Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Lada Legend: The Colonel Goes West - Part Four

The description of the events about to be detailed differ depending on which of us three you ask. I will try my best to combine all three accounts.

We emerged from the Georgian border area into a small no man's land (less than fifty metres). Three lines of traffic, including buses, cars, and vans, had converge into one lane to pass through the first Turkish checkpoint. It was a mess. Eventually we got through and I handed my passport along with the car documents to the border officer. He smiled, remarked at the Azerbaijani registration, and asked me what I was doing there. I said, "IT," to which he responded, "Google or YouTube?" His English wasn't great, but he managed a laugh and waved us on.

Cautious optimism. That sums up how we felt after the first checkpoint. We surmised that if our car was too old, that guy probably would've said something. Not that we would have been able to just turn around and go back the other way, mind you. And because we really didn't have any idea what was going on, we pull over into a space between the line we were in and the empty lane to our right.

We knew beforehand that we would have to get visas at the border. Amy volunteered to venture forth in search of them, while Sarah and I guarded the car. We waited. Waited some more. Warded off random people who came up to us asking if we needed help or insurance. Amy, for her part, went from window to window trying to figure out where to go. She learned that before we could get visas, insurance was needed for the car. So off she went looking for that.

Eventually, we succumbed to one guy who offered to help us. He was Georgian, but apparently knew the border process well. I told him that our friend was getting us visas, so he said, "Follow me!". We found Amy at the insurance place with a document insuring our car for third-party liability. Once again, no comment about the Colonel's age. She had also found a helper, and so all five of us proceeded to the visa window. Getting the visas turned out to be the easiest thing we did at the border.

Next step was getting exit stamps. On our walk back to that window, the Amy's helper started telling me that for the price of a one litre bottle of Johnnie Walker, the Georgian guy could facilitate the entire process and get us into Turkey. I thanked him for the offer and told him we would take care of it on our own. Once we got our exit stamps, Amy and Sarah took the documents and went to another window while I went to move the car back into line.

The Colonel was hot and was not interested in starting. I cranked and cranked the ignitition, but to no avail. The Georgian helper noticed this and started pushing the car forward. As I neared the car in front of me, the ol' boy miraculously came to life! However since we had no idea how much more bureaucracy was involved, we turned the car off. Let's hope it would start again when we needed it to.

I then went off to find Amy and Sarah, who had been standing in a slow-moving line. They explained to me that we needed to give our documents to the "computer" guy. This is where being taller and having longer arms than everyone else comes in handy (I was also aided by the fact that cutting the line is completely acceptable in these parts). I took the documents, moved towards the window where the computer guy sat, and thrust them into his face from above everyone else. He was working on one set of documents, but once he was finished, he just grabbed the next closest ones. Those happened to be mine. He then mindlessly entered everything in the computer, stamped something, and then handed everything back. Once again, nobody said anything about the car being thirty.

Back to the car we went. Again it wouldn't start, so Amy and Sarah pushed it forward. And again it magically started. This time we knew we had only two more checks to go through so we kept it running. We could not afford to have the Colonel fail when we were trying to prove its credibility to the one guy that made all the decisions.

The line inched forward and we eventually made it to the customs inspection guy. He took a cursory glance at the trunk, stamped my passport with another stamp, and waved us on. Could we really be that close to victory?

Ten metres away stood the booth where the decision maker sat (or so we figured). He and Amy and communicated a bit earlier. When we passed, he came running out of the booth and up to my window. In Turkish, he exclaimed something along the lines of, "You can't go into Turkey with this car!". Amy cooly played the hero with her Azerbaijani skills (the languages are similar enough, especially the Turkish spoken in eastern Turkey). She coaxed him into letting us pass by pretending she didn't understanding what he was saying and saying the words "But the car works so well." It was like watching a Jedi mind trick in action. As Amy spoke, the smile on his face grew wider and wider to the point where he was giggling away like a schoolgirl. He then wished us well and waved us on.

The last checkpoint was a simple glance at our passports. It took a few moments to fully comprehend, but once we saw the "Welcome to Turkey" signs, we realized what had just happened. We had done the impossible and made it into Turkey!

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