July 2nd-13th 2016
No, we didn’t fly to Thailand. Not even to Asia.
Flying is our next move in solving the visa puzzle and some of our other problems. Petra will fly from Athens to Zurich, Switzerland, and back to solve many issues at once: the application for visa at the embassy of Pakistan in Bern and the collection of the replacement for the intercom, my dead hard drive (with data) and a pair of cooler motorcycle pants. As a bonus, there is coffee with Mission Control in Zurich. And all this for less than the price of two couriers to Athens. Although chemically challenging, we will probably burn in CO2-hell for this.
The embassy actually called us back last week and said that we could apply, that we would need an LOI and that it would take two or three weeks to process. That is a lot shorter than the initial estimate of up to two months which would have killed the option to transit China to Pakistan altogether. Because this is our only sensible choice to reach South-East Asia over land without taking the expensive and long route from Kyrgyzstan to Laos, we jumped at the occasion and decided that Petra would fly to Switzerland. She will return to Athens so we can continue traveling while the Pakistani process our application.
But how can you return by plane to Athens, let alone continue traveling to Turkey, if your passport resides at the embassy in Bern? This is where we played our joker card: a second Dutch passport for each of us. We have successfully applied for these in our preparation for this trip and we already have to use it before we leave Europe.
Petra leaves on July 2nd and will return on the 7th. That allows us to deal with the Iranian embassy on Friday the 8th and ideally leave Athens again on the weekend. When applying in Bern, she is told that the processing of the visa for Pakistan will take 3 working days, much shorter again than the two to three weeks mentioned earlier. That is promising, but as I’ve told you, there is always something that will take longer than you expect when dealing with embassies. This time it is Eid-al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, which takes four days in Pakistan, meaning that the embassy is only open on Monday and that Petra will have to return to Athens without our passports. We didn’t plan for her to wait several weeks anyway, so this is fine. The passports with visa will be sent to Mission Control in Zurich and forwarded to us when we know where we want to receive it.
Meanwhile I have some time in Athens to work on the blog and photos, collect information on transit visa for Turkmenistan and help Giorgos move to his new apartment in the Akropolis. It needs a bit of work and it is a bit drafty, but it is all about location, isn’t it?
I’m taking a train to pick up Petra from the airport. The lady that sold me the 10 euro ticket never mentioned anything about a strike on a part of the line to the airport. So I find out the hard way when things come to a standstill a few stations down the line. Plane mechanic Apostolis obviously also needs to go to the airport so I invite him to ‘my’ taxi. During the ride we discuss a bit about the Greek economy. I learn that graduates without experience earn about 500 euros per month. Greece is cheaper than Western Europe for sure, but not that much cheaper, so it’s good that I was wearing my seatbelt because otherwise I would’ve fallen over.
Because of these low wages, Greece is apparently facing a brain drain of young people. Those who do stay don’t have enough income to start a family in a home of their own. “What will happen to Greece if only older people and migrants are staying?” is a question left unanswered in our taxi. I also wonder whether it is a relevant question.
With Petra back in Athens, we visit the Iranian embassy once more. Our translated travel insurance policy is accepted. They want to take finger prints. Of all twenty fingers. I almost ask the embassy employee whether he also needs our toe prints. Although we were told before that he can only give us a visa validity of one month (to enter), we are now given two months. This is nice, but we don’t need it and if we had known, we would have applied for the Iranian visa before Petra left. Now we have to wait until Monday July 11th and can only book a ferry when we have the visa in our hands.
On Monday we get the Iranian visa and book a ferry to the Greek Island of Chios for Tuesday morning. From there we can easily reach Turkey because it is right in front Turkey’s west coast. We have last drinks and snacks in Thissio with Giorgos and say goodbye at the Kato Patissia metro station. We’ve had a good time in Greece and felt like we lived there, even if it was only for a short time.
In order to be in time for the ferry, we need to get up at 4:45am. When we do we notice that there is no electricity. Our camping light and head torches are really useful now. It takes about an hour for the problem to be fixed and without those lights we certainly would’ve missed our ferry.
We reach the harbor of Piraeus in light morning traffic and are allowed to join the organized chaos in front of our ferry. The lady checking the boarding passes is overwhelmed with the digital boarding passes that we organized online and have as PDF-documents on our phones. These documents show nice QR-codes and barcodes. Her solution to this is taking photos with her phone of my phone’s screen showing our names and ticket numbers. The implementation of this system must have been well thought out.
When entering the ferry, we are directed onto a very steep metal slope to a higher deck. There we encounter a visibly and audibly stressed Greek. He is shouting loudly and accompanies this with wild gestures. He asks me something. I answer “Chios” and he rolls his eyes as if to say “Oh no, another two!” We can now park with the other motorcycles and see how the entire deck is quickly and entirely filled with cars. We wait until we’re sure they’ve strapped down our bikes. Then we squeeze ourselves between the cars to reach our deck, with a sweat from this early morning exercise.
Our warm motorcycles definitely smell like they have been hosed down with cat pee regularly for almost three weeks :-(. We hope it wears off quickly!
Our ferry is doing almost 50km/h (30mph). We don’t know its exact route through the Aegean, but it will probably visit many islands before reaching Chios. Otherwise, we’d be there much sooner than the scheduled 8pm. We even have WiFi on board so we’re not bored too quickly. We’re stopping at Siros, Mykonos, Ikaria, Samos and several other islands. Every pending arrival and departure is announced at least twenty times.
We arrive at 8:20pm — Petra with a slightly greener hue to her face than this morning. Leaving the ferry is much easier than boarding it. The hotel that we’d like to stay at has different locations in Tripadvisor and Google Maps. We find it anyway, but quite late, so we don’t have a choice anymore and probably pay too much. The hotel’s receptionist absolutely cannot take any decisions himself. He needs to call his boss on several occasions and at some point even delegates the phone conversation to us. We order in our food and it takes ages. Meanwhile we learn that there are only two ferries from Chios to Çeşme, at 8am and 6pm. We’re not going to make the 8am ferry so we plan to cross to Turkey in tomorrow evening.
While I get the ferry tickets for tonight, Petra arranges the hotels for Çeşme and Ankara. Ankara is important because that’s where we’d like to have our passports with Pakistani visa sent to.
We totally milk the 90 euros we’re paying for this hotel and leave at 2:30pm. That’s a bit early for the ferry so we spend the rest of the afternoon in a fish tavern with a view on picturesque wind mills.
At the passport check, before entering the ferry, we meet Hasan and his girlfriend. They’re from Istanbul, ride a KTM and hopped on board at Samos yesterday. They’re very friendly and hospitable and offer help in case we need it in Turkey.
The ferry is quite small: it has space for two cars and a few motorcycles on the top deck. It takes about an hour to reach the harbor of Çeşme. Just when we’re ready to disembark and I am trying to turn my motorcycle in the right direction, a big door opens from my left and a van reverses onto the ferry from my right, completely blocking me between itself and the ferry’s wall. We wonder why they’re in such a hurry. It appears to be a deceased person that is carried in an improvised closed coffin that they retrieve from the lower deck. Not wanting do disrespect the dead, but couldn’t they just wait for one minute until we’re gone? Petra is blocked on the other side of the van, downwind from the coffin and reports over the radio that it doesn’t smell very good.
When the twenty family members of the deceased have completed their job of moving the coffin into the van, we can finally disembark against the stream of new passengers. The passport control and custom formalities are quite straightforward. Although we need and have visa for Turkey, nobody seems to be interested in them. Petra gets two thumbs up for riding her own motorcycle from the lady that is responsible for the vehicle registration. After retrieving a forgotten vehicle stamp in my passport, we’re free to go. So far, it’s been a rather minor achievement, but we’re officially in Asia now!
Çeşme appears to be a rich town. Drivers are civilized here, as is the street of our hotel. There are very few foreign tourists here, a sign of a recent dramatic decline of the number of western tourists in Turkey. We have dinner at the boulevard on the terrace of a restaurant with REALLY LOUD LIVE MUSIC.