Thursday, August 22, 2013

Antalya - from hatred to love

After a long break from hitchhiking with someone, last weekend I decided to hit the road again with Monique. Hungry for nature, sea and sun, we wanted to go either to Fethiye or Antalya. Apparently in the summer season finding a host in these areas is very difficult. I got only one response to my open request for Fethiye (and it came only after two days - usually girls have tons of invitations as soon as their request shows up on the page). We were more lucky with the Antalya quest. On a facebook group, EVS-Couchsurfing we found a guy who to our luck was able to host us, so we gave him a quick response that we were coming.

Antalya welcomed us with scorching temperatures. In spite of having lived mainly in the south of Europe for the last 3 years and traveled a lot even further to the south, whooping 40 degree swelter turned out to be too much for me. Even late at night I felt as if I were about to faint. Ümit, an ex-EVS volunteers and our host, lived on the 10th floor, where a pleasant breeze reached and the heat wasn't so unbearable. However, when in the morning we went to the local shop, the suffocating heat almost stroke me down. At that time I seriously considered forgetting about Olimpos, about nature and coming back to Ankara the following day. It's also hot here, but not to the point that I almost want to kill myself.

Normally in a new place I would never stay at home until late afternoon instead of exploring. In Antalya, Monique and I after sleeping in after the tiresome journey spent some time with our host and his housemate and then went out only at 5 pm. We got some advice from Ümit how to reach the center but anyway got confused and got off the bus somewhere in the beginning of the road to Kemer. We walked to the center passing some gorgeous parks located along the cliffed coast from where we could see the turquoise Mediterranean Sea. Antalya turned out to have a lot of green areas, out of which my favorite was a herbal garden, where various kinds of herbs and trees grew. I recalled visiting a similar garden in Albi (France), located by Collégiale Saint-Salvi, where vegetables and herbs were planted and it was allowed to visitors to pick some of them. There I also noticed a woman living in a nearby flat picking some of the edible herbs and coming back home.

We strolled around the historical center, probably paying more attention to the vast differences between Antalya and everyday Ankara than to the ruins that surrounded us. The people were smiling (the effect of sunshine or more freedom and less prejudice?), their faces didn't hide joyful emotions, the women weren't covered with veils and ankle-length robes but instead wore deep neckline tops, ultra-short trousers and high heels.

On one hand I felt happy surrounded by people who aren't conservative to the core and who won't call every centimeter of exposed body "çok ayıp," ("big shame") on the other I was overwhelmed by the amount of people, different languages and also the weather.

Aliens welcome to Antalya.

That's how Lara, the death zone, looks like.

The Mediterranean


Herbal garden in the center





We sat in the central square of the city. The attraction of passers-by was pulled to a group of Kurdish women singing protest songs and holding slogans about an ongoing massacre on Kurdish villages in the Syrian Kurdistan. While Monique was discussing politics with a Kurdish guy from Van sitting next to her on the pavement, I listened intently to the songs sang in the language of people that I love and who showed me only the best features of their non-existing country when I visited the Southeastern Anatolia and Northern Iraq one year ago. Many of the people supporting the protest were Kurds, some of them (i.e .the elderly men) wearing baggy trousers, a typical garment of Kurdish people. It was the moment when I felt really comfortable, as if I were at home; and the moment when I forgave Antalya for its killing weather and omnipresent tourists.




The following day we left Antalya for Yanartaş (never heard of it myself but Monique's friend suggested going there) and Olimpos, located to the south along the coast. The bus ride to a suitable spot for hitchhiking was a long one but fortunately we didn't have to make any transfers and could get to Sarısu with only one bus from our host's place.

The first two rides on our way to Olimpos we got from two men from Konya driving probably the most luxurious car I've ever stepped my foot in; the type you associate with Las Vegas-like sparkling and shining limousines; and two young guys who, as soon as we entered the car, started inviting us for parties they were going to, asking for our phone numbers and facebook addresses and mentioning that by saying all that they were by no chance trying to hit on us. The guy sitting in the passenger's seat even took out his superphone and got ready for taking a photo of me, to which I first reacted with just "hayır, lütfen." ("no, please") Upon the second attempt I was already mildly enraged. When Monique and I were leaving the car, the driver said to me "sen çok güzel." No additional comments.

I thought that our short dresses and revealing necklines would be our curse for the day (I'd NEVER wear anything like this if I hitchhiked on my own anywhere in Turkey but having a travel mate made me with made me feel more comfortable. Moreover, the heat was unbearable and with "protective" clothes we would probably fry.), that our way to Olimpos would mean lumbering the presence of casino dealers, gamblers, party enthusiasts and creeps trying to flirt with us. How big was our surprise when we heard a honk coming from a car that stopped at red lights. From afar we saw there was a woman sitting in the front seat and I felt relieved, for that ride would for sure include no advances towards two female hitchhikers. Enthusiastically we ran to the car and got even more astonished to find out the backseats were also occupied. We tried to squish in four like in a Moroccan grand taxi but all efforts turned futile, so I had to sit on Monique's lap.

Our drivers were around our age, going to Olimpos. Two of them, Kemal and Ramazan, were from Antalya, while a couple, Selçuk and Çiğdem came for holidays from İstanbul. After a short ride we were talking like old friends. Monique and I changed our mind and decided to go all the way to Olimpos with them. Upon arrival, we still stayed together. Ramazan found a place behind big trees to rest in the shade and keep our bags. I wanted to go for a walk but encouraged by others instead changed my dress for a swimming suit and jumped into the hot water.

The place was beautiful, surrounded by mountains - it seemed to be th right location to spend the night; the views in the morning would be spectacular. Moreover, the hidden den found by Ramazan would not only provide some shade but also make Monique and me less visible to other visitors. However, we found out that staying overnight on the beach was forbidden. Our new friends explained the guards were checking the place after closing time for any violators. We got disappointed, but preferred not to get into any trouble. Our drivers offered taking us to our primary destination - Yanartaş - around 5 pm; in hopes that there we would be able to camp easily.

Ancient ruins of Olimpos

The beach








Kemal and Ramazan fighting each other

In a local restaurant women are making gözleme.

A rock shaped like...

In Yanartaş we wanted to see the natural fire and later find a quiet place to stay for the night. To our surprise, we discovered that the entrance - just like in Olimpos - wasn't free of charge. 4,5 TL isn't much, but both Monique and I agreed on giving it a miss. I hate when entrance fees are imposed when visiting a natural area. Not because I'm a tightass who wants to save every penny, but because nature, as not being anyone in particular's possession, should be accessible for everyone's enjoyment. (Back in Ankara I found out it takes around 1 h to get to the fires, so even if we decided to go, we wouldn't see much in the dark.)

Our drivers were really concerned about our place to sleep. "There's nothing around, you should stay in a closed place, there are dogs and wild animals," they worried, while for Monique and me it wasn't a slightest problem to rest our heads somewhere in nearby forest, out of sight of the visitors. However, we gave their advice a second thought. The place seemed very desolate and most likely after the visiting hours and also so early in the morning nobody would be there to give us a ride, just when we'd rather hurry. But we would feel bad if our friends had taken us there for nothing. However, they assured us that there was no problem and even suggested that we stay in their house in Antalya. Yet we were determined to spend the night in the million star hotel.

We drove to a beach in the nearby village Çıralı, which seemed more tranquil and camping-friendly than the one in Olimpos. There were also sunbeds, which would make our sleep more cozy. To our surprise, our new friends spontaneously also decided to spend the night on the beach. It mattered a little that Selçuk and Çiğdem had already booked a hotel for the night, that Kemal had to work the following day and that none of them was really prepared to sleep outdoors.

While our Turkish friends and Monique were enjoying the evening swim in already too cold for me sea, I went for a stroll along the seashore and enjoyed my favorite beach pastime - collecting pebbles which, when wet, glistened with beautiful colors, but turned to mat when dry. I walked close to the sea, but still not getting myself get too wet. After a while I gave in and walked barefoot in the water that turned out to still be warm.

Çıralı beach







:)





When I came back, Monique, Çiğdem, Selçuk, Kemal and Ramazan were still swimming. Before going to sleep we went to a nearby market to get some food for the dinner. Monique and I shared our supplies we bought for the trip and for the way back to Ankara. Around midnight Monique, Çiğdem and Kemal went for the final swim, while I stayed on the sunbeds speaking with Selçuk and Ramazan. That night Monique and I shared her sleeping bag, I gave the sleeping bag that I borrowed from Murat to Selçuk and Çiğdem and my flimsy towel to Kemal. (In the morning I discovered that Ramazan also slept under some towel; no idea though who it belonged to.)

The night was chilly and first after around one hour of sleeping I woke up. Then again, it might have been 4 am, I was up again, felt really tired from the trip, from the heat, from overload of adventures; cold because the sleeping bag didn't provide enough heat and unable to fall asleep again because of the waves pounding the shore. Instead, I looked up at the starry sky, listened to the sea and thought that many wonderful moments wouldn't have taken place if I had decided to leave Antalya earlier. My mates were sleeping and it seemed that the beach hosted no other visitors for the night. Monique was the first one to wake up, after which everybody else woke up almost at the same time. It was freezing and if I felt really cold, what must have Kemal and Ramazan felt, covered only with thin towels. I looked at the sea and my first reaction was wild "WOW;" so beautiful were the morning hues of night turning into day. I hoped all of us would stay for a while until the red giant would show up on the sky but it was so chilly that we quickly collected our bags and ran to the car. We watched the sunset while driving into Çıralı. Since we were going back to Antalya, we couldn't squish on the backseats or place two girls in the front, as we did before. Instead we put Ramazan to the trunk. The early timing excluded any chance for a constructive conversation. Some of us were dozing off. Back in Antalya, Monique and I realized that our friends were taking us to the outskirts, from where we could easily start hitchhiking towards Ankara. It was along the road to Burdur, the same one we took to get to Antalya. Usually, I prefer to take a different way back, if possible, and wanted to go through Isparta, but at that time our only wish was to arrive in Ankara as quickly as possible. We said our goodbyes, hoping we would soon see each other again. Before hitting the road Monique and I picnicked exactly where we got dropped off, on a lawn between the road and the pavement. Passing cars honked their horns, locals stared in amusement and both of them must have thought "these yabancı are really crazy."







The best companions!

Ramazan's seat in the car


Bye bye Antalya



When we were getting ready to go to sleep on the beach, Monique noticed: "In India it often happened to me that our drivers changed their plan after getting to know ours." If I think about my own experience, it was rather me who changed my mind and decided to go wherever the driver was going - many times. But I recalled that once hitchhiking in Iceland Alan and I mentioned to our French drivers that we wanted to see the rock formations of Dyrhólaey, the southernmost point of mainland Iceland. They were going to Vík í Mýrdal, but made a short detour with us, after which we continued to our destination. However, such a sudden change in somebody's plan has never taken place in my travels. I thought that as soon as we'd arrive to Olimpos, our paths would split, that a 1-h ride would be enough time with two hitchhikers and that they would rather enjoy their own companionship. However, for almost 24 hours we were inseparable. Not only was our faith in Turkish drivers restored, but we also made wonderful friends. Selçuk and Çiğdem even invited me to stay with them in İstanbul or in their summer house in Tekirdağ. When I said it's quite likely because kochanie's relatives are coming to İstanbul soon, Selçuk started making plans as if it was tomorrow. "You can come with your boyfriend too. Come to Tekirdağ, but only on the weekend. Call us when you're in İstanbul. Or when you're in Çanakkale, you can also call us and we'll pick you up by car." Wonderful people. Görüşmek üzere!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hitchhikers' reunion

So far I've only been "licking" a tiny bit Slovakia on the way to the south of Europe - this time on the way to my second HitchGathering I finally had a chance to appreciate the beauty of my neighboring country. After a very long break I finally camped and loved seeing the Lazisko sky dotted with stars just before going to sleep and views from the tent in the morning. Thanks to Rita, a Polish girl living in a squat in Barcelona, who without hesitation shared her one-person tent with me, I could feel more comfortable during cold nights. I bathed naked in the creek, cherishing the cool breeze on my skin and privacy and freedom that in Turkey is so scarce. I reunited with hitchhikers met last year in Lithuania, sometimes hardly believing my eyes seeing how some people have changed. I met many other travelers with whom we shared laughs, jokes, experiences, advice, music, hugs, food. I already have some ideas where to go next summer and have to admit I would need three of them to visit all these places but I hope I'll manage to find at least a few days to meet again with fellow hitchhikers.

***

Respectful thanks to everybody who gave a ride me on the way to and from the gathering, especially particular drivers:
  • a Kurdish/Dutch guy going all the way from Gaziantep to the Netherlands who picked me up at the ring road entrance in Sofia, offered a chance to speak Turkish while we were passing three countries together and took me almost to the Hungarian/Slovak border;
  • a Romanian family, who admittedly had no idea how to use GPS or read the road signs (unnecessarily getting into the center of Budapest, taking wrong exits and aimlessly driving empty village roads, getting lost inside Szeged) and gave misleading information about their route every 15 minutes (going to Szeged - going to Timişoara - going to Craiova, you can come with us - we want to sleep for some time, are you staying with us? - we want to do some shopping in Szeged, but the shops are closed, where should we leave you?), but whose constant and time-consuming getting lost at least saved me from the burden of hitchhiking at night in a hitchhiker-hostile territory;
  • a Greek truck driver who advised me to go to a nearby gas station instead of trying to catch a ride on the Hungarian/Serbian border itself;
  • Murat, the most polite and respectful Turkish truck driver ever, who picked me almost immediately after moving to the aforementioned gas station, drove continuously through two countries until the border in Kapitan Adreevo and proved that Turkish truck drivers aren't always lecherous guys giving obscene proposals to hitchhiking girls;
  • the owners of Pena Cafe & Pub in Edirne who picked me from the border when it was still dark and then invited for a morning coffee in their beautiful place.

    Back to Europe - from Çanakkale to Eceabat
Sunset before Sofia


Somewhere around Belgrade

Morning in Serbia

Long line at the Serbian/Hungarian border

Still in Liptovský Mikuláš, on the way to Lazisko

Hitchhikers' campsite



The moment the police came and told us to change the location of the gathering

Ginger cat inspecting our tent in the new campsite

The new location



"Poland Ukraine Flower World Champion"...

Hammock zone

Along the way through the forest back to Lazisko


Szeged, 4 am, a long walk ahead of me

Morning in the field near Röszke in my Quechua

Left the hitchhiker's nightmare Hungary, welcome to more friendly Serbia

Mountains between Niš and Pirot; it was the first time I passed this part of Serbia at daytime and was truly astounded.


Early breakfast on the Turkish side of the border

Around Havsa

Slowly moving towards Çanakkale


Welcome back, Asia



Back in Turkey, tomorrow I'll be on the road again, on the mission for my 90000th kilometer by hitchhikng. Happy rides everyone!