Travel Journal

Baksheesh

(Friday 12 December 2014) by Mariken
The Trojan Horse
The Trojan Horse
After two days in Plovdiv in the pouring rain we finally decided we were done with Bulgaria and headed to the Turkish border. That, however, turned out to be a character-building experience.

First of all, we discovered at the very last moment that visa are no longer issued at the border, but have to be acquired beforehand, through the internet. Fortunately the visa is electronic (i.e. you do not have to wait until they send you an actual sticker to put in your passport) and the website you register on is totally dummy-proof, so after 15 minutes we both had visa.

As Turkey adopts the more relaxed Mediterranean 'Arabic' approach, inch Allah, we were allowed to show the laptop at the border as proof of having visa, instead of having to show a print-out, which made matters even more relaxed. The border guard started to laugh as soon as he saw me coming out of the car with the laptop. 'Ah, electronic visa?' and he waved me down, as apparently this was proof enough. So far so good.

But then we arrived at customs. Having a car full of junk (in the eyes of many a customs officer), we were understandably asked to open the trunk and were then send to an annex for a more thorough examination. OK, this is starting to get serious. I have to say that everything happened in a very friendly manner, which is fortunate for me as I am prone to 'border headaches'. When in this annex, the first thing the customer officer noticed were the jerry-cans. 'What is this my friend?' 'Well, jerry-cans, with petrol, for the car.' 'Full?' Well, yes, most definitely full, as petrol in Turkey is known to be terribly expensive (more expensive than in the Netherlands, imagine!), so we had filled the tank and one of the jerry-cans when still in Bulgaria for approximately 1,15 euro per litre (the other was still full). 'Well, my friend, that is not allowed!' Ow, shit. The good thing is that we were not fined, nor were our jerry-cans taken. However, we were send back to Bulgaria to get rid of the petrol. The customs officer literally suggested we drive back to Bulgaria and dump the petrol somewhere on the side of the road. Well, it is not his country...

Bulgarian health care
Bulgarian health care
OK, turn around, back to Bulgaria. In the process our car was 'disinfected', after which we were presented with the bill: 3 euros for the Bulgarian treasury. And this my friends, was exactly why we wanted to leave Bulgaria, as Bulgaria has yet to enter the 21st century and abandon Soviet-times. On the EU borders, this 'disinfectant-fee' is abolished nowadays, courtesy of the EU. But when the EU is not looking... Very frustrating, and it made me wonder from time to time why Bulgaria joined the EU, as it is obviously still a misfit. :-?

But in the mean time, petrol. A lot of petrol. What on earth do you do with 40 litres of petrol? As our tank was full, it was out of the question to put it in there. And although the Niva does not have the best mileage imaginable, it still takes about 450 km to empty the tank, which is a lot of mindless driving. We contemplated driving to Greece and to cross the Turkish border from there, but that would only be around 100 km which would still leave us with about 30 litres of excess petrol. In the end we decided to go to the Bulgarian border town Svilengrad, book a hotel room and ask around if someone would want to buy 40 litres of petrol. But that, obviously, was easier said than done. First of all, English is not widely understood in that part of Bulgaria, so it was very hard to make our intentions clear. And secondly, many Bulgarians simply do not have the money to buy 40 litres of petrol in one go, even if it is offered cheaper than at the petrol station. They normally fill up their cars with 5, maximum 10 litres, as they simply do not have more to spare. And then suddenly, two crazy Dutchies come along, who offer 40 litres of the stuff in one go! Well, the hotel manager agreed to call around to friends and see whether someone needed something, so we postponed any plans to the next morning.

The next morning brought no relief, however. The hotel manager, who turned out to be quite an arrogant bastard, flatly told us he found nobody, but I have strong suspicions he did not even ask anyone. Whatever the truth, we were still stuck with 40 litres of unwanted (well, not exactly unwanted, but... well, you get the point) petrol. Time for more drastic measures. We decided to head to a petrol station and ask there if they wanted to 'buy it back' so to speak. But again, lost in translation. First of all, the two men at the petrol station did not even understand what we wanted. Yes, something with petrol. And not in the tank, but somewhere else. Ah, maybe we wanted petrol in a separate bottle? And he dubiously showed us an empty water bottle. Apart from the fact that such a flimsy bottle is perhaps not the best container for petrol, we did not want more petrol, we wanted less! So I showed him the jerry-cans and tried to explain that we could not take it with us to Turkey. Hmm, not to Turkey. Then leave the jerry-cans in the garage, go to Turkey and pick them up on the way back? Yes, well, except that we will not come back, and we do want to keep the jerry-cans. So we mimicked 'pouring out'. By that time we were ready to give the petrol away, because it was clear as day that selling it was not going to happen. Better to take your losses and get on with it. Pouring out, yes, but in what container? How the -beep- do I care? Somewhere! Put it in your car, for crying out loud!

View over the Aegean sea
View over the Aegean sea
And then the penny - or the Leva, we were still in Bulgaria after all - dropped: 'Baksheesh?' Yes, baksheesh! It's a gift and believe it or not, we will be very grateful if you accept it! I have never seen someone change expressions so rapidly; from quite sullen and a bit at loss at what to do, to being completely happy, showing an ear-splitting, if a bit bewildered, grin. Frankly, just to see that expression, it was worth giving away 40 litres of petrol. The petrol was equally divided over two cars, his and his brother's and we were offered coffee as a token of gratitude, even though we were the ones being grateful. Unplanned charity. Do a good deed every day, they say. May Allah reward us. 0:-)

We headed back to the border, were once again stamped in, checked and approved. Hallelujah. And for those who are wondering: I checked my notes (of course I checked my notes) and we gave away 48,78 euro worth of petrol. And yes, we already had to fill up in Turkey, which was slightly painful (although I have to wait a few days for the current exchange rate after which I can calculate exactly how painful). And you know what? I am glad I am here. :-D

  • Great story! by Marije
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