Border lulz (July 1st – 2nd)

Some bloke walked into the holy house at about 7am. He probably wanted to pray to God, but instead found 3 stinking cycle tourers asleep. ‘No problem’, he said before making a swift exit closing the door behind him.

The weather had cleared up a touch, and just a 9km ascent away, Turkey was within a stone’s throw. My temperature had not cleared up however and after more paracetemol failed to have the desired effect, I decided I would have to stay in Malko Tarnovo until I felt better. René had to press on to Istanbul because of his flight situation and Matze tossed a coin to decide what he would do. Heads he would stay, tails he would head on with René. It landed tails so that was his decision made for him.

We decided I should try to find a good English speaker in the town to try to get the best advice in terms of places to stay etc. I could always crash in the same place, but to an extent we had been rumbled and a hot shower felt like it would go a long way to making me feel better. As if by magic an American development worker called Charity appeared out of nowhere and gave me all the info I needed. Cheapest place to sleep? 75metres away, clean, hot showers and about £6.50 per night… Winner. I said goodbye to René and Matze and wished them well. Despite feeeling rough, it had been really good fun cycling together the last few days and I was gutted not to be joining them all the way to Istanbul. We decided to keep in touch and potentially meet back up 1 or 2 days later depending on how things went for each of us. We took what might have been the final photo of the three of us together. Matze and René looking well up for it, me looking like I needed a break.

I checked in and slept until about 2pm. I then went for a wonder in town to buy some lunch and do some admin. En route to a café a guy pulled up in a car next to me and tried speaking to me. ‘Er, no parlo Bulgaro mate’. He then flashed some kind of badge and asked for my passport. Well hang on a jiffy. I wasn’t about to hand over my passport to some chump curb crawling the streets. I asked to see his badge again, and he let me get a good look at it. “Border Police” it read. Aware that I was uncomfortable giving him my passport with him sat in the car, he stepped out of the car and nosed through the pages, jotting down all the vital stats. I asked him why he was doing this and the best he could do was shrug his shoulders and say ‘my boss’. I tried telling him I was staying at the hotel just down the road, and was hoping to be at the border tomorrow. It felt all a bit like a run-in with the secret police…

Whilst in the café it rained torrentially for about 3 hours. I felt sorry for René and Matze being caught in that and glad that I had decided to take some time out to get well. I met back up with Charity for dinner in the evening. We met her boyfriend who was himself was a border policeman. ‘Hey Baby!’ she shouted as she saw him down the street. It was too far away to make out if it was the same guy I met earlier, but alas it wasn’t. Would definitely have made for an entertaining encounter. I asked Charity why the street style passport check. Turns out Bulgaria had recently caught its two most wanted criminals and security around the border had been ramped up accordingly. The Turkish-Bulgarian border is a hotspot for people and drug trafficking into the EU zone I was told…  A fight broke out between some Bulgarians and Roma people in the restaurant. It was time to do one…

René texted that him and Matze had only put down 75km that day because of the rain. When I woke at 7am I still wasn’t sure I would be leaving that day, but by 8.30 I was feeling just about good enough to cycle and had made up mind that enough time had been spent in Bulgaria. I had run out of dosh, and rain was again forecast for the following day so it was time to move on. The 9km climb to the hill wasn’t at all that bad. I was excited to be entering a new country (number 11). When I got to the border control the soldier stood behind the fence this time with a full blown assault rifle affirmed this was another lulz-free zone. The immigration officer said I needed to get my passport stamped. I went insde and discovered that because I was British I needed to pay for a visa. This was news to me. I checked with the Germans if they had to do this or not and they didn’t. There was a small board with a list of nationals who have to pay. It was an odd list with some nationalities like Kenyans and Jamaicans who must very rarely travel across this border. There was a major problem. The visa cost 15€ or 10 sterlings but I didn’t have any cash, and they didn’t have an option to pay on plastic, nor did they have any kind of ATM service. Wow they ain’t never gonna join the EU at this rate. What to do? The immigration officer was being a total wet flannel and the best he could do was meekly suggest I cycle back down the hill and get some money out at an ATM. I pointed at my bike and said ‘No way’. He then got meeker and meeker and suggested a bus although he didn’t specify on the Bulgarian or Turkish side.  I had cycled up the hill for over an hour and hadn’t seen one bus, and of course I didn’t have any money to pay for a bus. He said he was trying to find his boss but just scurried away and hid in his office.

I was hoping to find to some British nationals who I could ask for cash and then wire them the money electronically later. What were the chances of Brits passing through at that time? In the end I tried explaining my situtation to a group of Hungarian bikers. There was about a dozen of them and although they couldn’t speak English, they could understand my predicament and amazingly they bailed me out. 4 of them chipped in a 5€  note. I tried giving one back but a woman in the group said just keep it. I shook their hands and attempted to communicate my gratitide. So there it was. Sorted. I guess it was my own stupid fault for a) not knowing I needed a visa to enter Turkey, and b) not having a emergency stash of money hidden somewhere, but it’s hard to believe you can’t pay on plastic for these things in this day and age. I had been there nearly an hour. There was a suggestions box on the side of the room and to vent my frustration I felt like writing ‘Install credit card machine. This is 2011, not 1911’ , but I had better things to do…

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