18-Aug-2009 – Continued from 45N 40E.
This was the first visit to 43N 41E. The confluence is one of the rare ones laying right in the middle of urban areas, in this case the dead center soccer stadiums playing in Sukhumi which is the capital of the Republic of Abkhazia. Most countries still consider Abkhazia as a part of the Georgian Republic, the exceptions being Russia, Venezuela, Nauru, Nicaragua and Transnistria who recognized the Republic officially.
After the civil war of 1992–93 and last year aggravation, the situation had not eased very much, but I decided at least to try and sent the visa application to the Abkhazian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Luckily, five days later we got an “entry permit letter” which told us on which date exactly we should present ourselves at the border and, theoretically, should allow us to cross it. But this was no visa! After arriving in Abkhazia we were expected to go to the capital Sukhumi immediately, and pick up our official visa at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Without this document there was no possibility of leaving the country again. The whole procedure was rather obscure and involved to say the least.
In the morning we took a minibus from the railway station in Adler to the border. We considered that it would be best arriving at the border early in the morning. We were accompanied by many Russians going to Abhkazia for their summer holidays. Which was a little irritating to say the least. Who wants to spend the holidays in a war zone? But in socialist times Abkhazia was apparently the soviet counterpart to the Mediterranean Riviera, and it is rather more affordable than upscale Sochi. If you don't mind the occasional burned down house or traces of heavy shelling on the facades, it is a nice place. Abkhazia is a beautiful country which is bordered by the Black Sea and the Caucasus. So it is sheltered by high mountains and because of the nearness to the Black Sea, the climate is very mild. The mild and warmly toned climate allows growing citrus fruits, vines, and also tea. While you are travelling through avenues with palms at the Black Sea coast, you are able to spot the snow-covered peaks of the Caucasus Mountains which reach up to 4000 metres.
At the last part of the drive we crossed a shut down factory site where a terminal building for the border-traffic is under construction. There was only a dirt track where minibuses and cars were jolting towards the border. We got out, passed the security checks quickly and were happy that everything was running so smoothly. Certainly we were wrong. After the security check we entered an outdoor hallway where the crowd was already waiting. People were standing so close to each other that tumbling over would have been impossible. After several hours we were still waiting and envied the border officials sitting in their AC-offices. On the dam behind the border offices military was patrolling. People were become increasingly impatient and shouted at the border officials. We pushed ourselves forward and reached the passport-control at noon. The officials checked our passports and visas very thoroughly: the officers at the border post immediately passed our passports on to their superiors. They went through many hands and were rechecked again and again. In the end we got our stamps. We crossed Psou river which is the natural border between Russia and Abkhazia and the game started again with the Abkhazian border officials. While the Russians were waved through, the Abkhaz immigration officer wasn't satisfied with our clearance letter and insisted we present Abkhazian visas. He would ask for the visa – we would point at the entry permit letter in turn. We played this game five rounds, until the Abkhaz officer gave in and waved us through, scowling annoyed.
We took the next minibus to Sukhumi and travelled along the beautiful coast. We arrived at the capital in the afternoon and hopped off the minibus close to the CP. It was necessary to enter the stadium because on the outside we were not within the 100 m radius. The entry area was quite (war)damaged and so entering the playing field was quite easy. We were sneaking around the eastern tribune when Philipp unexpectedly jumped over a barrier and raced on the field. The confluence is in the middle of the playing field: we took the pictures and returned immediately. We left the stadium and walked towards the city centre. We were not sure if we headed in the right direction, so we took a taxi to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While they prepared our visa we strolled through the picturesque city centre and along the Sukhumi Quai. Sukhumi is a very likable city despite the obvious scars born from the recent war; so if you are around, take the time for a visit.
Continued at 44N 42E.