Archive for February, 2011

Made-to-measure border crossing

February 19, 2011

Why do customs officers constantly carry a folding meter with them? Back when we were crossing the border into Greece, Annemarie couldn’t help asking the question. She made a mental note to be sure, before leaving the country, to check whether this ‘measure’ would still be taken at the border to Turkey. Little did we know, it wouldn’t come to that. On the morning of our departure from Greece, Annemarie – quite unusually – checked our email before we were out the door. We had mail from Jeremy whom we had met in Montenegro on his way to Istanbul. We had already heard about his having been mugged in Greece earlier, and now he was writing us about the incident and where it had occurred. Fortunately, the spot in question was already behind us, and we were thankful for having been protected. Jeremy added that it was still impossible for pedestrians to cross the border into Turkey. We were glad for his – to us – perfectly timed warning, so now we knew there was no use trying. We prayed for a driver to stop and give us a ride across the border, and were on our way. On the road, however, our hearts sank as we realized that the majority of traffic was headed towards Greece rather than the other way. Some of the cars headed for Turkey were completely packed. At the customs, we spotted a motorhome with an Italian registration number. “This could be our chance,” Annemarie said, before popping over to the washrooms. When she returned, the Italian camper van had already pulled up to Greek passport control. Quickly shouldering our backpacks, we dashed towards customs. Since Annemarie speaks Italian, she made straight towards the lady in the front passenger seat, saying: “Excuse me, can we ask you something? We’re also on our way to Turkey, but the prohibited zone is off limits for pedestrians. Would you mind giving us a lift across the border?” The driver had apparently overheard the question, since when he was being handed back their passports, he asked the officer: “Is this true?” “It is forbidden to cross the border on foot,“  the man confirmed. Now the Italians were both ready to let us hop on. Quickly Hanspeter held out our passports to the official, and just a few minutes later, we were on Turkish ground. It seemed almost too good to be true: We were being driven across the border – and not just in any car but in a wondrous RV, a vehicle we are dreaming sometimes.

Our white cuddly sheep was allowed to cross the border without passport. With the new country abounding with flocks of sheep, it is bound to feel right at home. Standing by the roadside, we once counted seven different flocks at the same time. Our little sheep symbolizes a variety of things to us. One of them is that it reminds us of the fact that we have a faithful Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life.“ Jesus said in the Bible (John 10:11, 27+28). His statement about Himself encourages us and gives us strength to face any challenge ahead of us. This week we had to tackle more than 100 km in three days, but not without pleasant surprises. On one of those days, we had, thanks to roadworks on a 32-km stretch, the brand new road completely to ourselves, and the day after, a strong tail wind propelled us along.

Equally pleasant was a short encounter in Gelibolu. On a chilly morning, Hasan climbed off his horse-drawn wagon singing joyfully. Annemarie, in an effort to try out her limited Turkish vocabulary, asked him: “How are you?” He smiled and started to teach us some more words. His genuine happiness was contageous. Remarkable how Hasan could be so happy despite having to carry heavy loads while battling against the strong winds. It was great to see someone who truly enjoyed his work. The experience made us realize how even a brief encounter can affect everything and everyone around. We’re sure we will long remember how we benefited from meeting Hasan. 

An effect of an entirely different sort had a horse that was given to the city of Troy (see video), which was to be conquered by means of a ploy after 10 years of battle. The enemy had hidden some of its soldiers in a gigantic wooden horse and placed it in front of the city walls. The Troyans, enthusiastic about the surprise, unsuspectingly pulled the animal into the city. Under cover of night, the warriors inside the wooden structure sneaked out and opened the city gates to their own army who had lain in waiting outside.

There’s no outfoxing those customs officials back in Greece. We were told they carry the folding meter with them for measuring the amount of fuel in the tanks of cars crossing the border into Greece. There is a regulation determining how much fuel can be imported. You live and learn.

Sometimes we’re fascinated just by wayside discoveries. Today, for instance, we observed a convoy of 191 caterpillars walking in procession (see video).

Looking back over these past six months, we’re filled with gratitude. We marvel at how amazingly our faithful Shepherd has guided us each day of our journey thus far.

Best regards from Turkey

Hanspeter and Annemarie




My name is angel

February 8, 2011

Only two days ago, we were standing in the hallway of a police station. As we were staring at the prison gate right in front of us, we were waiting for Theodor. Why we were there in the first place? On our way to Iasmos, we had just entered a village, when a fancy black car stopped in front of us. The driver, a policeman called Theodor, as we were about to find out, asked us if we needed any help. “No, thanks.“ Hanspeter replied. „Yes“ said Annemarie. „You don’t happen to know if there are any rooms for rent in Iasmos?“ “As far as I know, there aren’t. But why don’t you come down to the police station – it’s just 1 kilometre down that way. I could make a few enquiries.“

We stocked up on mandarin oranges and bananas at the market and set off to the police station. Theodor found out that there was no accommodation of any kind in Iasmos, so he made a phone call to check out bus times for us. Over a cup of coffee, courtesy of Theodor in exchange for a couple of our mandarin oranges, we learned more about the life and work of a Greek policeman.

Later in Iasmos, we decided we should still try our luck at finding a room for the night – despite all predictions to the contrary. During this endeavour, we met a German-speaking lady who was kind enough to take us to a friend of hers who owned a shop. Unfortunately, neither of them knew of any rooms for rent in the village. The landlord of a restaurant saw us in the street and invited us in for a cup of coffee. But sadly, he could also only confirm what we had already been told. Though he suggested we could pitch our tent on a sort of village green right in the centre. But the idea of having to spend the night outdoors in the cold and practically under the eyes of the villagers seemed – particularly to Hanspeter – far from tempting. Unfortunately, Hanspeter’s suggestion to let us spend the night in prison was not met with enthusiasm by the only other guest, a policeman, in the restaurant.

Many many years ago, in a place we had visited only a few days before, two men had been made to spend the night in prison even though they were completely innocent. Those prisoners would have had every reason to express their anger or to feel sorry for themselves. But what seeped through the walls of their cell that midnight were songs of praise. They sang their hearts out so their fellow inmates could hear them. And God acted. He used an earthquake to unlock the prison doors and break the chains of all the prisoners (see video). This gripping story can be found in the Bible (Acts 16). It encouraged us to praise God aloud even in the midst of the worst of circumstances. We want to learn to consciously tell our souls what to do instead of letting it dictate us. Verse 2 in Psalm 103 says it in a nutshell: “Praise the Lord, o my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Every day we have reasons to give God praise. Here’s a recent one of ours:

A few nights ago we were still out walking – somewhat involuntarily. A far-off hotel Hanspeter had spotted online turned out to be closed, and the road we were following was far from busy. With concern, we watched the bolts of lightning that flared up over the open sea from time to time. According to the weather forecast snow was expected. We were not particularly keen on spending the following day, which we had scheduled as our day of rest, out in the cold and in the company of stray dogs. Back on the main road, 15 minutes passed before the first car went our way. And – ‘Thank you, Lord!’ – it pulled over. Take it from us, this is not as common in Greece as you might think. God’s second gift to us was that the driver and his wife did not simply drop us in front of a hotel, but he even went in for us to check out room prices. This probably contributed to the moderate 25 euros per night for a room with kitchenette. We couldn’t have been happier. We had a room for our day off including the luxury of a cooker to make our favourite dish on – vegetable rice with pineapple. When we asked our driver for his name, he replied: “My name is Angel (Angelo).” How very fitting. To us he had truly been an angel. Thanking and praising the Lord for His help came easily to us that night.

In just a few days – our walking speed varies (see video) – we will reach Turkey. With even larger sunshades to shield our eyes against the wind and a kitchen roll to deal with runny noses we’re perfectly geared up to brave the cold.

Best wishes from two grateful hikers

Hanspeter and Annemarie

Our latest video postings: Apollonia, Amphipolis, Kavala-Neapolis