Tuesday, July 11, 2006

On the Border

My South Caucasus hopscotch this weekend was a success, and so after dipping my toe into Armenia, I re-entered Georgia with a fresh new stamp in my passport and the 90-days of visa-free residence that come with it.

It's a strange thing to cross an international border on foot. I've done it twice now, and both times can't quite shake the refugee feeling that comes with it. There should be sacks bowing my back and kettles clattering and some momentous feeling of relief or grief upon stepping over the line. But instead, I just drift over somewhat lackadaisically, sidling up to Armenia like up to a hot dog stand.

I think the Armenian border guards, too, prefer some appreciation of the dramatic at their little outpost, because they were not pleased when I told them I was just using their country as a tawdry waystation until I could step straight back into Georgia.

"Who told you that you could do this?" they'd gruff. And other complaints and moans and snide snickers at my terrible Russian. But through all the moaning, they were preparing the Armenian visa, obsolete little thing that it was.

With the visa firmly pressed into my passport, they clamped down a bright red entry stamp for me. Great. That's fine. Now for my exit stamp, please, and I'm off to Georgia again.

"I'm sorry," sneered the guard. "There's a problem. You need to stay here a minimum of four hours before the computer will register your exit."

"Four hours! But my friend is waiting there on the Georgian side! I can't wait four hours."

"You should have thought about that before," he shrugged.

With the scene thusly set, we enter into the Soviet pas de deux, whose cherished steps linger into this modern age.

The leading partner, I lean in conspiratorily to the little window and eye my partner. "Really, now. Four hours? Is it absolutely not possible to do less?"

Picking up his cue, the border guard swivels and gracefully shrugs. "Of course. It's possible."

"What can we do?"

"Maybe a little something to pay."

"How much do you want?"

"How much can you manage?"

"You'll let us back at once?"

"At once."

The rest is just haggling, but in the end, for $20 each, my friend and I were waltzing our way back into Georgia with Armenia at our backs. Elsewhere, they say it's hard to put a price on freedom, but 90 days of it in the South Caucasus will set you back $30 plus $20 extra to grease the wheels.


Post a Comment

<< Home