(photo courtesy of Goggins World)
To cross from Georgia into Turkey, you have to take a bus to Sarpi to the border control complex. It looks like a giant cut-out of a cloud. As if to highlight the cultural differences between the two countries, the Sakartvelo side has a Georgian Orthodox church and the Türkiye side has a mosque. You cross on foot and have to actually bypass passport control, find the tiny office near the Turkish exit gate that sells tourist visa stamps, pay your $20, then walk back over the border and get in line to “officially” leave. It seems like it would be way too easy to waltz across without proper documentation or being confronted by any guards. Not that I’m suggesting that’s a good idea.
The officer mashed the exit stamp into my passport, looked me in the eye and smiled as he said,
“You are always welcome in Georgia.”
I melted a little and had the overwhelming urge to turn around and run straight back across the border. Forget Turkey. Surely he says it to everyone, but it felt like he knew exactly how much we had grown to love Georgia over the last month and how grateful we were to have experienced it.
Georgia’s leaders desperately want Sakartvelo to be respected as a country and seen as a people who have much to offer the world. It does have much to offer the world. When you consider that so much of the country lacks basic infrastructure or access to health care, the flashy aesthetic attempts at modernity that we saw in Tbilisi and Batumi, seem to have a “me too!” vibe, like a tagalong little brother who isn’t quite big enough to climb the tree house ladder.
But Georgia will get there. And if you ever decide to get acquainted with her, she will arrive in a cloud of marshrutka exhaust, plant a big kiss on your cheek and fill your glass to overflowing.