If you are anything like me, you probably don´t have much experience with getting searched by police or other authorities.
The closest I ever got to a detention cell was when I slept in one, back in the days of hitchhiking in Cambodia in 2013, but that was because they invited us to hang our hammock in there, even providing us with an anti-mosquito spiral.
Apart from regular airport controls, I never got into a situation where an officer would really search through my stuff and ask me unpleasant questions. Until one dark cold night, as all the real scary stories start.
This is a tale of how we got thoroughly searched at a Greek border checkpoint.
It all starts with a Blablacar ride
We were hitchhiking in Greece in those weeks and it was not the easiest country to do so; after a month and a half of rather expensive travel in southern Europe, we were trying to get to Turkey as fast as it got. All we could think of was kebab and cheap veggies in some of those wonderful eateries you find in every town, but hey, hitchhiking in Greece proved to be a little tricky.
When we saw a Blablacar offer from Thessaloniki basically to the Greek border for 8 euros, we didn´t hesitate for a minute. Next morning, the deal was sealed and off we went in a car with two polite, well dressed and smart looking Turkish gentlemen.
Their rented car was to be returned in Alexandroupoli, but since they were headed in the same direction as the two of us, we quickly agreed to share a taxi to the border with them in case we couldn´t manage to get a ride by the nighttime.
Which we, obviously, didn´t.
We probably should have slept at the small airport where they left us that afternoon. But no.
And so they picked us up at night, loaded our backpacks in the stuffed taxi driven by an obnoxious woman and that was it, we were headed to the border.
Somehow we failed to realize that a rude taxi driver, two Turkish men, one Colombian man and a Slovak woman who met each other right that day, in a cab crossing the border at midnight, was a good way to get into some trouble.
Interrogation at the Greek border
We worried a little bit when crossing from Albania to Greece earlier that month (as we heard it can be a tough one if you have a shitty passport), but we walked in faster than you can say tzatziki back then so we weren´t worried at all about leaving the country.
The officer looked me in the eye, then scoured further into the car, searching for more faces in the dark, looked at the passport again and…the questions started.
When did you meet? How did you meet? Why are you traveling together? played on repeat for a while and then we were not so kindly invited to step out of the car, take out our belongings and proceed to the small room for a further investigation.
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You can imagine that at that point, as a regular female paper-white Schengen passport holder, I was already a bit freaked out.
The following hour though (seriously, why do these officers ask the same thing four times in a row? Ah, I know, they hope I will say The Truth by mistake.) – now that made me shake like one of those tiny expensive dogs on a stroll in a commercial center.
First of all, the Greek officers put on white latex gloves with a flapping sound while I pray to the goddess Fortuna so that it´s just a formality and not and actual cavity search.
Go figure. (Phew, no cavity search today!)
Next they take my husband with our backpacks to the small room and shut the door. He has to unpack everything and the men carefully go through every little bag, every single item being exposed and discussed, including my tampons, my mooncup, my pantyliners, dirty socks, (awful, after so much camping and hiking!) underwear plus several boxes of seeds, strings, metal wire and other assumingly suspicious hand crafts utensils.
While my generally badass Colombian husband is chatting up the bored officers with our hitchhike stories, I am turning red as a Valentine´s day heart-shaped balloon, imagining some unknown hands picking through the stuff I intend to insert into my hoo-haw later that month. (Yes, I consulted the Urban Dictionary for that synonym!)
Besides, I urgently need to pee. While a dude sitting at a wide table is asking me where I met those Turkish guys for the sixth time (can you believe they never heard of Blablacar, let alone Couchsurfing?), I am carefully sipping hot tea from a paper cup (they are nice like that), sweating and trying to keep my bladder a bit more tight than my composition.
…and more questions
Imagine the scene: I am sinking into a leather couch, explaining how such bums as we two travel around Greece (remember, my husband taught me, the best thing you can tell them is the truth and with a lot of details), trying not to pee my pants, while from the next room, I hear the officers laughing. Obviously, nobody can resist the Colombian charm.
Heeheehee, they go, Pablo Escobar bla bla bla…Narcos tatata and so on. Good. Even the border police watch TV series and think good old Pablo was some kind of a misunderstood Robin Hood with a funky moustache.
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Nobody asks me anything anymore (they probably pity me, which is for the better) and so I wait, feeling sorry for the Turkish guys whose passports have been equally collected and not sorry at all for the Greek taxi driver who was plain annoying all along. They must be cursing the moment they decided to take a Colombian across a border, I think.
Finally, the door opens, F. and the officers finishing their session on a high note, talking about drug laws in Latin America. They exchange a few words in Greek and call me in: it´s my turn. They ask me to pack our backpacks (a few feathers from the sleeping bag still floating around) and I fight the zippers with nervous hands while they go through my purse.
Looking impossibly nervous, I must seem like I have a kilo of cocaine stashed in my bra or something. (Fortunately not.) My stomach turns around in horror when the officer grabs a plastic bag and asks – and what is this?
“That, sir, are just…fried…cannabis seeds.”
Why the hell do you have weed seeds on you?!
You see, not that I carry a pack of fried cannabis seeds at every moment (I´m not simple like that), but
these have somehow escaped my attention for too long. I got them with a cream at a summer hippie market (oil from cannabis seeds is actually my favorite eczema treatment) from some farmers and, needless to say, they were technical cannabis seeds. Ain´t nobody that stupid to fry smoking stuff, mind you.
I ate most of them, but never finished and when I boarded the plane to Sicily in September 2016, the seeds were still in my handbag. (Fortunately enough, the search never caught me with them…until now.)
Fuck my life, I think, I´m in trouble.
As you know, seeds fried with salt and pepper are not ever going to germinate, but when the border police saw the package, he must have been thinking I am nuts. Who else carries a pack like that in their purse? Yeah, I thought so. Only me.
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You still have that shit? F. hisses at me and gleefully offers the officer a handfull of salty seeds to try himself which the guy demonstratively refuses.
At that moment, I want to stuff my burning face into the backpack I just managed to close without ripping off the zip.
The officer shakes his head in disbelief – I guess they don´t get these amounts of dumbness crossing too often – and waves us to the table.
They make us sign an agreement with the interrogation and luggage check and lead us back to the car where they hand us back our passports. (At that point, I feel like my bladder will soon explode or else I will perish, a victim of the same fate as Tycho de Brahé.) The Turkish people look at us with well concealed hate, we load our stuff back in the trunk and off we go.
Until the next imaginary line on the map.
Was it all because F. is Colombian? Or because we didn´t hand in his residency card along with the passport? Or because they didn´t stamp his passport back when we entered in the first place? Most probably the combination of all three.
Trouble at the Turkish border
The driver keeps complaining loudly about how nervous she felt and how she doesn´t want to have problems (keep telling me) when we arrive at the next stop.
The Turkish border officers, although they are probably suffering of the same boredom as their Greek counterparts, look somewhat more serious.
They look at us and glance at our papers, while the driver loudly and annoyingly tells everyone and no one in particular about our misfortunate one hour long break at the Greek checkpoint, stressing that she has no connection to us whatsoever. Turks unwillingly open our bags too, quickly examine the insides by touch and proceed to check the car papers.
So it happens that the cab doesn´t have the permission to travel abroad.
The one who is not allowed in Turkey is the woman and her yellow car.
After some more drama, she drives back and we continue, finally tucking our passports back in the safety. I pee behind some bushes and happy ending follows.
Only that, I forgot to check if they´ve put a stamp in my passport in all that confusion.
And they didn´t.
But that´s a whole different story.
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Stray story seeker. Hungry hitchhiker. Wannabe polyglot. Aspiring travel writer. Currently bumming around in Georgia.
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