How to escape from Georgia: why you should not risk with flight tickets

This is a small story, that illustrates in detail, that you should always have plan “B” when you are planning your trip, especially when you travel in winter. It took place in Georgia. We had had wonderful winter holidays in Gudauri ski resort, and it was time for us to leave that beautiful place.

I have already written, that instead of taking regular tickets from Tbilisi, we took cheap flight tickets from Vladikavkaz, which meant, that in the case of heavy snow there was a tiny probability, that the only road from Gudauri to Vladikavkaz will be closed. We just hoped that it would not happen.

And now it begins…

9:45 a.m.

That was nice and sunny morning in the mountains, we had our last breakfast in a hotel. My omelet was too salty, but everything else was delicious as usual.

– Is everything OK? Nino – the hotel manager’s wife – came to the dining room. As always she was nice and attentive.

– Yes, everything is perfect. Thank you very much.

– What time are you leaving?

– Right after breakfast. We are waiting for the driver. He is coming at 9:30 or so.

– Are you sure you won’t be late? What time is the flight? – Nino always worried, she wanted everything to go right.

– It is at 4:30. Do not worry, we’ve got time. It will not take more than 2 hours to get to the airport.

– OK…OK…then…you’re leaving from Tbilisi, right?

– Mmm…not really, we chose Vladikavkaz.

– OK, OK, I see. Well, OK, have your breakfast, I will not disturb.

10:15 a.m.

We were sitting in the lobby with our baggage, waiting for a taxi. Suddenly a man runs into the hotel, grabs my bag, said: “they are closing the road” and ran away. We looked at each other, grabs other bags and ran away. We jumped into the car, breathing heavily.

– They promised me, that they would let me through.

– Who did?

– The police, – the driver answered.

Maybe getting through the mountain neck, when the road is officially closed is no the best idea, but we had non-refundable tickets for the flight, which departs in 6 hours.It started snowing…

10:17 a.m.

Our car reached the village outskirts. The police car with flashing lights on had blocked the way, and there was already a small line of cars on the road. We took our place on the line and the driver came to talk to policemen. He got back really sad.

– They said they will let me through, but the don’t. I would get through, I swear, I would. I know, these usual sedans will not, but I can, – he pointed to his car.

– What did they say, – I wondered.

– Nothing. Just…the road is closed, there is an avalanche, a road scraper is working to clean the road. And maybe not. Nobody knows

– There was an avalanche?

– I saw it. I hid in a tunnel, – the driver answered.

– What? Is that normal?

– Yeah, and now we have to wait, – he drummed on the steering wheel with his thumbs. What time is your flight?

– In six hours.

The driver looked at his watch.

– That’s bad.

11:38 a.m.

It was still snowing. The line of the cars has grown by 40-60 cars. We were quite nervous, and, in fact, the main reason was a lack of information: we all did not know even the forecast when they open the road.

It was cold in the car.

12:50 p.m.

 I thought: “OK, it is still 3.5 hours before the flight. We still have time. The road takes about an hour, plus an hour for crossing the border. It is necessary to check an hour before check in because it is an internal flight. If we start now, we are still in time”. But we were still waiting. We became really nervous, not because of the cold or information hunger, but because we did not know what to do in case of missing the flight. And that scenario became more and more realistic. That was the 6th of January, high season, no rooms were available in Gudauri and we knew it. We were abroad without mobile internet and the possibility to call anybody. That supposed to be our last day in Georgia, so, we did not have cash, only credit cards (Georgia is not a country, where paying with cards is high developed). We were just sitting in in the car and waiting for some information. I was relly close to panic.

– How long do these periods of closing usually last? – I asked the driver.

– Sometimes it lasts several days.

– And you are just waiting all that time?

– Yeah. Sometimes people even die, waiting.

– Because of the cold?

– No, because they start the car and get asleep and were short of breath because of the gas.

– That’s sad.

“OK, even if we miss the flight, we still can…what? To go to Tbilisi and find a hotel, which takes credit cards? What if the road will be opened that time?” I had no answer.

2:02 p.m.

I finally understood, that there is absolutely no chance not to miss the flight. And that was time to action. We needed to get to Russia, and there will be the internet, working ATM, the local currency. But how to do it?

3:32 p.m.

Some foreigner started to clean the glass of our car with the credit card. He thought he was helping us. He was smiling and now I understand, that he was really nice, but we were totally upset and could not react with smiles.

We left our luggage in the car and went 15 minutes to our hotel because of cold and necessity to do something

4:47 p.m.

– What happened? – asked Nino. She appeared the same moment, that we opened the door.

– The road is closed.

– For how long?

– Nobody knows, – I felt awkward. Can we sit here and look for other flights, using your internet?

– Of course!

Actually, I hoped, that there was a chance to take a taxi to Tbilisi and find a flight to Moscow from there. Tbilisi is on the opposite side from Gudauri and the road to Tbilisi is never closed.

– How much is it to take a taxi to Tbilisi? – I asked Nino.

– It is too late.

– What do you mean?

– Two hours to get to Tbilisi and two hours back. It will become dark and nobody will agree to make that voyage.

– Are you sure? There is no chance?

– You can always ask your driver. He is just sitting and waiting anyway…

 In this case, we loose:

  • 113$ for flight tickets that we lost;
  • 60$ for our driver to take us to Tbilisi and getting back;
  • 30$ for our driver as a compensating for his way to Gudauri and back to Vladikavkaz;
  • 435$ for new tickets from Tbilisi. There was an option – the flight at 5 a.m. We could spend a night in the airport. Unfortunately, there were no trains to Moscow.

There were other flights from Vladikavkaz for the next day, and they were much cheaper than from Tbilisi. And we did not need to pay for the taxi to Tbilisi. But we needed, firstly, to get to Vladikavkaz and secondly, to spend at least one night somewhere.

– Last year just in January the road was closed for 2 weeks. People were waiting and waiting, but they were with their own cars. Finally, they decided to go through Baku with extra 1500 kilometers, – told Nino.

“Thanks for your support”. – I thought. I really did not want to spend extra 435$, especially in the situation, when the road can be opened anytime. But we were hungry and it was cold outside and we had two big bags, two small bags, ski equipment, no local currency and no working options where to spend the next night.

5:57 p.m.

– Well, there is no point to wait. It can last forever, – I said to my wife.

– What do you suggest?

– To take these expensive tickets and get out of here. The only option is to wait here, in the lobby or in the car. But for how long?

– Yeah, let’s take them and try to talk to our driver to take us to Tbilisi.

We were really tired, I opened my laptop and filled all necessary fields. Just before I push the “buy” button Nino came downstairs with the telephone on her arm.

– They say they will open it soon.

I was excited!

– How soon?

– Soon, I do not know, maybe in an hour. Maybe that is just speculations.

Anyway, that was good news, we grabbed our small bags, said huge “Thanks” to Nino and ran to the car. Our driver was quite funny, he knew about that news. In half an hour they opened the road.

6:40 p.m.

Our driver drove like a maniac. He was tired maybe even more than we were, but it was really scary to be in that car. We were in the mountains, on the winter road, but the speed rarely was less than 80 km/h. While we were going I saw the traces of several snow avalanches. The road scraper made small tunnels in masses of snow and going through them you see the walls of snow of 2.5 meters height. Here you understand, that in the case of an avalanche the car won’t be pushed from the mountain but it will be smashed by tons of snow.

– Is there still a probability of avalanche? – I asked the driver.

– Of course, they always appear. If they open the road it doesn’t mean you are in safe, – he laughed. He is working in these conditions every day.

7:18 p.m.

Thank God we went down in the valley without snow. Russian border was really close.

– I hope now we are in safe? There cannot be avalanches anymore, right?

– Uhu. Avalanche – no. But big stones still can fall. Look, that one has fallen a couple of days ago.

That was not a stone, that was a rock as big as a 2-floors building. He thinks that is just a stone. But I remember that I was too tired to be nervous.

7:59 p.m.

We crossed the border and we finally were happy. Mobile internet appeared, our credit cards worked, we were not in the mountains anymore. Everything we wanted was to find a hotel and in the morning we were going to book flight tickets and finally get to Moscow.

– There are tickets for today. The departure is in two hours, – that was the voice of my wife from the back seat.

– Are there tickets?

– It seems yes.

– Take it.

We took flight tickets being in the car. Having too many bags we paid 145$ for tickets and 161$ for extra luggage, but we still were happy, that we were leaving the same day. I hope our driver did not get any fines because he drove very fast all the way to the airport.

Total lost:

  • 113$ for flight tickets that we lost;
  • 306$ for new tickets.

Always have plan “B” if you know, that there is a possibility, that something in your trip can go wrong.

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