A night to remember

Posted by on 4, Jul 2010 in 2010 - The Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Caucasus, Europe, Georgia

A night to remember

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On our way to the border we got stopped for the umpteenth time by the police, but this time the policeman was a little Hitler and tried to steal our camera as it had pictures taken in Armenia on it! Quite how when we haven’t been there and have passports to prove it I don’t know. Perhaps we’d popped Taffy in a rucksack and climbed over the mountains took a few pictures and then climbed back! His policy was to try and separate me and Linda but we wouldn’t have any of it. He wanted to take Jon into the office and told Linda to stay in the van. We refused and said we would both come. He promptly let us go and stopped someone else.

As it happened this would turn out to be the most pleasant experience of the day.

We got to the border at around 4pm and it turned out that there had been an error in our paperwork on entry (not by us) that had left the computer thinking we had already left the country. There was much shouting at us and at people on the phone and then it was decided we would have to return to our point of entry to leave as it was their error! Fine, but passengers of vehicles around here are cleared on foot, so Linda had already got an exit stamp so wouldn’t be able to come! I said I wasn’t going without her and that as it was their error not mine we shouldn’t have to return to our point of entry. They called their chief and an hour later apologised and said we could leave and all had been resolved.

Taffy was not at the car checkpoint where this happened but at the lorry checkpoint. They said their colleagues had been informed and we could proceed happily and kept all our entry papers. I asked them to come with us back to the lorry hall and explain this but they said it was not necessary. So we got back to taffy drove to the checkpoint and they wanted the papers that the other checkpoint had kept! They made us reverse out of the hall and park up again. Eventually they agreed all was in order and we could depart and we broke down!

Taffy wouldn’t start as it had apparently a flat battery. We managed to get a jump start after an hour and found that now the on board computer was having kittens and wouldn’t let us engage a gear. We daren’t stop the engine as we wouldn’t be able to start it so tried to get the MAN service line to send a tow truck. Their is a huge dealer in tblisi 50km away so this should be easy. The service centre couldn’t find Georgia or contact any garage. We asked the customs for help and they wouldn’t, nor would the police or army. They all seamed quite happy for us to Spend the rest of our lives there.

The gardens at the complex were watered by 4 young men who tried to push us up the hill and over the border but fat Taff is too heavy for that but they did arrange for a truck to come and tow us. The truck came and hooked up and got us to the control and the officials wouldn’t let it go any further – even 20m to get us on the gentle decline so we could roll to Georgia. So we rolled back to park up again. The very helpful gang of gardeners tried again, this time getting a Mercedes van to come from Georgia through the controls and hook up with us and tow us back. It was by now 4am.

There then followed a very scary tow through the mountains to the garage in the dark, but by 7.30am we were safely in the MAN compound and by about 1pm it was fixed. We started Taffy up and found that the fuel filter was full of rubbish – the fuel here is poor grade and so the fuel filter was changed as well- for an extra cost of less than £2!

Traumatic eh? Not a bit, this would all have been a breeze in the park on its own. What made the night easily the worst experience of our lives was the attitude of the Azerbaijan officials and in particular the boy soldiers. They stole food and drink from our fridge, tried to steal aftershaves and perfumes and demanded Azerbaijan money – which we fortunately didn’t have. They spent the whole time learing at Linda and making sexual gesture and even openly masturbating with a hand down their trousers. They constantly talked at you clearing making sexual comments which we fortunately couldn’t understand and all the time their officer, the police and customs just laughed. It is easy to see how atrocities occur in war when you see human beings getting pleasure trying to frighten other humans for pleasure, particularly when they are vulnerable like we were. But, we are seasoned travellers and damn it, British. We are the masters of self control with the stuff upper lip and all that and it us vital that you do not react, because that is what they want you to do. If you do then arrest fines and seizure of taffy would all be options open to them, so we remained calm, and tried to organise the tow. Although Jon had to deal with all the people – they won’t deal with women, presumably because they are far too high up the evolutionary chain, Linda in particular, had the brunt of the attention from the toy soldiers and didn’t react once. The officials were the closest we have ever come to what it must have been like dealing with Hitler’s SS in Germany. You are totally at their mercy as law and orders and rules and regulations are meaningless and the power of the gun is the ultimate decision maker.

You will probably be horrified reading this but this is the sanitised version of events. Re-reading this I feel it barely scratches the surface of how frustrating, repulsive and genuinely frightening it was to both of us.

It seems that the people of Azerbaijan and the officials are two different peoples. With the exception of the point of entry officials we saw the police at many places taking bribes and at the customs hall it was free for all with officials basically taking whatever they wanted from cargo and drivers backed up by machine gun toting teenagers. Corruption us endemic here but it us most obvious in the uniformed officials. The non uniformed people on the other hand were some of the nicest we’ve ever met and we have invitations to return to stay with people which we sadly are unlikely to make as not surprisingly our desire to go through that again is non existent.

Contrast that with our experience in Georgia on our arrival in the early hours of the morning. The police gave Taffy on tow an escort through Tblisi, the policeman at MAN opened the compound early for us to be towed into and then the garage bought us breakfast and one of the English speaking staff spent hours talking to us. After we had been repaired – one of our battery contacts had corroded and come loose with all the banging roads- something that with the speed of diagnosis, appears common here, we parked up near the UNESCO Jvari church and got woken up at 1am by the police telling us it was not safe. We said we’d move in the morning but apparently this wasn’t good enough as 4 uniformed officers turned up a little later to ask us to move again. They all spoke excellent English, were not after bribes and were genuinely concerned about our well being. They even gave us a mobile number to phone if we encounter any problems here. So we ended up back at the tblisi brothel we had stayed at on our first visit and slept for 15 hours solid, our first sleep for 40 hours! Georgian police a few years ago were as corrupt as Azerbaijans. But they had a peaceful revolution which reduced the police numbers dramatically and paid them more whilst making them more professional at the same time. Azerbaijan can change if it wants too, and it certainly needs to but corruption there, we were told starts, as with most non democracy’s, at the top and it is hard for corrupt systems to change as the people instigating the change stand to lose the most.

Before going to bed yesterday we managed to find a proper supermarket that seemed to import everthing from Germany and we had a great shop – bags and bags of shoping replacing all the things we’ve found hard to get and getting luxuries like croissants and fresh milk, they even had Strongbow and Cheddar and we have woken up to a lovely sunny day with croissants for breakfast and feel refreshed and raring to go again. We’re not quite ready to face Armenia yet -another corrupt country, but I’m sure after a couple of days we will be!

Meanwhile, today is a day of rest and Monday we are back to the MAN garage as the computer is still getting the occasional error and as their hourly rate appears to be about £3 we thought we’d sought that here not at home! This will be Taffys 5th visit to a MAN dealer this trip and 7th to a garage. German engineering!

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