Taking the bus from Tbilisi to Istanbul is a 24-hour-plus ordeal that generally involves cattle-dodging, seaside views, stops for local food and the pungent odors of fellow travelers. But there is another rite of passage that helps differentiates the trip from most other long bus rides -- the loading and transit of hundreds of cartons of cigarettes.
“Everyone either has three cartons of cigarettes with them or buys three cartons at the border,” said one Georgian woman who has made the trip several times. Each person crossing into Turkey is allowed to bring a maximum of three 10-pack cartons of cigarettes. “Even if you don’t smoke or say you don’t want any, someone will give you three cartons just to carry across the border and you give them back to them once you’re in Turkey,” said the woman, who gave her name as Nana.
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Nicholas Alan Clayton is a reporter based in Istanbul.