Monday, 13 December 2010

Istanbul - The Border Dash

I sleep right through my alarm – rising only once David rattles my tent an 10 o'clock. Once through with some epic faffing I'm finally on the ferry. Only five hours behind schedule too. The task today is to get a new Turkish tourist visa, without crazy travel expenses. Twenty Lira for a bus to the boarder town seems quite reasonable. Not as cheap as hitching, but more reliable given my tight time frame (my visa runs out today).

I arrive outside Edirne at nine thirty and get to walking. I have twenty kilometres to cover before midnight. The temperature has dropped significantly. My breath condenses on my moustache which gives the sensation of having a really runny nose. I enjoy the walk. It's nice feel in the middle of nowhere again. Away from the chaos of the city. Peace, quiet and time to think. I'd like to say I've always had the “it'll work out” philosophy, but with my last minute boarder dash I feel I'm at least now putting it into practice. Thanks to a storming pace I make the boarder with time to spare.

The guard is somewhat difficult. I suspect he wasn't top group material in maths class – I get the impression he thinks I've overstayed. After some scribbling on a scrap of paper he says “OK, go”. I go.

It feels odd to walk the the area between countries. It's my friend Joe's birthday and I really want to send him a greeting from “no man's land”. But I think snapping photos in such an area may be pushing my luck. Sorry dude!

The Greek border guard is a cheery fellow. By border guard standards anyway. I still get a grilling, but it's done in a nice way. I don't know how, but one quickly learns how to treat boarder guards, and to give them the answers they want to hear. It's like – to have an answer for everything, without appearing to know it all. He looks almost upset when I explain that I'm not going to Greece, and just want a new Turkish visa. All I need is a stamp. There's a funny moment when he explains that (with Greece being in the EU) I don't need a stamp. But he says that if I tell him to stamp my passport he will:

“Sir, do you want me to stamp your passport?”

“I don't know, do you want me to want you to stamp my passport?”

etc. etc.

I sit and wait for fifteen minutes, as apparently I'm not allowed to simply turn around and walk back....He explains why, but his voice is drowned out by the sound of flying bullshit. The fifteen minutes expire and he allows my return to Turkey. I nod to the two gate guards, both sporting flashy assault rifles, and think to myself how dull their job must be – little did I know...

At the Turkish border office I'm once again exchanging with misery guts. Though it's not much of an exchange. He jabbers on at me for some time (in Turkish). I don't catch a word. I just continue to smile with a slightly vacant expression on my chops. Another fellow comes to the rescue and explains that I have to spend the night in Greece. Much as I thought. Fortunately tomorrow is twenty minutes away. Apparently this will not do, I must return at six or seven the following morning. I blubber something about not understanding and ask if I can pitch my tent on a small patch of grass outside the office. I then hear something resembling a sketch from Father Ted (but in Turkish).

“No no, n-no no no, no yes!”

I leave to go and set up my tent. All three behind the counter laugh...and then call me back.

“Fifteen Euro”.

“Lira?” (I don't have enough Euros)


Euro's it is. Exchanged courtesy of duty free. Then the bossy guy spots my guitar.

“Hey, come and play!” Gesturing I go round the back to the office entrance.

So I sit behind the counter with the three border guards. It's all a bit surreal. And slightly uncomfortable. They're nice enough, but they're border guards. I should loath them on sight and without question. I give them my best (newly learned) lapsteel slide blues while I stomp out a beat on the tiled floor. It sounds better than I expected (nothing like a bit of pressure). I even get claps and cheers. I spend the next thirty minutes showing them my website and explaining that my parents are not loaded, I am not rich, and I earned my money myself. I don't think they believed a word. At the end of it all they bid me goodnight with smiles and handshakes.

***Note to self: Play guitar at all future boarder crossings***

I walk on up the road rather chuffed with myself. It's twelve thirty. I'm pretty beat. While still in sight of the border I jump into a field and set up my tent. Without my mattress I can feel the cold ground sucking all the heat out of me. Gonna be a cold night.

Just as I'm drifting off to sleep I hear the footfalls of several people in the field. Voices too (not speaking Turkish). My breath becomes shallow and silent as I listen. They're close, really close. I didn't take much care being concealed from the road. As the amber of a sodium street light bathes my tent, I don't doubt they can see me. I hear muted talking and someone clicks their fingers twice. I brace myself for whatever card is about to be dealt my way (while cursing that I didn't have my knife handy). That said - fight or flight doesn't really apply when your lying butt naked zipped up in a tent. Twigs crack underfoot as they cross from the road to the field. My heart quickens – give me wolves in Bulgaria any day!

To my surprise the sounds get quieter. Though I dare not drop my guard just yet. I wait. I don't know what I wait for. But I wait. The next thing I hear is shouts go up from the direction of the border. The sound of panic. Tooth by tooth I unzip my tent trying desperately not to make a noise. I pop my head out to see truck headlights are scanning the landscape. I make out the “thud” of high voltage floodlights striking up. At the limit of my eyesight I see shadows running near the border office. I make the decision to bail. Socks on, boots on. Shit it's cold. First frost of the year. Whip out the tent pegs. Wrap everything up and codge it into a manageable lump with bungee chords. Get moving.

Back on the road I look for more hidden campsites but scrap the idea in favour of putting some distance between me and the fun and games which are going on behind me. I try to come up with a explanation for what I just witnessed. Not really wanting to find the answer. My suspicions are further confirmed when I reach the next checkpoint. The two guards are crouched either side of the road with rifles ready. One checks my passport. I am permitted to move on.

From then on I twitch at every dog bark and odd noise. I aim for the main bus terminal at Edirne. By three thirty I've walked over thirty kilometres. I give up and pitch my tent once more. Cold night.

***Note to self #2: Don't camp near borders***

***Note to self #3: Sleeping mats are for warmth more than comfort – do not go without***

No comments:

Post a Comment