Stops: Tbilisi -> Stepantsmida -> various stops
Playlists: chill tunes
Feeling relaxed from our baths, we grabbed some food with wifi to figure out our next steps and hit the road Northbound.
After a few hours and an excessively long detour through roads (or lack there of) that could only serve as good practice for what's to come, we made our way to Stepantsmida. The drive was glorious: the mountains were beautiful and fun to drive (depending who you ask).
It was getting dark by the time we reached the mountain base, and we decided to camp in town. We hit up a restaurant where we met fellow travellers and had a great evening. Food was good, drinks (Georgian wine) were... interesting... and the company was excellent. A few hours went by and we decided to call it a night. As we were setting up our bed in the restaurant parking lot (in full view of the patio), we were approached by a few guys who saw the Mongol Rally stickers on No Ragrets. One thing led to another and we ended up spending more hours drinking beer and chatting than planned.
We woke up bright and early ready to tackle the mountain that was a tauntingly breathtaking view from our bedroom window. It was so close yet so far away. The town was mainly a tourist (hitchhikers, mostly) town so our car attracted many people and initiated many conversations and we heard that the mountain hike to the church takes anywhere from half an hour to 2 hours. Not sure what to expect, we started climbing.
Considering we took way too many breaks - my head could not handle the high heart rate, we still made it in an hour. We were told to not take our little Fiesta anywhere near the roads going up, but we gave it a shot and managed to get far enough to get quite a few looks through town from every passer by before hitting it on foot.
Half way into the day, we were back at the base and on our way back on the only road through the mountains. We made a pit stop at a hotel in the middle of nowhere for the wifi, food, and to bathe in the river behind it. We just took our shirts off, washed them, and ran into a herd of cows and 2 guys and a dog rafting.
We asked if the hotel could print our eVisas for Azerbaijan and after 40 minutes of the computer TURNING ON, and a half hour for Chrome trying to open, they lost power and the computer shut down. We gave up and left.
The day was mostly uneventful aside from getting lost multiple times trying to find another river to jump into, but Justin was way into the rough roads and almost got the car stuck on a pipe in the ground.
The most exciting bit of the day was as we were getting close to the border, we needed to fill our jerry cans to stock up with the cheapest gas thus far.
My mistake, I kept telling justin to just pull into the next station as he kept driving past them to get closer to the border. Last time we did that, there didn't end up being a station and we missed out. So we pulled into the first one we saw.
Red flag 1: it looked fairly sketchy, but that's normal here.
Red flag 2: as the guy started the pump, the manager came out and thanked us from the bottom of his heart for choosing this station.
Red flag 3: the pump guy seemed confused by the credit card but said that they could take it anyway.
He filled the car/can, took the card to process it, Justin entered his pin, it was approved, and the receipt printed out.
Only the receipt had no ink. The guy started to panic, called the manager over and they went off in Georgian about what sounded like might have been the end of the world. They asked for the card back and were about to do it again to which my handy Russian was all "oh no, I don't think so".
They were adamant that it had not gone through, whereas I was arguing that in bold English letters, approved on the machine means it did. The manager went back to the office to get his phone and got on a call with the bank to see if it went through. He seemed to fail to understand the concept that credit cards can take a few days to show the transaction and did not let us leave. As I was trying to explain this to him, he typed in $2,000,000, placed Justin's card into the reader and handed it to Justin to put his pin in to prove that "it didn't work".
LOL. No way in hell. How does that even make sense?!
Meanwhile, I kept saying they should just reprint the damn receipt if they need the proof to which they weren't acknowledging me and continued to troubleshoot the terminal with the bank on the line. It was getting dark, and we wanted to get going... I kept repeating this was not our problem, but he held our card hostage and we didn't want to cause trouble. We never got Georgian car insurance so we needed to avoid any potential police interactions, and the gas station was full of cameras. After about an hour of us hovering in his office to make sure he doesn't do anything with the card, we found out the issue wasn't the "lack of ink" but the fact that the pump guy used a terminal that wasn't charged and died as it was printing. And because it died as it was printing, they couldn't tell if it went through or not - which I insisted it did based on the APPROVED message on the screen.
He tried running our card again, which we refused, so the other guy went to go get their man purse out of which they pulled their MasterCard and followed the banker's instructions. We just stood there wasting time watching this guy learn how to use his terminal. He did a transaction to make sure it was working, and the bank walked him through on how to reprint the receipt - exactly what we had been trying to tell him ourselves. We grabbed it out of his hands, ripped our copy off, grabbed the card and stormed out rolling our eyes without a word. An hour. This charade took just over an hour and it was now dark.
We found wifi at a gas station up the road, checked in, played with a 1 month old stray puppy (well, I did), scrubbed our hands (me again) and made it to the border.