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BEWARE!   'BLACK MARKET' PASSPORT SCAMS

There is a dingy port town of Brindisi, Italy, where most travellers are required to stay overnight if they plan to catch the overnight ferry to Athens, Greece. The trains are scheduled in such a way that travellers cannot avoid having to spend overnight in Brindisi.  Many travellers would camp overnight in the park, an adventure I experienced with a group of backpackers. 

The next day, my group decided to catch a bus to the beach as we had most of the day available before the ferry was due to arrive at 5pm.  We purchased our return bus tickets prior to boarding, and as we boarded, we tried to register our tickets in the bus ticket slot machine.  But the ticket machine failed to register them because it was broken.  We knew the bus driver was aware that we had tried to do the right thing so we were not concerned, especially as we had bought return tickets for only one day. 

 

  Bus ticket - Brindisi.  Article written by Chrissy Layton, AusNotebook Music & Creative.

Approximately ten minutes into the trip, a Bus Inspector boarded the bus.  The Bus Inspector was dressed in a grey uniform and appeared very official-looking.  This well-dressed stern man looked liked an army officer.  He requested our tickets which we showed him.  Then because we hadn't registered our tickets, he indicated, in Italian, that we were trying to get a free ride.  We demonstrated by body language that the ticket machine was not working, but he showed no interest in that.

The next request he made was for us to give him our passports.  Travellers in Europe became used to such a request being made, so the group obliged. We thought that this would show the Bus Inspector that we were foreigners, and then he would overlook the tickets not being registered.  To our shock he requested US$50 for an on-the-spot fine for not registering the tickets.  This, of course, we all frankly refused to pay.  In retaliation, the Bus Inspector indicated that he did not intend to give back our passports.

One of the Italian passengers realised what was happening, and it soon appeared that this passenger was gallantly defending my group by explaining to the Bus Inspector about the broken ticket machine.  The Bus Inspector did not accept this explanation, and an argument started between them. 

The Bus Inspector rushed off the bus with our passports, so we followed quickly, all dragging our backpacks with us.   The Bus Inspector then boarded the bus again, so we all boarded back on as well.  He got off again and we did likewise.  It was like a cat and mouse episode.   It was quite obvious that he was trying to get away from us whilst retaining our passports, but we were determined not to let the passports out of our sight. 

The group and the Bus Inspector ended up near a caravan park, where shouting and arguing continued.  In an instant we had an audience from the nearby caravan park.   A man from the caravan park could speak English so we explained the situation to him.  This man surprisingly agreed with the Bus Inspector and implied we were all trying to avoid paying the bus fare.  Again, we explained our situation about the broken ticket machine. The man who could speak English reinforced the Bus Inspector's argument that we would have to pay US$50 to get our passports back.  Again we all refused and we kept arguing with this man and with the Bus Inspector as well. 

Eventually the Police arrived but they could speak no English either.   By this time, the man who could speak English had our passports in his possession.  Eventually he was persuaded to return the passports, whilst at the same time making sarcastic remarks to each of us about our passport photos. 

We were again told by this man that we should give the Bus Inspector US$50.  Otherwise, he said, we may find that we will have a difficulty boarding the ferry that night, because of a report that was being made about the ticket incident.   Once we all had our passports in our possession again, we left.  We had decided that we would concern ourselves about when, or if, it ever happened.   We were also aware that there was a black market for passports and that we were all probably victims of a scam.

Happily we made it back safely to the port and the time eventually came for us to board the ferry.  By now our group was a little anxious, for we just did not seem to know what to expect next.  What would we do if we were not allowed on the ferry?  Were we going to be expected to pay the US$50 that the Bus Inspector so vigorously tried to get us to pay?

We arrived at the ferry with high adrenalin rushing through each of us.  We had no idea what difficulties we may experience with boarding the ferry but we were determined to stand up for our rights.  To our delight, and relief, we made it onto the ferry with not the slightest sign to make us think that the events we had left behind would cause us any more problems.   It really was a scam and we almost were the victims of it.  Therefore, instead of trouble waiting us for when we boarded the ferry, we ended up with an exciting adventure story to tell about our short stay in the seedy town of Brindisi, Italy.

Two girls from the group happily holding their passports that they nearly lost.  Article written and photo taken by Chrissy Layton, AusNotebook Music & Creative.
Two girls from the group happily holding their passports that they nearly lost

Article and photos by Chrissy Layton,  AusNotebook Music & Creative

 

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