Trinity Church in Kazbegi, Georgia. Be Careful of Scam and Fraud by Tour Companies

I had such a good wine tasting trip with the tour company yesterday so I decided to go back to the same tour company and joined their other tour to Trinity church in Kazbegi.

Wrong decision.

I had been ‘warned’ by other Canadians in the wine tasting group yesterday, ‘only this tour guide is good!!’ I thought they were just kidding because we had such a nice time at the vineyards and all of us at the end of the day were a bit tipsy. But it turned out what they said was true.

Here’s how the scam began.

After I paid for the Kazbegi tour, the staff at the tour company said, ‘ok, just wait here for the tour guide.’

When the tour guide appeared, I was a bit disappointed.  He was not the one from yesterday although they shared the same name (check out one common name in Georgia here) and he was not energetic at all.

The half-hearted tour guide asked, ‘who want to sit at the front?’ I raised my hand, ‘me!’ energetically. A German traveller standing beside me looked at the tour guide and said, ‘I reserved the front seat at the office when I booked the tour.’ OK. That’s fine. You came here before me. ‘I will take the front seat when we returned’, I said and it was acknowledged.

The vibe was so different from the wine tasting group yesterday. It was so quiet. I am sure the place has a lot of history but with the half-hearted tour guide who spoke with his ‘FM radio late night show’ tone and sometimes with his eyes fully closed (that’s right, not even half closed), I don’t remember whatever he said and my mind just drifted away.  Most of the time, he sounded like he was reciting his history books.  Very unprofessional.  I could be a better tour guide than he.

In fact, the driver, who is an Egyptian, could speak better English than the tour guide. Sometimes the driver helped the tour guide to explain things in English.

Wait. Is the tour guide Georgian? Does he love his own country? Maybe not to both questions.

We had a few stops before we went to the Trinity church.

Photo taking time!

When we arrived at the foot of the mountain where the Trinity church was, we were told to switch to a jeep.  After switching to another vehicle, the tour guide then said, ‘you all need to pay 12Gel to the jeep driver.’

I was shocked.

I told him nobody at the office told me about extra charges. He then called the office and asked me to talk to them. The German traveller was shocked too because he said the lady in the office told him the jeep was included in the tour. Great! I didn’t even know we needed to switch to another vehicle. He was ‘better informed’.

Scam!

These Georgians started to rip off the tourists. 

It was my first bad experience in Georgia.  

It wasn’t about the money. It was the fact that they didn’t disclose anything when I paid for the tour when they had the time to do so. They could have told me all these while I was waiting for the tour guide at their office. They all knew that to get to Trinity church which was on top of the mountain, the travellers needed to go uphill. If the travellers didn’t go uphill, this Trinity church tour wouldn’t be complete because their tour was ‘the Trinity church tour’ and it would be misleading. And to go uphill, the travellers needed to take the jeep or hike up the mountain (free) which would take quite some time (more than an hour). However, the tour would not wait for the travellers who hiked up. That meant, there was only one option for the travellers – to take the jeep. How come I wasn’t informed?

Trinity Church
The church is surrounded by snowy mountain.
Today’s lunch. I didn’t eat this. I ordered something else.
This was what I ate. The other travellers from my group said to me at lunch time, ‘this is probably the worst tour I have joined in Georgia.’

After this ‘jeep incident’ and as we were ready to head back to Tbilisi, the tour guide said sternly, ‘nobody else should sit in the front. That’s the tour guide’s seat. It’s written in the book.’ I didn’t care what book he was referring to but it was obvious that he wanted his guests to feel bad and he intentionally shortened the trip too. Apparently, he had grudge. The Egyptian driver looked a bit embarrassed.

That wasn’t the end of the story.

When we arrived at Tbilisi, the tour guide commanded me to talk to his tour company. The German traveller and I stayed at the office and argued with them.  

The staff at the office showed me a paper that I signed yesterday and asked me, ‘is it you?’

I said, ‘yes.’

‘You signed it. On this paper, it says there are extra charges for extra activities. You need to pay for it.’

‘Yes, but this was for the wine tasting trip yesterday and nobody gave me anything to sign this morning when I paid for this Kazbegi tour.’ I said.

‘No, you don’t need to sign another one. See?’ he then pointed at the tour number on that same piece of paper. There were now two tour numbers there – one was for the wine tasting trip and another one was for the Kazbegi trip.  

I was shocked and furious!

‘What?!  How could you add another tour number on a paper after I signed it and force me to agree to that when I didn’t even know it? That’s not legal!’  That would mean they could add as many tour numbers as they wanted after the travellers signed it and forced them to pay for those tours that they didn’t even commit to join!  

THAT WAS FRAUD!

‘You have already signed it.’ He insisted.

‘No! What you did was illegal!’ I said. They either pretended that they didn’t understand the word ‘illegal’ or they really didn’t understand that word.

At the same time, the German traveller was arguing with another staff.

The lady at the office said to me, ‘yesterday, my son was so nice to you. He spent so much time on explaining to you how to get from one place to another and now you are doing this to us!’ Gosh! That’s another thing!!

You committed FRAUD!

It’s a CRIME!

They kept insisting that I was wrong.

I was so upset.

It was not a lot of money and I was in their country. Maybe in their country, there was no such thing as ‘FRAUD’.

That’s probably what they had in mind – ‘you travellers. You don’t know the law here and it’s not a lot of money for you. In the end, you will have to pay for whatever you haven’t signed. We are the locals. We know the law. We also know the loopholes. You will not win. You will have to acquiesce.’  

I put the money on the desk in their office and left.

The German traveller was still there in the office arguing with the staff when I left.

As I was walking back to my hostel, a car pulled over and stopped in front of me.  It turned out it was the Egyptian driver. He asked me, ‘Did you get things sorted out?’ I was still very upset. He shook his head and felt bad about the whole thing. I was not in a good mood. He tried to calm me down. I felt a bit better.

When I went back to the hostel, the owners could sense that I was very upset.  Before I said anything, they poured me some water and gave me something like Ribena to drink to calm me down. It was so nice of them. I told them (there were other travellers there) the story. This time, I felt much better. I wonder what drink they gave me. 😛

Dinner in a restaurant recommended by the owners. It looked so sumptuous! Guess what I had with another Iranian traveller? 😛 This was actually the ceiling of the restaurant!! 😛 I also went to some wine shops to taste some wine after dinner. 😛

I met a couple from Israel at the hostel after dinner. They heard my story about the trip to Kazbegi. They said, ‘you don’t need to join a tour to Kazbegi. We went there by ourselves today.’ Thanks for telling me that. Why didn’t I meet you two earlier?

Well, it wasn’t too late because we were heading to the same destination tomorrow. 😊

Stay tuned. 😊

12 June 2017

Tip:

Honestly, if you’re travelling in Georgia, trust me, you don’t need to join any local tour to Kazbegi or anywhere except for the wine tasting trip because you don’t want to drink and drive.  As I said in my previous blog, it is very easy to get around in Georgia. I took the tour because I slept in and couldn’t catch the daily bus to Kazbegi in the morning 😛 Yes, the truth revealed.  😛 But it was good too because I can now warn other travellers.

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