Silk Road Adventure

May 10-11

Trabzon Turkey to Tblisi Georgia

We left Trabzon in the morning and passed through the bureaucratic border crossing – four different Turkish officials and three different Georgia officials - with 20 motorcycles. There was quite a Byzantine snarl of red tape. No one had to unload, but some suspicious looking young French boys in an old Citron had to unload absolutely everything on to the ground. The border crossing took about 2 hours.

The differences between Turkey and Georgia were immediately evident.

  • The Georgia women were very fashionable, wore tight clothing - actually showing cleavage – something that would be unheard of, even for a liberated Turkish women.
  • Much of Georgia is in ruins, but unlike Turkey, which has 600-1,000 year old ruins, the Georgia ruins are modern buildings (in comparative terms) built in the last 50-60 years. The Russian concrete did not seem to hold together, and what was built during the period when Georgia was under Russian rule from 1921-1991, is in the stage of falling down quickly.
  • The Russian architecture is about as dull and boring as it gets. The Turkish architecture comes in many different forms, but it is all of fairly good quality. The Georgians have spruced it up by painting wild colors on the concrete panels giving it a little bit of a Caribbean look.
  • There was significant poverty. One city we passed through had 80% unemployment. When we asked people how they got along without a job, the universal reply was, "We simply manage." Young adults live with their parents and grandparents. Simply managing means that some revenue comes from Georgian citizens working abroad. Although there are 5 million Georgians living in Georgia, one person estimated that there are 2 million living outside of Georgia with some money flowing back. Turkey, of course, has very little unemployment and a growth rate of 8% per year.
  • The infrastructure in Georgia is in shambles – I'm sure that it is improving, but you can see signs of significant decay. For example, the electrical systems along the sides of the road were rusty with loose hanging wires. In Turkey everything is neat, immaculate, and fundamentally very new.
  • There were many abandoned manufacturing buildings – millions of square feet, including a steel plant with two blast furnaces abandoned and crumbling. One of the largest exports in Georgia is scrap metal. Some of it comes from being able to cut up ships with a low labor cost, but I think the rest comes from scrapping these large Russian constructed abandoned industrial structures.
  • There were no pigs in Turkey, but in Georgia, there were plenty of pigs on both sides of the roads. Pork, incidentally, is the most popular meat eaten in the world by virtue of its ability to convert feed more efficiently than other animals grown for their meat (I'm not sure this includes chickens). The Turks being Muslims do not eat pork.
  • There is a significant difference in the intensity of the farming. In Turkey every spot is farmed properly with excellent irrigation, and growing high level crops. In Georgia there was a large amount of fertile land that was being used for nothing other than feeding livestock.
  • The level of service is much different in Georgia than in Turkey. The average Georgian service worker considers the customer an inconvenience for him. There is not the attitude that will propel the nation into a service oriented tourist economy. The Turks, on the other hand, are eager to please, and understand the fact that "the customer is always right."

A lot of these differences between Turkey and Georgia are due to the fact that Georgia is basically just 15 years away from being a Soviet satellite, and the Russian mentality is alive and well among the people who are age 65 to 45. But now people are ready to get rid of the Russian attitudes. I took a terrific picture of a group of maintenance workers cutting a red star off a wrought iron fence surrounding a military command post. The workers wanted us to take one of these big cast iron Soviet stars with us, but of course, there is no room on a motorcycle.

It is unusual to me that a country like Georgia could survive with a very different culture from the Muslim world around it. There is a huge difference in the way that women are treated. We were wondering why this might be, and I think one of the reasons is that, although most of them speak Russian, they never switched their language.

Clearly, the orthodox church has been a significant stabilizing factor as well, but I'll have more about that in my next blog.

I have had difficulty making Internet connections, but I will try to get another blog out while I am still in Georgia. By Monday we will be leaving for Azerbaijan, and I understand the Internet connection there will not work particularly well.

Two of our riders took a different path to Tbilisi, and ended up getting caught in a mountain pass that they could not get through. They will have to spend the night either out on the road somewhere, or hopefully they can get to a village. It will be interesting to hear their stories when they return.

That's all for now.

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