For the first time in nearly two years I boarded a plane headed for a developing country. That's right, for the last 22 months it has been only easy, English-speaking, fancy pants places where the roads are paved, the water is hot and you don't have to worry about getting gastro every time you eat or drink something. I know what you're thinking - where's the fun in that?!?!
I decided to ease back into it in Turkey alongside some of my best best friends. Call it backpacker light. Taking off from London - the developed world's most cosmopolitan city - and landing in Istanbul - the developing world's most cosmopolitan city - after only 3 hours on a plane was surreal. The sights. The sounds. The smells.
Their swanky new airport was a near seamless experience and my baggage carousel was shared with a flight arriving from Baghdad, which was fascinating, but then came catching a cab.
Now, perhaps I'm overly hardened by years of travel but from Sydney to São Paulo and everywhere in between, I'm convinced that all taxi drivers at airports are trying to screw me. This was no exception. There is just something fishy about them. Like they know you don't know a damn thing about getting to your destination. Not how long it takes, not how far it is, nothing. Then you're hopping in a car - in a foreign country where you don't speak the language - that says its meant for public hire with some guy you don't know who will supposedly drive you directly to your unknown destination. Would we ever advise out children to do such things? Absolutely not! That's some dangerous stuff. But when you're an adult it's "an adventure." And my ride certainly was.
The driver took my bag and swung it into the boot, miming that it was extremely heavy (the lightest I've ever packed, so a little upsetting).
We got in and I pointed at the meter indicating that we would need to be using that. "No problem my friend," he said to me. I then pulled out the address on my phone screen to which he shook his hand vigorously and said "no letters. Phone?" And thus began my first round of charades on this trip. "No phone," I said. "No Turkish," deciding I should then attempt to read the address out loud, which when as well as you'd think. I struggled through and when I finished he laughed, pointed at me and said "you no Turkish." Indeed sir. Me no Turkish. So I said the generic central square, he nodded, and we were off.
Minutes later he said "music?" so I gave a thumbs up and he cranked up the Saturday night jams on Joy FM. Next it was where I am from, and this is when it got AMAZING. "Canada," I said, heeding the advice of a professor from my trip to Turkey in 2004, when the invasion of Iraq pissed off most of the world. We had been in the Grand Bizarre and a seller asked us if we were Canadian. My friend said "no, American," at which point the shopkeeper pulled out a knife and chased us out of the market. Therefore I felt for reasons of safety it was prudent, on this trip, to be Canadian.
"Ohhhhh, Canada!!!" he exclaimed, waving two thumbs up vigorously while steering with his knee. "In Canada, smoking pot is okay," he explained, while mimicking inhaling from a doobee. "In Turkey, not okay." Um, okay.
On that note the car fell silent and we allowed the thumping bass on the radio to fill the void until the drive shouted out of nowhere, "RED BULL! RED BULL!" while mimicking sipping from a can. I gave him a thumbs up, indicating that yes, red bull was indeed a thing." This somehow translated as "let's get some" and we were soon careening across 3 lanes of traffic to pull into a gas station and, you guessed it, buy some red bull.
As we ground to a halt and he went to hop out I pointed at the meter, waving my hand as if to say "stop the meter if you're making a pit stop." He looked at me, laughed and said whilst waving his hand "it's okay. No problem!
After disappearing in the shop for what felt like ages as I watched the meter tick over he emerged with a red bull for him and a schweppes mandarin in a glass bottle for me. "Heyyy!!! Canada!!! Red Bull!!! It's okay!!!"
This is where my past experience anxiety reached new highs. We are at a service station. He's just bought us sodas. The meter is running. It's midnight and people are waiting. It's been two years since I've done this. I don't remember my old "full time traveller" skillset. Oh god, what do I do.
Just then he popped up the bottom of his seat to reveal a bottle opener, a corkscrew and plastic cups. This guy wasn't trouble, he just liked to entertain. Strangers. While moving.
He popped the bottle for me and we were off, once again zooming towards the city center. The music was blasting, the drinks were cold and the wet hot air of summer was rushing across my face. This is what I've been missing so much.
We road in silence the rest of the way, enjoying the music and the beverages. As we approached the square I said to him "thank you in Turkish." English is thank you. Turkish is..." and without missing a beat he responded, "gvaz."
"Gvaz," I said to him. "And hello," I inquired. "Gvaz," he said. That's easy, I thought. Same phrase! "Goodbye," I asked. "Gvaz," he answered. Okay, like aloha, I thought. "What about please, " I wondered allowed. "Also Gvaz," he replied. This is one useful word, I thought. I stopped there for fear of having to learn a new word if I asked too many questions. When in doubt, I thought, just say Gvaz.
He dropped me bang on the centre of the city. We shook hands, "I said gvaz a few times," he said "gvaz" a few times, and away I walked, having reentered for a moment in time the world I love so much. One in which everything isn't always clear and stuff just sort-of happens. Plus, I'm now nearly fluent in Turkish, which is fantastic.
Gotta run! Gvaz for now!
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Location:Kağnı Yolu Sokak,Nevþehir,Turkey