´No! I don´t know what you have in your rucksack,´ and off he drove. Leaving us stranded on the Turkish side of the border with a mile of no-man´s land, a company of soldiers and an impossible situation between us and Greece. Maybe we should have learnt our lesson.
Travelling in Turkey is, generally, a very easy experience. In the month that we spent in the country we travelled exclusively by hitch-hiking and Turkey is certainly one of the easiest countries in which to do it. Border crossings, however, are a different beast.
The story starts 1,503km to the east, and one month earlier on the Georgia–Turkey border crossing in Sarp. We had crossed the Georgian border control to be confronted with a scene of unspeakable confusion. There were no police, just thousands of people pushing and shouting. No queues, no system, no information in any language let alone English, just a multitude of people holding their passports in the air, in the hope that the window 10 feet above the ground would open and scoop up their passports, process them and let them through.
We tried to fight our way through to the passport gods but our rucksacks, lack of Turkish and reduced height all worked against us and after 30 minutes we were no closer to finding out what we must do or where we must go. An hour later and things were getting a bit desperate. We started looking around for other English speaking people in the hope that a collective force of EU passport holders would have more of an effect.
Then a man whose name we never learnt but I am sure was something akin to Superman, forced his way through the crowd. A Greek–Norwegian man with a permanent smile, long hair and a forcefulness comparable to a storm.
‘You need help?’ he asked ‘then follow me’ and we were off.
First step, he pushed his way through the crowd and stuck his head into a window. No luck. Next step, through some doors and into the main office. ‘You need a visa‘ replied the office worker. No problem. We sneaked across the Turkish border to get a visa from the other side then crossed back to get the visa stamped and then finally we crossed legitimately. Unbelievable.
And so, back to Ipsala, on the Greek–Turkish border. After hitching a lift to the border with some customs officers, we found that it is impossible to cross the border on foot and we were told by a surly looking policeman that we needed to cross in a car or not at all. After two hours of waving down all approaching cars and lorries and being told that no, they will not take us across, mainly because they believed that we were drug smugglers; the same sinking feeling of helplessness. But Deliverance is found in unexpected places. The wife of the Consul General of Turkey to Greece, a charming woman of serenity and calmness, took pity upon us and we were through, without even having our bags checked!
And we were on our way to Thessaloniki…
written by: Jon