When we left Turkey with much of the country unexplored, I had hoped to soon return. My mom was more sensible in realizing that Turkey would likely, and quickly, turn into a war zone. She was right. It’s always a good time to remember that people usually do not represent the actions of their government. Here is a favorite memory of mine from Turkey, an experience that might not be too unlike the chicken buses I’ve read about in Latin America.
One of my fondest memories from Turkey was formed during an insanely long bus ride from Pamukkale, or the Biblical Laodicia, to the southern coastal town of Fethiye. Sure, it was cheap, but the “direct” bus route turned out to be a local one. We learned a new, Turkish interpretation for the word direct. We stopped, I don’t know, upwards of a hundred times to pick people up even when the bus had hardly enough room to squeeze them on, let alone enough seats.
Not only was it crowded, but it was sticky hot. We sat and watched the temperature gauge at the front of the bus creep up, and over, 38C degrees. No fans, no air conditioning. Thankfully, every now and then people would get off and leave a little wiggle room for those standing up. My mom, Grace, and I got seats only because we hopped on at the beginning station. It was two to a seat and my mom and Grace were sharing one together. My seat-mate changed a few times, but for the majority of the trip I sat next to a kindred spirit.
She was a 20-year-old native to the area and had obviously already taken this drawn-out bus ride before. She only understood a few words of English and I didn’t know much more in Turkish. This barrier only made it all the more fun to try and get to know each other.
Our friendship began with both of us eyeing the man who, instead of standing, sat down right in the middle of the aisle. We looked at each other with similar thoughts written across our facial expressions. From here, my seat-mate continued smiling and seemed open and ready for conversation. She proved this when she turned and asked me where I was going. I told her Fethiye. Her eyes went wide and her hand went to her forehead, mimicking the motion of flicking off sweat. She said a word which I took to mean hot.
She communicated to a lady standing in the aisle that I was going to Fethiye. They both looked at me with sympathy. My heart sank a little as she began to further express with hand gestures and repetitions of the word for hot, the lady chiming in agreement, that Fethiye was even hotter than where we were. According to the bus thermometer (disregarding humidity), it was still 38C degrees and climbing. “Not good news,” I inwardly groaned. But my route was set. Surely there had to at least be a breeze or less humidity or some redeeming quality in Fethiye’s weather.
She asked me my age, where I was from, and because I was wearing a ring, if I was married. I told her I wasn’t married, but she seemed confused and told me that rings on the finger next to the pinky meant you were married. I didn’t want to explain (probably couldn’t) how my ring came in handy for keeping overly confident Turkish guys away, a tip I learned from other single, female travelers.
Some Turkish men, probably from watching too many movies, believe that Western women are sexually loose and will have sex with anyone. You don’t even have to be a pretty or young Westerner for this kind of attention. To Turks’ credit, many men will respect a wedding ring, though you’ve still got to watch out for the ones who don’t care. Instead, I told her how in the USA, wedding rings go on the left hand, not the right. She responded that, in Turkey, the ring can go on either hand, but was satisfied with my answer.
I asked her all the same questions since they were questions we could ask and answer without too much difficulty. She smiled and replied no to the marriage question.
When my mate had entered the bus, she had entered with another girl of about the same age. The other girl didn’t have enough luck to score a seat and had had to stand in the back. Quite often, my mate would look back, giggle and shout something to her. I guessed that they were friends, but wanting to acknowledge her presence, I asked. “Friend? Anlamadim;” she didn’t understand. I don’t really know why, but I decided to try the Spanish word “amigo” instead. That’s a word that’s been spread globally, right? “Ah, amigo! Yes, she is my amigo.” Light bulb, it worked.
We would sometimes just sit and watch the expansive, rolling hills from the window. Every now and then we would point something out to each other and say, “beautiful,” the other nodding and smiling in return. I thought it was a nice way to honor her country and reassure her that the crazy bus ride wasn’t giving me a bad opinion of her home.
I tried to ask how far away Fethiye was. My mom and I were originally told it was only a 4 hour or so bus ride, but it had already been longer than that. She responded by making a snake movement with her hands, then pointing them upwards and then downwards and the snake again. I supposed she meant we would go through some hills or mountains and then continue on the curvy road. So still a ways to go.
Her directions were accurate. We did follow a wavy road, then go up into mountains, then down, then continue on the road. Only it took at least twice the time we were told. Good thing we weren’t in any hurry.
The bus would sometimes stop at the side of the road and wait while locals brought all of their groceries and shopping aboard, then slowly gather up their things and shuffle out a few stops later. Someone brought a mattress on with them, and seemingly half the contents of their household. This could mean a longer stop while space for stuff was found either in the storage compartment or in the bus aisle, corners, or in front of your nose.
It was a lot of fun, and I found it to actually be quite a privilege, to go to stops and through back-roads where the common, everyday Turkish person worked and lived, to be using the same transportation that they used every shopping day, and to see the way of life that was typical and normal there. You can’t get that reading a travel magazine or taking an air-conditioned V.I.P bus (though aircon is NICE).
It was sweet to see men get off the bus and help women place their groceries somewhere and climb on. They expertly arranged people and things to maximize the most space possible. Coming from the US, it was wonderful to see the freedom of unconcern over some typical regulations and rules. Instead the concern was turned towards getting as many people where they needed to be as possible. The mentality was: “Climb on. Somehow, we will make a way for you.”
To kill time and keep the conversation flowing with my seat-mate, I pulled out my WorldNomad’s Turkish language app and ran through some of the phrases provided. My mate first corrected my pronunciation, attempted an answer, and then searched for something she could ask me. We got a bit stuck answering the questions. We didn’t have translation for that.
The bus made another stop where a majority of riders got off. This happened to be my new friend’s stop as well. We smiled, said good-bye and were a bit sad it was over. She joined her amiga and got off the stuffed, hot bus.
We waved to each other through the window, then the bus moved on.
By then it was getting dark, and we should have arrived in Fethiye hours ago. My next seat-mate was a middle-aged lady who kept nodding off to sleep. There were only two other foreigners aboard that bus besides my family and I. They were a couple from somewhere, probably Germany, who began the trip with us and were headed to the same location. We all reassured each other, while staring at the maps on our phones, that yes, we should have been there 3 hours ago, but we probably have 2 more hours to go.
We hadn’t made a reservation for that night in Fethiye so we had no obligations to be anywhere, at anytime. We just enjoyed the ride and the careening (but stunning) cliff roads, sometimes without railings, until finally, we arrived.
The crazy bus ride may be over and my short-time kindred spirit gone, but the veggie and fruit juice that leaked onto my backpack in the storage compartment left a smell that, so far, seems to be there for always.