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Moving Overland from Greece into Turkey...

July 24

We left the pleasant town of Alexandroupolis, Greece, on the 10:45am bus to the Greek border town of Kipi, about 30 minutes away. We noticed a change in the scenery immediately upon leaving Alexandroupolis. A very rural environment with a decidedly Muslim feel to it emerged. Mosques began to replace Orthodox Churches. We were the only foreigners on the bus. Suddenly, we really felt like we were in a very foreign place, and we weren't even in Turkey yet!

Since our original plan was to cross over to Turkey from one of the Greek Isles by ferry, we really didn't have a lot of info on how to cross the border by land. We had changed our plans to cross by land only a week before. But we had time on our side and so we decided to just wing it. Knowing only that there was a border crossing at Kipi and little else, we asked the bus driver to let us off near the Greek passport control station. We found a long line of vehicles filled mostly with European tourists and Turkish citizens returning home. Nobody was on foot, like we were. We figured we would pass through customs and carry our packs into Turkey, where we would then either catch a bus or take a taxi to the first major town, Kesan ("Keh-SHAN") about 15km inside the country. What an adventure, walking to Turkey! This was the plan.

These plans were dashed immediately upon reaching the stern Greek passport control guard at the head of the long line of vehicles waiting for clearance into Turkey. "No foot traffic across the border, you must cross in a vehicle." That was that; there were no exceptions. Here we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere with all of our belongings in our two packs, and no vehicle. Stuck in a no-man's land between two countries. To make matters worse, nobody around us spoke enough English to be able to give us any suggestions about what to do. Frustrated and hot (did we mention it was high noon on a 100F day?), we sat down in the shade outside a solitary cafe next to the border control station. A young Turk sitting next to us spoke enough English to explain that we would either need to call for a taxi to come from Alexandroupolis, or else ask for a ride across the border in one of the many vehicles waiting at border control. A taxi was pretty much out of the question; not only would the cost have been exhorbitant to have it come from 30km away, but we would have to sit with it queued up behind a line of vehicles now about a kilometer long. It would be an unbearably long wait in terrible heat. So, left with only one option, we went with it -- we began to ask a few respectable-looking drivers if they would be so kind as to give us a lift the couple of kilometers to the Turkish border station. Yes, we were basically trying to hitch a ride -- it was all we had left to try. But few people had any room left in their vehicles (lots of families with luggage), and those that did didn't want to carry us over the border. Who knows, we could be hardened criminals...

Just as all hope seemed to be vanishing, we saw in the distance a large passenger bus approaching in the line of traffic -- could this be our chance?!? Sweating profusely in the sweltering heat, Mike made a dash for the bus. Would they give us the lift we so desperately needed? It turned out the bus was chock full of very tired-looking passengers coming all the way from (get this) Frankfurt en route to Istanbul. They were in the final hours of a two-day journey by bus. Suddenly, our situation didn't seem so drastic, seeing these poor souls crammed into this double-decker international bus on a 48-hour ride without a single shower or bed to sleep in! Fortunately, the bus crew was all Turkish, and they took pity on us and agreed to give us a lift! (More on incredible Turkish hospitality later). The bus assistant even helped sweet-talk the straight-faced Greek border policeman into "adding" our names to the "official" passenger list so we could cross into Turkey on the bus without incident. It took another two hours for the slow Greek border police to process the sixty-plus passports (including ours) for our busload, but we were just fine with that...we were getting across the border without a car, and that's all we wanted to do.

After clearing the Greek border police, we had to do the same at the Turkish border station, some 4km down the road just before the river which officially separates Greece from Turkey. The Turks were far more sensible and helpful than the Greeks were. But the border station was crowded and the signage was poor, so chaos reigned inside the hot station as hundreds of people, Turkish and otherwise, struggled to figure out which line they belonged in. Eventually, we got our visas stamped in our passports and all was official. The whole process on the Turkish side took all of an hour -- about a third the time we spent waiting at the Greek border. We were left with the feeling that perhaps the Greeks really didn't want to make it easy for people to cross into Turkey. We all loaded into the bus, a Turkish border guard came on board to check that we all had our passports stamped, and we were on our way. The bus cruised across the River Ergene, and that was that. We were in Turkey!

We really felt like stowaways on the bus -- there were no seats left, and every nook and cranny seemed to be occupied by luggage. We squeezed ourselves in to the back of the luggage area on a stairwell leading to the second deck, next to the toilet. It sounds bad, but we didn't care -- the ride was only 20 minutes long. We were dropped off, as we wished, at Kesan's main bus terminal, where we could catch a local Turkish bus to our next destination. We couldn't believe what gracious souls the bus crew was. Not only did they take us across the border, but they took us to the first town's bus station where we could get onward passage. And on top of it all, they wanted nothing in return -- they would not take any money! They just smiled and waved, helping us with our luggage and wishing us well before they departed for Istanbul.

It was all smooth sailing from there. What an amazing introduction to Turkey!!

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