So it is from there, from the desolate remoteness that Kars represents, that once more I take the winding road up to greener pastures. To where the lands rise in lush greenery, and where, in June, snow still lingers in the distance. My final destination, the sleepy border town of Posof, clings flatly to a plateau above terraced lands where barley, wheat and fodder crops are cultivated. Some of the last farmers riding out to their fields on the ox-carts which are traditional here can be seen sometimes.
On the other side of the depression at our feet, a red rock karst formation rises picturesquely above steep, densely forested slopes. In short, here is a lovely place.
From the town centre I start ambling out, along the dirt road leading East. Except for a flock of turkey hens absent-mindedly picking the ground around their blue headed and red necked turkey cock, boastfully fanning out his bronze tail-feathers, the area around the exit of the town seems deserted.
It is only ten minutes later, that, as if by magic, a lift comes along: I make the 14 remaining kilometres to the border gate with an Iranian lorry driver. It is a short ride, which involves a quick stab at trying to remember some of my Persian, - which except "ne mixorim" -"I don't eat", is bound to utterly fail- , but smacking on the piece of banana chewing gum that I really could not decline is just enough to stir some sweet memories from the time I spent travelling in my driver's beautiful country.
I arrive at 10 Minutes to six, just before the border guards were about to close the gate. Before stamping my passport, the lads in uniforms wave me inside for a share of the grilled meat and cucumbers they are having for dinner. "Eat more, eat more" they press me on in typical sincere Turkish hospitality. One of them especially seems to have become slightly enamored with me, for he walks me over to the Georgian side, and on the way asks me for my home number and says "we'll talk on the phone, I'll call you every day, and maybe, just maybe, we will marry after, ... if you agree, of course!"
This kind of marriage proposal, though quaintly amusing in its own right, certainly is not going to be the one taking the cake in the yet-to-be written memoir of a single female traveller. The funniest border guard in this sense must have been the Syrian guy who, hoping for a fuck in the park, indecisive whether to ask me the rather impolite "Are you (a) virgin?", or the improbable (in his eyes) "Are you married?", got all muddled up and ended asking me "Are you Virgin Mary?". I, by the way, chose to forego an answer.
In any case I only smile kindly back at the Turk, then cross the lines and bid him adieu (on Judgement Day there'll still be time to change my mind, right?).
On the other side the single female traveller is equally welcomed with over-eager smiles and, this time, a lie: "It's too late now no busses go to Tiflis anymore!" 'Luckily for me', the border guards can care for me, though: Again I am invited inside, invited to food, but no thanks, I'm full this time. "You can stay here. Consider this a hotel: there are 13 rooms up there. And tomorrow we'll find you a straight lift to Tiflis" Hmm... if I was just another rough traveller jumping at free accomodation and food, maybe,... but I am on a mission this time, so: No.
I actually find a lift to Akhaltsikhe, the first town after the border, about 30 km from here, with a young border official on her way home. And, she tells me, if we speed up a little bit, I might just make the over-night train to Tbilisi. As we rumble uncomfortably over the unasphalted, potholed tracks cutting through a couple of villages on the way, I remark to myself that the scenery of the sequence of habitations didn't really change all that much from their Turkish counterparts, except that here female hair is not only shown, but dyed a failed blond, and the fingernails a lacquered red.
Meanwhile dusk is descending on us all, thereby transforming the sky as if by enchantment into what seems like an immutable impressionist sunset painting, rose, orange, red. Since this immutability of course is an illusion, soon the colours fade into black: As we finally make it to the train stop (rather than "station"), were it not for the full moon spookily lighting the scenery, we would be pitched in perfect darkness.
The 'train' actually consists of one single, run-down wagon. The eight hour journey costs me four Lari, which amounts to about a pound twenty. Correspondingly, the bone-shaker moves so slowly that a jogging dog could easily outrun it. The lamps inside keep flickering on and off -when we attain the speed of light of about 15 km an hour they light steadily for a while, only to fall back into flickering as soon as we slow down in approaching a bend. The neon-lit crosses that beam in the night from the darkened hillsides of the Lesser Caucasus and the alcohol breath rising from the pallet below me make sure I am aware I am definetely outside of Turkey this time.
Soon sleep will swallow me up.
In the morning I find myself rudely awoken by the train attendant -I'm back in Tbilisi.