A Tale of Seven Borders
Trip Start May 09, 2009
8Trip End Jun 2009
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Once upon a time a long time ago - when I was young, I learnt a saying that I have found to be useful in many circumstances,
"When you are up to your arse in alligators it is sometimes difficult to remember that the original objective was to drain the swamp".
The related tale is apposite in the case of our progression through seven Oriental Borders the alligators are the Customs Officials and the crossings are the swamps.
First though, some advice for anyone wanting to follow a similar route; if you are leaving on final exit under no circumstances should you follow the Saudi requirement to export your vehicle by obtaining export plates and export certification papers, this simply adds hours to each border crossing and flags up to the voracious Customs officials that here is another "Prime cut" barbeque ready. Take the car out on a Triptique, Carnet de Passage, and a normal exit/entry visa; when you get to Jordan, DHL your Iquama back to your company. All Saudi residents who travel temporarily to other middle east countries with their vehicle have to obtain a triptique - the vehicle's passport. It makes the crossing easier although I am sure that some Customs officials will find "BIG problems" with them. If you obtain export plates you will not be issued a Triptique as it is illegal.
The easiest border to pass through and the most helpful was the Saudi border, not the quickest but certainly the cheapest, mafi baksheesh. 2 hours duration and lots of official stamps!
The Jordanian border was the politest, lots of big smiles and "welcomes", However, here the rip - off's have been institutionalised. I met Ahmed the Helpful in the Customs hall who offered to do all of the required paperwork for me as otherwise I would have "BIG problems", the net cost was JD157, about $215, negotiated down from $300 and much heated discussion. For this contribution I had to take the vehicle through Jordan within 12hours. Duration 3 hours.
When we left Jordan 36 hours later, I had to pay a fine of $15 dollars plus a "processing fee" of $50 as there was a "small problem with the paperwork" Duration 1 hour - pretty good.
The Syrian Border, not at all helpful until I smiled at a Customs official and found that he had some English, he pointed me in the direction of a shipping agent who spent the next 4.5 hours processing paperwork and getting the right stamps and relieved me of $450. Off to Aleppo, but wait, the final custom's inspection finds a "small problem with the paperwork" I throw a minor tantrum and refuse to move, and with some support from the immigration official, the Customs then relent after another look at the paperwork!
Leaving Syria. I am not sure if the shipping agent deliberately failed to enter the whole of the car's VIN number on the paperwork, frankly, it should not have mattered anyway as it was on the Saudi export doc's and the insurance papers, but of course this was another "BIG problem" that cost a mere $140 to ensure that all the right stamps were in the right places. 2.5 hours.
And so to Turkey, a modern secular state that believes that it is ready to enter the European Union, my view- way to go yet. Surly immigration and Customs men not at all helpful, treated the vehicles papers as if they were best used in the bathroom, then Hassan arrives on the scene and explains that there is a, you guessed it, "BIG problem" with the paperwork, however after starting out at $500 dollars to smooth our passage we negotiated down to $250, when I explained that I did not have that much cash on me he told me that it's "no problem" we will get all of the paperwork done here and then I will come with you to the town 8 kms down the road and you can get it from the ATM. We were on our way in just over an hour and I handed over the cash, Linda has it on camera!
Maybe the western side of Turkey should be allowed to join the EU. First, 20 minutes done and dusted, it would have been quicker if the guy in front of me had all of the correct paperwork. Greece was a doddle, flash the British passport, "anything you want to declare sir" no, "a carpet maybe" no, "no carpet sir?" on your way then!!
I know that poor countries run by dictators always produce corrupt officials, but the Middle East seems to have more than its fair share. I know that it's a form of wealth redistribution - left wing view. From a security perspective the impression one gets is that more or less anything can get through provided you pay, in fact nobody ever looked at what we had in the car. Interestingly, we met a lady tour guide in Cappadocia who was on an overland truck trip some years ago and when they got to the Egyptian border they refused to pay any baksheesh, they camped out at the border for 3 days and were finally let through without any payment. If we had tried that approach we would probably still be in Syria.