Sunday 26 July
In all the excitement I forgot to update you on my last hitch. It went something like this: hold out thumb, get a lift, reach destination. Alas it is the last time I will have a companion, for Olivia must leave for pastures new. In a few short days of sightseeing in and around Tbilisi, I am alone once more. Alone, apart from a hostel full of crazies. She will be sorely missed.
I suppose it had to happen. I’m beginning to stray off the beaten path heading East. Gone are the summer backpack revelers of party Europe, beach types, would-be shark assailants and fish botherers. “Normal people” I suppose. In their stead, a strange mix of the clinically insane, narcissistic, and delusional. And me. That all applies to me. Homoerotic exercise buffs, MMA “fighters”, loud US patriots with schizophrenia. Not to mention hostel owners who appear to be arseholed on vodka most of the time. While trying to sleep at around 1 am this morning, one of the staff thunderously attempted to engage me in conversation about how my day was while the dorm snored. I’m convinced this hostel influenced The Return to Oz.
In the meantime dear readers, I’ve not been too well. This hasn’t done me any favours as I’m discovering just how difficult the next chapter is going to be. I’ve begun to apply for visas. Applying for visas in 35 degree heat while feeling like a freshly shat shit isn’t recommended. Added to this, and I’ve picked one hell of a time to quit drinking and smoking. Yes, yes you’ve heard it all before. But such is the nature of my alcohol problem, if this doesn’t work, I’m not going to be making any new country ever again, except the undiscovered one.
But I’m doing well. I’m five days in, and usually it’s by this point I want to get on a bender. However I currently feel no desire whatsoever to partake of the sauce; let alone smoking. I’ve been coughing up my lungs anyway with something I’m sure is leaking through the walls here, but regardless, hand on heart, at least for the foreseeable future, I’m done with two of my three biggest vices. Now I need something to replace them with.
And this; is hunting visas. I don’t know if you’ve ever done much visa hunting, but it’s equally the most stressful and most exhilarating thing you could put yourself through in such a short space of time. They should make it an Olympic event. There would be doping allegations for travelers who manage to bag two or three in a day, powering across town from embassy to bank to embassy and back again. This is the nature of the beast. Allow me to explain.
So I have a British passport. Usually, this is pretty damn good. It’s the best in fact. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case when it comes to Iran. You see, Iran and the UK/US aren’t the best of mates. Something, something, something Argo/embassy siege…etc…etc. Recently however, with this nuclear deal that has been brokered, it looks like we could all be bezza mates again. Sanctions are set to be lifted, the UK embassy in Tehran to re-open, tourism to sky-rocket. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help me right now.
I arrive at the Iran embassy with a stack of hideous passport photographs, flossed teeth, and the shirt that smelled the least bad. A gaggle of excited nationalities sit before me as the delegate appears and reels off names. One by one, a German, a Spaniard, a Pole, a Belgian and a Frenchman stand to a handshake and a warm “welcome to Iran” from the beaming adviser. Now they’ve all applied a week previous, and I’m lucky enough to share in their joy as they’re granted access to what I’ve heard is a most beautiful country. They file out with reams of laughter. The delegate turns to me. I’m sitting bolt upright, grinning from ear to British ear, hoping my aftershave and clean shorts can swing me entry.
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from the UK.”
His aspect becomes a picture of dejection. I’ve clearly ruined his day. In a moment, his entire face is etched with the complete works of Charles Dickens. He launches into what appears to be a scripted speech, from which I glean very little useful information. I find myself shaking his hand while exiting the building rather speedier than I’d anticipated. Thus dashing my hopes of charming my way in.
As a UK passport holder, it appears I’m only allowed in to the country as part of pre-paid tour, or with a licensed, professional guide. No exceptions. He advised me to speak to a friend in Iran (of which I obviously have millions). They could take a copy of my passport to the Ministry of Foreign affairs. The MFA would send an “authorisation number” to an embassy of my choice. I would attend this embassy, and apply for my visa. I’ve been bombarding people I’ve never met (couchsurfers in Tehran) with requests to help, and so far received a great response. However I’m still not sure it would work RE: tour guide. Downhearted, I’ve been tearing my hair out for a solution, but one is currently failing to present itself. So much for helping all those Iranian nationals as a homeless support worker in Glasgow.
Meanwhile, I’ve been to the Azerbaijan embassy about a dozen times. Considering these two countries share a border, their embassies in Tbilisi couldn’t be further apart. C’mon guys! Sort this basic shit out eh?! While still having to jump through hoops, AZ is proving much easier. This time all I need is a letter of invitation (LOI), and this is obtained by mailing a hotel or hostel in Baku and booking a room. They will then send you a confirmation email, which you print off and take to the embassy, along with passport copies, two photographs, an application form, and a receipt for the 118 US dollars you’ve just paid into an Azerbaijan bank. Of course this bank is half way across town too, so you’ve got to jump between photo-booths, internet cafes, embassies and banks, before the door nearly closes in your face, so you thrust all your documents at the teller, and told to come back in five days. Sweating buckets and shattered beyond human endurance, nonetheless by this time next week, I should be allowed into Azerbaijan. The ball is rolling.
This has also coincided with my decision to ditch my kilt. In my last post you may remember I asked for help in deciding its fate. Well I opted to send it forward. It is now winging its way to Cambodia, where hopefully one day we will be reunited again. On the way to the post office (of which there are five) I decided to pick up some last-minute souvenirs to send home with my hair straighteners and some other stuff from Turkey. I picked up a silver, Georgian wine horn and thought little of it.
NOT SO! Said the post office clerk. Apparently I need to get permission to send this item out, because it’s silver. It’s not silver. It’s about as silver as David Cameron isn’t a wanker. Nonetheless I had to cross town (again) to find the Ministry of Culture. I was sent to the wrong building. I crossed town (again) to find the right one, and after they took my details, snapped several photographs of the item, and kept me there for half an hour, I was told the report would be ready tomorrow.
Well. After the days I’ve had of red tape and bureaucratic bullshit, you can imagine I was none too pleased. I might have gone a little overboard with my choice of language. The air may have turned blue. Security hovered by the door. Eventually, sensing an impasse, I marched out and across town (again) back to the post office to pick up the parcels I’d left there thinking they would be sent today. I then carried them all around town while I was sent to the wrong healthcare specialist twice, paid for both appointments, and collapsed dejectedly in a heap back at the hostel, only to be accosted by a 30-year-old who believes himself to be Jackie Chan. Is it any wonder I’m ill?
OK dear readers yes, first world problems they may be. But you know how it is. When you’re wandering around alone and fighting odds stacked against you, it can be an uphill struggle. It’s all relative. Especially when it seems that not even the simplest application is going your way. Everything is an effort. And I have been feeling very lonely. I’ve been questioning my commitment to finishing this. I’ve been wracked with guilt about how much money I’ve squandered on getting pissed up in bars for months on end, when I could have traveled indefinitely. People I want to talk to are silent and distant, and instead I’m surrounded by buffoons. Stress levels compound my health issues, and it doesn’t take a heavy straw to break the camels back.
And it all seems so trivial. Is it all really necessary? Do you need to know I’m sending a cheap, fake silver wine horn to my sister in the UK? Do I really need to pay 200 US dollars a day for a guide just to see your country? Does this dude really need to keep taking his shirt off when a girl walks in? And why is it so hot I have to talcum powder my balls?
When sorrows come they come not as spies but in battalions. But a corner is being turned. I am going to beat this. I’m going to finish it, or I’m going to die trying. Either that or wind up in an Iranian jail because I couldn’t bribe someone with my kilt.Read More