Navigating and Driving in Central Asia
Navigating in Central Asia is a challenge. As soon as we drove across the border into Georgia (from Turkey), the road rules seemed to change. In fact, the road rules seem to fly completely out the window. Hello Mongol Rally, is this what we have to look forward to?
Turkey, in comparison with Georgia, was orderly. The cars drove the same way we do in North America. There are lanes on the road for traffic, and the cars stay in their own lane. I know, you’re thinking ‘Why is she even talking about this stuff?’. I’ll tell you why!
As we drove away from the customs window and into the country of Georgia it was like navigating into mayhem. There seemed to be a mishmash of cars. Finding a parking space (so we could exchange money and grab a cold drink) required the help of a police officer directing traffic. It was like driving into chaos. And that was just the beginning.
Google Should Offer Cow-Optional Road Routes
Cow sauntering down the road in Georgia
In the case of Georgia, Google really should offer ‘cow-optional’ road routes. Cows are everywhere in Georgia.
Shortly after crossing the border, we found ourselves driving through the city of Batumi, and it was way more intense than we had anticipated. Cars were all over the place, horns were honking, and cows would saunter on to the road whenever they wanted, and I couldn’t find a single sign that said ‘Tbilisi’.
“Will this wifi device work in Georgia?” I asked Charlie. Our sponsor TelecomSquare had provided us with wifi devices for most of our trip, but we hadn’t received the device for Georgia. So, there we were, in Georgia with no wifi device and no map. It was early afternoon and we wanted to drive straight to Tbilisi; after all, how bad could it possibly be! OMG…
I turned on the device to see if it would work. You know, just in case. It worked, and we agreed to only use if for Google Maps so we could get out of Batumi, and to Tbilisi.
As we drove cows seemed to appear from nowhere. One minute the road was clear, the next minute there was a cow sauntering on the pavement up ahead. Naturally, we would slow down and look for a way to get around the offending cows; which is when the Georgian drivers would start honking their horns, swerve around us, and appear to be yelling at us from inside their car.
“Why are they honking their horn? What is wrong?” we’d ask each other. We had no idea.
It. Was. Intense. And more than a little confusing.
Driving through Batumi was intense. The lack of road signs, the crowd of cars driving on the roads, and the blaring of car horns gave me an adrenaline rush like no other. I sat up straighter, and my eyes were open as wide as they could be, and I was just navigating! When we finally found our way out of Batumi, and on to the road to Tbilisi I exhaled slowly. Talk about trial by fire.
For a little while, the country roads were quiet, and I sat back to enjoy the Georgian countryside. When Charlie needed a break, I got behind the wheel and drove. It was peaceful, and I think I only stalled twice. When the sun slipped below the horizon and the moon rose above us, we were driving into the mountains. At first, I was feeling lethargic, but that sensation ended. Quickly.
Cows and the constant honking of horns were nothing compared to the way most Georgian drive around the mountains; which involved passing cars, at high speeds, while driving around blind curves. Basically everything I was taught to not do when I learned how to drive in Canada. I didn’t follow suit. I drove what I thought was the speed limit (there are no speed limit signs posted in Georgia. Or anywhere else in Central Asia for that matter), and tried to pretend I wasn’t a nervous wreck; which I totally was. When I had enough, I pulled over and asked Charlie to drive, which in hindsight was probably not the best choice. Charlie doesn’t see very well in the dark, we were driving in the mountains, she was driving way too fast around the corners, and my eyes flashed before my eyes on more than one occasion.
When we finally arrived in Tbilisi it was 1:30 a.m., we were both exhausted and glad to be done for the day!
Azerbaijan Was a Breeze
Who knew?! The roads in Azerbaijan were actually pretty good. While many teams were pulled over by police, we breezed through. The roads were fairly smooth, and when we got turned around (which happened a couple times) local men would always take the time to point us in the right direction, and even get in their car and guide us to where we needed to go. It. Was. Awesome.
Ah, I love country driving.
When we arrived in the capital city of Baku, things changed a little bit. Horns were honking, and Azerians seemed to drive wherever they wanted, even going the wrong way down a one-way street! The one frustrating thing about Baku was a number of one-way streets, which meant we had to drive way out the way to turn ourselves around. Other than that, I really don’t have any crazy driving memories of Baku or Azerbaijan as a whole.
Turkmenistan Was FULL of Potholes!
Granted, I was only in Turkmenistan for a day, but it was enough to make me say “Wow”. The best way to describe Turkmenistan is that it is the pothole capital of the world. We spent the day swerving pothole after pothole. There were only two, yes TWO, signs that said ‘Ashgabat’ on our drive from Turkmenbashi to Ashgabat. We were driving in a convoy (OMG what a mistake. Those boys were clueless!), and instead of cows sauntering down the road, there were camels.
Although the roads were bumpy and full of potholes, the people of Turkmenistan were absolutely fantastic. Instead of honking at us for no reason, they honked so they could say hello. I was fairly bitter during our drive in Turkmenistan as it was my last day, but having locals go out of their way to say hello definitely put a smile on my face.
Driving through Europe is one of the easiest parts of the Mongol Rally, and while you could get by without a map on the road, this map is great for planning before you leave, as well as for making fun side trips along the way. [Buy]
In some instances, roads are a novelty in Central Asia. Many are in very bad condition, and in the case of Turkmenistan, there is only one major road that goes through the country. That doesn’t mean you won’t get lost. [Buy]
Unless you want to deal with going through China, no matter which route you take, you will need to drive in Russia! [Buy]
There are not many roads in Mongolia, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get lost. If I didn’t make it to Mongolia, how would I know that? Simple, I travelled in Mongolia in 2010, and not much has changed since that time! [Buy]