2 days had passed since the consulate had supposedly been sent my authorisation code. It was a Friday so it was either now or wait until next week. The consulate opened at 0930. I wanted to get there bright and early to make sure I could get it nailed. I went to the nearest internet café to print off my authorisation code confirmation. Got there 0915. Closed. Balls. OK, I remembered another internet café we walked past en route to the bus station two days ago. I cycled there in a hurry. It was a mixed sex internet café (apparently in Turkey you get boys only and girls only internets cafés) and thankfully it opened at 8am. A couple of newlyweds and their extended families were already partying in the street. Similar dance styles and musical instruments as a celtic fest-noz. 5minutes and 2A4 printouts, 1TL. I jumped back on the bike and sped up to the consulate.
I handed over my passport and authorisation code printout to the same young guy we had dealings with earlier on in the week. I hoped he didn’t clock the fact that the names on each didn’t quite tally. He handed me over a form to fill out, and a bill to pay at the bank. I assumed it would cost the same as what Matze had paid. When I held the bill in my hand, did a double take and baulked. Two hundred and ten what?!?!? I checked with the guy behind the bullet-proof glass. His English was poor so he stuck me on the blower to someone upstairs. Yes 210€. I told him that was crazy, and queried why it wasn’t the same as what my German friend had paid the other day i.e. 75€. He said the prices had gone up 3months ago for Brits, and that it was 140€ for the visa (which could take 5-7 working days), or 210€ to get it today. I needed time to think this through. 5-7 working days could conceivably be the week after next which was out of the question, but on the other hand 210€??? You could pretty much find a single flight to India for that much. I told the guy I would pay today and I would be back later. Before I left I asked him where the bank was. ‘Get a taxi’ was his response. Yeah cheers.
I cycled back to our couchsurfer’s place (4km away), and tried to think this through. I tried to contact Iranianvisa.com to see if they could help out. After 10 skype-out calls I finally I got through. They said the price for Brits had gone up from ~£70 to £128 just two weeks ago (not 3months ago) but 210€ was way too high, and there was probably an element of corruption somewhere along the line. They said they could contact the foreign ministry in Tehran to check what was up but it was the weekend in Iran so it would have to wait until tomorrow. I asked if they could contact the consulate in Erzurum directly to see if they could haggle the price down or something. He tried but just echoed what the guy had said earlier but said that even if I pay 210 today, it still might not even be possible! …. So what to do? I couldn’t hang around any longer; Erzurum was doing my head right in. Azerbijan was not possible ‘cos it would be a 2 week visa wait. Syria to the South was probably not the bestest of ideas given the political climate at the mo. I could cycle back through Turkey seeing some of the stuff I missed and then head South to Cyprus and onwards from there… I had my heart set on the Stan countries and mountain regions to come, and Iran it is said is one of the most beautiful counties to cycle through…If I wanted to go to Iran then it would cost me 140€ either way, so the 70 on top was the issue. I decided to the bullet and cough up the money, assuming I would be able to pick up my visa today. It hurt, but it was necessary both for my sanity, and for the continuation of this journey.
I raced back up hill to the consulate (another 4km against a headwind) to double check I would be able to pick up the visa that day if I paid. I got there at 1230. ‘Closed for lunch 1200-1430’. Scheisse. OK I will make use of this time by finding out where bank is. I search through the bits of paper I have for the bill but it’s not there. Bollocks. So it’s back down to Ertugrul’s place to chill for a few hours, and then back up another 4km to the consulate for the afternoon opening at 1430. I double check I will definitely get my visa if I pay the 210€ that day and the guy said yes. ‘Great, I will pay and be back in about an hour…1530ish’. I speed with my new bill to the street where the bank is and ask people for directions. It has been my experience in Turkey that people will give you directions even if they have no idea where somewhere is. It is as though the shame of not knowing is worse than the shame of sending someone in the wrong direction. So I take all directions given with a pinch of salt. Finally I find the bank. I walk in and it is rammed full. I walk over the ticket dispenser and shove my bill in the security guard’s face. He escorts me to some guy sat behind a computer in the corner. I motion towards the bill and say ‘Iran Visa’. He says ‘Euro, not possible Turkish Lira’. You what? How come Matze could pay in Trabzon in Lira no problem, but in Erzurum this wasn’t possible? So now I had to change to Euro before I could pay up.. He pointed me next door to what I assumed would be a bureau de change.
I walk in to this new joint and it was again rammed full of people. This was no bureau de change. Or rather it was, but one from the far future. Two bomb-proof booths and a huge queue filled the room. I tried explaining my situation to the attendant. She could see I was sweating. It was 1505. She explained using sign language that I was sixth in the line. All of this shit just to change some dosh?? I was tempted to run outside to try to find another place to change money because I thought I still had to go back to the guy next door with my euros in order to get the receipt. Time was most definitely of the essence. I spent the next 10-15 minutes tapping my fingers, looking at the clock, walking up and down, cussing, and generally being a dick. Whatever the hell this booth thing was, one thing was for sure – it took too fucking long! Unable not to notice my disquiet, a woman let me go in front of her. It was now 1520. A couple who had been in the booth had been in there for over 10minutes and there was supposedly one more guy in front of me before it was my turn. I was never gonna make it. ‘COME ON!!!’. Finally they came out. God bless him, the guy in front of me let me go in first..
I sat down at the control station. This thing had every kind of screen, camera and scanner going. I felt like was on set during the filming of scene in Demolition Man. A screen in front of me performed a video VOIP call to a call centre somewhere. The attendant stood in the booth with me and explained my situation to the operative. First my Liras were counted electronically, then the machine spat back out Euros. Then the Euros were counted. I was then connected to a new English speaking call centre operative. The attendant explained what was going on again. She spelled out my entire name letter by letter using the Turkish phonetic alphabet. ‘Talan: T-Tango, A-Alpha, L…’ OH FFS, HURRY T.F. UP! This was taking way too long (for me and for people who had let me jump in front of them, and for me writing this blog entry now). Thankfully the whole money transfer process was being carried out, not just the money exchange. I grabbed the receipt once it had finally been printed, shook hands and thanked the people who had let me jump in front, and ran back to my bike….
I dashed in and out of the more or less rush hour traffic and back up to the consulate. It was about 1540. After a few calls the guy said ‘Come back here at 6pm, call this number and your visa will be ready’. It sounded dodgy, and of course I had to leave my passport with him, but what else could I do? So it was back down to Ertugrul’s one last time to pack my bags. Matze had hung around in case I was able to get my visa that day. We thanked Ertugrul for his above board level of hospitality and did one (hopefully) final ascent back up to the consulate (my 5th of the day)..
Thankfully, and pretty much unbelievably, my passport was handed back to me with and Iranian visa. Man o man. What a hassle. And what a day. We needed to get out of Erzurum, and quick!
I tried throwıng a quıck celebratory L-kıck. 3 tımes usıng the tımer. I couldn’t tıme ıt rıght, but whatever..the poınt was we were out of Erzurum. We put down 50km in 2 hours until it got dark. It felt great to be on the road again after the most dull and frustrating week of this journey thus far.