Leaving Turkey in a fit
After spending much longer in Turkey than expected, we took an early evening bus from Goreme in Cappadocia to Kayseri, a large town about an hour away, and then sat in the space-age bus terminal for three hours waiting for our midnight departure to Antakya, or Hatay, the nearest Turkish town to the Syrian border.
Whoever was in control of the lights in the bus terminal was clearly trying to induce some sort of fit in those passengers waiting, bleary-eyed, for their connections.
Every now and then, the lights would be turned up to hospital-grade white for a few minutes, before being dimmed so low I considered taking out my head-lamp. Occasionally, we thought we’d gotten off the bus at a disco, because the lights changed colours from red to blue to green to white before starting the whole cycle again.
We alternatively squinted to read the type in our books and shielded our eyes from the fluorescence, and I ate popcorn.
Finally our coach arrived. Turns out Hatay is much closer to Kayseri than we thought – but the bus stopped every hour or more, for reasons known only to the bus driver and his female sidekick, a woman in heels and too much makeup who tottered up and down the aisles giving out cakes.
To be fair, the bus emptied out around 5am, allowing Alicia and I space to stretch out across two rows of seats and get some sleep, and we did arrive in Hatay on time.
The bus from Antakya to Aleppo
Getting the bus from Hatay to Aleppo couldn’t have been easier. When we stepped off our midnight coach at 7.30 the next morning, plenty of people were offering us lifts across the border.
Once we’d found a representative from the bus company we’d just traveled with, we agreed to the bargain price of 10 turkish lira each for the three hour trip to Aleppo and were happy to find the coach was departing in twenty minutes.
By 8am, there was a grand total of 5 passengers on the coach made for 55, all of us foreigners. I seriously doubted the coach would leave with such a small number on board, but again I was proved excessively paranoid because by five past eight, we were on our way to Syria.
Stuck in customs?
I was the first from our bus to be stamped out of Turkey, and then stood by while the Turkish border official frowned at Alicia’s two passports.
It seemed that her visa and entry stamp into Turkey was in her now cancelled Emergency Passport, issued to replace the one she’d had stolen in Hungary. Our friendly official didn’t know what to do about processing her exit from the country.
Alicia urged him to call her contact at the Australian embassy in Istanbul, where she’d had a new, unrestricted passport issued, but no dice. He threw the passports back at us, and gestured to our bus driver he should take us to the police station.
It was a funny situation for me to be in – already stamped out of Turkey, it seemed I was nowhere. If Alicia wasn’t allowed into the country, I had no idea what we were going to do. So,
‘Cry,’ I hissed at her as we walked into the police station. ‘If they won’t let you leave start crying. And I’ll cry too.’
‘Oh, I’ll cry alright,’ she assured me.
The police seemed perturbed when she announced that no, she wasn’t a student but a lawyer. It seems borders are much easier to handle if you’re a student.
And although we didn’t understand any of the exchange between the three police officers and our bus driver, it was pretty clear the guy in charge was rolling his eyes at the border official. He picked up the phone and spoke angrily into it, and then waved us on our way.
We assumed the gist of what he was saying was, ‘Are you a moron? What are we going to do with her if we don’t let her leave the country? Let the Syrians deal with her crazy passport situation!’
Exit stamp freshly inked, we were soon travelling through no-man’s land and on to the Middle East proper.
But do we make it to Aleppo? Find out in part 2 in this series on crossing from Turkey to Syria by land.
On my RTW trip during the summer of 2010, I met my friend Alicia in Istanbul and we spent the next 46 days travelling overland through Turkey, Syria and Jordan before I headed to Egypt solo to join up with a quick organised tour through upper Egypt.
Read more about this leg of my trip on my Middle East roundup page.