Part One: The Walk
It was time to leave Körfez. Many people said not to bother hitchhiking, as it was a tiny town. But I was obstinate and lucky, as said town is right on the highway to Ankara.
My host gave me a square pistachio chocolate bar, some chocolate sandwich cookies, two red apples, filled up my water bottle and pointed me to the left from her place, saying to ask for McDonald’s, which was right by the highway, 10-20 minutes down the road.
I didn’t keep track of the time, but there was a junction that looked like it went toward the highway, so I asked a guy at a corner shop in basic words (“Ankara? Autostrade?) if I was going in the right direction. He looked totally shocked to see me and thrown off by my question. Since he kept saying ‘Izmit’ in his explanation (the closest decent-sized city), it was clear that he was trying to get me onto a bus to Izmit to a bus to Ankara. “No, no,” I told him, “Autostop” (hitchhiking).
He tut-tutted me. No, no. Bad idea, in his mind. He tried to find someone in the immediate vicinity who spoke English, including a woman who seemed to work at the shop with him, who clearly had no higher English level than his level of being able to say ‘English’, ‘Turkish’ and ‘no’ (which isn’t too far off from my level of Turkish). I told him it was OK and went away. The problem was, I wanted to continue down the street that his shop was on toward what I thought might be a highway entrance, but as he was watching me, I knew he would think I was confused about his directions and come try to ‘help’ me again, even more frustratedly.
I figured I would try to work my way around the next block to avoid his laser vision. When I looked back at his store and saw that he wasn’t there, I turned back around… And then ran into him and the woman walking toward me.
They scooped me up and tried to find us someone who spoke English, presumably to get me to understand that I really needed this bus to Izmit. I asked them about the McDonald’s. Yep, one in Izmit (or so I guessed he said). We went into a pharmacy. I was totally out of place, with my huge backpack and two smaller, but packed backpacks. After a while, since no one seemed to know English or know how to talk to me, they led me back out, presumably to start walking me in the direction of a bus. On a street corner, they found a middle school kid who spoke some English.
I asked again about the McDonald’s. The kid knew what I was talking about and pointed straight, saying “Go straight”, then indicated I take a left, saying “Go right”. Unfortunately, these directions were through a crowded market with no clearance for my head or backpack. So I asked the kid if I could keep going and get to the same place. He saw the problem and said that yes, if I just went to the next street, that would be fine.
Walk walk walk. Almost to the next main street and I heard someone panting behind me. It was the middle school kid. He said to follow him. We took the next left and walked through what was the continuation of that earlier market. He asked me if I was hungry. I wasn’t sure if it was because he was being hospitable or if it was one of his go-to English questions from class. I said I was all right.
He saw another middle schooler that he knew and explained to him what he was doing (the words ‘American’ and ‘tourist’ were all that I understood).
We got through to the end of the market and there were some metal stairs over a wall. I followed him and on the other side was a fast food place, with the highway on the other side. But it wasn’t McDonald’s. It was Burger King. A small difference, perhaps, except when you’re trying to find a landmark that doesn’t actually exist.
Part Two: The Hitch
The kid wrote down in my notebook how to ask for a ride to Ankara (in Turkish). I asked him for a pic together, but he politely declined, shook my hand and left.
Right next to the Burger King was a gas station. Past the gas station was an entrance to the highway. Perfect hitchhiking locale. But there were attendants at the gas station, which made me a bit wary of hanging out there or attempting to ask drivers for a ride.
I walked a little bit past the station, toward the highway entrance, put my bags down and wrote ‘ANKARA’ on my plastic sleeve that I’ve been using for destinations.
I kept inching my way up, because there were various ways people could re-enter the highway if they didn’t go to the gas station. People drove by and did their usual “If I don’t make eye contact with you, you won’t see me and taint me with your bohemian drifterness.”
Less than 10 minutes after setting my bags down, I got a ride from a guy in a nice Toyota. As soon as I sat in the passenger’s seat, he gave me a fork, so I could share these little dessert sticks with him, which are called lokma.
He pointed out sites as we drove along, such as the biggest tunnel in Turkey, which had a cool feature, overriding radio stations to give you information about speed limits and emergency call phones.
He told me that he was going fast (170 km/hr, at points (105 miles/hr)), because he was going to visit his kids. He was a geologist from Ankara that works in mining. As soon as he said geologist, I thought Randy Marsh from South Park. But other than occupation, moustache and having a son and a daughter, there weren’t any other obvious similarities.
Along the way, he also pointed out vans that were going back to Diyarbakir (the heart of the Kurdish part of Turkey), as they are summer migrant workers who go to Istanbul for the middle of the year, then head back home.
We tried to call my host in Ankara, but no answer upon multiple attempts. Eventually, we got to his kids’ school in Ankara. He said, “OK, Roni”, ready to let me out. I told him that I had no clue where I was or what to do now. Luckily, I had the number of a second guy from CouchSurfing. We called him and he was more than happy to take me in. The two arranged that the geologist would drive me to a mall, I’d wait there until 8 PM when my new and improved host would arrive.
We left the school and stopped by a soccer field to pick up his kids. Turned out that they were twins. The boy was playing soccer and the girl was on a math team. They were very, very confused as to my presence. He told them that I was a tourist. They forgot about me and went to what sounded like a very normal father-child conversation. The girl kept saying “Hayır, Baba!” (No, Dad!)
I got dropped off at the mall. It was a lot like when I hitched to Antalya. My ride dropping me off at a mall for me to wait for a few hours for my host to come. And just like that mall, there are metal detectors at the entrances. I put my bags through the machine and walked through the metal detectors. Unlike airports, I think they’re mostly concerned about big bombs, so you don’t have to take stuff out of your pockets.
The rest of the story becomes pretty lame:
- I go to an authorized Apple retailer to see about getting my MacBook fixed (the bottom is slightly coming off).
- I use WiFi in the food court until it’s a few minutes until 8, then go downstairs.
- My new and improved host and his friend drive me to his place.
- We hang out, my new and improved host shows me how to drink rakı (pronounced ‘raku’), a traditional alcoholic drink.
- He makes me spaghetti. I eat said spaghetti.
- We all hang out, while using his WiFi on our respective laptops.
- I go to sleep.
- Hours later, my host goes to sleep.
Another successful hitch completed.