I am sitting at the bus station in Istanbul on my way to Bucharest, Romania.
I am at the station early and I am watching men stuff counterfeit perfume and textile into every nook and cranny of the bus. Behind the engine compartment, hidden spaces between the luggage compartments, anywhere and everywhere. I think this is my bus I am looking at, as a matter of fact I am pretty sure this is my bus.
A vague thought occurred in the back of my head, wondering if maybe I shouldn’t get on this bus. Maybe it is not a good idea to cross international boarders with bus full of smuggled goods. The thought came and went and I simply sat there and waited for departure time.
This is the bus I need. There really isn’t another bus. This bus company came recommended. The bus is big and comfortable looking. The men are stuffing the bus like a Thanksgiving Turkey in board daylight, in full view of all to see.
We leave the station an hour after the stated departure time, heading towards Bucharest, crossing into the European Union.
Out of the 10 people, including the driver, on this luxury bus, there are only 4 real passengers. Everyone else seems to be a part of this other venture, delivering something other than paid passengers to their destination. The men chain-smoke in an air-conditioned bus and I try not inhaling.
2.5 hours after we leave Istanbul, we arrive at the Turkey– Bulgaria boarder. A series of on the bus, off the bus, x-ray every piece of luggage, x-ray the bus, somehow all of the counterfeit goods gets pulled out their hiding spots only to be shoved back in again. All the while in this tiny few hundred kilometer of in between, there are brown butterflies everywhere.
Stamped out of Turkey. Waiting in no man’s land.
At one point, one of the passengers says in English in my general direction, “You want adventure, You got it!”
What? I am the only obvious English speaker here so he must be talking to me, but I have not said a single word to anyone since I got to the bus station, how does he know that I am an adventure junky?
We chat it up during the next 6 hours as we wait at in no mans land, in between boarders, hopefully not in between Bulgarian jail and a solid hostel bed. As it turns out, Mihai is a judge in Romania.
I asked him if these types of smuggling operation happens frequently and he cautioned me to be careful so instead we talked about honor killings in Turkey and the dissertation he has been writing on the topic.
At last, it is our turn to have our bus inspected by the Bulgarian boarder guards. The bus is pulled into a well-lit open garage and we are ushered off with our hand luggage. Then the bribe happens. The customs official gets on the bus with the driver, there are cartons of cigarettes pulled out, put inside a plastic bag and walked by the driver into the office (note the official never actually touches the bag — it’s like the cigarettes just happen to show up in the office) and I am sure money exchanged hands there as well.
Everyone is in on this.
Which makes me ask, why even bother to hide the goods then?
18 hours late, I arrive in Bucharest in the middle of the night. The bus doesn’t even stop at anything resembling a station of sorts but it pulls up at its office instead. I ask Miahi if he would be so kind to call me a taxi to take me to the hostel as I have no idea where I am. Mihai, whose name means Angel, not only calls a taxi for me, he ride with me in the taxi to the hostel to make sure that I got there alright.
…An angel indeed.
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