Ferry to Cyprus.
The ferry from Turkey over to northern Cyprus was at one in the morning. The weather was mild, but wet, and we parked near the ferry terminal, bought tickets for ourselves, our car and our caravan, checked on the insurance situation, and went off for a meal. The food was delicious, the bottle of wine excruciatingly expensive, and we then climbed in to our caravan to sleep for an hour or two.
Our trusty little alarm woke us at midnight, and we got in to line. The queue started to move forwards an hour later (how is the ferry supposed to leave at one, I asked, if it isn’t even boarding till one? Silly question, really. This was Turkey.) Stop-start-stop-start. When we finally got to passport control we were told to pull over to one side. We obeyed and waited. Then we waited again. Then some more. By now it was almost two in the morning. There was a crowd of dark-haired jabbering people around the passport kiosk. I went over several times and tried to get somebody’s attention. Impossible. Noise, rain, confusion.
Eventually I managed to speak to a Turkish man living in the UK. His English was excellent. This is normal, he said. It’s not like England. They don’t queue or wait their turn to speak. He was nice. A young chap willing to be helpful. So he elbowed his way with me to the kiosk and I slapped our passports down again and asked what the waiting was about. The kiosk man spoke in rapid Turkish to my new friend.
Eventually, after as bit of what seemed like slightly heated discussion, he took my elbow and moved me to one side. Bad news was etched all over his face.
“They want to confiscate your car,” he said bluntly.
What? What car? Our car? No. Of course not. They can’t have our car. What is this about?
For some reason best known to them the Turks are very strict (this was in 2008) about people leaving their country on time. Why? Lord knows. But as a visitor you are allowed in for a month. Your passport is stamped and you have to be gone by the appropriate date. We were fully aware of this law. You have been here nearly two months, said my friend.
“They can be very nasty,” he warned, “they will fine you, they have the right to take your car and will take your caravan if they feel like it. There is nothing you can do. They can put you in prison if you’re not careful.”
“Could you explain to the man in the kiosk, please, that there has been a delay firstly because I was ill and spent some time in hospital, and then the car broke down. I can prove both these things and I spoke to an official about it in Antalya.”
Back to the kiosk, more elbows, more noise, more rain, more rapid Turkish.
“He doesn’t care,” translated my friend after a while, “he says that is not his problem.”
Gulp. Double gulp. First things first. I need to find the garage and hospital papers. In to the caravan, rapid scrabble around (I am very tidy, everything has a place and everything is in its place – but Lordy, could I find those papers?!)
“Who is in charge around here?!” I demanded when I finally emerged.
My new friend had waited patiently. A bit of searching brought us to an office. Meanwhile Bruce had been to sort out the insurance. We already had an international insurance but had been warned that another is needed for northern Cyprus. Although we had spoken to the insurance man, lodged in a little shack to one side, and verified that he was open till the ferry left, the little man had decided he was closed when Bruce arrived.
“No, I’m closed,” he declared. As simple as that.
A passer-by managed to convey to Bruce that if he gave the man a bribe he would open. The first bribe wasn’t enough. Finally he opened, wrote out the insurance certificate and charged around five times more than we had been quoted. Bruce had had no choice but to pay it. Back with me, I explained our predicament. We decided it was best that he stayed by the car in case some berk (that was not the word we used, but I’m far too polite to say the real word, though it begins with a W) decided to try to tow away the car or the caravan.
I set off with my new friend to the office. Long queues. Elbows. Noise. Rapid loud Turkish. Finally our turn came (by now it was almost three in the morning) and I showed the customs official my papers. Some rapid dialogue, some rapid translation.
“He says,” said my friend, “that if you pay him £500 he will not confiscate your car.”
“WHAT?! What if I haven’t got £500?!”
“Then he will take your car.”
“What about these papers?” I asked, flapping the garage and hospital forms in the air.
“He doesn’t care about that. Believe me. It is best you just pay and be glad that is all. It is not like England. They don’t think like the British, it is totally different. Truly, it could get worse, a lot worse.”
“Will we be allowed on to the ferry with no further problem?”
More rapid talking.
“Yes, he gives his word.”
We made our way back to the car and told Bruce. He is a big man and we judged it best that he go to the money distributor and I stay by the car. Sometime later I handed over the money, no receipt, and managed to get on to the ferry as the very last vehicle, parked – as only Bruce can park – in a space the size of a postage stamp between two lorries. We made our way up to the deck and watched as we were cast off. I could see the kiosk quite clearly. Then I could see the customs official walk out of his office over to the kiosk. He put his hand in his back pocket and pulled out a wallet. He withdrew several notes and gave some to the kiosk man …. I couldn’t tell if they were laughing, but I expect they were.
Catherine Broughton is a novelist. Her books are available from most leading sources, including Kindle