We rolled over the border into Turkey, to great amusement for the Turkish border guards. My Iranian helpers disappeared in a flash. Most probably because they managed to break my number plate while pushing Boris over the border. Huseyn the friendly border guard (who just happened to of studied in London and spoke English) helped me sort out my car. In the end I just left in at the border, 100m from Iran.
While I waited for a ride into Dogubayazit (now affectionately called Dogbiscuit) I had my first day of training at Turkish border control. Razi showing me the ropes. The first class was called ‘Sitting in the office defrosting around the heater while we fobbed off anybody wanting help crossing the border’. I feel I can now add ‘Turkish Border Control Agent’ to my CV.
Another traveller dropped me in town and I made may way to the Tehran hotel which was recommended in the Lonely Planet. I got a room, had dinner and crashed. It had been a long day.
The following day Bilal the hotel manager promised to help. I’d also received help from Mahmut on the HUBB website too. Things were looking up immediately. Reflecting on my first day in Turkey I wondered whether the decision to leave Iran was the right one. Time would tell. Decisions made at 2am in the morning when your car is broken down might not be the best. Either way I was glad to finally be out of Iran. Simply put, it was a nightmare.
That night it was New Years Eve and a fun night boozing in the hotel with Bilal and friends awaited. We play music and got the beers with Bilal and his mate Bill (not his real name), the Iranian people smuggler. Yes, that is right, a people smuggler. It’s quite a successful business model apparently. It ended with late night Raki with Zafer and Gettah. As the night faded away as we listened to the Turkish version of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I did it my way’. I took it as a sign it was time to go home.
New Years day I was rough day but planning began in earnest. The question of what to do and where to go was the priority of the day? Erzurum? Ankara? or Istanbul? I found a few options and then I had the genius idea to go to Greece!! It was in the EU and most importantly I could leave the truck behind while I headed to London. Unfortunately Turkish customs laws require your car to stay in customs if you leave the country. Obviously that wouldn’t work as I need it to be repaired. Thus the decision to go 300kms past Istanbul and cross the border in to Greece. That way I could return to London for work commitments, while waiting for parts to reach Greece and repairs to be completed. As I said, genius.
Next day we did a deal to get Boris to Istanbul on an 18 wheeler. From where we would then transfer to another recovery truck company who would store Boris and then take us to the Greece border. Things were picking up pace and progress was being made. We collected Boris from the border (after three days as the official finally lost patience. In their words, ‘we are not operating a carpark for foreigners!’) and loaded him onto Faik’s truck ready for the next day departure.
I had Bilal to thank for helping me make the arrangements. He kindly came with me to negotiate and translate until it was all sorted. He even got up early to take me to the Dolmus to reach Faik and his 18 wheeler. Quite simply he was the King of Dogbiscuit. He had all the connections and made things happen. Top man. And by this stage Mahmut had also put me in touch some Greek contacts. I was speaking to Stefanos in Orestiada about arranging the mechanic and recovery truck on that side. The plan was coming together nicely.
I finally departed Dogbiscuit at 7.30am. I made it to Igdir around 8.15am where I was picked up by Faik and we set off. His truck was pimped out with gadgets, a sleeping room, with fold out beds and all sorts useful things. It was nice and warm. Very comfortable and homely too. And a no shoes policy on account of the carpet. And so started my first 18 wheeler ride. Someone somewhere once mentioned this would be a solo single vehicle journey. He obviously had no idea what he was talking about. Istanbul here we come.
Thirty hours later we rolled into Istanbul, crossed the Bosphorus, exited Asia and entered back into Europe. Leg 4 was done. Faik, Kiwi Ted and I celebrated in the truck cab. It was a satisfying moment even if Boris was being carried by another truck. We had deputised Faik’s 18 wheeler into the Great Game team. Now there’s an idea for the next journey.
Fourteen years after my first visit I was finally back in Istanbul. Steve and Ebru had kindly offered me a place to stay in Istanbul, based on Steve’s daughter Laura recommending me as one of her best friends. Laura and I are yet to meet in person, such is the world of social media. Something tells me we will be best of friends though when we finally met. As an added bonus it was Saturday night so we were able to celebrate with beers and Raki. It was the perfect end to the Asian leg of the adventure.
Sunday however, wasn’t so flash.
With time to kill before my replacement parts arrived in Greece, I had the chance to explore the city again. The following few days were spent walking miles, riding a few trains, trams and cable cars, as I took in the Ayia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque & Topkapi Palace around the Sultanahmet area. More palaces, mosques, towers and views of the Bosphorus straits came and went. And of course there was the obligatory visit to the Aga Hammam to be scrubbed and pummelled by a couple of Turkish masseurs.
Each night I would return to my little Turkish homestead. I loved my stay. It was a such an enjoyable few days I decided to adopt my first Turkish family. To say that Stephen, Ebru, Dagan, Ipek and their deaf cat Pamukseker (cotton floss) were excited and honoured, was an understatement.
As I’ve made this journey I’ve become profoundly thankful for the generosity of strangers. I’ve fed off their support. It’s a kind of fix that has kept me going, kept me cheerful, helped me to persevere. I struggled to imagine just how hard a solo journey really would be before I left. I now have some idea. Bloody hard!! The men and women that do these big solo trips have my utmost respect. Cycling around the world, climbing mountains, walking continents, sailing and rowing across oceans. Madness, just brilliant madness…
On departure day I had one last breakfast with my adopted Turkish family. I said farewell to the wonderful Kennington family and went to find Boris. I found him just after 10am, loaded him onboard yet another recovery truck and headed for Greece. There was last minute confusion over which border to drive towards which kept things entertaining. What I thought was a straightforward request was anything but. Ebru had no idea and the recovery guys didn’t seem to know either. Confusion was reigning. Eventually though we got it sorted. Trust me I said, I know what I’m doing.
The drive north to the border into was in uneventful until we reached the border. As usual it wasn’t straightforward. The small border at Edirne didn’t have a giant X-ray machine for Boris and they wanted me to travel 70kms to th Bulgarian border to get checked. A little charm and some old fashioned begging sorted that out and I was allowed to pass. My driver took me right over to the Greek side with an Turkish guard escort to make sure there was nothing dodgy. And just like that we were back in the EU.
p.s I’m back underway from Greece. Aiming to arrive in London at midday on Saturday (Feb 1st) outside the gates of the Royal Geographic Society. Come on down for a drink and a dance.