over; he must have been the supervisor.  

"We just want to put a foot in Azerbaijan. Can we do that"?


"Can we just touch our hand on the Azerbaijan side"?

"No. Who are you? Are you tourists"?

"We're English teachers from America and Canada. Could you step in Azerbaijan and reach out to us and we'll hold your hand so we will be in Azerbaijan through you"?


"Can we take a photo of Azerbaijan"?



"Can you pick up a rock from Azerbaijan and bring it over to the Georgian side and we could touch it"?


"Is there a toilet"?

"Yes." And one of the men pointed to a small, stand-alone building. Just the size of an outhouse.

We walked over. There was a ditch filled with water which flowed behind the outhouse. I opened the door. It was nice! Heated! Western toilet! Very clean! In fact, here is a photo of the bathroom that is on the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Toilet in Vakhtangisi, Georgia, on Azerbaijan border. 2012

I used the toilet. Then Sandy used the toilet.

There was a woman standing outside when we'd both finished. Friendly smile from her. I pointed to the ditch and asked which way the water flowed. Toward Azerbaijan? Yes.

Very well, then. Mission accomplished, no visa required.

As we walked away from the border toilet, some men approached us. Don't know about what. Taxi, maybe. We took their picture.

Then we took a photo of Azerbaijan.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Georgia-Azerbaijan border. 2012.


Now it was time to go check out those strange goings-on at the school. We walked down the street. There is only the one in the village.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Houses. 2012

Every once in awhile, a lone car screamed down the street at warp speed, all the better to prove the driver's manhood, we supposed. Stoopids. We wondered how many pedestrians have been injured by such recklessness. 

Sandy and I walked into the school yard. Joyful! We heard music and saw young girls dancing. The horse and buggy, covered in fabric and flowers, was over on one side, fathers taking photos of their young daughters in the buggy.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Bayrami 2012.

Over on the right was a colorful picnic table filled with fruits, nuts, and breads. Men sat there, drinking tea from small, shapely glasses.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Bayrami 2012.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Bayrami 2012.

We looked on the school porch where there were girls directing each other in traditional dances, performed to tunes provided by a local DJ.

Sandy and I got up on the stage and danced, too.

What was all this about? It was bayrami (or more accurately, Novrus Bayram), an Azerbaijan (and others, too) holiday that welcomes spring. It was so ... splendid ... to be in this village on this day.  

We met the school's English teacher, Nata, along with some of the other teachers, who all live in Rustavi. Unfortunately, the school in Vakhtangisi doesn't have a TLG teacher.

We left smiling, with colored eggs, different kinds of nuts, and oranges stuffed into our bags.

We began to walk - for however long we felt like it - to Gardabani. We were 18 km from Rustavi.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. 2012.

 We passed Vakhtangisi's internet cafe.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Internet cafe.

Outside the village, we passed sheep.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. 2012

We followed a couple of bulls and their tender. Suddenly, they veered to the left when they spied some cows. Then tender chased after them. 

Vakhtangisi, Georgia.2012

We walked for a long while. When we reached the town of Kesalo, a car pulled up alongside. It was filled with the school teachers who live in Rustavi - we squished in and they dropped us off in Gardabani.

We loved our trip to Vakhtangisi.

Verdict: There is something there! 

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