Good Bye Iran. Hello Turkish Candy Smugglers.

Trip Start Apr 21, 2008
Trip End Apr 20, 2009

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Flag of Turkey  , Van,
Monday, September 22, 2008

I woke up from my "bed" (mattress on the floor) at 730 so I could get ready for my journey back to Turkey. I went to use the squat toilet and then had a nice Iranian breakfast that Ali prepared. Yes, this is how traveling in Iran is like.

Ali Reza and Ali then took me to the bus station. It was nice of them to see me off. Unfortunately the bus station was closed. We knew it was a religious holiday but we didn't think that the bus station would be closed. So I had no choice but to take a taxi to a town called Orumiyeh where I should be able to find a bus to Van (that is if the bus station is open there) which is a town in Turkey. After saying goodbye to the guys, I jumped into a taxi with a very nice and young couple from New Zealand (Miles and Fran) who were traveling the world. It was great as it cut down the cost for each of us.

When we got to Orumiyeh, we were glad to see that the bus station was open. We went to visit a few vendors and they all said that the last bus to Van already left and that we should buy a ticket from them for the next day. They were too eager to sell us a ticket for the next day which made me think they were all lying. Meanwhile the cab drivers were all trying to get us to go to the border with them and also saying that we were wasting our time trying to find a bus to Van. I suggested we keep asking and it was only when we got to the very last office and almost gave up hope that we found one company that still had a bus going to Van at 130 pm - less than an hour's wait for us. Perfect! We bought our tickets and headed for the bus. I was surprised to see that we were issued seats 1, 2 and 3. Did this mean that there would be no one else on the bus? When I got there, I realized that we were. I had never seen this before. However, we did notice about 6 older Turkish men loading the luggage compartment and the inside of the bus with candy. The bus was absolutely packed with candy. It was clear that these guys were bringing this candy across the border. My guess was that these guys rented the bus and took us as passengers to make some extra cash. It really felt like we were on a cargo bus. None of the men spoke English so it was very difficult to communicate with them.

We ended up getting to the border at 3 pm. We had to get off the bus and get our Iranian exit stamp. Meanwhile the bus went through an inspection. We questioned whether we should have taken our bags with us but we just decided to keep them on the bus and only get them if we were asked by the Iranian officials. There wasn't much of an issue getting out of Iran although the immigration official did ask me a lot of questions. I didn't know what the point was now that I was leaving. He even asked if I was a journalist. I said no but I knew why he was asking.

I then walked over to the Turkish side with Miles and Fran. We went through without any issues. The next step was to wait for the bus. We were actually concerned after about an hour's wait. Did they leave without us? There was no sign of the bus or the 6 Turkish guys with us. We were kicking ourselves for keeping our bags on the bus. It really was a stupid decision. Miles and Fran walked a bit towards the Iranian border again and said they couldn't see the bus. I then decided to walk all the way to the metal gate at the Iranian-Turkish border and asked the intimidating military guard about our bus. He said it was still going through inspection. From a distance, I was able to see it and that made me feel a lot better. I guess there were a lot of boxes of candy to go through.
Shortly after that, our bus came to pick us up. We did find out that they did in fact have to unload all of the stuff they were carrying and then load it back on. The same thing happened on the Turkish side as well as the first military checkpoint we had to go through in Turkey. I didn't like going through the military checkpoint as the soldiers were acting like hot heads and trying to intimidate us but it wasn't working. You cant take 20 year old kids with machine guns too seriously (or maybe I should). One soldier came up to me and asked "Country?" He obviously wasn't very smart as he had already seen my passport. I answered "Canada". The bright soldier than asked "USA?". I again said "No. Canada." It didn't seem like the guy liked me too much.

It took us forever to make any ground. It really did suck. I kept saying to myself that it was the candy's fault. We were at that first military checkpoint forever. We watched the guys unload all the boxes while the soldiers verified everything. I couldn't understand why we were doing this as we just went through the Turkish border less than 20 minutes earlier and there were no other roads but the one that we were on that led to this checkpoint. While waiting, I saw a truck full of honeydew melons also getting inspected. I really wanted one. Fran and Miles dared me to go ask for one. I didntthink it was a big deal. I went over with one of the Turkish guys on our bus but before we could get to the driver of the honey dew truck we were stopped by one of the soldiers and was asked to turn back. I didn't know what the big deal was. Miles and Fran were laughing.

Once the bus was loaded again, Miles, Fran and I were all surprised when the bus turned back. Obviously something was wrong. We drove 10 minutes in the "wrong" direction and we finally stopped in front of some industrial building. You could see that all of the Turkish men were upset and didn't know what to do. We tried too find out what was going on but it was difficult as none of them spoke English. All we knew is that we weren't getting through that checkpoint. My only guess is that they didn't want to bribe the guys to get through (or the bribe was too much) or they didn't have the necessary papers which would have been strange as we were able to get through the border. One thing was clear though. We weren't crossing that checkpoint tonight. The men were able to explain that we would try again at 10 am in the morning. This was 16 hours from now!!! Through hand gestures and body language, I was able to understand that they were going to wait for the next shift at the checkpoint. They did give us the option of staying in some motel (if there was one) but we weren't sure if they were going to pick us up or not in the morning (or if they were going to pay for the motel which was highly unlikely). So we said we would stay on the bus and sleep with them and their supply of candy. They were surprised with our decision.

The next issue was food. We were starving but we were in the middle of nowhere. I wasn't interested in eating candy for the next 16 hours and besides the guys did not seem to interested in opening their stock. Each of the Turkish men were properly fasting for Ramadan. They declined my offer for food earlier in the ride and explained that they were fasting. Now that the sun was down, they wanted to eat. I couldn't blame them. They did have some bread and they were nice enough to share it with us although I didn't take that much. These guys were working all day and they were definitely more hungry than me.

All of us were in good spirits. There was nothing we could do so we made the best of it. We were all in this together. At 830, the Turkish men on the bus asked that we stop talking as they were trying to sleep. We listened to them and went to sleep as well. Two hours later, I woke up to the sounds of people eating like animals. I guess one of the guys was able to buy some food and everyone was feasting near my seat. It really pissed me off because they asked us to be quiet for them but then they were yapping away and eating like animals right next to us. When I woke up, they did offer me food but I was too stubborn to accept. I eventually climbed over them and tried sleeping on several boxes of candy as there were no other options. This was a bad move because it was only 5 minutes later that they stopped eating. Unfortunately, one of the guys took my seat so he could sleep in it. This really pissed me off. Not only was it there fault that I was stuck on this bus but now they took over my sleeping area and I was stuck on some uncomfortable boxes of candy.

I didn't sleep that much at all. I tried for 4 hours but it was too uncomfortable and too cold. I even tried sleeping on the filthy floor but that wasn't much better. I wanted to get my sweater in my bag but one of the guys was sleeping on top of it. I eventually hot my breaking point and walked down the bus aisle and swore out loud the whole way down. I think I said "I hate this fu#%ing bus" a dozen times. I didn't care that people's legs were sticking out into the aisle as I walked down it. I grabbed my bag and got my sweatshirt. I had enough. Then I turned to my seat and noticed that no one was in it so I sat my ass on it, crossed my arms and tried to go back to sleep. I kid you not, it wasn't more than 5 minutes after this (about 3 am) that someone's cell phone alarm went off. One guy yelled out and all of the Turkish guys wokeup and started talking loudly. They decided to have another picnic by my seat. Because they were fasting, it was normal for them to have a meal at this time. They needed to eat before the sun came up as they wouldn't be eating at all the following day. I couldn't believe it. I reallyhatedthese guys but I knew I had no reason too. Like the boxes of candy I was trying to sleep on, the stars just weren't aligned for me today. The guys offered me food but I was again too stubborn to accept. Mile and Fran then woke up and they looked so content eating the food that it made me angry for declining the offer. I was asked a second time and this time I accepted. I enjoyed the small meal. After we ate, we went back to sleep. I was definitely ion a better mood now that I had food in me. As I went to sleep. I had one thought in my head and that was "At least this will make a good travel story."

Dino Vagabond
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