Rewind with me for a second to the start of October last year. I’m in a squat in Belgium, right after the No Borders Camp has finished. A girl comes over to introduce herself – “Are you Jo? I read your blog…!” This is Lisa, a girl I already exchanged a few emails with after she responded to one of my Berlin posts some months before.
Now fast forward again. It’s late on a Tuesday night. Pam and I returned from Bursa just a few days ago and now I’m sitting at a bus stop near to her house, waiting for Lisa to arrive on a dolmuş. She’s been hitch-hiking for a month already – from Berlin to Greece, with a detour to England, via Luxemburg and through Italy. Today she has been travelling from Thessaloniki, hitch-hiking to the border of Turkey, and now taking a bus the rest of the way – just as I did exactly one month ago. I’m expecting Lisa to be tired and hungry and have arranged for us both to stay in Pam’s place for a few days before we begin our new adventures together.
Fast forward some more. Now Lisa has rested and explored Istanbul, we’re both eager to be back on the road. We cross the city together, just as Pam and I did two weeks earlier – bus to Beşiktaş, boat to Kadıköy, train to Gebze… walk to the big road that bends down to Eskihisar jetty and stick out our thumbs. A few men stop and invite us for çay, but we politely decline. When a beautiful blonde woman and her headscarfed mother stop, we jump excitedly into the back of the car. They are travelling to Bandırma and agree to take us to the point where our paths diverge. The woman is so nice. She speaks with Lisa in German and me in my pigeon Turkish. She warns us against hitch-hiking – “Turkish men – not nice.” She has a sadness in her eyes and I feel she is speaking from experience. She invites us to eat with them, but conscious of the time we decide to push on, so she stops and buys us a box of chocolates – the traditional Bursa kind, which coincidentally are vegan! We thank her profusely. Our next ride is a truck driver, who drops us at a service station. When we come out from the toilet and begin hitching again a familiar car stops – it’s the lovely woman and her mother! We are confused but happy – now they will take us even further and drop us off 100km short of our destination. Now the woman tries to give me a wad of money, but I refuse it, jumping out of the car quickly and shutting the door. I kiss both her cheeks through the window and we wave goodbye for the second time. We are two hours short of Izmir, but our next lift in a truck is not quite the blessing it seems – a truck takes twice the time of a car and crawls at walking pace up the numerous hills. At a rest stop the driver breaks the news that we will not make it to Izmir tonight. He tries to convince us to stay in a hotel, which he himself will pay for, and go with him tomorrow. We’re not having it. There’s hardly anyone around, but when I see people arrive at the service station I go over and ask for a ride. Before long a couple agree to take us to the outskirts, and we get a dolmuş to the centre, 11 hours after leaving Pam’s house in Istanbul.
Giulio meets us at the train station. We requested his couch on Couchsurfing and he’s anxious to host us, but is short of space himself, so we’re staying with his friend Giovanni – another Italian. They’re both nice guys, though Giulio is very talkative and it’s hard to get a word in sometimes. I want Giovanni to speak more, but he’s conscious about his English and the more confident Giulio tends to dominate conversation.
Giulio gives us a tour of the city. It reminds me a lot of Thessaloniki. The sea laps at it’s concrete edges in much the same way; the same tall, white, balconied blocks – built after the Greeks who were forced out burned the old ones to the ground in defiance during the population swap of 1923. How very Greek, I think, but I can’t help admire their spirit.
Following a tip from friends who came here before us, Lisa and I take a walk up through Kadifekale, the poor part of the city (Lonely Planet calls it a “slum”) on the slopes of the hill leading up to castle ruins at the top, where smiling women sell scarves and weave colourful carpets, or bake flat round breads in outdoor ovens like potholes. A small child flies a paper kite on a string as others climb mounds of rubble for fun. Here is the best view of Izmir.
A small boy on a bicycle greets us – “Hello money! Hello money!” holding out his hand. We put up with him for a while, but he becomes more, rather than less persistent and I am forced to use my secret weapon for the second time – “siktir git!” He leaves immediately, peddling off with his head held low. Other children swarm around us on the way back down, asking for photographs to be taken, practising their English – “Hello! Hello! My name is? My name is?”
The scarf Lisa is wearing in he picture above, was by the way given to her by a complete stranger on the street. Lisa saw the scarf tied around her bag and simply said, “oh, that’s a nice scarf!” The woman untied it at once and gave it to her. Then she gave us some Turkish delight. I love Turkey.
We hug goodbye to Giovanni after three nights at his place – one day longer than expected, as is always the way with me. We walk across town to a bus and escape Izmir’s grip in the drizzling rain. I’m still short of a raincoat but haggle an umbrella down to 5 lira (about 2 pounds). It will do for now.
We hitch-hike to Fethiye, climbing into what we expect to be our last lift just as the sun is sinking. It’s a truck unfortunately – we’ve made the same mistake again, doubling our time. When he starts asking if we’re married, we take it as a bad sign and get out straight away. Damn, now we need another lift and it’s already dark. But here is another hitch-hiker, a guy who turns out to be – a Gendarme! We hitch a truck with him and we all take pictures, laughing at the randomness of our encounters.
Fethiye seafront is very long, despite being a small town. Lit up pictures of Ataturk punctuate every 10m or so. Here he is with his infamous hat… Here he is with his wife – standing slightly behind his left-hand shoulder… Here he is pointing at something important in the distance…
We meet the friends I met in Istanbul a couple of weeks earlier. They are also Italian – travellers, squatters, vegans, anarchists – we all have a lot in common. Foreseeing our hunger, they bring us a pot of spaghetti and the sad news that the camping spot their couchsurfing host told them about apparently doesn’t exist; but we set up camp next to a camper-van and our Belgian neighbours bring us tea and coffee in the morning.
This is the start of a new chapter.