January 12, 2022
December weather in Turkey was cold and the majority of the country was covered in snow. Google Maps wanted to direct us inland via the shortest route over the mountains through the thick of it but travelling on motorbikes with our girls, we were happy to take the longer coastal route to keep to the mild climate and low elevations. The Turkish coastline was stunning and really surprised us. The water on our right was a tropical shade of aqua blue and the islands so perfectly spaced with the odd fishing settlement dotted along the way. On our left were rolling hills and we often came across these sceneries from a slight elevation, providing an optimum vantage point to really accentuate the setting. For the most part the quality of the road was up to European standards so we could concentrate on the views and not the road or traffic. All this combined with the better preserved and less visited of the “Ancient Greek” sites, Turkey quickly made its way into our top five countries and a definite contender for the top spot.
We arrived in Taşucu, a Port town located directly North across the Mediterranean Sea from Cyprus, in the early afternoon and purchased our tickets for the Cyprus ferry as a priority. This was an easy exercise, we simply walked into the booking office, handed over our documents (including a recent Covid PCR test) and that of the dogs, made the payment of US $200 and were handed our tickets.
The ferry to Cyprus was pleasant enough after a late night getting through the Port Customs and Immigration and then boarding. There were no cabins to speak of, just rows of static seats inside with a small cafe/convenience shop on the main deck and an additional small inside seated area directly above. The dogs weren’t allowed inside in the main seated area, but were allowed to sit inside with us in the upstairs smaller section where we had the entire place to ourselves. The ferry was scheduled to depart at 9pm, but it was well after midnight before there was any movement by which time we had all got comfy in our seats to try and get whatever sleep we could. The silver lining of the delayed start was that we arrived in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) with daylight and at a reasonable time rather than 3 o’clock in the morning.
Customs and immigration leaving Turkey had been pretty straightforward. We had to get our passports stamped, our vehicles checked and our pet passports inspected. In Cyprus we arrived at the TRNC port of Girne. This is a region that has claimed independence from Cyprus and operates as an independent country but is not recognised by Cyprus or the EU. For all intents and purposes it is a fully functional democracy but entering the TRNC does not give you access to the Republic of Cyprus (South). To go to the south, another border crossing is required. The TRNC customs and immigration process is again fairly straightforward albeit time consuming. Green card insurance does not cover the TRNC so local insurance must be purchased at the Port but it's very inexpensive.
We spent a couple of days relaxing and catching up on sleep at the New Hostel where the staff were so friendly and we were within dog walking distance of a Gloria Jeans coffee shop. Although cool, Girne was a comfortable temperature for December. We expected slightly cooler temperatures in Nicosia where we would be spending Christmas and New Years doing a Pet Sit through Trusted House Sitters for 2 dogs. The Pet sit can had been arranged months prior and we had been in regular communication with Jorg, the owners of the dogs who we were really looking forward to meeting before he and his husband Randy took off on their holidays.
We didn’t expect any issues entering the South, just a quick and easy drive through station. We were returning to the EU with EU motorbikes and EU Pet passports for the dogs with all vaccinations up to date. As for us, with UK passports we would easily get a stamp allowing us 90 days in Cyprus. However, what we didn’t consider was the fact that we were crossing the Green Line, the United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus. Since Cyprus acceded to the European Union in 2004, Council Regulation (EC) No 866/2004 of 29th April 2004 entered in force governing rules of goods, services and persons crossing between the TRNC and the Republic of Cyprus (now an EU member state). One section of this regulation is significant to us, the prohibition of movement of any animals and animal products across the Green Line. This rule is strictly enforced by Cyprus and having all the required paperwork, vaccinations and blood works for a pet dog or cat is irrelevant, the pet will not pass.
We arrived at the border and stamped out of the North quickly and easily and then rode across the demilitarised zone towards the Cypriot border post. Immigration happily stamped our passports and then we moved on to Customs, who stopped us and repeatedly said only one word to us “why?”. We had no idea what they were talking about. We were asked to pull over and park up. We spoke to the chief customs officer who was initially angry but soon calmed down and simply stated the regulations and said there were no exceptions to this rule. A quick Google search confirmed what he was saying. For all our constant research we hadn’t even considered that this could be a problem, we’d now visited 90 countries and never had we been met with such a situation and an absolute No. The Customs officer said that had we arrived by air or boat directly to the Republic of Cyprus it would have been fine, but the regulation is very specific to the land crossing of the Green Line
We had to quickly come up with a plan because our Pet Sitters were expecting us this afternoon, with their flight out of Cyprus the next day, and we couldn’t let them down. We decided that Janell would continue on to Cyprus on her motorbike and start the Pet Sit. Stu would return to Turkey by ferry with Weeti and Shadow, park his bike somewhere and then try to get a flight to Cyprus with the dogs. Google Flights suggested flights existed at a very reasonable price and a quick call to the airline confirmed that the dogs would fly without any drama.
So Janell went on to meet the Jorg and Randal in Nicosia and Stu turned around and headed back across the border. Just before Stu left the customs bay, the officer suggested that he try at another border, suggesting that the border post controlled by the British might be an option and could be lenient or pretend the dogs weren’t onboard the motorbike. With about 9 hours until the return ferry departed, why not try? He headed for the British controlled border and with the dogs still on display tried to confidently ride across the Green Line. A young Naval Officer was stationed at the post and would probably have waved him through easily if not for seeing the dogs. She simply said “cute, but I can’t let you in”. Stu was asked to pull over and a more senior staff member came over to speak to him. He again explained the rules and said that his hands were tied, had the dogs been hidden then maybe we’d have gotten away with it but with the CCTV he had no option but to turn us around. But he did suggest trying again at another border with the dogs closed up. So off Stu went, a third border post set as destination and this time with the dogs zipped away.
Everything was going so well, Stu passed through Immigration and Customs were checking everything completely unaware. The staff asked for Stu’s Covid PCR Test which he had on his phone but they needed a hard copy. He was already starting to shake, it was late and the dogs were just behind him zipped up and so far silent. Without a hardcopy PCR test he could only plead for them to accept the document on his phone. While they were considering, another customs officer looked out from the booth and asked what Stu was carrying on the back of his bike. At this moment Shadow barked and the game was up. Stu was asked to pull over and they searched the Pillion Pooch and of course found our two dogs. Stu was held for over an hour as they recorded his details; passports (Australian and UK), motorbike documents (Bulgarian), pet passports (Polish) and interrogated him about where he was from and his intentions in Cyprus. Stu was sure he was about to get a fine, but before long they returned his documents and told him that he was not allowed to enter and was to return to the TRNC immediately. Maybe, just maybe they were spending that time considering whether to let him in, or they were trying to work out how to give him a fine but it was all too difficult. Feeling pretty defeated, he knew there was another border post on the way back to the ferry so thought why not give it a go. After completing the exit procedures for TRNC he proceeded to the Southern border post with the dogs again zipped away but before even getting near the booth a staff member came out onto the road and started yelling, telling him he’d tried at two other border crossings and been refused and that he should just leave the dogs in the North. Stu didn’t say a word, he turned his bike around and headed to the ferry port, tired and hungry and very frustrated.
The ferry trip back to Cyprus was pretty uneventful. The only issue was that the weather was appalling and he had to look after 2 dogs by himself on the ferry. The flight that Stu had researched left from Adana, a city a few hours' ride from Taşucu. But Stu had no internet and no way of communicating with Janell who was busy coordinating somewhere for Stu to leave his bike. Just before arriving in Adana, Stu pulled into a coffee shop to get some internet and have a break. While there he spoke to the owner, who was intrigued by our travels and wanted to know where Janell was. After Stu explained the dilemma and the proposed solution, the owner said that to the best of his knowledge there were no flights from Turkey to Southern Cyprus. Stu quickly got back onto Google Flights to show him the flight he had found, only to realise that the destination airport was actually in the TRNC, it seemed that Google provides a solution with the nearest airport if the one selected doesn’t have a result. Oh!!
Meanwhile, Janell had some challenges of her own. It took her a long time to find the correct address for the Pet Sit and about 2 km from the house, her clutch cable broke. Not entirely sure she was headed to the correct address, she parked up her bike and started jogging. Upset, tired and a little stressed about everything that had happened, she knocked on the door, slightly out of breath, to be greeted by a very friendly Jorg. He was aware of the situation at the border but not about the clutch cable. He asked how he could help and Janell explained that together they could push the bike to the nearby carpark and she could sort the broken clutch cable over the next couple of weeks. Jorg was well over 6ft and his long legs propelled the bike at a pace where Janell could hardly keep up and was doing very little to help in moving her bike, it was all Jorg for 2km. Finally in the house, which had been beautifully decorated for Christmas, and meeting the two beautiful dogs she would be looking after, Crillon and Asterix, she could relax and enjoy pizza and wine with Jorg and Randall.
With no contact from Stu and a need to do something helpful, Janell decided to investigate somewhere Stu couldn’t leave the motorbike in Adana for 3 weeks, totally unaware that Stu couldn’t actually fly to Cyprus with the dogs. She quickly reached out to motorcycle clubs registered in the city of Adana. Five clubs came up in a Google search and one replied through a Facebook message she sent. The club was called Turk Riders Chopper Club and they offered a safe place to park Stu’s bike for as long as needed and a place to stay while in Adana. Stu made arrangements to meet the Turk Riders Chopper Club - General President, Ruhsati, at an easy to find location and then along with the TRCC - Adana President, Özgür, was escorted to the Turk Riders Clubhouse and made feel very much at home. Stu was asked what his plans were and if he needed anything. He explained that he had mistakenly thought it possible to fly to Southern Cyprus and now had no idea what to do. Ruhsati made it clear that he and the girls were welcome to stay for the month until Janell returned to Turkey after the Pet Sit.
Stu was seriously worried about telling Janell about the mistake. It was now the 23rd of December and no matter what it was looking like Janell was going to be spending Christmas alone. There were flights through Greece, but all in all the cost was approaching $1,000 with the dog's transport and last minute Christmas flights and these would still only get Stu and the girls to Cyprus by Boxing Day at best. Janell loves Christmas so much, it's her favourite time of the year, and was for sure picturing a Hallmark Christmas movie ending to this story. It was clear that the best way forward was to accept that we would be apart for the next three weeks including Christmas, New Years and…Janell’s Birthday. Janell took the news rather well, really what point was there in taking it any other way. Everyone was safe, we both had dogs, good internet and comfortable places to stay.
However, the first thing Stu needed to sort out was some clothing and toiletries. We had done a very quick repack of things so Stu could minimise the amount of luggage he needed to bring on the flight. As a result he had no clothes, toilets, electrical devices (except for Janells phone) and no towel. It was a good idea at the time! Now it was going to be about 3 weeks before he was reunited with his stuff so a few pairs of underwear and socks, a couple of t-shirts and a pair of jeans would suffice.
Stu had a relaxed, unique Christmas experience in Turkey. There were no decorations, they would come later, and no family. This was much the same for Janell although she was surrounded by Christmas decorations being in a Christian country. But we both took the time to catch up with family and do our best to stay positive. Janell was really enjoying taking long walks around Nicosia, catching up on Netflix and drinking coffee from the house Nespresso machine, such a luxury. Asterix and Crillon were sweet boys and very easy to look after. With still fairly strict Covid measures in place in Cyprus, Janell spent most of her time with the dogs. Jorg and Randall let her use the car so once a week she took a drive with the dogs to explore a little.
After Christmas, Stu was given his orders to return to Selçuk on the other side of Turkey where we’d left Azra, our new puppy, and pick her up. Although reluctant about giving up the peace he was enjoying with Weeti and Shadow, he followed the demands placed on him by Janell and hired a car to drive back to collect little Azra who was now fit and healthy, having made a full recovery from the life threatening Parvovirus.
The trip took a few days and Stu arrived back in Adana very late on the 30th of December, enough time to get some sleep and be ready for the Turk Riders New Years Eve Party held at the Clubhouse. There was plenty to do in preparation and throughout the day, club members arrived to pitch in and get the place looking very…Christmassy!? It may have seemed odd to Stu but New Years and Christmas seemed interchangeable in Turkey with Christmas having no real meaning but the decorations still providing the festive spirit. The Turks certainly knew how to put on a party, there was plenty of alcohol, food and music and good firepits to keep everyone warm while dancing inside and outside. They saw the new year in with the traditional countdown and fireworks and then the dancing really started.
Come the New Year, it would still be well over a week before we would be reunited. But Stu was able to keep busy helping out around the Clubhouse, training Azra and researching the vaccine requirements for her to continue travelling with us. But there was also plenty of time to socialise with club members and their families and get out to cafes and bars.
On completion of the Pet Sit, Janell was ready to make her way back to the pack. Stu realised that in all the commotion of their separation, he had taken Janell’s bike documents and she couldn’t cross any borders without them. Luckily this was realised with enough time (just) to send them with a courier over to Cyprus and Janell’s departure wasn’t held up.
Janell’s ferry was not at all the same boat Stu had taken. The passenger area was tiny and there were clearly more passengers than seats. Keen to get some sleep on the overnight ferry, Janell found a small section of floor space near the mens toilets that allowed her to curl up in a ball and sleep, but she seriously wondered how she would have coped with dogs. Her ride to Adana was also met with bad weather, but she was determined to get back to her pack and so no amount of rain was going to stop her.
Together at last in the Turk Riders Motorcycle Club of Adana, Janell was able to finally meet all the kind bikers that had taken such good care of Stu and the dogs over the previous 3 weeks.
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