After solid progress across Albania & Greece, we were keen to get to Istanbul. We had a very cheap, but very luxurious night booked at a nice hotel. So after having a terrible few hours sleep in a campsite near Kavala (Greece) we set off early hoping to get to the hotel in good time. The initial ride was quite nice with excellent roads and fair weather. We arrived at the Greek exit border and from there the day turned. 2 hours waiting to get out of Greece and then another 2 hours waiting at the Turkish border was made worse by heavy rain. On the last hurdle, even after having our passports stamped, the guard at the end turned us away saying we need to buy Turkish bike/car insurance. We went back to the hut several times explaining that we already had the required worldwide insurance, even showing documents to prove it. But he wasn’t interested in even looking at them. Finally after an hour or so he simply said he wasn’t bothered about what insurance we already had, we just needed to buy some from the border shop or we couldn’t pass. With absolutely no option we went to the border shop and was given an outrageous price. 305 TL for each car (£70). Then 650 TL for the Motorcycle (£145) . The guy even said to us, the system is broke for Motorcycles, it shouldn’t be that expensive but it can’t be fixed till Monday. So you can come back then and it will probably be fixed and cheaper. But we were on a busy schedule and couldn’t turn back to stay in Greece for two days based on the advice of a disinterested border guard. So after a lot of arguments we finally decided we had no other choice but to pay. He started putting the information in to his computer then claimed the bike insurance had now gone up to 889 TL (£200). With the rain now thumping harder, roads waterlogging and the nighttime getting closer we agreed to pay. Strangely enough, in the hours and hours we were there, nobody came into the room to buy any Turkish insurance but us. We reluctantly parted with our money and set off through the rain.
5 hours drive through torrential downpour and waterlogged roads saw us all restricted to low speeds, especially me on the bike. The drive became even more dangerous as the day went on and the risk of aquaplaning increased drastically.
Leathers wet through and getting colder we separated shortly before Istanbul. On my alternative route I came across a Motorwat toll road and, still having no wallet from the Croatian incident, I was forced to just plough it through the gap inbetween the automatic barriers. Trying my best to exit the toll road as early as possible, I see what I can only imagine is a fine appear on one of the big screens as I pass. A bill of 80TL (£19).
Unphased I carried on through the evening weary of a diminishing fuel tank and made it into the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. Carnage on the roads, similar to that of Vietnam, with cars cutting up each other at every opportunity and the constant blue flashing lights of traffic police speeding through. Weirdly even in the middle of the night, cars still forced through at reckless speeds with no headlights on. Eventually after google maps took me to some questionable backroads we arrived at the hotel in the late evening. Happy to be here at our first main checkpoint, but still extremely angry at the border staff and the general grim events of the day.
Even now, there’s very little indication online that you need to pay for specific insurance to enter Turkey by Car or Motorcycle. Especially not at the extortionate rates that we were forced to pay thanks to ‘a broken system.’ Obviously if you have to drive through Turkey then by all means go for it. But if I had the option I would have definitely avoided it. The fee paid at the entrance which was in excess of £300 altogether is just ridiculous, let alone the unofficial way that it was taken from us. This figure could be anything for other travellers, maybe 100s more, or maybe even 0. The fact is it all just comes down to the day and the guard you get on the crossing, all you can do is hope. But in my opinion it’s all too much of a gamble and a joke to have to pay anything just to please a guard. It seems less of an insurance purchase and more of a tourist tax.
Tomorrow we head east into the wilderness of Turkey 🇹🇷