Border crossings for dummies – a true beginners guide

Always wanted to learn how you should not cross overland borders? This is your chance! Just stick around and enjoy yourself with our story.

"I mean, as we are in the midst of our post-fact generation, who still cares about facts and figures?"

Have you ever heard of Kapikule? If not, then you probably have never crossed Europe’s largest and the second largest overland border in the world. Kapikule is located between Bulgaria and Turkey and is since ancient times Europe’s gateway to Asia. You might call it the end, or the beginning of the Silk Road. The fact that it is so large, should not frighten us. I mean, as we are in the midst of our post-fact generation, who still cares about facts and figures? But to be completely honest with you,  when we were approaching Kapikule on a bright Tuesday morning, with clear blue skies and a warm summer breeze pushing us forward, it felt like a Shepard tone was being played on our intercom. We were quite anxious. Would they let us pass during this peculiar Covid-19 period where famous hashtags were promoting adventures at home, rather than passing massive land border crossings with two fully packed Enduro motorbikes? Well, in the Netherlands we say “nee heb je, ja kunje krijgen” (similar to the saying: nothing ventured, nothing gained). So yes, we took our chances and went for it.

Our last morning in Bulgaria

For us this overland border crossing was the first “real” one. Real in the sense of showing passports, motor and health insurance papers, and having our story ready and aligned. Until now we used to travel without a clear plan and story. But as the police stopped as multiple times already, mostly out of curiosity, and we told our stories like Pierre chaotically does in the first part of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, we decided to practice and rehearse our story more properly.

"My intercom creaked and I could hear Tessa whisper: dude, seriously?"

When we approached the first split of lanes between trucks and the rest, there were zero vehicles on the road to follow. It was deserted like a cinema after playing the movie The Room – although it’s pretty funny.This was unexpected and presented a complex problem: we had to decide which lane was for us, instead of simply closing at the back. I was driving in front and when I decided how to take the split, and it really was the most obvious split ever, I, off course, took the wrong one. My intercom creaked and I could hear Tessa whisper: dude, seriously? Luckily it was like Black Mirror’s episode Bandersnatch where decisions can be altered by later events. So when we approached a big tarmac square, shielded by a high fence with a half open gate, we decided to go through it and indeed arrived at the correct lane. We were back on track!

“The simplicity of this limited the possibility for me to mess things up.”

The first checkpoint counted around eight lanes, and all were intended for cars and motorbikes. The simplicity of this limited the possibility for me to mess things up. We closed at the back of line 4, had a little laugh about how silly we were, and waited patiently for cars to pass the barriers. But after we regained our focus I noticed something strange. The cars were empty and thus not moving. What is this now again? Where were all the people? Were they so tired of waiting that they simply left their vehicle to explore Turkey on foot? Or did they enter the big shopping mall at the left, which had banners in ten languages about a permanent sale combined with amazing tax benefits? None of it appeared to be the case. It were the cars of employees.

At the border crossing

They had parked their cars in the shade of the arch which connected the control booths. The amount of people crossing the border was so nil that this passing was closed.

“We heard someone yell stop!”

We backed up and moved to the passing on our right. Yes, finally, we had made contact. At the first booth we were requested to present our documents and tell our reason for visiting. All went smooth and we were allowed to drive through. The two successive checks also went well. But at the fourth and final gate we made another mistake. From a distance the booth appeared to be empty. But when we passed it, and we passed it too fast to break, we heard someone yell stop! We were startled, stopped our bikes, performed a beautiful three point turn, drove back, performed another three point turn, drove to the booth, opened our helmet, presented our best smiles and said hi to the agent. He laughed and said it was fine. He was happy to see some tourists again. After a friendly chat we received all the required stamps and were good to go.

"It was a moisture and smoke screen which rose from the ground, similar to the special effect of your favourite rollercoaster launch area"

Just when we thought all tests were passed a new phenomenon appeared on the horizon. It was a moisture and smoke screen which rose from the ground, similar to the special effect of your favourite rollercoaster launch area. We closed our jackets and helmets and drove through the screen, which was a disinfectant – as we found out later on the internet. After ten meters we were summoned to stop at a small exit, where two women in impressive disinfectant suits stood waiting for us. Armed with infrared thermometers they were ready to determine if we were a threat to the national health. No problem, we knew the drill. We were however so packed in our motorbike suits and helmets that the only place to measure our temperature was right on our third eye. It was quite hilarious and also they were cracking up. We passed the test and drove on. Finally! We were officially in Turkey.