So, writing from the big city, back in one piece, tired and happy, this is a story that starts in the minibus to Bergama. I was thinking of travelling in August. Two weeks left in Turkey to roam around once the East- West Camp was over on the 14th. As the camp rolled on, the picture of going home to some sleep was making its way, tender, into my mind.
Travelling. It’s not that much about where you go than how you get there. Oh yeah, hitch hiking.
So on our day out from the camp to visit Bergama, after having enquired who was going back to Istanbul, I asked Nurettin if he was willing not to buy a bus ticket but rather join me on a journey of fortune, dusty curbs, good will and broken faces. Put simply:
– Let’s hitch hike. What do you think?
– Ok Seba.
We left the camp, Afacan Motel and Yenişakran on the 14th at 12:00 and arrived at Altinuzade, Istanbul, on the 15th at 20:20. We spent the night of the 14th in Bursa at a friend’s place. The next day we visited the city a couple of hours and we were back on the road by 15:30. We hopped on 13 different vehicles, of which 4 trucks, 4 cars, 2 minibuses, one underground metro, one ferry and one metrobus. Door to door, the trip was about 530km long and cost us 15.35 Turkish liras each.
Beginner’s luck. After just ten minutes we get on a truck that takes us to Bergama. A rattly Iveco from the 90s with a cello-taped gear lever owned by an independent driver who looks like he hasn’t slept in ten years but has a great heart.
Bergama. Walking from one end of the small city to the other. The sun is at its highest point in the sky and the wait bores into our souls. It’s still early enough to catch a regular bus back. What? Are we hitch hiking or are we hitch hiking? Hell yeah!
Second truck. Bergama behind us, excitement ahead. We make our way into low mountain, winding roads and olive groves. We pass through towns that have seldom seen foreigners.
Our second driver works for Kay Süt, he’s moving milk. His skin has the colour of dark caramel and his gums are recessed from years of smoking. He has a funny horse teeth kind of smile. His three children are either teachers or studying at university. The ride is pleasant and fortunate. A light stench of drying milk pervades the cabin but the windows are down and we soak in the fruity country breeze. Every now and then we stop to check the milk, pick some up, and smoothly make our way to Balıkesir by 5pm.
Mr Milk drops us off on the ring road at Balıkesir. The sun is in our faces as we face the road. We’re only half way to Bursa, with a faint chance of a bed for the night. A tidy truck pulls over and we rush to the passenger door like glorious children, an excitement as momentous as the first time even after a hundred times. The vehicle is a comfortable 2007 Volvo, its tidy driver tells us. He is 57, I tell him I’m 27, we both agree we’re still young chaps. He has a cousin in France, Nantes I recall, and he used to travel Europe in the old days. As we get closer to lake Uluabat, I manage to get hold of Ceden on fb, a participant from the first week of camp, thanks to Nurettin’s smartphone. She calls back, she can host us.
We arrive to our host around 19:30, just on time for Iftar. But hold on, a last trial puts us to test. The tidy lorry drops us off around Karacabey, close to Bursa but not quite there yet. Thumbs up on the side of a petrol station, a customised Tofaş Murat 124 with smoked windows and lowered suspension take us for a ride. Not just any ride. The warmth of introductory small talk doesn’t last and a feeling of eeriness creeps in. The interior is highly customised, completely upholstered in a cheap cream skai, with extra dials that don’t seem to function screwed here and there. Ugly job. “Nice car, can I take a photo?” I try. “That will be ten liras mate.” Nurettin and I exchange uneasy grins, the two guys in the front turn the music on loud, a syrupy crap Turkish love song blasts through the woofers, making our lungs throb with dissent. I gaze through the window at the lake and decide not to draw any conclusions from the driver’s psychopathic killer airs. Left foot on the dashboard, the one thing that’s obvious is he doesn’t know how to drive. He’s either got no feeling of how the car works or is just being a complete dickhead. My guess is both. The emergency lane becomes our private lane and we’re going slower and slower. Until the car chokes, thrusts, protests and halts. We all get out and push. The next petrol station is just ahead but it’s on top of a hill. We arrive breathless. I get my stuff out of the car and tell Nurettin we’re done with them. I can’t believe it. The gas service man tells us there’s a minibus that stops here and goes where we need. We hop on, grateful. Let’s call it a day.
After chilling out in old Bursa, we’re back on the road again! It takes us ages to reach the city’s outskirts and catch the right motorway to Yalova. A tiring start. Time is ticking.
A long wait. Broken by, guess what? Oh no. Another low-riding Tofaş. Cursed? The driver’s called Emra and he’s a smiley young chap with an open collar t-shirt, fake Ray Ban aviators and a star tattooed on his right arm. One could be mistaken but it soon shows that the only thing in common he has with yesterday’s blockheads is the car brand. The driving’s aggressive but controlled, fun not freaky. Nurettin proceeds with the ritual cigarette sharing, we cross hilly country to the next city, Gemlik, in a dash, then our roads part at Orhangazi.
At Orhangazi we’re soon picked up by a petrol tank truck, a tall, 40ish bloke with features more Slavic than Turkish. Fair hair, deep eye sockets, prominent brow, sleek cheeks. And that one tooth missing on the side of a huge smile that makes young children amused and wondrous. He looks healthier and happier than the other truckies we’ve met. He’s going to Kocaeli, but can’t take us there because he’s meeting his family on the way. So we get off at Topcular and catch a ferry for Eskihisar, Gebze, avoiding the long road wrapping around the Marmara sea by the east.
Sitting outside on the ferry’s top deck the fresh sea breeze caresses my skin. Nurettin’s gone to charge his phone but he’s been a while now. We’re almost arrived, he’s back in a hurry. “Seba, come!” Round the corner are two guys whom he met inside at the AC sockets. They’re going to Bostanci. Perfect!
Istanbul. The traffic, the noise, the craziness. Home. After cruising along the coast we’re dropped off on the metrobus line, it’s just two stops to Antinuzade, from where we walk down to central Üsküdar.
Being on the road. We’ve had it good. Some are not as lucky.