The dusty streets leaving Cappadocia soon turned into wide flat roads through wide flat plains. Amidst the rolling red hills the people farming the land were imperceptibly small, tiny dots with white caps ambling nonchalantly. The field of view went deeper and deeper until it ended in a lightening storm on the horizon. Carving around a sweeping left hand bend the road straightened out, pointed directly into the torrent. Then, already under cloud cover and feeling the chill, it twisted away before rain had another chance to strike, to a cluster of buildings on the horizon – Ankara.
To say that Ankara felt vast after my time in the interior is an understatement. Houses, apartment blocks and civil buildings were built up on every knoll and every crook the people could reach. It wasn’t pretty; it was industrious, cramped and the heat draped over the buildings like a fire blanket in a greenhouse, stifling everything inside. Within minutes I was lost after my ever faithful nav app hadn’t recognised my couchsurfer host’s address, yet I remained happy to fall back on my ‘scavenge WiFi and try again’ plan. I pulled up. Two aged Turkish men came over after less than a minute and the language barrier knocked us back and forth like a ping pong ball of puzzled looks. I guess I already looked lost, and guessed this wasn’t the neighbourhood tourists frequented much, so showed the one guy, wrinkled brown with a baseball cap, scraggly beard and cigarette drooping from his mouth, my tablet with the address I was looking for on. He held it and frowned. Then walked off with it across the street.
I pulled my keys and stepped down from the saddle. This guy wasn’t fast, but I’d save time catching him if he decided to run with it. He seemed drunk.
A minute later and he emerged from a tea shop with the owner and garbled words in the street. A seat was pulled up in the shade and I was invited to sit and drink a Chai, Turkish tea, while I guessed they sought to resolve my situation. There was a lot of guesswork if you hadn’t yet noticed. Besides, I was only looking to find WiFi so this situation out of the blue was a little overwhelming. A white van man pulled up – that’s always a good sign – and before I knew it I had parked my motorbike in the drunken mans compound (add 5 style points for bottoming out the sump on the way in) and sat in the white van preparing myself for a bloody good murdering. It seemed we were driving somewhere with a purpose…
It was only round the block, I could remember my way back to the bike if I had to run because someone’s penis has been pulled out. Then white van man was walking into shops with my tablet, supposedly asking for refinements to his directions. Round the back, apartment number eight. Only there was no apartment eight. Sigh. Some more casual observers interjected but didn’t help much. Scanning my Facebook message thread the white van man identified a telephone number and plugged the digits into his cell with thick fingers. Meet Merve, my host, for the first time and over white van mans mobile phone. Despite a minute talking I was none the wiser as to what was being arranged around me, but had been driven back to the compound and sat, again, under an awning outside white van mans office.
Drunk and friend swam through the compound gates and pulled up chairs to chat at me. I was asked for a coffee. I figured it couldn’t hurt. I was asked if I wanted food. I politely declined, but still ended up with a roughly peeled cucumber slapped in my hand. OK. The drunk had to go somewhere. He motioned with his hands that it might be for a drink, I understood completely. OK drunk, go for it.
A five minute, one-way conversation through Google translate (it wouldn’t recognise their Turkish words) revealed Merve was on her way. In due time she pulled up from a yellow cab and joined me for more coffee under the awning. Thankfully we departed shortly afterwards, she took a cab and I would ride behind – the second time I’d followed a car back to a couchsurfers place in Turkey. I think the drunk tried to charge her parking fees for my bike, I found out later she had paid for me, but the white van man was the ever gracious host and bid us farewell before we drove to the opposite side of Ankara. I don’t think we have white van men like that in England..
I dumped my bags on the floor of her apartment, tired. She was expecting another couchsurfer, an Australian called Nick, who arrived not long after I finished locking the bike outside the apartment. We sat in the living room, which felt cooling and calm, chatting for a few minutes before going to a bar round the block to meet another avid couchsurfer, Iranian born but citizen of the world, Masoud. It was the relaxing end to the day I desperately needed.
Waking up late me and Nick prepared ourselves breakfast as Merve had gone to work. We took the spare key and went to explore the parks and hilltop castles of Ankara before ending back in a bar with Merve, Masoud and a few other Turkish friends, which ended with rice filled mussels and lemon, midye dolma, served outside the bar from a street vendor. I’m sticking to Kebabs at the end of the night in future.
After two nights my time in Ankara was over. I’d learned a lot about Atatürk, the political troubles facing the young people in Turkey and couch surfing etiquette from good company. It turns out that getting the following invitations are unusual, even in here..
We joked about it, but I dodged a bullet on that one..
My only deadline, getting to Montenegro on the 31st to meet my girlfriend Sarah, was already creating a pinch as I’d already allocated two days to explore Istanbul. That left two days to get from Istanbul to Bar, the ferry port of her arrival. No rush.
On the way to Ankara I’d relied solely on main roads, but to meet Mustafa, my Istanbul host, on our agreed time I was forced onto the motorway. Now, every country I’ve been to has tolls and slightly different systems for payment, but pulling into the toll gates and finding there were no tickets, only a swathe of cameras was a new system for me. I hadn’t researched it at all, so with a shrug I just carried on my journey with only q quick look back to check any lights and sirens. I won’t bore you with motorway story because nothing exceptional happened apart from the road becoming more and more crowded the closer Candy Indy carried me to Istanbul. Then it got really crowded – as in backed up for about 20km. I filtered between lanes slowly until I took the cue from other motorcyclists and bombed down the hard shoulder at 120km/h, only slowing to allow black tinted cars with blue flashing lights and ambulances to go past. Coming up to an exit toll gate that was heavily equipped with polis, I followed the bikers through, to a chorus of ringing alarm bells and flashing yellow lights. I had wondered what might happen, the answer? Nothing much at all. Polis stood and watched the heaving traffic pushing through the toll without caring much. I imagined I might hear more about this later.
Then the sign for the district I was aiming for. It was half 6 and the sun was high in the sky. As I followed the little white signs through busy roads and traffic lights it was more and more apparent that I was cooking alive in my jacket. At a standstill I tore open the jacket and ripped open all the zips but the air, heavy with traffic pollution was hot also. No relief. Just before the junction to Mustafa’s the lanes narrowed and cars, busses and lorries bumped to a halt. The heat became too much, or at least that’s what the litre or so of sweat caught in my sleeves amd the building pressure in my forehead was telling me. I held out like a brave little soldier until I was outside his flat when collapsing off my bike I recruited a gentleman from the street to call Mustafa to let him know I was there.
Mustafa was calm and intelligent. While I tried to figure out whether it was Mustafa or Mufasa who was Simba’s father in Disney’s The Lion King he set about rehydrating me, feeding me and making me feel at home. Full of kebab and twilight in the air he suggested we take a ride. Mufasa or not, all the roaring we needed was provided by his self-confessed genuine-fake Harley Davidson as we rolled deep through the Asian half of town, stopping to admire the views, drink tea and eat sunflower seeds. It was awesome.
With that, my immediate reliance on couch surfers was finished. In my time of need all I had to do was ask and help was then offered. Merve, Mustafa I salute you. Thanks all for the memories.