We had arrived in Turkey in the Spring, and as a result the days were generally chilly and the nights cold. Beyond Anatolia we knew it would only get worse; we’d been to Europe in Spring before and knew that our experience would be, to our Arizona-bred bodies, the equivalent of living in a van in the Arctic circle. And let’s be honest, Europe is almost entirely above the same latitude as the Canadian border, and everyone knows that Canada is a frozen, uninhabitable tundra eleven and a half months out of the year. That’s why it has come to be known as “The Dangerous North.” It was with this information that we decided to drive as quickly as possible from Turkey to Morocco in Northern Africa, where we could wile away the Spring until better weather transpired in the North. But we faced an immediate challenge: we had only three days to legally exit Turkey, and we were a full three day drive from the border.
Before departing from Engin’s house we make the passing comment that, whenever we wait until the last minute to do something, as in leaving only barely enough time to legally exit Turkey, “if something can go wrong, it most certainly will.” This of course is the universal principle that governs our lives known as Murphy’s Law. This Murphy must have been a real bastard.
Day one starts off innocuously enough, but soon the clouds overhead thicken and threaten rain. It begins as a soft drizzle but it very quickly escalates to a deluge. Within minutes our defrost fan blower cuts out and the windshield starts fogging up, so I resort to desperately toweling the windshield off to retain visibility. Minutes later on a curvy mountainous highway the windshield wipers also cut out and we’re suddenly passengers aboard a flying danger Twinkie, barreling through the rain completely blind. We have no choice but to stop and wait for the rain to subside.
Day two starts off fine, us having spent a very windy night camped at the end of a finger of land jutting out into the stormy bay of Bodrum. We set our sights on the ancient Roman ruins of Ephesus and set off. Before long I notice a violent knocking sound coming from somewhere in Nacho’s frontal suspension area. I opt not to mention it to Sheena, who is again busy reading her coming of age princess novella in the passenger seat. I sense that its very mention will cause the sound to become real, and hence give rise to the need to deal with it. It gets progressively worse until we reach Ephesus and I feel the need to get out and see what’s the matter.
I stop the van. A torrential rain begins to pour. I get out and perform a maneuver I like to call the “wet jack it,” which consists of jacking up Nacho in the pouring rain. It’s a clause in Murphy’s Law, you can look it up.
I notice that the driver’s front wheel seems a little wonky, so I disassemble the hub and find the outer wheel bearing to have what seems to be more play than usual. I swap out the bearing and we pull away. Within seconds the knocking resumes, naturally. It’s raining too hard to explore Ephesus, so instead I flip a U-turn and next perform a “wet jack it” on the passenger side of the van. This time I notice that the upper ball joint is completely destroyed. The Indian highways have apparently caused it to give up the ghost. I consult our trusty Garmin (who, it bears mentioning, we have named “Ruth”; when on rare occasion we drive without it, we are said to be “driving Ruthlessly”) and it tells us that there’s a parts store in Izmir, about 80km to the North. By now it’s evening time, so we drive a few miles to the beach and camp.
We arrive safely at the parts store the following morning where we find the right part, buy two of them just in case, and then also buy more wheel bearings and a spare tie rod end just because I feel the whim to do so. It begins to rain again, but this time I’m working on the passenger side so I’m able to extend the awning and reduce the amount of “wet jacking” to be done. With the supervision of the store manager and a wily old Turk I swap out the ball joint, turn down an invitation to go to the store manager’s house (we have to be out of Turkey by tomorrow!), instead settling for tea in the store, and we speed off to the North.
By nightfall we’re back on the coast and we consult Ruth for a place to sleep. The screen indicates a wayward dirt road along the beach so we head there. When we arrive it’s dark, and after winding through a steep grove of trees we’re suddenly driving downhill on a very muddy track. Things are looking bad.
“Damn you, Murphy!” I yell as we come to a stop in the mud. Sheena’s looking nervous now.
“What do we do NOW!?” she wails. She is right to wail rather than to talk in a regular voice, as we are obliged by law to remove Nacho from the country by the following day, but now we’re stuck in the mud on a steep abandoned road miles from civilization and many hours from the border.
“Damn! Murphy! Blah!” is all I can think to say.
I’m trying not to brag here, but what follows can only be described as pure driving genius on my part. Against all odds—nay, against the laws of the universe, among them the Conservation of Energy, Hooke’s Law, Kirchoff’s Law, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and even Murphy’s Law itself, I manage to squirm Nacho’s slick tires sideways to a patch of weeds, expertly manipulate the clutch, rev the engine like a race car driver, and set Nacho into a mud-flinging, wild-bronco-like, bucking, swirling rampage—in reverse—which culminates in us becoming free of the quagmire! Sheena squeals with joy, her teary eyes staring admiringly at me as I thump my chest while screaming like Howard Dean at a pep rally. Our hearts are thumping like the legs of a thousand itchy rabbits as we come to rest at a more sensible camping spot along the water where we calm ourselves with a modest intake of alcohol and retire to bed.
In the morning we set off to the north, a day’s drive from the border, with a marathon run of This American Life episodes to keep our minds occupied as we sail past the Turkish countryside. By evening we arrive at the border. It’s an easy procedure and are stamped out of Turkey and into Greece when suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, I decide to ask the customs officer where we can buy Greek car insurance.
“You no have Greek insurance?” he asks, surprised. I immediately know I’ve made a grave mistake.
“Uh, actually yes, we do. Never mind!” I say, and quickly rummage around and hand him our fake car insurance paperwork (see here for explanation).
“This no worky,” he says, and hands it back. “Only green card worky. You come back tomorrow and buy green card from man.” And with that we’re shut down. We’re already stamped out of Turkey, and don’t have a visa to get back in, and we’ve been denied entry to Greece, so we have no choice but to set up camp in “No Man’s Land”—the short stretch of road that sits between each country’s border control. It’s a lawless land, and for the night we’re countryless drifters.
In the morning I find the customs man responsible for selling car insurance, and it turns out he’s one mean sonofabitch. It’s been a long time since we’ve come across a border guard with a chip on his shoulder, but this guy has it. He yells at me a couple of times and then disappears in a flurry to make some personal phone calls and then starts passively filing away papers. After a half an hour I decide that this game is only a game if both sides play, so I decide to leave the border without insurance and just hope that nobody notices that we haven’t actually been stamped into Greece. But just as we are getting in the van he emerges and tells me to come into his office, where he proceeds to sell me one month’s insurance for $250, a full three or four times more than we’ve ever paid for insurance at any border. We reluctantly pay up and drive into Greece.