#7 Turkey part two

I’m surprised to learn that the festival near the Marmara Sea is called Otostop Festivali, an amusing hint at my favorite mode of transport. Myself and some friends I met in Istanbul are working at a food and drink stall. Our best seller is the famous çay, the Turkish national drink that locals sip tirelessly at any time of the day. I quickly come to like it too. Tea and coffee are substitute for beer which is too pricy and not very customary of Turkey. The overwhelming majority of festivalgoers don’t speak English, so we have to quickly pick up some Turkish if we want to be able to communicate. On the bright side, as I can’t resort to English, I learn a lot everyday: useful idioms, food and drink vocabulary, the numbers from 1 to 30, etc. Nothing special, but enough to get by.

Bir şey ister misiniz ?

Iki çay lütfen.

Iki lira.

It’s sad to say but the festival has the worst organisation I’ve ever witnessed. Everyday we have to throw away large amounts of food, sometimes due to poor estimates, sometimes because of faulty fridges. After a few days it is clear that the organisers are in deficit. Obviously, savings have to be made on foreign workforce. After five days of work, we’ve been paid only for two, despite prior agreement to be paid daily. We decide to quit the job but stay at the festival to enjoy the atmosphere and also in the hope of getting paid in the end. Rather unsurprisingly, we leave the festival a few days later and still haven’t seen the cash. It’s a shame but it could have been worse. We’ve spent 10 days without paying for accomodation and made the most of the beach and concerts.

I’m starting hitchhiking again and I’ll be travelling for a bit with Belen, an Argentinian friend I met in Istanbul. Of the 20 countries I’ve hitchhiked, Turkey has been by far the easiest. The fact that I’m travelling with a girl undoubtedly helps, but it is still striking. We never wait more than five minutes until a vehicle, most of the time a lorry or a small truck, pulls over and takes us for a few dozen or even hundred kilometres. We make a short stop in Ankara, city of central Anatolia that became the capital of the country in 1923 under Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. There were hardly 20.000 inhabitants a century ago yet Ankara is now home to over five milion people. Ankara is one of those new cities with modernist architecture built in the middle of the desert, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Nothing to do with Istanbul.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is a fundamental and iconic figure of recent Turkish history. Just as his memory is still vivid in people’s minds, his portrait is ubiquitous throughout the country. It can be found in a frame behind the reception of a small hotel, in the living room of an ordinary family as well as on a huge flag gently fluttering above a city’s high street. And for good reason: significant political and social improvements were accomplished under his presidency. He most notably made Turkey a secular country by separating the political and religious powers, but also adopted the Latin alphabet instead of the Arabic one and gave women the right to vote. Unfortunately, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the current president and leader of the AKP, seems determined to stir the country in the opposite direction. As a result, Turkey has been increasingly polarised between the western-orientated part of the population still celebrating Atatürk’s legacy, and the more conservative section of society welcoming Erdoğan’s reforms. During last April’s referendum over increased presidential powers, the divide turned out to be also strikingly geographical. Erdoğan was expecting a landslide but only won with a narrow majority. He owes his victory partly to his high popularity in rural parts of the country such as central Anatolia. Conversely, big cities like Istanbul or Ankara, the Mediterranean coast, the predominantly Kurdish south-east and generally younger and more educated people voted against it.

Friends we met at the festival host us for the night in Ankara. We’ve been overwhelmed by this warm hospitality time and time again during our trip through Turkey. People keep offering us çay, recently made friends don’t let us pay the bill, help us find our way around or put us up for the night.

On the following morning we’re headed to the lunar landscapes of Cappadocia, an arrid region of central Turkey famous for the hot air balloons that take to the skies during sunrise. As expected, the region is extremely touristic. It is certainly not the best place to soak in some traditional Turkish culture. The majestic views are nonetheless worth the trip.

People often ask me if I don’t mind spending so much time on the road. With such a trip, I never travel the same road twice and always get lifts from different people. As such, it is far from being monotonous and I keep marveling at the gradual evolution of landscapes. Turkey, a large country with diverse terrain and flora provides a good example. Since Ankara, the land is rather barren. As we drive towards Trabzon in the Northeast, the landscape undergoes continuous change and gets greener and greener. The yellowish hills slowly give way to vast beech and pine trees forests. After two intense days of hitchhiking, we finally make it to Trabzon, a harbour city on the Black Sea.

After a few requests sent on Couchsurfing we find a local guy who is happy to host us for a few days. Our host, Aziz, turns out to be the owner of two hamams in the city center. We make the most of the traditional Turkish baths, the sauna and even get a free massage! A nice and relaxing break after a few days spent on dusty roads in the mountains. Aziz takes us on his boat from which we can watch the sunset on the Black Sea. A both pleasant and unexpected Couchsurfing interlude! Trabzon stretches from the coast of the Black Sea to nearby mountains. The city center reminds me of some neighourhoods of Istanbul and I love getting lost in meandering streets of the heights of the city.

Our generous Couchsurfing host in Trabzon

I can hear one last call of the muezzin in the distance. Five weeks full of discoveries and encounters in this fascinating country are coming to an end. With countless memories, we resume our journey towards Georgia. Türkiye güle güle.


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