We reached a series of tunnels all above 2,000 meters. Normally these are cheerfully accepted road landscape as we know they are built to save time and also they are often a safety feature of high altitude roadways. These were anything but user friendly – first of all the road surface inside the tunnels was dangerous at times with large potholes and other ruts in the road. But that wasn’t the problem – the problem was whoever designed these seems to have designed them for bicycles or motorcycles. There is barely enough room for trucks and cars to pass by at the same time and without any sort of traffic direction at the entrance to the tunnels – it is a free for all.
We sat here for about 2 hours coming and going just waiting for large trucks to pass through in one direction. At one point about 1 of every 5 trucks was becoming stuck exiting one of the tunnels due to the deep gash in the road – some folks pleasantly meandered over and started knocking rocks down from a nearby hill and then carrying over these rocks to fill in hole in the road. Remarkably this helped officiate traffic significantly and once they were completed no more trucks became stuck.
One of the passengers in our tour group started yelling out, “this reminds me of Africa” (editors note: I’ve been to Africa numerous times and never once did I see a narrow bottle neck tunnel like this causing severe traffic jams). After some time this passenger started yelling out “can you call the police” repeating this over and over again until our guide finally acknowledged her and said “sorry, I have no cell phone signal”.
At one point our driver entered one of the tunnels with no visible oncoming traffic – soon numerous lights were seen of trucks driving the opposite direction; then the horns immediately started. Some of the truck drivers seem to be as dim as the lighting inside the tunnel – they took up the entire tunnel despite there being room to move over and let oncoming traffic squeeze by.
The scenario played out the same each time – the truck drivers would honk, stop and then wave their arms dramatically. Our driver would exit, spend about 5-10 minutes arguing with them and then the end result would be the truck driver would in fact move over to let us through. Some of the truck drivers clearly recognized the situation and had already moved far to the side of the tunnel anticipating the on coming traffic.
In any case, we finally reached our destination – the Gergeti Trinity Church – and we all hopped into 4wd drive vehicles for a memorable 30 min steep 4wd climb up the side of the mountain and through lots of snow. We popped out on a ridge and were surrounded by mountains. What a gorgeous spot to build a church. Gergeti Trinity Church has been standing here since the 14th century.