Stuck for three days on the road from Vladikavkaz to Tbilisi

December 2018

After traveling around Southern Russia, it was time to go overland to Georgia via the ‘’Georgian Military Highway’’. The owner of my hotel in Vladikavkaz recommended I take a shared taxi. At the bus station I quickly found a taxi driver who was willing to take me and three other passengers straight to Tbilisi. My fellow passengers where two Chechen plastic surgeons and a Georgian lady. The surgeons where a father and son on their way to Tbilisi for work. The Georgian lady was traveling home from Moscow. Our ride was supposed to take three hours, but would eventually take three days. Here is what happened.

Day one: the border and the weather

The night before I left I got a text from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, the “МЧС”, stating that trucks and buses would not be allowed on the road to Georgia due to bad weather. I don’t know whether every phone in Vladikavkaz got this message, or if they somehow knew I wanted to travel on this road. Still I wasn’t worried, since I traveled by taxi and saw no snowfall on the Russian part of mountains. We quickly arrived at the border, where we had our first delay. My driver and fellow passengers were allowed through, but the Russian border guards seemed a bit puzzled about what to do with me: a Dutch guy on a student visa, living in Moscow and traveling through North-Ossetia. I was taken to an office and questioned for about an hour. The staff there were polite though, and even spoke English. After I got my stamp, and walked towards my annoyed taxi driver. It had started raining. We drove toward the Georgian border guards, who let us pass without a hassle.

Just shortly after the border crossing, the rain turned into snow. Once we got close to the mountain-town of Kazbegi, the driver told us some bad news. The road was closed beyond Kazbegi because of snowfall. We could either join him back to Vladikavkaz, or stay in Kazbegi. The four of us decided to stay in snowy Kazbegi. We found a guesthouse. I ended up sharing a room with the Chechen plastic surgeons, the Georgian lady got her own room. The guesthouse was full of stranded travelers, mostly Armenians. We got news that the road might open the next day.

Day two: what it’s like to be snowed in

I became friends with my three fellow passengers. We walked around, and had breakfast, lunch and dinner together in one of the restaurants or at the guesthouse. There is not much else to do when snowed in, though. I had been to Kazbegi before in summertime, and enjoyed hiking there. But since there was a danger of avalanches, hiking was not an option now. We all listened to news about the road, hoping it would open.

When darkness fell, some Armenians tried to drive to Tbilisi despite the road being closed. The small convoy included a family with young children, who stayed in our guesthouse as well. I worried about them, since there was probably a risk of avalanches on the road. Eventually they returned after police sent them back.

Day three: an avalanche and an odd convoy

It was a sunny snowy day in Kazbegi. By eleven in the morning we got the news that the road had opened. Me and my three fellow travelers found a driver willing to take us to Tbilisi. We reached a traffic-jam of cars, vans and big trucks. Ahead a police car blocked the road. We heard the road would open soon, but then saw an avalanche coming down far away. It was a beautiful sight, though bad news. I started to think of a way to get back into Russia and buy a plane-ticket. But later in the afternoon snowplowers drove towards us. Shortly after this, people told us the road would open for all vehicles but the trucks, and then close again. We hurried into the car, and drove off under the sounds off starting engines and car horns. What followed was an absurd convoy of Ladas, vans and SUVs driving through an Arctic-like landscape.

We arrived in Tbilisi after dark. I realised we were lucky, since more bad weather was expected up in the mountains. We could have been stuck there for even longer. On online fora I read questions about travel between Russia and Georgia. It is possible, but maybe don’t do it in winter.